Our Planning Strategy

I recently tried to summarise the approach we took in Perth to develop a new Presbytery Plan. I thought it might be interesting to share our methodology.

What we produced is not perfect nor is it necessarily the only effective approach. But in the interest of collaboration and sharing practice perhaps it will be of use.

I should say this is a personal blog and really I am sharing my interpretation of our planning process. The Perth Presbytery Planning and Development Committee have not endorsed this message. For clarity, the official report of the committee and the convenors presentation can be found here (https://perthpresbytery.org.uk/resources/).

My recollection of the planning process is as follows:

A. Firstly we agreed planning principles with Presbytery. This was given approval long before the GA issued mandatory figures but the principles remained relevant.

Our planning principles were to prioritise churches that displayed evidence of:

1. Growth (including spiritual vibrancy, not only numerically or financial)

2. Sustainability 

3. Innovation 

During the most recent planning process we also kept an eye on areas of population growth, in particular brand new housing developments. Eg One of our two Presbytery Mission Initiatives is a greenfield village development beside Perth to which we had already allocated 0.6 FTE. This allocation was maintained in the new plan proposals. 

B. Our next step was to request specific evidence from every church – we called this a toolkit. I believe a few variants of this document may be in circulation amongst Presbyteries. On receipt of this information, we gave around 2-3 hours per church in review and discussion of the evidence provided. We graded this evidence based upon our planning principles and allowed this to guide our weighting of staff allocations. 

C. We had already initiated the formation of local (geographical) networks and we used these as the building blocks of the plan, although some churches moved network during discussions. 

D. We did not use population as a first level principle – ie Growth, Sustainability and Innovation were given primary weighting in staff allocations. However, population did help us refine our allocations once we had a rough idea of networks and resource requirements.

E. Resource Parity was also not a first level principle – ie we did not simply divide the Presbytery into networked parishes and then allocate based solely on population. However, a level of parity was taken into account as a secondary organising principle.

F. We focussed our resources where there was the greatest potential for further growth. Churches that best evidenced a willingness and ability in mission were given greater resources. We believed this to be a better long term strategy than ensuring absolute parity of resource. Our belief is that growing missional churches will ultimately aid the resourcing of mission across the Presbytery. We recognise that this resonates with Jesus’ parable of the talents.

G. Our proposals mean that nearly every church within our bounds would experience a relative reduction in resources. Those areas that we have prioritised are proposed to received a smaller reduction than others. However, churches that are considered to evidence the greatest potential for further growth are being asked to take on additional responsibility. Eg – Some churches are keeping their present (or close to their present) staff allocation but they are still being asked to take over the pastoral care or development of mission in other locations in the Presbytery.

H. We attempted to honour churches that are likely to continue to experience decline, ie where possible, and within the limitations of the centrally allocated numbers, we have attempted to allow pastoral care and worship to continue into the next plan period. However, some church buildings and congregations have been proposed for closure.

I. We took a relatively gradualist approach, ie often we have proposed linkages rather than going straight to unions. While this may not be the most radical method, we believe it is more achievable.

Perhaps the outline of this process will be helpful. However, it comes with the caveat that our plan has not yet been approved.

What is the Spirit saying to the Church?

Sunguk Kim unsplash.com

In these days of mistrust and ‘fake news’, I’m trying to glean information from a wider range of sources. Previously I was guilty of lazily sticking to my favoured news silos, but recently I’ve been challenged to be less lethargic. Essentially this means engaging with other voices alongside the BBC.

One trend that has caught my attention is people that don’t profess Christian faith speaking favourably about Christianity. For example, Tom Holland’s view of the role of Christianity in Western Civilisation or until recently some of Jordan Peterson’s statements. I say ‘until recently’ because youtube is full of videos indicating that Jordan Peterson may now be a follower of Christ. Incidentally, I recently heard an interview where Jordan Peterson commented that if pastors are making the bible boring, we are doing it wrong!* Guilty as charged, but let’s save that for another day.

