Written for the FIEC Website
Andy Hunter reports back from the inaugural Pathways Conference in Scotland.
“There will be two equally good outcomes from this weekend: One is that you will realise that vocational Christian ministry is not for you, or not for you at this time. That will be a good outcome. The other is that you will realise that vocational Christian ministry is the way forward for you. That is also a good outcome, but not a better one than the first.”
So was introduced the very first Pathways Conference for men and women considering vocational Christian ministry. Held in Glasgow at the end of January, the conference was designed to offer the same kind of help for people in Scotland as has been provided by The Hub Conference in recent years.
Like The Hub, Pathways is intended to be one component of a process in which delegates, in conjunction with their local church leadership, can work out how they might best serve God in their lives. As quoted above, for some that might be a call to full-time or part-time vocational Christian ministry. For others the call to serve God is not any less significant, but will be worked out in the secular workplace.
As a new venture it was especially thrilling to see almost 90 people gathering together for this weekend of teaching, discussion and networking. Delegates came from all parts of Scotland (but also the north of England and Northern Ireland), and from a variety of church backgrounds.
The conference began with Andy Gemmill speaking on the challenges and dangers (including ourselves) to maintaining Gospel-centred ministry. On Saturday, Robin Sydserff took us to Mark’s Gospel to show us the central component of authentic gospel ministry – speaking the Word to people.
Our own Trevor Archer (FIEC Training Director) outlined the character requirements of those suitable to be set aside as Gospel workers. He noted that a bit of realism and honesty at this point can save delegates and churches a lot of grief down the line. The closing session on Sunday was taken by Jeremy McQuoid who gave an inspiring presentation of the cost, responsibilities and privilege of God’s calling from Exodus 4. All of which was supplemented by 15 seminar sessions covering a wide range of ministry issues.
One emphasis of the conference, both mentioned in the main sessions and included in the seminar programme, was the growing need for workers who can serve bi-vocationally. With so many small, yet strategically important gospel churches, there is a great opportunity for workers who can, at least in part, support themselves financially. If the nation is to be reached, the old expectation that ministry training will lead to a full-time position with a pre-existing congregation needs to be rethought. Those entering ministry in the coming years will need to be much more flexible and creative in how they envisage their arrangements in serving, revitalising and planting churches.
At a time when Christian affiliation in Scotland is even lower than in England, and evangelical Christians are reckoned to make up only 1 or 2% of the population, there is an urgent need for a new generation of gospel workers to be raised up and equipped ‘north of the border’. So it was a huge encouragement to see so many men and women who were prepared to take this time to seriously think through what their own role might be in the great task of making Christ known again to the nation.
The feedback from delegates has been overwhelmingly positive with many reflecting on the unique helpfulness of the conference, especially for those considering ministry from Independent church backgrounds. The Steering Group will be meeting soon to review all aspects of the weekend but the hope, and dare I say expectation, is that Pathways will be back in 2016.
Please give thanks for much answered prayer in seeing this year’s Pathways Conference come to fruition in such an encouraging way. Pray for the delegates as they reflect on the weekend and seek God’s will in their lives going forward, and pray for the Steering Group as they consider the future options for Pathways. Finally, please ask the Lord that He will have mercy on Scotland and send His workers into its harvest fields.
The Pathways Partnership
The initiative for Pathways came from FIEC but, recognising the different church scene in Scotland and the smaller number of FIEC churches there, a wider partnership of some key church leaders and training providers was convened. In order to make the conference as affordable as possible the conference fee was subsidised by financial contributions from FIEC and the JW Laing Trust. It was particularly encouraging that in order to keep costs down all the leaders agreed to pay their own conference fee.
The Training Providers represented were Edinburgh Theological Seminary, Highland Theological College, Faith Mission Bible College, 20Schemes, Tilsley College, Cornhill Training Course Scotland, the Charlotte Chapel Apprenticeship Scheme, and the Chalmers Church Apprenticeship Scheme.