What follows is the result of two weeks study leave, during which I attended a “Re-imagining Church” conference, so my offering of a radical plan is an attempt at trying to re-imagine Church. I believe we really need to take radical steps in the Church of Scotland, not simply re-arrange the deckchairs. Whether or not this hits the mark is a matter of opinion to which we are all entitled. I see a radical plan not as a series of options but as a jigsaw, in which the various pieces are important and need to fit together in order to paint a fuller picture. The action points need to dovetail together in order to take flight!
A radical plan
In the Church Without Walls Report 2001 we have the basis to shape the future of our Church. That Report is now 18 years old. Was the Report not good enough or was our response to the Report not good enough? I reckon it was the latter. As an institution we have been extremely slow to change and have been complacent. At the heart of the Report is a plea for a change of mindsets across the Church; to our shame that has not happened, but it needs to, and quickly.
My top 20 key points from the CWW Report
1. This is the start of a journey we will travel for some years to come as we all respond afresh to Jesus’ call to “Follow me”.
2. The Church of Scotland mission strategy is based on a 19thcentury mission model: one minister in one building in one parish…in the 21stcentury, the emerging pattern for mission strategy must be…ministry teams operating in a variety of community bases to be incarnate in a network of communities.
3. Pray, pause, and give permission to create a climate for change.
4. Funds need to be released for the emerging Church.
5. The Church works where people join together, building relationships with each other and the community to which they belong. It is through these relationships that the Gospel is spread. In each place the Church is different. There is no one model that fits all. We rejoice in the diversity within the Church. We celebrate and encourage it.
6. In times past, faith has been passed from one generation to another. Today that “chain of memory” has been broken.
7. The Church of Scotland structure is perceived by most people to be overly centralised. Presbyteries are places where people do their Presbyterian duty, but gain little inspiration or support. Local congregations with the desire for vision and change sense a culture of inhibition that limits initiative for all except the boldest.
8. Presbyterianism has become a form of institutionalised distrust.
9. Changing structures without changing mindsets achieves little.
10.It is vital that congregations look at and listen to their locality.
11.The storm is so serious, I believe that it marks the end of “business as usual” for the churches and marks the need for us to begin again building the church from the ground up.
12.We need leadership. We need elders with vision and flexibility…there needs to be an honest appraisal of the gifts and calling of our elders.
13.If the regional leadership of the Church is to be an inspiration to the local church, then it must reflect the life of God in Christ as an example – a community of communities with Jesus at the centre.
14.The future shape of the Regional Church will have three functions: relational support for local strategy, regional centres of worship and inspiration, and regions for more comprehensive oversight and allocation of resources.
15.Much of the frustration of Presbytery lies in its style of operating. It has been suggested that it move from “courtroom” to “courtyard” – a pattern for dialogue rather than debate.
16.The heart of reform is the reform of the heart. The first proposal for reform is a call to prayer.
17.Sabbath is a time of realising that we do not run the world. It is a time to recover the rhythms of grace as we trust in God the Creator. It is a time to realise our responsibilities to the poor and the lost as we look around us. We recommend a Sabbath rest for the people of God.
18.Change will come where people take the time to discover the one area that might make a difference for them and then they do it.
19.There are many congregations around the country who have a big vision, but limited resources. We believe that one way to encourage growth is by making significant funds available.
20.Two barriers to change lie deep in our nature: the twins of fear and power.
Building on these key points, things that need to happen locally…
1. Every minister, Kirk Session and congregation need to keep the focus of their deliberations about a radical Church before them for the foreseeable future, continuing to…pray for the future, change their mindsets, give up buildings where necessary and have a common sense approach, unite with neighbours where possible, give thanks for the past and leave it behind, explore more relevant forms and times of worship, discover at least one area in their community where they can make a difference and do it and build from there, and simply continue to follow Jesus into the unknown. No one size fits all, so catch your vision!
2. Form groups that will lead radical change in your Church, involving younger people wherever possible.
3. Support at least one international charity or project and do what you can to promote and halt climate change.
4. Develop a system where pastoral care is a shared responsibility amongst many.
5. See people in other Churches as fellow Christians and not rivals.
Things that need to happen regionally…
6. Every Presbytery needs to unite with at least one neighbouring Presbytery, but preferably unite with two neighbouring Presbyteries. The Principal Clerk’s office can advise. This is not to create a bigger local bureaucracy but to become a bigger local enabler of mission for local congregations.