In other interviews and podcasts, I’ve heard people who profess to be atheist or agnostic claim that the problems they perceive in society come from the ‘death of God’ or that religious faith might be better for society. Interestingly, one of my geography lecturers said something similar a quarter of a century ago; perhaps this is not a new phenomenon.

Most of these comments come from a philosophical perspective and from people that are conservative about particular cultural changes. These are not, necessarily, people converting to Christian faith. But they appear to lament a perceived void in society which is being filled with other passions and ideologies. What stands out, is that these commentators value faith, theism and sometimes historic Christian belief in contrast with the values and practices of contemporary society.

In the interview mentioned earlier, Peterson also stated that the church may be losing young people because we don’t offer them a challenge; “[the church] demands too little.” I find this particularly significant. The reason being, many voices within the church propose making Christianity more accessible rather than more challenging. For example consider the recent article on Premier about a Taylor Swift tribute at Southwark Cathedral.** It’s the comments rather than the article which suggest that Christians need to make it easier for younger people (and Taylor Swift fans) to enter a church building.

In many mainstream and established churches there appears to be a shift towards making Christian faith less demanding and more similar to the wider culture. Often this is framed as being in the interests of inclusion and justice. But sometimes it’s simply to remove general barriers to people coming in.

This leaves me wondering what the Spirit might be saying to the church today? Should we be making it easier to participate in Christian community by contrasting less with wider society? Or should we be holding on more strongly to our distinctives? And might our answer vary depending on whether we are speaking of cultural practices, ethics and morality or aesthetics? Is it possible that atheists and agnostic cultural critics have more to say to the church than major voices within the church?

And finally, if Jordan Peterson is right that young people seek challenge, might the established churches’ increasing acquiescence to popular culture and beliefs lead to the unintended result of speeding our demise?

*The Jordan B Peterson Podcast, The Spiritual Void and the West with Rav Arora.


This house remains a ruin

James Tissot Collection, freebibleimages.com

Recently, we’ve been studying Haggai who reveals God’s frustration that his people in, Post-Exile, Jerusalem have been building homes for themselves rather than rebuilding the Temple. The Jerusalem Temple was, amongst other things, a symbol of the presence of God among his people. It was a central representation of and conduit for the relationship between God and his people. I took the core message to connect strongly with Jesus’ command to prioritise God’s Kingdom.

In the New Testament the Temple building appears to be replaced by people. For Christians, Jesus replaces the Temple, the Christian community (Jesus body) replaces the Temple, and individual Christians also replace the Temple as dwelling places for God’s Spirit. Today the message of Haggai insists that our focus should be on Jesus and the growing people of God.

This makes me wonder about our churches as both physical and institutional structures? Do we see our buildings and governance structures as the symbol and context for God’s presence among us? Is it possible that we have mistake these as the Temple?

Many churches, at heart, present as members clubs rather than missionary movements. Often staff and volunteer activities are centred on keeping the organisation running rather than increasing the spiritual depth and impact of the people of God? Is it possible that God remains frustrated that we are still building our own ‘homes’ because our activities are about the day to day running and preservation of the organisation or the assets?

What if the Spirit is saying stop! Stop building your own homes. Stop trying to save your structures and buildings. Stop trying to save the Kirk. Because while we agonise over how to make structural reforms, another generation of Scotland’s people are drifting further from any Christian community. What if, by continuing to focus on the structures and infrastructure we are doing more harm than good? What if the Kingdom of God would most benefit from our demise as a denomination?

I actually wonder if that is the starting place for all planning.

Should every Church of Scotland start by asking in what way are we benefitting the growth of God’s Kingdom? Or to phrase if differently, what difference would it make to the Kingdom if we were not here? And what about our earlier question, how is God’s Temple being priorised?

How are God’s people growing in number, faith and impact? Is anyone becoming a Christian through our church life? Is God adding to our number. How are people transformed by our worship services and care for our community? How is Jesus’ mission furthered by our church building and administrative structures? What different does it make that we are in our parish?

