Of making many reports there is no end and much research wearies the body (and empties the bank account). We live in a society which loves reports and enquiries. Every problem has a research solution. Every sin can be cured/justified with a statistic. In the church we very often reflect the world. And to some extent I love it. I love reports, facts, figures, and the analysis.
This month a major new report on the state of the Church in Scotland entitled Transforming Scotland was published. According to the press release "Transforming Scotland is a unique and informal network of Christian leaders and The Maclellan Foundation. The group's Steering Group is made up of individuals from Scottish churches, Scripture Union Scotland and the Scottish Bible Society." The research was made up of 1,000 interviews of Scottish adults, plus various church leaders and churches.
I am involved in the group that set up this report and so it should come as no surprise that I welcome it and hope that it will prove a stimulus to thinking, prayer and action. Much of the information provided is what many of us involved in the work suspected, but nonetheless it is interesting, encouraging and depressing to have our fears and hopes confirmed. You can get a summary here. Here are some of the key findings:
31 per cent say Scotland is a Christian nation
52 per cent identify as Christian – although 70 per cent of them don't believe the basics of Christian doctrine
17 per cent of Scots claim to be born again Christians
17 per cent of Scots regard the Bible as totally accurate or authoritative. 24 per cent of 18-24 year olds do.
23 per cent of 18-24s say that faith has changed their lives, as compared with 12 per cent of adults
One in eight Scots attend church once a month – ie they are practising Christians but only half of those say their faith has transformed their lives – which surely indicates that they should be called 'churchgoers' rather than Christians. If following Christ doesn't change your life then what does?!
The decline in Church of Scotland has made the figures a lot worse.
Expository preaching in growing churches is stronger than those in what are called 'baseline' (non-growing) churches.
All of this is very interesting but like all such research, I think it should carry a health warning! Colin Marshall states: "I'm worried about the language and concepts of the human resources world being applied to churches and pastors... Each church is God's holy temple. Let's not destroy it by our assessment process". There is a danger that we overanalyse and that we use business / management language for the church. Which is not to say that we should think, strategise or seek to understand – in the way that this report seeks to do.
I have a specific concern linked to the above. In today's society there seems to be a tendency towards navel gazing by producing endless reports, strategies, inquiries and analysis. These do not come cheap. They cost in terms of time and money. We need to ensure that we do not divert money from mission, to spending it on talking about mission. God forbid that we should fall into the trap of spending more on navel gazing than Christ praising!
Sometimes I fear that we spend far too much time discussing, analysing and theorising (and I speak as someone who is as guilty of that as anyone else). We just need to get on with what we are called to do. It was stated that this report 'is the voice of your country... it introduces you to the people you are ministering to'. Actually it does nothing of the sort. It is a statistical analysis of some trends in society – but the only way I will be introduced to the people I am ministering to, is to get out and meet them! I think it's called incarnational.
As for the report itself, I don't think that I learned anything new – apart from the one statistic that 17 per cent of Scots claim to be born again. I just don't believe that one. And neither does any Scottish church leader I know. I suspect this is taking an American cultural understanding, with a very vague definition of what commitment to Jesus means and putting two and two together and making 17. However it was encouraging that my instinct that young people (18-24) are more open to the gospel and that expository preaching is a mark of a growing church, was confirmed.
There is one other caveat about the whole report. It seeks to find out what people want from the Church. But we are not in the marketing business, seeking to find out what people want from the church so that we can provide it. I often get non-Christians telling me how the church should be run, what we should believe and what we should provide. But it's not up to non-Christians to run the church – it's up to Christ. It's His church. Our responsibility is to recognise Him as the head and seek to follow. I suspect as we become more and more the bride of Christ, it may not be what people think they want, but it is what they need and it will be what draws them to Him.
The report warns us about theological divisions. And rightly so. But they should have put the word 'unnecessary' in. There are secondary issues which should not hinder our working together – but there are primary issues which absolutely must hinder working together. Differences over issues such as baptism will not and should not stop us working together. But I cannot work with someone who denies the Bible is the Word of God, or that Jesus is the Son of God, or that there is a heaven and a hell. I will not work with someone who supports the slaughter of innocents in the womb, or same sex marriage or other perversions of the standards of God's Word. Theological differences are at that point vital – because they prevent us proclaiming a false Christ and an uncertain word.
Transforming Scotland offers a series of 'Nine Drivers of Transformational Ministry'. Apart from the jargon, there is something about them that just doesn't seem quite right. Something is missing. Strangely enough they seem very inward looking and are more about transforming the Church than transforming Scotland. I guess that if the Church is transformed then it will have a transformational effect upon the whole country. Scotland is in the state it is in, not because of the 'world' or the culture...we are in the state we are in because of the Church. We need to repent of our lukewarmness, unbelief, hypocrisy, lack of zeal and lovelessness. We need to realise that we cannot do or say anything that will fundamentally change the situation. Without the Spirit of Christ we are lost. We can write Ichabod over our nation. But we are promised the Spirit of Christ. There is hope: "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." 2 Chronicles 7:14
David Robertson is Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland