24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?Matthew 16.24-26 – biblegateway.com
Jesus’ words appear to be addressed to individuals, encouraging them to apply the cross to their lives in self denial. But might we extend these words to the church? Is it possible for a church to lose its ‘soul’ through an attitude of self-preservation?
The Church of Scotland faces big challenges and difficult questions in relation to life expectancy. We are currently going through a substantial process of restructuring and rationalisation. Significant reductions in the central services have been reported and these will be followed by the amalgamation of Presbyteries and around a third of paid ministry posts disappearing.
Some see this as a necessary contraction before a new missional expansion; pruning for growth. The more Eeyorish perceive the beginning of the end. Theology and personality also shape practical approaches to the crisis. Some simply focus more feverishly on the local church, perhaps counting on financial autonomy as a lifeboat. Some are deep in national and regional strategising and others are flailing around in the rapid and disorientating sea change.
The question is what to hold on to in this shipwreck!
It appears that the institutional life-raft is restructuring. Admittedly over the years there has also been an increasing, and possibly cynical, utilisation of the language of mission. More recently the mysterious five marks of mission descended to the floor of the General Assembly. But what our mission comprises remains unclear. Is it the establishment of the Kingdom of God, or the re-establishment of the National Church?
In my worst moments, I look to the instructed change with wearied resignation. In my better moments, and in an effort to contend with pessimism, I have commitment myself to the cause. But the reality is I’m not convinced that the looming pain of restructuring will be worth the effort.
Having said that there are two thoughts which I believe would be central to any future resurrection, as opposed to defibrillation, of the Kirk.
The first is that our future is dynamically bound to our willingness to apply the Cross to our denomination. Saving the CofS is not part of our Gospel remit or theological dna. In fact if we continue on this course it will almost certainly end in denominational death. We must stop trying to save the Kirk!
Secondly, we need to rediscover our love for the Saviour.
The only Kirk worth saving; the only Kirk of any value to its members and the people of Scotland, is a Kirk passionate and single-mindedly devoted to Jesus of Nazareth. He is the source, sustainer, redeemer and goal of the church and if he can command worship from rocks, he can breathe new life into his bride.
Belt tightening, ‘clergy’ culling, Mega-Presbyteries and well placed right-spaces will be painful and meaningless efforts unless the Kirk rediscovers a love for King Jesus! May he breathe his powerful Spirit of repentance and renewed power through our dry bones today.