The World’s most urgent need is…not Climate Change!

Twitter is mainly enraged at what appears to be a banner outside of a church building in Glasgow. It reads:

The World’s most urgent need is churches preaching Christ crucified not climate change

To be fair, some opponents have agreed with the exact statement, if not the sentiment. The world really does not need climate change!

If the banner is meant to enrage the masses, it’s a spectacular piece of trolling which is having the desired effect. But if you’re enraged by this message, don’t be, it’s probably not for you! I doubt that the church in question believe that President Biden is going to pass in his motorcade and ask the driver to pull over while he contemplates the possibility that his policies are flawed.

Instead, the banner is probably a comment on the poor state of the UK church. But again, I doubt they expect it to encourage errant christians and churches to return to a more conservative fold.

Most likely this communication is a form of virtue signalling, admittedly a charge more often made against liberals. The banner sends a clear message, to supporters, that they are standing fast in the face of the misguided woke church and climate alarmists.

And part of me gets it. I have been concerned about the environment for many years. But I am getting a little sick of churches trying to be ‘relevant’. It’s hard to get through a month without being told you need to dedicate the following Sunday to an issue, charity or campaign. And environmentalism constitutes the motherload for activist Christians.

For Christians, preaching Christ crucified is vital. So, instead of trying to argue the importance of mitigating climate change, I want to take the banner at face value.

The reason I wanted to respond is because the banner deals with preaching, one of the main topics of this blog. Sharing the Good News about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is a core activity for the Church. Many associated churches will take this statement as affirmation that they are on the right track. We preach Christ crucified at every service. But the question is, who is listening?

Many of us speak mainly to Christians each week. Sunday services are no longer the ‘shop window’ for sharing the Gospel, they are mainly the opportunity for teaching Christians God’s word. Care for God’s world is a Biblical imperative. In fact as Graeme McMeekin recently reminded us, God so loved the world* that he gave his only Son. God’s love for his world is central to the Good News! That’s why all creation is waiting in anticipation of Christ’s return; the world seeks redemption. Therefore, to meaningfully preach Christ crucified to disciples requires us to speak about climate change. And I’m sure the church in question do just that.

But if it’s true that most of us predominantly speak to Christians in our services. How well are we communicating with those who are not part of our churches? How are we engaging outside of our eco chamber (excuse the pun)? And what impact might our external communication have on those outside the Church? This is where the banner becomes interesting. As internal dialogue it is effective.

But will it really encourage unbelievers to take the Gospel seriously? It’s possible some will understand the banner to be promoting the importance of Christ over everything else. But how many will read it as confirmation that Christians don’t care about the planet? How many will see it as underlining that Christians don’t care about matters close to their heart.

The intention of the banner may not be trolling or virtue signalling. Perhaps they are simply trying to remind people of the greatness of Jesus Christ and his Gospel. That may be the intent, but the particular delivery may actually dissuade people from listening the very message the banner seeks to promote.

* I’m indebted to a colleague for the caution that John is talking about ‘humanity’ when he writes ‘world’. It’s probably wishful thinking on my part that the use of cosmos instead of anthropoi might hint at something bigger than just human beings. If I have engaged in eisegesis on this point, I trust it doesn’t detract from all the other biblical evidence for God’s love for all creation.


You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

Matthew 5.1 ESV

The Church of Scotland seems to be in disarray. There is panic at the rate with which we are shedding members and haemorrhaging cash. In response, we are seriously restructuring; nationally consolidating into mega presbyteries and locally culling posts and buildings. And as with many traditional denominations we seek hope in new forms of church and ministry.

During the Q&A at a recent book launch, it was remarked that we must beware relying upon our own innovation instead of the Holy Spirit. That’s an important comment; not simply as a biblical precept but also because it may be a prophetic statement to the Kirk today. Restructuring or new ministries may be answers to the wrong questions. Because the main issue appears to be, we have forgotten that God is living. We are not dealing with a machine. We are not dealing with a maths formula. It’s not just a matter of tweaking the equation or checking that we are inputing the right data.

