Pioneer Ministry and the ‘Crisis of Christianity’ in Scotland

Pioneer Ministry and the ‘Crisis of Christianity’ in Scotland


On Easter Sunday,  the Sunday Herald led with this front page headline:

Why Christianity is in crisis in Scotland.

This was based on the findings of the 2016 Scottish Church Census, which was leaked to the Herald before the due date for publication of 24th April. The paper highlighted the grim reality that the drop in numbers attending church since 2002 amounts to “losing the equivalent of 10 church congregations a month”.

However it also quotes other statistics and voices. The first points out that the Scottish census “still shows a majority of people who would call themselves Christian”. This indicates that our Scottish people continue to maintain a Christian paradigm of sorts and are ripe for new forms of ministry in which (to paraphrase a quote in the Herald from the Bishop of Paisley, John Keenan) we do not ask them to “come to us” but in which we “go out to them”. This continuing adherence to the Christian narrative is, like the grin of the Cheshire cat, fading fast and challenges us to urgent action. So what does this have to do with pioneer ministry?

Pioneers – as in the American West – are those who cross frontiers. I have suggested in previous blogs that today they are also those who cross boundaries (just as God did himself in Jesus Christ), whether such boundaries are scientific, social/cultural, gender-related, or technological. Pioneers also lead the way: where they pioneer, many others usually follow.

Christian pioneer ministries are called to cross boundaries. In response to the disciples’ circumscribed question about the restoration of Israel, Jesus answered (was it a rebuke?) that they were to lift their vision beyond a limited and limiting national identity, and that they were to cross geographical, socio-cultural and historical boundaries in order to be witnesses to Him (Acts 1:6-8). In the following chapters of Acts, they did so, often at a cost to their own lives, as in the cases of James and Stephen.

Since the Pioneer Ministry course began at SSCM only a year ago, I have been surprisingly encouraged by the number of imaginative pioneering missional initiatives now being pursued around our country. These include chaplaincy in shopping malls, airports, high streets and football clubs; food banks from church premises, often accompanied by advocacy and support for the marginalised; coffee shops with a distinctly Christian ethos of care and good service, as well as good coffee; Street Pastors for the most vulnerable on our night-time streets; support for refugees which comes with clear Christian message; and the growing number of Alpha courses now being run in the most unusual places from hotels to prisons. To this list we need to add new initiatives now underway to plant missional communities in our larger urban schemes as well as in smaller towns and more rural parts around Scotland. In my estimation, this is an urgent and essential development. I shall say more about the essentialness of community as mission in my next blog.

Whatever boundaries we are called to cross, we need to move out of our comfort zones of tradition and cultural norms: the ‘way we have always done things’. As a pastor and church-grower I am very aware that change is never easy because it threatens our security and identity. However, with Dr Jim Purves of the Baptist Union (also quoted in the Herald article above), I suggest that our identity and mission is “in the good news that Jesus Christ is alive and that He brings God’s light and life into people’s lives”.

The Certificate of Theology in Higher Education (Pioneer Ministry) now offered through SSCM is a Manchester University-validated course that is designed to equip people for Christian pioneering ministry, both theologically and practically. Our goal – written into our structures of assessment – is to come alongside local churches and Christian organisations to enhance their strategic missional development. The time for pioneering ministries is NOW: Scotland needs it.

Dr Alistair Macindoe
Tutor in Pioneer Ministry






“You can’t teach the Bible or preach here”

“You can’t teach the Bible or preach here”


The first in a series of inter-generational conversations between young missionaries and those who have gone before them.

‘Give up!’ was the advice given to 35 year old Rose Dowsett when she, her husband, Dick, and her family were relocated to Scotland after nearly eight years in ministry among students in the Philippines.

Rose, now retired, is a former missionary with OMF International (previously the China Inland Mission and Overseas Missionary Fellowship). She is an author, formerly an international convention speaker, and Vice Chairman of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) Mission Commission.

Along the way, she also taught Church History and Missiology at the Bible Training Institute (BTI) and then Glasgow Bible College (GBC) for about 18 years. Today, those words – ‘You can’t teach the Bible or preach here’ – have the capacity to shock, but in 1978 there was strong resistance in many Scottish evangelical circles to women in public Bible teaching. It hadn’t been a problem in Rose’s experience up to that point, in Asia or in the UK. With a young family, and running a mission guest home, there was plenty to do, but she believed God had called her to be a Bible teacher.

