Friday, May 04, 2018

Revitalising Scotland

Written for FIEC

Can the ageing Scottish church be saved? Andy Hunter calls for a new generation of young bi-vocational pastors to lead the charge.
Revitalising Scotland primary image
Much of the Scottish church is dying of old age. According to 2016 figures, 42% of Scottish church-goers are over 65 years old.1 By contrast, the proportion of the Scottish population over 65 is only 18%.2 This means that overall the church in Scotland is more than twice as elderly as the nation.
One church I visited recently had 18 members and the following age profile: 4x 90s; 4x 80s; 8x 60s; 2x under 60 but nobody under 50. This situation is replicated in many places. It represents a demographic time-bomb that will close scores of churches in the next decade.
Let’s be honest, in some instances those closures will be overdue. The community the church used to serve and witness to is simply no longer there. In some cases it’s been physically demolished, in others the church has become so fossilised culturally that it’s no longer accessible to anyone outside itself. Sadly, some churches have just lost any concern or vision to reach those around them.
However, many aging churches are in places where there is still a community to be reached – where if there wasn’t a church you’d want to start one. The congregation still yearns to reach out and see people saved. Where there is an openness to make changes, uncomfortable changes, these churches can once again be places of gospel growth.

Vision, energy and a future

The problem is: how? The buzzword is revitalisation – and much great work is being done to help churches through that process. But it doesn’t take long to see that at the heart of any successful revitalisation is the issue of leadership. That is, leadership with vision, energy and a future.
None of that is to disparage the extraordinary service and sacrifice of many who lead aging churches. But vision (a plan and goals for gospel growth, beyond just maintenance), energy (leading from the front, enthusing others, getting things done), and a future (here is something we can potentially get behind for the next 5,10, 20 years). These are three things, even with the best will in the world, aging churches generally struggle to provide.

Good news, bad news

So while there are doubtless exceptions, successful revitalisations typically happen where there is leadership with those three characteristics. This means we need younger well-trained leaders who can be deployed into valuable but aging churches.
Here’s the good news: there are many such leaders coming out of colleges and training programmes every year. Leaders with gospel vision, energy and who have (God willing) prime years of life to offer.
Here’s the bad news: they eat, have families, need homes – and thus require a level of financial support that smaller aging churches often can’t provide.
But there is an opportunity here – as there are few churches without any income (indeed smaller churches often accrue substantial reserves precisely because of their low overheads). Often the income of a church with low overheads (e.g. no staff) is usually less than its potential – after all people generally give what is needed and not for what isn’t. Thus even a small church should be able to muster some support – a part-time salary for example.

Bi-vocational advantages

For younger leaders/potential pastors this could be supplemented by bi-vocational working. Actually bi-vocational ministry has a number of benefits besides just meeting financial needs. Local employment can help embed someone in their community, establish contacts and create extra gospel opportunities. This can be a good use of time especially when the congregational needs of the church are relatively small.
The hope, of course, would be that the church will grow and over time meet more of the pastor’s financial needs – allowing him to attend to the correspondingly increasing ministry needs.
So we need many more people ready and able to enter ministry on that basis – as otherwise many current churches simply won’t survive for anyone to work in regardless of finance. Obviously some jobs lend themselves to a bi-vocational pastorate more than others and some jobs will pay highly for even part-time work. But for those whose main options will be less well-paid work, churches need to consider asymmetrical remuneration – e.g. paying relatively highly for two days’ work, on the basis that the pastor’s bi-vocational income won’t provide an equal share of what they need to live on.
There is a real need for smaller aging churches to solicit these discussions and be ready to take some risks here if their future is not simply to be one of continued decline.