It might be well argued that churches should be primarily about the worship of God and the teaching and care of the congregation. And this need not be a self-centred approach. Such congregations might be heavily missional through the personal activities of the individual congregation members. But in that context it’s hard to justify all the trappings of a parish church. How do we justify the expense of a building which is used infrequently? How do we justify the expense of a Parish Minister and local church organisational structures, if our church is essentially a small gathering for bible study, prayer and worship. Why not become a self-sustaining house church perhaps renting a space for Sunday gatherings?

This is a circuitous way of saying, the Temple and therefore the Kingdom of God can be built without the current parish church exo-skeleton. Indeed, sometimes maintaining the parish church with its rotas, costs, committees and admin may actually detract from the building of the Temple.

Should we close all our buildings and lose our employees and office holders? No, but we must justify these through their participation in the growth and extension of the Kingdom. Instead of equating our buildings and administrative structures with the Temple, we need to assess them as instruments of mission and Kingdom growth. How do our church buildings, governance and administrative structures support the activity of the Spirit, adding to our number and transforming us into the likeness of Jesus? If they don’t, do we really need them?

Lastly, I believe that the Kingdom of God is growing among us, albeit often unseen and unheard. But perhaps we should ask does God want the Kirk to decline? Does God seek our slow demise because he has something else in mind? What does keeping in step with the Spirit mean for the Kirk today? But that’s a question for another day.

More Bricks, Less Straw?

Bible Pathway Adventures, freebibleimages.com

During lockdown, our local Argos closed. There are still Argos stores in Dundee and the Kinross’ Sainsburys. So if you live in Perth and you want something from Argos, you can travel or you can shop online.

When planning the closure of the Perth Argos, probably no one suggested laying off the Perth employees and asking the Dundee staff to run both stores. If that had happened, I suspect it wouldn’t be long before the Dundee staff resigned or were signed off with stress. But if Argos was a Church of Scotland, would we have done exactly that? Would we have pointed to the third article declaratory and insisted on complete coverage of both regions, with half the resource?

Some may baulk at the comparison of the life of the Kirk in the same sentence as the strategy of a high street retailer. But arguably the Lord’s instructions were similarly decisive when it came to the towns that rejected the Gospel or local churches that stagnated. It’s a good question for every church to ask; ‘does Jesus consider our church fruitful or is he about to shake the dust?’

But to return to the point, our historic constitution states that: “as a national Church representative of the Christian Faith of the Scottish people [the Kirk] acknowledges its distinctive call and duty to bring the ordinances of religion to the people in every parish of Scotland through a territorial ministry.” There is much to consider about the meaning and relevance of this Article today. And as I consider the seismic reduction of ministries ahead, I wonder how are we going to live up to this commitment?

Let’s be real. It will not be possible for us to make the cuts instructed by the General Assembly and continue to focus our attention equally on every part of the resulting parishes, networks, hubs, clusters, mission groupings or mega-presbyteries. It may not be possible for every remaining church to have an in-person sermon each Sunday or to have a moderator or interim-moderator at session meetings. It may not be possible for only Ministers of Word and Sacrament to continue to conduct communion. Weddings, funerals and baptisms may not remain the domain of ‘the meenister’. And these may not be the most radical changes.

Those in leadership, and particularly those engaged in ministries, will need to focus on activities and practices that best advance the Kingdom of God and further the mission of Jesus to his world. But do we know what those activities are?

What will be the most important activities for Church of Scotland Ministers in this brave new world? What are the ordinances of religion today and what should they be? We are certainly unlikely to ‘hatch, match and dispatch’ our way to the Kingdom of God? And how does the preaching of the Word relate to mission if there is seldom anyone new to hear it? How will discipleship happen when, increasingly, participation in the Christian community is one of many leisure options?

The reality is that we don’t know! We don’t know what ministry will look like because we haven’t been this way before. That being the case, it is vital that we allow those in ministries the continued freedom to discern what God asks of them. You may think that goes without saying, but in the new paradigm it is equally possible that a cookie-cutter approach is imposed with the aim of forming an easily interchangeable workforce.

