Scotland: The Gospel for a New Generation
April 1, 2003 - Scotland. Kilts? Bagpipes? Castles? Oh, yes. Maybe even the Reformation. But evangelism? That's not immediately what comes to mind when one thinks of Scotland. Perhaps more than most countries, Scotland is marked by its icons—its traditions. And for churches in a country where Christianity is only a handful of centuries newer than Christ Himself, breaking from tradition in order to reach non-churched people will involve more than launching a contemporary service at 11 o'clock.
by Amanda Knoke
500 for 5 Million
Many Scottish Christians, passionate to see their country of 5 million won to Christ, are wrestling with the merit of traditions foreign to the emerging generation of completely unchurched, postmodern young people. Currently, 88 percent of Scotland's population is not attending church—and those who do attend are not young.
"By 2010, those aged 42 and younger will make up a majority of the population in Scotland," says Nigel Pollock, program committee chair of Mission Scotland, a coalition of Scottish evangelists. "Increasingly, leaders in business and society have no Christian faith and no experience with church. We face the very real possibility of being locked out of the culture."
What to do?
To pastors like Jim Stewart, minister at Letham St. Mark's Church in Perth, widely held traditions such as robes, clerical collars, hymn-only worship and other church formalities have been weighed in the balance and found wanting. "We need to recognize the gulf between Scottish culture and church culture and reexamine the traditions to see if they are still helpful in the work of the Gospel," Stewart says.
Pollock, Stewart and others realize that making an evangelistic impact on Scotland in the next few years will be imperative. So with a sense of urgency to stir a fresh commitment to spread the message of Christ, Mission Scotland partnered with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for a National School of Evangelism in Stirling, Scotland.
From the Orkney Islands in the north to Stranraer in the south, from the western isles and the Highlands to the capital Edinburgh and beyond, 500 Scottish Christians representing 16 denominations journeyed to the University of Stirling for "Evangelism in the Third Millennium," held Jan. 27-30.
They came to learn new and relevant approaches to evangelism, to join single-mindedly with a national network of Christians, and most important, to renew their commitment to Christ. To cities all over Scotland they returned, refreshed and rekindled to spread the message of Christ's love to those around them.
A few miles west of Edinburgh, in the commuter town of Linlithgow, the after-school program "Voltage" is in full swing. Adolescents socialize and take turns competing with each other on a new dance machine game, vaguely resembling a "Twister" mat, that projects dance steps on the wall. John MacKinnon, director of the Linlithgow Young People's Project (LYPP), mingles with young spectators on a couch.
More than 13 years ago, MacKinnon, a Bible teacher and an evangelist, had a dream of establishing a Christ-centered ministry for kids. He wanted to work with them where they were—in the streets, in gangs, in courts and in schools. Within months, the ministry grew from a handful of kids to 150. Some of the original young people he worked with, now in their late 20s, still seek him out for counsel, while others are establishing their own ministries in other areas.
MacKinnon and the staff at LYPP encourage young people to explore Christianity. "We've seen young people come to faith and go out and share their faith," MacKinnon says. "We've seen them come full circle."
Volunteers scurry to offer tea, coffee and biscuits to guests visiting the "the Kirk below the Castle" (otherwise known as The Parish Church of St. Cuthbert) as they step in from the damp and chill.
Associate Minister Peter Neilson observes the activity and comments that during the summer several thousand people will visit, coming from all over the world. Tour guides at the church are willing to listen and talk to visitors and offer them space to pray.
The church's mission field is vast: 2,000 people live in the parish area, 10,000 work there and 20,000 visit on weekends. According to Neilson, the church site has seen 1,300 years of Christian community, and he believes that guests are often drawn in by awe of the historical grounds.
St. Cuthbert's is strategically situated in Europe's second-largest banking city, within a mile of Edinburgh Castle and bordered by the bustling Prince's Street. The church ministers to people who work in the parish, offering a lunch-hour evangelism course as well as forums on business-related topics such as the Enron collapse, stress and coping with change.