Wider church back-up

There is another important consideration in all this – one which is often more of a problem than finance. That is, the wider ministry support given to pastors in such situations.
It can be that in churches where there has been a long period of decline there is no longer a good working model of leadership – or where the model has become dysfunctional. The fear (and experience) of many is that sending younger pastors into such situations is to ‘throw them to lions’ re: ministry pressures.
The problem is compounded by the scarcity of assistant pastor positions where younger pastors can ‘cut their teeth’ and prepare for solo pastorates. This result is, whether we like it or not, many younger/newer pastors will need to go solo from the start and in more challenging churches – if they are (a) to find positions and (b) meet the great need of revitalising smaller aging churches.
So here’s the radical bit. Could established pastors and larger churches support newer pastors serving in smaller churches? Perhaps adopting them as ‘remote assistant pastors’ – giving them pastoral and ongoing training support in the way a mother-church would to its Church Planters? This would help prevent newer pastors being left to ‘sink or swim’, make the option of going to smaller aging churches more attractive, and increase the likelihood of such ministries succeeding.

Tipping point

The statistics are clear, the next two decades will be a tipping point for much of the Scottish Church. A whole raft of congregations are set to disappear and leave whole communities without any gospel witness. However, there is an opportunity to see many smaller aging churches turned around and start growing again.
That can only happen if (a) there is a willingness by those churches to change, to spend and take risks, (b) younger pastors are prepared to choose bi-vocational working options, and (c) the wider church gives those leaders the back-up they would otherwise miss out on.
The clock is ticking!
Footnotes
1. Brierly, Growth Amidst Decline - Future First (April 2017, Issue 50)
2. www.gov.scot/Topics/People/Equality/Equalities/PopulationMigration

The Impossible Dream

Article written for FIEC. 

In March, leaders from 20 churches gathered together in Gateshead for a Mission Forum hosted by FIEC. Andy Hunter was there and reports back on the purpose of the day.
The Impossible Dream primary image
“In order to accommodate just 1% of the North East’s population we need 130 churches with at least 200 people in each.”
That was the challenge and stark reality facing church leaders from 20 churches – the largest of which has just over 100 members at the FIEC North East Mission Forum. For many present, including a number of very small, struggling churches, this might have seemed the very definition of an ‘impossible dream’. 
The North East of England has a population of 2.6 million people and has seen church attendance drop by 36% over a 30 year period. Many churches have an age profile that is twice the age of the surrounding population and the number of people identifying as ‘non-religious’ is steadily growing. Even the most generous estimates still mean more than 2.5 million people are outside of Christ.
It’s not all doom and gloom of course. People are still coming to faith, some churches are seeing growth, and a number of a new churches have been planted, especially among ethnic minority groups in the region.
Nevertheless the challenges are huge – making the need for gospel churches to support, encourage and partner with one another all the more necessary and important. Hence the vision behind this gathering of leaders at Tyneside Central Church.

Church Revitalisation

The day began with the recognition that, humanly speaking, the options for new initiatives were very limited. Not even all the needs raised by churches present could be met, never mind across the entire region.
However, it might be possible to do something and make a difference by working together where possible. That, of course, would require humility, flexibility and generosity – for some to give way, others to give away, and perhaps for one or two – to get out of the way.
Phil Walter speaking at the Forum
FIEC’s Church Revitalisation Coordinator Phil Walter shared his experiences of helping struggling churches to make needed changes. He noted this was often hard to do and there were no quick-fix easy answers - but where there was a heart to put the gospel first there had been some great examples of renewed growth and transformation taking place.
Hugo Charteris, Pastor of Christchurch Heaton, is one of many church leaders who, while not born in the area, has committed himself to trying to reach it for Christ. He has been in Newcastle for 15 years, raised his family there and fully expects to be buried there!
Mission Forum
Hugo’s heart and vision for the area was expressed in ‘5 little things’ that could make a big gospel difference:
  1. Keeping your local church healthy;
  2. Being ambitious for the region through prayer and partnerships;
  3. Praying for the formation of ‘hub’ churches who could resource wider gospel initiatives in the region;
  4. Sharing experiences and expertise; and
  5. Seeking the creation of a regional training centre.
A significant part of the day was given over to discussion groups where local situations, encouragements and needs could be shared. Common themes emerged including the difficulties of doing outreach with small numbers, the social challenges in many areas, and the lack of good readily-available training.