Having said that, although we ministers like to blame external expectations for the demands placed upon us. I wonder if the biggest obstacle to the necessary changes will not be congregations, 121 or Presbytery but the internal compulsion of many parish ministers to attend every event, meet every need, solve every problem and control every outcome.


In response to an earlier post, a colleague reminded me that the future does not rest upon ministers and church staff working harder but upon upon the whole people of God. He also stressed the importance of training so that the tasks of ministry can be shared more widely allowing freedom and space for all of us to exercise our gifts.

Training is vital. Without it, the suggestion of the wider church taking on the tasks of mission and ministry is wishful thinking or even a cost saving, cop-out. But with the right support ‘whole church’ ministry could be incredibly effective. I say this not to be elitist, but to recognise that Jesus trained people to continue his mission. Training is not the opposite of relying on the Holy Spirit, although we must beware of replacing faith with competence.

In the church we have a particular type of training; we call it discipleship. The two terms are not synonymous; discipleship has a particular relational dimension which should make it even more powerful than training. Churches that train without discipleship have missed a vital ingredient of developing followers of Jesus.

Discipleship was key to Jesus’ ministry. It was integral to his announcement of the Kingdom of Heaven’s proximity. Based on his apparent priorities, it was possibly more important to him than his many miracles. And, according to Matthew, discipleship was core to Jesus final instructions to his followers: “as you go, make disciples…” Perhaps it’s too much of a stretch, but might that even qualify discipleship as a sacrament?

However, churches often do discipleship badly. In the UK we have succeeded in forming Christians as church-goers, consumers, activists and theological zealots. But how well do we nurture disciples?

Church-goers are a dying breed, in part, due to the removal of the cultural expectation of Kirk attendance. The few remaining church-goers make occasional visits, often preceding the request for a family ‘Christening’. Church-goers may enjoy the familiar hymns and the historical continuity of attending the church where they were married or held a funeral. But for them, church is an activity devoid of deeper meaning beyond personal sentimentality.

Consumer Christians follow Jesus for the fringe benefits. The purpose of Church is to meet their needs or provide a desired experience. They follow Buddy Jesus, who is way to busy being a dude to demand much. The Christian community provides them with entertainment, friends, child-care, a worship hit or spiritual safety-net but if these wane, so will their allegiance.

Activist Christians are ready to co-opt Jesus and his Kingdom in support of whatever cause is close to their hearts. Their’s is woke Jesus, libertarian Jesus, culturally affirming Jesus, culturally conservative Jesus, environmentalist Jesus etc. To them, Jesus does make demands, in particular that everyone should join him in support of their chosen movement or cause.

The theological zealots perfectly fulfil Phil Collin’s lyric “Jesus he knows me and he knows I’m right“. Queuing to burn their copy of ‘Velvet Elvis’ the zealots form a theological Stasi, too busy thanking God that they are the right sort of Christian to get out the tweezers and remove any stray opthalmological planks.

This list of the product of churches is not exhaustive. We might add the ‘church-hoppers’, the choral-union Christians, the historical re-enactment Christians or the novelty seeking, Prophecy or Mission junkies.

If truth be told, most of us will fall into some of the above categories. Are any of us immune to seeking novelty, co-opting Jesus to our cause, enjoying his community for the sake of its benefits, or thanking God that we are the best sort of Christians? We need the scriptural scalpel in the skilled hands of the Spirit to cut away our baser motivations and sinful self-centredness.

And this is the work of discipleship. Discipleship requires a holistic community commitment to the learning of Scripture and the discipline of prayer. It demands faithfulness to God and each other and valuing both our collective and individual relationship to God. Discipleship requires sacrifice in an age of procured personal fulfilment.

And discipleship is the only future for the church. Only a church based on discipleship will withstand the discomfort or even trials to come. If Jesus is the solid ground and cornerstone, discipleship is the building blocks that will allow us to withstand hostile elements. But it is also the source of flexibility that will allow necessary change to occur. Because discipleship keeps the main thing the main thing. It recognises what can be left behind on the journey.