Neilson, who delivered a plenary address about the Gospel in postmodern culture at the School of Evangelism, seeks to align his ministry with the needs of an unchurched, metropolitan society.
"We need to move away from a Little Bo Peep 'leave-them-alone-and-they'll-come-home theology.' This will not happen," he says. "More than just being there, the Church needs to be constantly and proactively engaging in culture and sharing the Gospel."
He hopes that evangelists in Scotland, especially those who attended the School of Evangelism, will have not only new ideas, but also new eyes—a paradigm shift in their thinking—and will develop a fresh vision for addressing the culture that surrounds them.
On the other end of Prince's Street, in the heart of the gay area of the city, Rector Dave Richards ministers at St. Paul's and St. George's Church to mostly twenty- and thirty-somethings.
Four years ago, P's and G's Church (as it is known) developed ICON, a monthly service held at a converted church, now an arts center, on Edinburgh's popular Royal Mile. People can bring their drinks to a large meeting room and view a film that raises questions about what Christianity has to say about topics such as grace, faith, death, science and genetics, creation, and heaven and hell; then they observe a panel discussion and are able to ask questions of the panel. Afterward, there is time for discussion—a key time, according to Richards, when Christians turn to their guests and ask, "What do you think?" Guests seeking more information about Christianity are invited to one of the church's many "seeker" small groups.
Similar to Dave Richards in Edinburgh, David McAdam has found that in his rural community people may be interested in spiritual things whether or not they attend church.
McAdam, a church-plant pastor in the Glasgow suburb of Moodiesburn, concedes that several evangelistic approaches he has tried have fallen flat. Until now.
McAdam and others from his church committed to praying for one street in Moodiesburn each week and began "old-fashioned door-knocking"—telling people that they were praying for their street. McAdam asks them, "How can I pray for you?" and, perhaps, "Do you have a faith that is helpful to you?" People respond, and his questions have led to soul-opening conversations.
As he looks over the housing districts sprawling over the hills of Moodiesburn, McAdam dreams. "We hope," he says, "that every street in the community will have someone who is praying for it."
Isle of Islay
Among the more remote sojourners to the School of Evangelism were Sheila Corson and her son William, who took the ferry from the Isle of Islay (pronounced EYE-la) to the mainland.
Like something out of a storybook, this southernmost island of Scotland's Inner Hebrides is known as "Queen of the Hebrides." The island is about 25 miles long and 15 miles wide, and is home to 3,400 people. Narrow roads cross lush fields home to sheep and cattle. Along the coast, groups of seals blend into the rocky shore.
Tartan-clad and quintessentially Scottish, Sheila Corson recalls the moment she gave her life to Christ. "I knew that I needed Jesus," she whispers, her voice full of emotion. "It was 11 o'clock at night. In my very small kitchen I fell to my knees and repented." Now Corson yearns for others on Islay to have similar encounters. She is a pillar of evangelistic support to her minister, Adam Plenderleith, who realizes the gift of his parishioner. "Every pastor needs a Sheila-type person if he doesn't already have one," Plenderleith says.
Plenderleith is eager for Islay Baptist Church to catch a vision for the island. "Christians need to be the loving, caring people they were created to be and to demonstrate authentic Christian living where they are," he says. "They need to go out and share their faith, not just say, 'Come and listen to our minister.'"
As Plenderleith drives the Islay Baptist van on the island's narrow roads, he lifts his hand from the wheel to wave at each passing car. He practices what he preaches—he has met and has shared his testimony with many on the island. One man, an alcoholic, said to Plenderleith, "You've been where I am just now—how can I get out of this?" Plenderleith has deep compassion for people and a dream to have the name of Christ known and embraced on Islay. He has his own version of Acts 2:41: "Those who accepted [Christ's] message were baptized—and the population of Islay was added to the number."
"It works for me," he says with a grin.