Outcomes

Positively there was a widespread desire to try and do more working together. In particular to make such gatherings a more regular occurrence in order to share needs, pray and strengthen relationships. Dave Lovelock, former pastor at Welbeck Road EC, closed the day with apt pastoral thoughts from Psalm 22 on the subject: ‘When you’re up against it’.
This Forum was just a tiny step in tackling a colossal challenge – but by small steps significant advances can be made! 20 small churches needing to become 130 large churches just to reach 1% of the population may be ‘an impossible dream’ – fortunately God is the God of the impossible.
Please pray…
  • That struggling churches will be revitalised;
  • That new Church Plants will be established in unreached areas;
  • That existing churches will have strengthened relationships;
  • For local church leaders not to become weary in well doing;
  • That a good regional training centre can be established.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Gavin McAllister Obituary

Written for FIEC Website. 

For Glasgow, Scotland and the World

Andy Hunter pays tribute to former Scottish President of FIEC, Gavin Burns McAllister, who was called home in February. Gavin was also Scottish Chairman of the Zambesi Mission and Pastor Emeritus of Finnieston Evangelical Church, Glasgow.
For Glasgow, Scotland and the World primary image
Gavin Burns McAllister
11 February 1919 – 21 February 2018
February 2018 marked the passing of two faithful servants of Jesus Christ – both converted in 1934 and who died a day apart aged 99 years old. Two men who for more than 80 years preached the gospel, served the church and led missionary outreach across cultures and continents.
One, of course, was internationally famous and whose passing received worldwide media coverage.
The other was little known outside a small inner-city church and a dwindling group of compatriots. Nevertheless Gavin McAllister, like Billy Graham, can have been assured of a wonderful welcome into the presence of the Lord.

‘The Bishop of Flotta’

The second of three boys, Gavin was born in Glasgow, the city he loved and gave so much of his life to, in February 1919. However, it was in the Highlands that he came to faith aged 15 before quickly becoming a ‘boy preacher’ in his early Christian years.
Like many of his generation the Second World War called Gavin into Military Service where he served he served in Dover and Orkney as a supply clerk and as a Telecommunications Engineer. Throughout these years (1940-46) he so stood out for Christ that his fellow servicemen nicknamed him ‘The Bishop of Flotta’ (after one the Orkney islands).
After the war Gavin graduated from Glasgow University and became a Chartered Accountant working in the NHS. It was an occupation he excelled in and gave him many opportunities to share his faith in the wider world. On one hospital visit he was told he could not eat with the senior staff but would have to lunch with the nurses. Gavin was utterly unfazed by this having no pretensions or desire for status – indeed it quite amused him as the previous day he’d dinned with the Duke of Edinburgh while visiting elsewhere.

Finnieston

If there was one place that truly had Gavin’s heart it was Finnieston in Glasgow – an inner city dockland area on the Clyde. It was here that he assisted his father Walter in outreach work to its predominantly working class men and women. This included the ‘Muffler meetings’ – mufflers being scarfs worn by the many unemployed men to hide their lack of clean shirts and ties.
1961 was a special year for Gavin, he became the founding pastor of what was to become Finnieston Evangelical Church. It was also the year he married his beloved Jean, who was to serve with him until her own passing in 2016.
Finnieston Evangelical Church building








Being Scottish, Gavin’s most significant memory of 1966 was not football – rather it was eating his first Asian meal, the first of many! The 1960’s saw the beginning of what would become a large Asian community in Glasgow. Most were from Muslim and Sikh backgrounds but a number came from Indian and Pakistani Christian communities.
Gavin was quick to welcome them and the church became a spiritual home for Asian Christians who today lead the church. His gospel heart was seen in his willingness to adapt the services to be as accessible as possible to this new group – including translation into Punjabi and Sunday lunch becoming curry and pakora. He would later become Chairman of ‘The Fellowship of Faith for Muslims’ in Scotland.