Discipleship has perhaps never been so vital. In an age of competing identities and the last gasps of institutions nostalgic for Christendom, discipleship forms and reforms Jesus’ followers with common purpose and a shared identity transcending all earthly divisions and intersections.

As we plan and cast vision for 2022. As we formulate mission goals and prepare sermon series. As we consider how to enthuse and entertain the Covid beleaguered congregation. Spare a thought for the unglamorous, unfashionable, donkey-work of discipleship. It is the key to unlocking the riches of God’s kingdom, not just for the Church, but for the whole world.

For you

It’s become a cliche to say, ‘the church is the people.’ But it warrants repeating. The Church is nothing without people!

The Church is not the building or administrative structures, important as these are. Neither is the Kirk the sum of her courts, councils, fora, committees or Presbytery offices.

At this time of celebrating the incarnation, we remember that God became flesh in one human so that through his life, death, resurrection and ascension, by the power of Holy Spirit, we all might embody the presence of God. The people of God; rough around the edges and spiritually impoverished, are a holy community to be cherished and revered. Against them, the gates of hell shall not stand.

The preservation of power structures, the maintenance of national influence, the longevity of valued buildings, even the safekeeping of the ‘Third Article’, should not be achieved by disregarding the holy worth of God’s people. God’s own Son died for them.

This knowledge should be at the heart of our dealings with each other. And this knowledge must be at the heart of our planning and restructuring. But, for the sake of efficient planning, missional success and personal achievement are we sometimes guilty of forgetting the divine value God has placed on each person? Do we too easily behave like the institutions around us, become self-servinging, detached from the people we are charged to support; serving cheese and wine while the hoi polloi self-isolate?

Today, in particular, I want to spare a thought for colleagues under pressure this Christmas. To those, in this precious week, questioning their worth and their life’s work. To those worrying about their future. To those who feel like collateral damage in the attempts to save the Kirk.

You are of infinite worth!

For you Jesus Christ came into the world: for you he lived and showed God’s love; for you he suffered the darkness of Calvary and cried at the last, ‘it is accomplished’; for you he triumphed over death and rose in newness of life; for you he ascended to reign at God’s right hand. All this he did for you.”

The Church’s greatest resource is her people. Through them the power of the Gospel is demonstrated. Through them the Word is remembered. Through them the Spirit is embodied. Without people, there is no future for the Kirk. What benefit will there be in having efficient management of the right barns in the right right places if tonight, God requires lives?

Sharing Jesus’ ministry

I pulled the bin liner, tight, up to my elbow, closed my eyes, and plunged my hand into the toilet. After a couple of grasps, the blue paper towels were out and the U-bend was clear.

That’s the last thing I did last night before leaving the church building. I had been doing a Covid clean of the often-touched surfaces. And just when I thought it was finished, I saw the blocked loo.

I’m neither boasting or complaining; this is just the reality of parish ministry. I’m certain that colleagues across the country regularly clean loos, fix light switches, sweep halls and hoover offices.

I don’t mind that stuff. What I find most difficult is failing to live up to the expectations of others. And in particular failing to meet the expectations of the authors of ministry books.

A friend and I are re-reading the superlative ‘Working the Angles’ by Eugene Peterson. This book deeply affected me when I read it as a probationary minister. Reading it fifteen years later, I’m struck by how much more it resonates.

Peterson makes a compelling case for a ministry focussed only on Prayer, Scripture and Spiritual Direction. He talks of being sent home from church finance meetings because he was not to waste time on such distractions. Combine this with the advice from older ministers that we should spend the morning in the study, afternoons visiting and arrange meetings for the evening. Then there’s the mantra that there should be an hour of prep for each minute of your sermon. Or the example of scholarly pastors that manage to publish, in their spare time, entire translations of scripture or multiple books.

Now, I love sitting in my study, but I have no idea how these ministers have managed to stay true to such convictions. And as I absorb their advice I find the initial admiration soon this turns to self-loathing. Why don’t I work like that?