7. Appoint a Moderator in each Presbytery who is competent at leading meetings, for a 2-3 year term. And appoint a full-time Clerk, if possible, who will enable change and support him/her in doing so.
8. Presbytery Clerks to arrange all business meantime to be in electronic reports; Moderator asks for any questions or comments; deliverances not read out but taken as a whole, only any amendments or objections require to be heard. Agreed? Whoosh, right through all the boring business!
9. Discuss something relevant and exciting at quarterly Presbytery meetings. Powers to act given to Committees if required during the four quarters of the year. And only have Committees that are relevant to your situation; don’t keep the old system going just for the sake of it.
10.Every enlarged Presbytery to continue to be robust, courageous and imaginative in their Presbytery planning. Once agreed by Presbytery, no appeals to be heard. In planning, Presbyteries must make ends meet – given their budget from M&M contributions from each Church, Presbyteries plan where and how ministry should be placed. This does not mean the survival of the fittest; Presbyteries should endeavour to support ministry, Church plants, pioneers and other new initiatives, especially in areas where ministry might otherwise be unaffordable. Every Church, which can afford to do so, should pay at least the equivalent cost of a minister, minimum £45,000. Every congregation should report an update on progress every three years to Presbytery, with a Review Team from Presbytery targeting visits as necessary to support and enable, and take hard decisions if that becomes necessary. If we continue to use Local Church Review, then at least scale it down to manageable size. Some charges need to be sensitively allowed to come to an end. Every charge is reviewable in the sense that change may become prudent or necessary at any given time.
Things that need to happen nationally…
11.A new Church of Scotland website where the focus is on sharing meaningful stories and providing resources where local congregations can gain inspiration.
12.Every Council and department of the central Church to be streamlined to minimum requirements or, in some cases, no longer exist. Re-employ staff where possible in the larger regional Presbyteries. Capped salaries for remaining employees, situated in a smaller office located somewhere within central Scotland.121 is sold. Remaining Councils should be led by duly elected leaders who campaign for their three-year vision at General Assembly. The resulting smaller Councils will mainly report information to Presbyteries and represent the national Church where appropriate, with short reports to General Assembly.
13.Freeze M&M contributions in 2020 at 2019 levels, then in 2021, have a jubilee year by halving all M&M contributions above the minimum ministry requirement of £45k (for example, instead of paying £95k you pay £70k) – and for those charges which pay less than a minimum ministry requirement reduce by £5k in 2021 and fund the total shortfall from reserves held by the Church – allow congregations to use this one-off gift for some new work of their choosing - and by 2021 have a new M&M system in place for future years that makes sense, for example capping contributions at £70,000 (in one-minister charges) which is more than one and a half minister’s worth, and making appropriate arrangements for multi-staffed charges or hubs. New regional Presbyteries that emerge will eventually take on this responsibility and make their own M&M allocations according to their requirements.
14.General Assembly agrees to either drop or radically revise the understanding of Article 3 to the extent that ministers are no longer required to conduct parish funerals. If ministers wish to make alternative local arrangements with other local denominations then this is perfectly acceptable in order to provide a Christian service for those who may wish this, however the requirement to do so is no longer tenable. No parish boundaries required any more. Accept the fact that we may not be able to cover the whole of Scotland.
15.The Ministries Council needs to devise new ways of enabling ministers to be trained that allows for part-time study accompanied by more practical training, preferably in a team setting, whilst paying trainee ministers a reasonable salary.
16.The Ministries Council needs to sit down with the Inland Revenue and seek to devise a system whereby we offer various options on manse provision, from continuing to provide a manse in certain situations to the option of ministers living in their own homes.
17.Retain a presence in the Holy Land, but otherwise all Churches outwith Scotland should only continue if they are self-supporting. We would love to be everywhere in the world but let’s be realistic.
18.Streamline the numbers attending General Assembly from home and abroad.
19.Unlock all money held for fabric purposes to be used by local Churches for mission purposes as they see fit.
20.Stop using language that fits the modern personnel photofit and keep things simple.
21.Form a legal group that will critically examine all our rules and regulations and drastically streamline and update wherever possible over the next three years.
22.Adopt Sanctuary First as a ground-breaking Pioneer Ministry and form a new communications department with Sanctuary First and Sanctus Media at its heart. See www.sanctuaryfirst.org.uk
There are no guarantees in following any radical plan. We follow this path, hoping and praying that we can once again become a flourishing Church in Scotland. We cannot make disciples but by the Holy Spirit working in people’s hearts. All we can do in the Church is offer our best, the results of what we do are in the mix of God’s hands and people’s hearts.