"A leopard never changes its spots," quipped a friend of Chris Wood more than a decade ago after Wood told him that he had given his life to Christ. (See "Saturday Night Out") If the "spots" of Wood's life were swearing, drinking, smoking, wrong relationships and materialism funded by a lucrative career in the Aberdeen oil industry, Wood indeed changed. "But the biggest change is in here," he explains, with his hand over his heart.
Wood was one of many at the School of Evangelism who trusted Christ after hearing Billy Graham speak in Scotland in 1991.
After attending Glasgow Bible College, Wood was called to pastor a struggling congregation of 12 in Aberdeen. Within a year, both Wood and fellow minister Richard Taylor were fully supported by the congregation. Now the church is a flourishing body of 120.
Aberdeen is known as the "Oil Capital of Europe" and as the "Granite City." According to Wood, the oil and granite industries have poured wealth into the city, making it surprisingly cosmopolitan for a town so far north. He notes regrettably that many of the churches have been transformed into pubs, nightclubs, offices and flats. Wood adds that materialism is a byproduct of the thriving industries, and spirituality has taken a nosedive in the past 30 or 40 years.
A city whose homes and buildings are almost exclusively stone, Aberdeen exudes a feeling of impenetrability. But Wood and Taylor have teamed up to bring the warmth of Jesus to Aberdeen. According to Wood, baptisms are used as an outreach event and are one of the church's most effective means of evangelism.
"It happens very naturally," Wood says. "People who become Christians invite their family and friends to their baptisms. Those being baptized give testimony to how God has worked in their lives, and the Gospel is always preached. People have actually made commitments at the baptism service and have become part of the church."
Wood has indeed lost his "spots"—and, through God's grace, those of his city are fading as well.
"Our God is a great big God!" sing children as they throw their arms into the air during a Sunday service at Holm Evangelical Church, in Inverness. Pastor Max Donald himself accompanies on keyboard. Earlier, the youngsters heard a message complemented with paper airplanes, supporting Donald's observation that his church is unlike many others in the Highlands—the Bible Belt of Scotland—who "do church a in more conservative and religious way."
The congregation is surrounded by windows overlooking the beauty of the Highlands after a February-morning snowfall. The worship service is filled with young life and vitality. Children are a visible part of the service and seem to reflect the winter-morning brightness.
Indeed, the church began as a children's outreach, Donald says. "Our main link [to the community]," he says, "is through young children." About 60 percent of the kids who attend the church's children's programs are from unchurched families. He adds that the youth group fills its space to capacity.
Across town, a Sunday-evening service has a different feel in the hard-pressed Merkinch neighborhood. The ministry of the Madras Street Free Church is equally flourishing. Though there is no piano or any other instrument, strong, unaccompanied voices fill the air with Psalms. The room is unadorned, yet warm, welcoming and jargon-free. Shining a beacon of hope in one of the most deprived areas of Inverness, Chris Smart makes sure his flock understands him as he preaches to his congregation with tenderness: "Jesus walks the streets here looking for people whose lives are hurting, whose lives are broken—whose lives need healing. He sees them and He reaches out. ... Merkinch has its problems, its drug abuse, its alcoholism and the ache and the hurt of broken relationships. Is it too much for us? Yes. But it is not too much for Jesus."
After the service, Smart's wife, Yazmin, and others pass out tea and sandwiches. Smart visits with a man and his mother, who gladly partake of the food offered them.
Smart looks around the room. "Virtually all these people do not have a church background," he says. "Some are homeless, but here there's food and a warm place. People who are not even trusting in Jesus are saying to friends, 'Come here. You'll like it.'"
For the Love of a Country ...
"Imagine a vibrant, welcoming church in every community in Scotland," says Nigel Pollock. "Imagine churches communicating truth, sharing life and hope, connecting with the big issues in people's lives."
With this united vision and a refreshed sense of the power of Christ and the Gospel message, the 500 evangelists and church leaders at the School of Evangelism returned to their unique mission fields—the Highlands and the islands, the cities, the towns and the villages of Scotland—to love their country to Christ.
Is evangelism happening in Scotland?