I lift up mine eyes to the Mound

The previous post envisaged a future Kirk without paid, full-time ministers. Instead a restructured bureaucracy would oversee the nationwide delivery of ‘the ordinances of religion’ by local volunteers. This did not necessarily reflect my preferred future or hopes for the Kirk. It was an attempt to imagine where our present path may lead. I was encouraged by some of the discussion that arose, especially the alternative views.

Some anxiety about current plans may reflect an aversion to change. But there are legitimate concerns about our present direction. For example, hesitancy regarding the reduction of parish ministers and the geographical expansion of their remits does not necessarily reflect belief in a hierarchy or special religious caste. It simply highlights some important questions. Would the unpaid volunteers that replace parish ministers be willing to work the hours, juggle the roles and absorb the pressure and criticism that generally accompany the role. And if not, what changes are needed to the expectations of ‘ministry’?

A more optimistic response to such concerns might correctly point out that everything will turn out well in the end. God has plans for the future church in Scotland. We simply need to ride the wave of Holy Spirit shaped history and ‘all shall be well’. Yet at the same time, God’s plans seldom materialise without human agency. God creates out of nothing, but he instructs Adam to name the animals and work the land. God parts the sea but Moses has to exercise faith through his staff. Similarly, despite Jesus’ miraculous conception, Mary has to carry and deliver the child. Who will help birth a developing Scottish church for the future? Will the Kirk have any presence? And are our current plans reflective of cooperation with God’s planning, or is his voice drowned out by our cries for self-preservation?

What then should we being doing today to help prepare the Kirk for tomorrow? What attitudes and approaches to Christian life are likely to benefit future Scottish Christians? Are there core beliefs and practices that must be rediscovered like Josiah receiving the book of the law? And if the adage is true that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ should be focussing on the Kirk’s culture over administrative restructuring. Because currently we appear to assume that strategic restructuring will produce a beneficial and desirable culture..

This brings us to the question of leadership. We are a church of ‘clerics’, lawyers and trustees. Structural preservation and institutional conservatism form our DNA. Presbyterian governance may manage our structures well. But in our fixed Assembly line (excuse the pun) the output seems predetermined by inputs and established process. This is great if you need stability, predictability and minimal disruption. But will it produce useful change or innovation. Will it produce spiritual vitality, repentance or renewed faithfulness? And if we think not, from where will such leadership originate? From whence cometh our help?

Of course, our help comes from God, but isn’t the best agent of his change often the Spirit infused local church? It’s true that we need to rationalise, consolidate and close churches. But the necessary result must be healthy local churches, enabled by administrative structures, and provided the freedom and resources to innovate. Might the necessary paradigm shift emerge from such local contexts? And will our Presbytery plans result in local churches still with the energy, vision, confidence and leadership to fulfil this vocation?

Lastly, recognising that almost everyone involved in the Kirk is invested in her survival. What if she is beyond recovery? Do we posses the collective, unselfish faith required to make the necessary sacrificial decisions? And what kind of death would most likely lead to resurrection? Might the decaying corpse of the Kirk nourish Scotland’s earth for future Kingdom shoots? Will we leave a useful legacy for our spiritual children or will we blow their inheritance on our vain search for an elixir of life? What kind of last will and testament are we drafting?

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