God’s answer came through Geoff Grogan, Principal of BTI, who needed temporary teacher cover. One day he fell into conversation with Rose’s husband, Dick, who immediately suggested Rose might help. Rose says, ‘When Geoff appointed me voices were raised in protest, “You can’t have a woman teaching!” Geoff told them, ‘She already is teaching.’

Rose’s career could be summed up by the mantra “But she persisted”. When asked about the position of women leaders within the evangelical church Rose’s response was, ‘Actually, biblical leadership is not just about position and structure. I think the Lord can open up many ways in which you can quietly set about influencing other people and learning from other people. But there are many forms of leadership that are nothing to do with being an organisational leader…I think you look to the Lord to open up the areas of ministry that are right for you and that there are always ways in which you can serve God, whether or not some things are shut off from you.’ Her persistence is following her conviction that she was to serve.

It really is amazing how God weaves one’s life together

Tell me about a time when you knew you had a calling?

We are in Rose’s sitting room on an early spring day. Outside the street is quiet, the gardens blooming with spring flowers. I’ve brought Jen Clarke to meet her. Jen is in her twenties, studying at Scottish School of Christian Mission for a Certificate of Higher Education in Theology (Pioneer Ministry). She trained as a professional dancer, she has an interest in performance and above all, she wants to dedicate her life to serving God. However, she is not sure yet what form this will take. Jen says, ‘All I know is that I am a creative person and I want to use my gifts.’

Rose remembers how she was called. She portrays her teenage self as a blue-stocking, captivated by Marxism, and proud of her erudition. She was challenged by a friend to learn about the Bible with the words, “You are really quite ignorant about Christian matters!”. Rose, more than a little annoyed, flew to the New Testament, and read it three times in two weeks. At the end of that time she was convinced that the Lord is alive and truly God. ‘The Lord asks for radical disciple-ship. This realisation was built into the point I was converted. I also quite soon had a sense that I must work in Asia. A few years later in the Philippines I was discipling students who were surrounded by committed Marxists, some being converted out of that, and, you know, it really is amazing how God weaves one’s life together because, due to my early experiences, I understood Marxist logic and I was able to talk to them about what they believed.’

I felt very alone

After you heard a call, what did you do next?

Jen says, ‘Next? I cried even more! I felt very alone. I knew I needed to seek out other people, but many people do not answer the call, so there were few I could talk to. Our church runs a school in Africa and I felt pressed to go. I was a youth worker, running bible clubs, and teaching for a month. I returned again to Africa, to Kenya and Ghana. When I finally came home I learned about a place in Brazil where they work with young girls using dance and performance skills. I emailed them and ended up there for 6 months. Later, I travelled to Amsterdam and Cambodia. At the time it was hard watching my friends lead lives surrounded by boyfriends, family and friends; but I knew my path was different.’
When she thinks of her next steps Rose seems astonished by the nerve of her younger self. ‘I was not initially part of any church and I was fairly isolated. I started a small Bible group with no training. I dread to think of what I made of it. Later, I spotted a notice while I was studying English in Bristol University. It was for an evening class to help lay people become non-stipendiary ministers and I asked if I could join the class. It was a brilliant theological training, but hard work studying for a Diploma and a degree at the same time. After three years in student ministry in England, I joined OMF and went to Manila, where Dick and I married and worked together. I was training national staff-workers and students. Together with them we also planted two churches. We also ran evening courses for young graduates to help them, in a very young society, lead their churches better. When I was abroad I was accepted as a woman teacher; the difficulties arose when I came home. Since then, I have found God constantly weaving together experience from all down the years, in many countries, and through many strands of ministry. He doesn’t waste things!’

I ask Jen if she feels that she had met with resistance to her calling. She thinks carefully, at first she says, ‘I don’t think so. I am privileged to be living in a more enlightened time,’ but then she reflects, ‘I was at a pioneer ministry conference recently and I was amazed at how many older men were there! Not many young women.’ Jen says, ‘I try to keep in mind those things that first called out to me, and I try not to get distracted by people.’ Jen and Rose exchange smiles as they talk perhaps realising that they have more in common than they first thought. They both have been called to persist and to serve.

Blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen

Tell me about studying the bible and how you made practical use of your theological learning?