Home & Abroad

While firmly rooted in local church ministry Gavin was not parochial but possessed a big vision for gospel work both nationally and internationally. He served on the Scottish Council of the Zambesi Mission becoming its chairmen in the 1970s. After ‘retirement’ he visited Malawi and preached around the country.
At the heart of his national gospel concern was the desire to see independent gospel churches, like Finnieston EC, work together for the cause of Christ. Key to this for Gavin was FIEC.
He served as our Scottish Treasurer and then as Scottish President on three occasions (1980-81, 1988-89 & 1991-92). In these roles he travelled throughout Scotland visiting churches and encouraging leaders and congregations alike – a ministry still remembered as far north as the Shetlands where his teaching was particularly appreciated.
Along with all this he was a self-taught pianist, he undertook theological training, and rose to become Chief Financial Accountant of Argyle & Bute Health Board (with responsibility, for the then new, computer accounting across all West of Scotland Health Boards). The effect of the latter was that Gavin undertook all his many ministry responsibilities, as he himself put it ‘free of charge’.
He was blessed with a long-life and good health, he lived modestly and never flagged in using all he had for the advancement of the gospel. Even in his 98th year when it was suggested that renewing his FIEC Marriage Celebrant status might not be necessary – he thought it would be handy to retain it.

Ahead of his time

Gavin McAllister showed throughout his life a love for Jesus Christ, a concern for the church and a passion for mission. He was ahead of his time in many ways – seeing the opportunity to reach out to new minority communities and being willing to change in order to do so. He saw the need for independent churches to be connected and have a vision bigger than themselves. He worked ‘bi-vocationally’ using his wider skills to support his ministry work.
Gavin and Jean McAllister








He and Jean had no children but their legacy is a spiritual family crossing generations of men and women, from a diverse range of backgrounds and cultures, who were brought to faith, pastored and inspired for Christ.
Heaven is a vibrant multi-ethnic and international place – Gavin will love it there.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Soft Hearts in Hard Places

Written for the FIEC Website. 

20schemes is a ministry of Niddrie Community Church in Edinburgh which has a vision to see gospel churches planted in 20 of Scotland’s most deprived housing schemes (estates). Andy Hunter gives his reflections on attending one of their weekend conferences.
Soft Hearts in Hard Places primary image
The 20Schemes Weekender is a window into what gospel ministry at the sharp end of ‘broken Britain’ looks like. These twice-yearly gatherings bring together gospel workers from some of the toughest and most deprived areas of the UK and beyond.
Of course, the heart problem is the same in all communities – alienation from God – but in the schemes where there isn’t the money or middle-class trickery to cover over problems the consequences can be especially blatant and destructive. Places where mental health problems, substance abuse, violence and extreme poverty are not rare pastoral exceptions but everyday ministry.
You might think that to survive in those situations you would either need to be extremely hard-bitten or super-spiritual. The refreshing and humbling reality was that the 100+ attendees were neither. Here was a group of ordinary Christians, fully aware of their weaknesses, but united with a deep desire to reach some of our most unreached communities.

Looking at Family

The major theme of the Weekender was Family Issues in Council Estate Ministry and we heard from those with first-hand experience of challenges in this area.
Mez McConnell spoke of the messiness of families where multiple relationships are the norm, and of having to make the best of undesirable situations in order to prevent further harm. Ian Williamson, spoke movingly of his childhood world ‘falling apart’ when his father left his family. He outlined his life following dysfunctional male role models in which power and independence were paramount before coming to faith aged 28. His plea was for Christian men to become fathers for ‘fatherless’ children – e.g. to get involved in Sunday School and youth ministries and be role models of Christ-like manhood.
Mez speaking at the Weekender