But, on reflection, I’m not certain this is entirely biblical advice. I think of Jesus’ ministry. He certainly prioritised prayer and scripture. He sought quiet places for reflection and solitude. But his compassion regularly compelled him to disrupt his plans in order to meet the needs of the people. I also think of his example of feet washing, which of course had spiritual significance. But it was also a regular practical act of service to others.

And I think of the setting apart of Deacons in the New Testament church in order to release the Apostles from table service. We are taught this as a good model for ministry but I can’t help but think it was not Jesus’ model. I suspect he would have willingly waited on tables and expected church leaders to join him. I find it significant that the two main Acts stories about Deacons have them preaching and evangelising, not making lunch. Is it possible that the church was not supposed to separate preaching and practical service?

Ultimately, I do think ministers are supposed to try and jealously guard time for engaging with God through prayer and Bible study. And I do think, also, that we should value highly times of spiritual direction. Jesus tried hard to protect these activities. But like him, perhaps we should not be ashamed of engaging in more practical activities and demonstrations of compassion through service.

And perhaps we should give ourselves a break from self-recrimination when we fail to live up to the expectations of others or even our own. Perhaps, also, this will redress any pressure that my last post loaded on hard pressed clergy-folks to achieve spiritual greatness!

Clergy-self care, for want of a better title

This is not a cry for help. Or if it is a cry for help, it’s a collective rather than personal appeal.

Over a decade ago, I attended one of the Scottish Ministry Assemblies in Glasgow. It was the first time I’d heard Tim Keller speak and it was revolutionary. I’ve never forgotten, admittedly in theory rather than practice, his call for ministers to rest on the Gospel; on the finished work of Jesus Christ. He reminded us to preach the good news to ourselves not just to the congregation. A while later, Rob Bell (he who must not be named?) repeated this message in his own inimitable way, “are you smoking what you’re selling?”

This is a salient message for every pastor in every era. But in the Kirk today it seems especially relevant. Was there ever such a ‘performance driven’ church? We may not have started appraisals or the line-management of ministers: yet. But with constant reminders of the condition of the Church of Scotland and the vast expense of Ministers and MDS staff, the message is clear. “The Kirk is dying and it’s your fault!” And the solution? Work harder and we just might turn this tanker around. But let’s be honest, the ship is not simply off course, it’s sinking.

But while the ship is going doing, the Kirk is not simply playing on like the Titanic’s band. We are throwing on additional weight. Prove your worth! Form hubs! No form clusters! No form networks. Don’t form hubs, form groupings instead. Display the five marks of mission. Restructure your Presbyteries. Cut off the dying branches. Plant new churches. Innovate! No, interim moderate! Oh, and if you’ve got time would you consider serving a central or presbytery committee? Now stop everything, get rid of nearly 40% of staff and then do better with less!

I’m not pointing the finger at anyone. We’re Presbyterians, we voted for this!

Recently in our church we’ve been talking a lot about Mary and Martha. And it seems to me that Martha has taken over the Kirk. I don’t want to sound like a naive pietist, but what about the one thing that is truly needed. Are we sitting at the feet of Jesus? I know I’m not. Martha and I are moving furniture, making rotas, attending Presbytery meetings, trying to fix the church heating and planning the biggest Christmas Eve service yet. To be clear, these activities are not beneath me. But sometimes they’re not the most important thing.

And what’s my concern?

I have this sneaking suspicion that while we try to strategically restructure the church, we may be trying to force the wrong wine into the wrong skins. And when we do that, something’s going to crack or explode. What happens once we’ve culled 40% of ministries? If we don’t seriously alter our expectations, one result will be putting a whole lot of pressure on the remaining 60%. What if the current pressure leads them to think, “this isn’t what I signed up for?”

I also have this nagging question about the retirement cliff edge. I’m sure this has been said before, but if so many people are about to retire, why can’t we just let that happen and work with whoever is left? Because it’s possible that restructuring simply loads stress and uncertainty upon the Ministers and MDS that are not retiring soon. That could seriously backfire.

