At Niddrie we will be launching a new church planting initiative within the next month. We are calling it “20Schemes” and further details will follow. We are launching this project in partnership with a church in Kentucky called Bardstown Christian Fellowship, itself planted by a Scotsman, Matthew Spandler-Davison. We are also benefitting hugely from the support, partnership and advice of the 9Marks organisation and Capitol Hill Baptist Church. Just this week they promoted “20Schemes” at their annual Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Conference in front of almost 2000 people, in North Carolina.
The aim of 20Schemes is to revitalise and/or plant 20 gospel churches in 20 Scottish housing schemes in the next 10 years. We want to recruit 20 planters to train 20 church leaders, 20 women to train 20 female gospel workers and 20 ministry apprentices to each make 20 disciples. Our aim is big and bold and, ultimately, is about finding a long-term way to grow indigenous leaders in places we would never think possible.
The questions/criticisms I am getting in some quarters are :
Why go to America? Why not recruit and train people from this country? Haven’t we moved past this approach to cross cultural mission? Surely, we should be recruiting home grown men for this endeavour?
My answer? Show me some home grown men with the cojones to plant and/or revitalise churches in housing schemes. I am all for recruiting and developing home grown people. In fact, our first planting intern in West Pilton is a Scotsman, but the sad reality is that there is a dearth of Christian men in our country willing to give their lives to this kind of ministry.
Many of the men I know who are at Bible colleges and/or on local church internships, whilst sympathetic to the cause, have no intention of going into housing schemes. They want to be youth workers, or pastoral assistants or missionaries but they certainly don’t want to be any of those things in areas of urban deprivation (not in Scotland anyway). Why is that? I think there are a several reasons: firstly, many churches and gospel ministries in these places are dying, often with aging congregations holding on to history and past glories, unwilling to change. In a world of options men would prefer to go elsewhere or plant their own church rather than have to deal with that kind of political battle. Secondly, almost every man I have spoken to recently about our ministry, WITHOUT EXCEPTION, have pointed to ‘family responsibilities’ as the reason they can’t seriously consider our kind of ministry. Thirdly, I think there is a problem with how middle class churches and institutions are training people. We have more seminars and conferences than ever before. We have more churches who are training leaders than ever before. Yet, still this shortfall. The problem, I fear, is in the fact that we lack the courage to take risks at local church level. Churches want the perfect CV, the perfect candidate and the perfect answers to theological questions (or not as the case may be). The pond we are fishing in here is never going to produce that (certainly not at the outset). Local men are not going to handle 40 hour a week lectures on Exegesis and Hermeneutics. They are not going to be polished speakers or have the finesse of fine apologetics. Unless I’m reading my Bible wrong, the early disciples weren’t University graduates either. They were common men with a love for the Lord, supernaturally endowed with the spiritual gifts necessary to build the church.
In all the talk of biblical manhood and being manly it seems that growing a beard and going to a manly type conference is as near as we are getting to encouraging entry into housing scheme ministry. Everybody agrees to its necessity and are wishing me lots of luck in what we are trying to do but that’s about it. Therefore, we need a new approach in how we tackle the problem of planting in our specific field. Scrap that, we need an approach full stop. Our aim here is to generate, at least initially, outside interest in order to stimulate inside growth and momentum. If we have to go the states and other countries then we will. It is better than sitting here wringing our hands at the dearth of young men wanting to step out in faith. We are certainly starting down a risky road. But I think it is necessary. I think that such is the problem in our country at this moment in history that, in God’s providence, we have little choice but to take these steps. I think we are not going to see local men taking responsibility unless we put steps in ourselves to ensure future growth and development. I think it is going to be a long, drawn out painful process. I think it is going to be a lot of growing on the job. I think it is going to be intuitive, a lot of making it up as we go along and maybe a few painful mistakes along the way.
Back to my original question: Where are all the men? Pray for us as we not only seek to answer that question but provide solutions that are both God honouring and sustainable. Superficially, it will look like a lot of outsiders coming in, but underneath we are working on a long-term, sustainable strategy to grow truly indigenous planters, women’s workers and ministry apprentices. But we need more than a good plan and a well worked strategy. We need God’s favour.