Sharon Dickens spoke of the pressures of being a single mum – financial, emotional, spiritual and often compounded by the insensitivity of other Christians. However, like all the sessions this wasn’t about self-pity but on the need to ‘play the long game’ – that is, trusting yourself and your children to God’s promises.
Andy and Debbie Constable gave us an insight into the pressures and joys of your home being a centre of scheme ministry – last minute lodgers, unexpected guests for dinner, the doorbell ringing on your ‘date night’. In a culture where many of us see home as the place to escape ministry it was a reminder that our homes are actually a vital place to do ministry.
Andy Prime outlined his experiences of helping to lead children and youth ministries in schemes. “Be prepared to have your house egged and be called a paedo” – such can be the suspicion to anyone showing an interest in young people. Positively he also showed how with patience, firmness and care, trust can be built-up and such ministries can open doors to the heart of communities.
There was even a talk on Church Polity from Pete Stewart – reminding us that church structures are not bureaucratic niceties but are essential, for both leaders and church attendees, if a church is to maintain good Biblical pastoral care and accountability.

Making much of Christ

In all the sessions the difficulties were presented honestly along with the struggles of dealing with them at both personal and ministry levels. But more importantly it was a reminder of the wonder of the gospel, the goodness of God and the urgency of making Christ known.
handouts from the day








As Andy Constable noted in his introduction the aim was that attendees would “leave totally underwhelmed by our little church but absolutely overwhelmed by the glorious gospel of Jesus.”
The great news is that “the glorious gospel of Jesus” is working and changing lives in ‘hard places’. Churches are being planted, relationships formed and people are coming to faith. 20Schemes are currently providing support and training for six church plants in Scotland (two of which Barlanark Glasgow & Bingham Edinburgh are also linked to FIEC) – many more are needed!
Leaving the Weekender I was left with two major impressions. First, the hardness of gospel work in the schemes, but secondly the softness of the workers’ hearts. Big men with beards and tattoos got tearful, and women who had been ‘though the mill’ humbly talking about the goodness of God.
This was a window into gospel love in action – self-giving and Jesus-centred.
Pray for gospel work across Great Britain on housing estates; pray for many more gospel churches to be established in those areas; pray particularly for 20schemes as it seeks to raise finances, as well as train and support church planters and their families.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Beyond the Veil (the basis for a just society)


I’ve always been fascinated by the philosopher John Rawls’ ‘veil of ignorance’ theory as a way to determine a just society. Rawls asks us to imagine that we have yet to be born and have no idea what kind of life situation awaits us. Collectively we gather together behind a ‘veil of ignorance’ about our future selves. We might be born healthy or disabled or sick, we might be born into wealth or into poverty, we might be born white or black or brown, we might be born with great intellectual abilities or be intellectually impaired, we might be born into a secure loving family or we might be dumped on the street, and so forth.  The point is we don’t know - anything is possible.

So the question is raised among us – what kind of society would we want to await us (bearing in mind that none of us know what our personal life situation will be)? Rawls’ point is that we would surely all hope for a society that was fair, compassionate, tolerant, and which gave help and protection to its weakest members. It brings home the moral folly of thinking our greatest advantages are self-earned. It also humbles us into caring for those without those advantages.

That said, its appeal is essentially to selfishness rather than altruism (i.e. 'hedging your bets') - and doubtless some, even behind a veil of ignorance, would be prepared just to ‘roll the dice’ in the hope of coming out on top. Nonetheless, as a concept for the desirability of a just society it possesses a huge amount of force.

And in a world that rejects other sources of moral guidance it’s worth exploring its implications in specific areas of life.

The right to life itself: so there we are gathered together discussing life beyond the veil. We agree that the world should give everyone the chance for the best possible outcomes in whatever life they find themselves in. But would we then consider it fair that 25% of us will have our lives prematurely terminated by the people who have had the great advantage of getting beyond the veil? Surely the exercise of such draconian power by the strong over the weak would be the mark of a horribly unjust society.

Childhood: but what about our hopes beyond just entering the world itself – our hopes for our childhood and upbringing? Is there anyone behind the veil anyone who wouldn’t hope to be brought up in a loving secure home by their biological parents? Now of course, that’s not always possible and individual mums, dads, carers and adoptive parents provide impeccable loving care for children. So this is about the ideal not what may be the next best in a fallen world. Indeed those ‘next bests’ for children are all the more to be praised and commended because they often require greater effort and sacrifice than the ideal.