Some will answer that I’m being too ‘ministries’ centric and that the wider people of God can take on additional responsibility. But many congregations are already near capacity. And most able volunteers are over committed. But also, that’s a denial of the need for leadership and God’s call to individuals.

I honestly think that if there is a solution to the present crisis, it’s for those involved in ministries and church leadership to be able, without guilt, to carve out more time sitting at the feet of Jesus. The Kirk needs leaders with spiritual depth not better parish managers. We need ministers that are working from freedom, joy and forgiveness rather than guilt and fear. We need leaders that have returned to their first love rather than developed a more efficient strategy.

This is not a call for a new corporate training course. This is not a call to heap new tasks upon already burdened pastors. This is an aspirational statement, that I, that we might tend to our faith so that we can sleep even when the ship appears to be sinking. Because we know he commands the wind and waves.

(Sub)Urban spirituality

A while back I mentioned commentators that suggest contemporary representations of Celtic Spirituality probably say more about the felt needs of Christians today than they accurately describe historical Celtic practice (here).

I’m not sure who I may be plagiarising here, but I’m certain many have noted that with increasing urbanisation, industrialisation and rapid technological advances, there has been a tendency to reminisce fondly of a pre-industrial idyll. This nostalgia may account for some contemporary presentations of Celtic Christianity. They attempt to ground faith on something less transient and manufactured.

For evidence, just look at the images selected for most homemade YouTube worship videos; it’s all seascapes and sunsets. Very seldom will you see a building, let alone a housing estate or factory. Why is it that we prefer a rural conceptual context for expressions of faith and prayer when most of us live in urban and suburban areas? Is it because, to us, rurality expresses the otherness of God?

I don’t know enough about the Iona or Northumbria communities and perhaps they successfully translate their liturgies for the Gorbals or Newcastle? But, I wonder how often we alienate ourselves and our faith from our daily context by focussing on the green pastures and still waters of David’s youth, rather than the roughcast and steel of our own.

Does anyone express well a liturgy of the city? I’ve seen some of the City to City theological material which argues strongly for a focus on civic, economic and cultural centres. But apart from the name, I don’t see much ‘urban’ in the New City Catechism. And what about a liturgy of the suburbs where the sparkling lights and cultural variety fade to grey homogeneity?

It’s interesting that the Bible is perhaps less sentimental than most of our worship. Scripture recognises the draw of the city or at least the reality of urbanisation. I wonder how many of us relate Christian spirituality with the natural or rural world while Scripture describes a holy city the context for the ultimate presence of God with humanity.

Greater love

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

John 15:13 (NLT)

If we asked Jesus who are the friends in question? He would probably reply with a story, “a man was travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho…”

I think a big question for the Kirk today is whether we are willing to follow Jesus’ example and lay down our life for our friends. In the same way as the Kirk, in relation to climate change, asks us to consider future generations and also those worst affected by climate change (for example). Are we also willing to consider future generations and the vast number in our nation today, that are yet to meet Christ?

A friend of mine once questioned whether it is fair to ask churches filled with septuagenarians and octogenarians to change to become the source of mission to young unchurched familes or fresh expressions of Church. And although I have known some spritely and missional seventy and eighty year olds, in most cases the answer is no. However, we must avoid forming similarly immutable communities amongst the newer communities we are planting or nurturing.

Like Peter trying to build structures to contain the wonder of the transfigured Lord, we have formed congregations which are monuments instead of temporary accommodation for pilgrims. In the next generation of churches might we encourage the formation of communities that are willing to sacrifice their own preferences and comfort for the sake of the lost.

It does already happen. I’ve heard of elderly congregations that were so committed to the spread of the Gospel that they essentially gave their buildings or resources to new growing churches. But I suspect that is not the norm. Indeed most of us struggle to give up our usual seat for a visitor let alone hand over the entire building to a community that will not maintain worship as we know it.

Having said all that, perhaps you will remind me of this, and keep me accountable, when you next find me moaning about the younger generations who don’t appreciate Star Wars or 90s guitar bands and try to make me look happy during worship.