Scripture testifies that God is a living being with whom we are in relationship. Rebranding, restructuring, refreshing and reforming will make no ultimate difference unless we prioritise our relationship with him. Perhaps another better question we must answer today is are we in good relationship with God? Because if our restructuring is an act of faithful obedience then it may be blessed. But if it’s simply about saving the Kirk, why do we presume that God will bless it?

In our planning for the future of the church there is very little discussion about our obedience and faithfulness to God. Perhaps like prayer at the General Assembly, it is simply assumed? It is also seldom considered as an explanation for the problems we face as a denomination. Why do we ask how to fix our decline without starting with consideration of the quality of our obedience to Scripture? The Scriptures are full of prophetic warning to God’s straying people, calling them to lament, repent and reconcile with Him. Do we imagine that Jesus’ atonement relinquishes the requirement for his people to be faithful?

So, before we invest too heavily in restructuring might we consider the personal and corporate call for the church, in response to God’s grace, to be faithful, holy, just, generous, humble and pure. In other words, as the Scottish nation in general, we should first consider our salt content.

The monastic shift

Over the years, I’ve followed with interest, and occasionally dabbled in, the popular shift towards new monasticism.

In this movement, I’ve found much to commend and imitate and some things that are best left alone. Some of the practices related to new monasticism have become increasingly mainstream, for example, Lectio Divina or the Examen. While Centring Prayer has intrigued and concerned me in equal measure.

I am challenged by those who have adopted a rule and by those who have embraced movements like 24/7 Prayer. But at the same time, the disconnect between some new monastic ideas and biblical Christianity is worrying.

Mike Cosper, the narrator of the deeply significant ‘Rise and Fall of Mars Hill’ recently commented that monastic practices provide a “provocative contrast to the hype, entertainment and expressions of power that drive much of evangelical life.” Along with the growing interest in spirituality, this critique of church life is surely a major cause of Christianity’s rekindled interest in monasticism.

Now, I’m not sure I want to join the new monastics but I do want to help reform the church to value every day along with Sundays. And I seek communal life, work, worship, learning, creativity, hospitality and service that encompass the whole week. And I want to learn to embrace Christlike patterns of prayer, retreat, rest and reflection equally matched by a passion for mission, discipleship and action (social or otherwise).

This thinking has combined with another concern: under used church buildings. Surely, predominately empty church buildings risk becoming a sinful indulgence.

So, like many churches, we have worked hard to populate our buildings with groups and activities that share some of our goals. This has culminated in plans to open a cafe at the centre of our building and communal life.

Initially, we spoke in terms of being a community centre. And to an extent we fulfil that function. But more recently, it has become clear that, without accepting the language or label, our vision sounds a lot like a monastery.

This conception of our building and grounds, acknowledges their central role in mission and Kingdom growth. That’s not to imply an attempt to shove our faith down people’s throats. But it indicates that the wider context for using our building is the rolling of heaven and earth into one.

So, two weeks ago we began daily morning prayer. This is the first step towards establishing rhythms and patterns of Christian faith that weave through the life of our community and facilities.

Clouds descending

I accidentally euthanaised my computer.

It’s a long and possibly amusing story which, along with a horrendous story about running out of loo roll in a church office, makes me glad that I will never warrant a biography.

To be clear I am not writing this as a precursor to fundraising.

But what has struck me is the nagging emptiness and the occasional experience of a phantom limb as I gaze at the space where my laptop once sat.

It’s not grief, so much as withdrawal. I have lost the ability to function on full power without my anodised box of delights. I have lost omniscience and omnipotence. Or at least, speedy access to these, because I am now limited to typing with my thumbs.

Once at university we were posed an essay question equating IT with the Tower of Babel. And to a degree this barrier to global communication might well be divine judgement upon self reliance and delusions of digital grandeur.

But in reality, the whole experience has become a welcome, if externally imposed, fast. It has opened my eyes to the utter idolatry and ritualised worship of our icon clad devices. The bell rings or the tone chimes and we prostrate ourselves before them for another scrap of enticement or encouragement from the cloud of all knowing.