Grab your spade, we’re going church planting!

Recently the Assembly Trustees hosted a seminar to consider the ongoing crisis in the Kirk. It was quietly optimistic but also clear about the stark financial realities.

At the heart of the message was a focus on planting new Christian communities with a commitment to resource these through the Seeds for Growth fund.

This focus on planting raises questions:

  • Where are the Kirk’s church planters?
    The seminar featured a video from HTB in London, highlighting some of the church plants they support across England. But, in the preparation of pioneers and planters, we are decades behind the Church of England and specifically churches like HTB. Who in the CofS is equipped to start planting now? Would it be accurate to say there are really only a handful of experienced church planters in the Kirk today? Having said that, Jesus started with only a few willing people.
  • Do we have the structures to encourage planting?
    Perhaps we can entice pioneers from elsewhere? But do we have time to impose the obligatory familiarisation process? And if some are ‘lay’ people, do we have the structures to allow them to form Christian communities around word and sacrament? Even if we were willing to form such structures, how long would it take for this to go through the Theological forum and a barrier act?
  • Are we ready for more sacrifice?
    Those sitting through Presbytery plan debates may have heard little to suggests widespread willingness for further sacrifice for the sake of an unknown future church. But if we are to plant new churches, we will to have to reallocate people to this task, which means even fewer parish ministers. And it may mean losing some of our most dynamic and engaged congregation members to form new communities.
  • Can we provide the requisite freedom?
    Key to encouraging creative formation of new communities, is the freedom to experiment and innovate. How do we provide such freedom and with immediate effect? In particular, how do we reduce the administrative burden which actually feels like it’s increasing with apparent changes in policy at a national level and the formation of new regional bureaucracy.
  • Do we have the capacity to achieve everything, everywhere all at once?
    In the next decade, can we really plant lots of new communities while also shedding staff and buildings and forming new presbyteries, unions, linkages, networks, clusters and groupings? Is there enough capacity in the system to allow all of this to occur well. If not, what do we prioritise?
  • Do we have time, patience and imagination to plant?
    Unless we see a miraculous resurgence of the response Peter received when first preaching in Jerusalem, planting will likely be slow and small. Current projections predict the Kirk running out of people and money in the next decade. But even a church planted tomorrow, if successful, would likely show only modest growth within the next decade. Are we ready for unspectacular results despite significant and sacrificial change to the Church of Scotland? Similarly, church plants may develop in ways that do not meet current expectations of a church. Are we prepared to support and invest in projects that produce results that we find hard to appreciate?

Having said all of this, do we have any other choice than to begin planting new Christian communities? If we are not willing to grow through sacrificial sharing and demonstration of the Gospel among the lost, then we might as well pack up now.

The reality is that our best efforts will not maintain the Kirk in its present form and we may benefit little from our labour. But that is the nature of faith: we must sew even if others will water and reap.

Great is your faithfulness.

A member of our congregation often reminds me to ‘look up’.

On a day of sombre reflection on the state of the Kirk. The morning after a presbytery meeting that inspired little hope for the future. And facing a critical General Assembly…

The Lectio 365 evening reading came from Lamentations 3.

But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,“therefore I will hope in him.”
The LORD is good to those who wait for him

I look up. And for a moment pause from the strategies, planning, complaining and fretting; even from the theologising and speculating about church and mission.

And again, I am a small child in the arms of our Father. Frustrated, struggling, wrestling, convinced of the justice of my cause. But eventually calmed and now aware of both total dependence and security.

And from up here, it seems to matter far less whether the Kirk is going to pull through.