However, we increasingly live in a world where the ideal is being withheld not through misfortune but deliberately and selfishly. The sentiment of one ‘polyamarous’ woman is rapidly becoming our culture’s received wisdom, "It is really outdated to think a child needs one mother and one father”. Outdated for adults perhaps! That is, those with power over children – but not for children themselves – either emotionally or in terms of life outcomes (as testified to by the overwhelming testimony of social studies). So increasingly those behind the veil are being made to serve the interests of those who will hold power over them on the other side.

The ‘veil of ignorance’ is a powerful concept in the pursuit of a just world – but it also highlights the deep partiality and deep self-interest of our contemporary liberal culture despite its claims to want fairness and equality.

Only in Jesus 
Ultimately the ‘veil’ relies on a set of moral principles outwith itself – e.g. the belief that it’s better to suffer loss than to cause loss or that we should treat other people the way we ourselves would want to be treated. In that regard it relies on an under-pinning Biblical morality – a morality that has objectivity and transcendence because it emanates from a Creator God.

Try as we might only in Jesus Christ has humanity been presented with absolute self-giving that puts the deepest interests of others before self – and thus only in following Him is there the hope for a truly just world beyond ‘the veil’.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

SMACKING BAN (SCOTLAND) - Letter to Nicola Sturgeon MSP

FAO. Nicola Sturgeon MSP

Dear First Minister

‘SMACKING BAN’ – JOHN FINNIE BILL

As one of your constituents, I am writing to express my concern about your Government’s recent decision to support the above proposed legislation. Many arguments against such a move have been aired and doubtless you are very aware of them. I would, however, appeal to you to reconsider supporting this change to the law and not to whip MSPs (potentially against their own judgement and conscience) into voting for it.

There are some issues around family life that are surely best left to the discretion of parents – e.g. the discipline of children. That is not to say, of course, that the State should tolerate an ‘anything goes’ approach to such matters – but it seems to me that the existing arrangements are quite adequate. They prohibit the excessive use of force and any form of physical chastisement that would be injurious – and indeed where disproportionate ‘assault’ is used against a child the Police and Social Workers can be called upon.  

Thus the proposed legislation may be well-meaning but instead of protecting genuinely at risk children it will simply disempower decent parents. That is not to say, that reasonable physical chastisement need be used by parents but that it will be their choice. It would be a recognition that even the best government is no substitute for most parents when it comes to having the best interests of children at heart.

The argument that any physical chastisement is simply tantamount to abuse, seems to me confused. If causing any physical distress (however momentary and transient) to a child is unacceptable – then why is it acceptable to cause a child psychological distress (by taking away privileges, ‘telling them off’, or restricting their movements)? Why is the body so sacrosanct and not the mind? In recent years non-physical traumas such as bullying, harassment, verbal intimidation have been highlighted as social evils – in other words, how long before any parental sanctions, of whatever kind, that cause any form of distress simply become unacceptable. After all when ideology usurps the wisdom of centuries anything is possible.

Are we really going to criminalise parents who, like our own mothers and fathers going back generations, might use a moderate smack on occasions to discipline and even protect their children?

Please First Minister reconsider this further step of ‘Nationalising’ parenting – i.e. the State taking to itself more and more of the prerogatives of parents.

Finally, I note the Scottish Government is pardoning Gay men convicted of certain indecency charges prior to homosexuality being decriminalised. Many will see that as recognition that the State should not have tried to police people’s sex lives – perhaps it would also be wise for the State to refrain from trying to police people’s family lives.

With grateful thanks for all your work and service.

Yours sincerely,


Andrew Hunter.

Friday, August 11, 2017

FIEC Certificate in Independent Church Ministry course

In-class & on-line. 
FIEC's 'Certificate in Independent Church Ministry' commences on Tuesday afternoons at ETS on Tue 12th Sep. The course can be accessed in class or online - so if you'd like to understand more about Independent Churches and how to serve in them better then book a space HERE.