Peace be with you!
“Peace be with you” is the motto of this year’s General Assembly. For many it is a reminder that the Church belongs to Christ. We may make our plans but God determines our steps. While we go about our business we need to allow the peace of Christ to rest among us. We must not be afraid of the future. We must learn to trust that God will accomplish all he has set out to do.
It has been interesting reading the Church of Scotland’s strategic plan for the next 10 years. No doubt it will be debated and challenged at this years’s General Assembly. However while it is written with a 10 year perspective in view it is a document that will need to be changed from year to year. This will require steady nerve and a sincere belief that the peace of God longs to console us when we feel frustrated and wish to see the church fulfilling her calling.
Much of what is required from local congregations to enable the plan to work, will be inviting ministers and church leaders to become much more creative in their thinking. It will also require a complete revision of the centralised funding model that is being used at present to finance the church. Greater devolution of finances will require to take place in order that those congregations who wish to explore new ways of church can be allowed to make choices as to how their locally raised funds can be spent to support their vision and mission.
No one will dispute the importance of pooling resources to help those congregations who struggle financially, however there needs to be a reality check. Resources that are being diverted to prop up congregations of less than twenty or thirty people, need to be to be justified or at least questioned, especially where there is a lack of vision. Where there is a recognised appetite for mission and a willingness to partner with others to create new forms of outreach and ministry, such situations should be encouraged and nurtured. If on the other hand congregations are reluctant to embrace a mission mindset, by doing so they have negated their purpose as a worshipping community. We are people called to worship our missionary God who sends us out in the power of the Spirit to make disciples of all people. Worship and mission go together.
In many congregations membership is made up of mainly elderly people, who have a great heart but have a reluctance to give permission to the minister to change. They are not sure if they can face the discomfort that further change may bring to their church life, so they refuse to embrace the opportunities and eventually these congregations cease to exist. However this means that the energy and encouragement that often comes from leading a congregation into a new place has been denied to the minister and the new people who would undoubtedly appear to bring about the transformation never materialises. Permission giving can be such that a new thing is allowed to be born, while the existing model of church continues. One need not deny the other but each can help to define each other.
The great challenge that confronts the church of Scotland membership is will we allow the Holy Spirit to change the way we do church? Are we willing to revisit the vows we once made and rediscover our calling to be followers of Jesus in our advancing years? Are we willing to begin a new adventure in our prayer lives and encounter the new thing that God wants to do in our midst? Are we willing to be the permission givers to allow a new generation of leaders to lead in a different way but proclaim the same message of hope and forgiveness to a world that is longing to find peace and reconciliation? It is this change of heart and mindset that is required if the strategy that is being proposed is to work.
Sanctuary First is just one little lifeboat launched to bring hope and sustenance to those who have been unable to continue to be part of a congregation that has lost its vision and purpose. We want to be open to the Holy Spirit to help us discover new ways in which we can use technology to support and encourage the body of Christ.
So as we go into a week of discussion and debate in Edinburgh at the General Assembly, let us all pray that God would bring about a refreshing of our hearts and minds as we seek to be a people, worshipping God, inspiring others to embrace the faith and connecting people into the fellowship of Christ in order to bring about the transformation of our relations with each other. Peace be with you.
Very Rev Albert Bogle, Minister of Sanctuary First