Rose suddenly remembers something: ‘There is a lovely mistranslation in the King James Bible “and I, being in the way, the Lord led me…” Genesis 24:27. ‘It’s quite wrong of course, but I love the wisdom of learning by being, and the way the Lord builds our lives step by step.’ Jen agrees, ‘I think it’s important not just to learn but live out your faith.’ Rose says, ‘Sometimes you only see the pattern of God’s calling looking back. While you are in the middle it can seem like chaos, but you learn by being in a situation as well as thinking about it, and you go from there.’
Rose continues, ‘I think sometimes, in the modern church, that we are in danger of making faith virtually a spectator sport. We have to prove ourselves before we are entrusted with actually doing anything. We are looking for people with experience but not allowing people to become experienced.’ Jen responds, ‘Faith is not just to be studied: faith is life. It’s so important to bring together the practice of living out your faith together with theological study.’

Jen describes her course. ‘My course is for a year but I would love it to go on longer. I’m encouraged by the fact that, the more I learn, the more I know I am doing the right thing. I like the story of Bezalel in Exodus.’ Jen refers to, “See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel… and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft. And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan. He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver— by any sort of workman or skilled designer” (Ex 35:30-35 ESV). Jen continues, ‘Studying solidified my conviction that I don’t have to force myself into the conventional mould of being a minister, and yet my creative gifts can be of real use.’

We cannot wait for them to come to us

Tell me about the challenges you face now?

Jen: ‘The walls of the church have grown too thick. I chose to study pioneer ministry because faith is lived out nine to five, not just Sundays.’ Rose responds ‘One of my sons is an ordained Anglican minister in Sunderland. He spends a day every fortnight in the place of work of someone in his congregation. He describes this as some of the best work he has done, both for himself and others. Worship does not have to be in a familiar church building.’ Jen agrees: ‘Our challenge is to go to where people are. We cannot wait for them to come to us.’
Rose: ‘Children brought up on Bible stories may reach 12 or 13 years and overnight find themselves in an aggressively secular setting in secondary school. The mainstream churches are out of touch with younger generations, how their lives are being shaped, their world view, their thought system. We have to grapple with faithfulness and scripture in a way that makes sense to them. If ever there was a need for deep teenage apologetics, it is now. Also we need to understand why some churches, like the ethnic churches, some reformed churches, the charismatic and the Pentecostal churches are growing, while others are not.’
Jen: ‘I think we put missionaries and pastors into a box and they can be forced to become someone they are not. If that happens they will burn out. Instead we should be looking at the talents every individual has to offer. That’s what matters.’

A fully-orbed, faith-growing training

What can a training college do that will help people on their mission?

Rose: I think the best training is always one that engages the whole person: mind, heart, all the senses, and that constantly comes back to seeking to shape students for godly living and spiritual growth and effectiveness. It is important to stretch every fibre of intellect – ignorant or slipshod Christians will easily be led astray into error or foolish behaviour – and good training will instil a love of life-long learning and study. But if it stops with the intellect, it can easily become detached and more like philosophy than faith, so good training always presses the student to apply that study and to see how one’s life is to be changed and refined by it, and how it interprets and weighs up the surrounding culture so that one can speak and live gospel truth into it. In my experience, the very best forms of training combine study with active ministry, bathed in worship and prayer. Training places are under huge pressure to conform to academic standards set by secular authorities, and they of course are not at all interested in anything spiritual and transformational or faith-based. So I hope SSCM will hold its nerve and insist on fully-orbed, faith-growing, training. And because our discipleship and growth in faith and ministry should be progressive all our lives long, I hope SSCM will encourage people to dip back in at regular intervals to study some more. In particular we need to work very hard in understanding how the Scriptures speak into our changing culture, and thus equipping us for effective evangelism and living out robust faith in every dimension of life – family, workplace, neighbourhood, wider society, etc, not just in safe church circles. SSCM needs to ensure students have experienced mentors who are also themselves learning and growing, and exploring fresh ways of communicating God’s truth.
Jen: They can accept people as they are, offering opportunities to help them discover and grow into who God intended them to be.
As our interview draws to a close and night falls we say goodbye. On the way back in the car Jen and I talk about all the things that have been discussed, particularly the Mystery Plays, that bring the Gospel into people’s lives, through humour and drama. I am reminded of what Jen said earlier that day. “There was a time that the church led the way to recreate Bible stories that people could understand. We need to be leading that way again to reach hearts”.
Dream-Catcher: Catching God’s dreams for our communities

Dream-Catcher: Catching God’s dreams for our communities


This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each of them with cane in hand because of their age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there” (Zechariah 8: 4-5)

What might our communities look like, should such a vision be fulfilled in our own neighbourhoods? This was the question asked of us by Glenn Jordan, speaker at the recent Neopolis day conference on 7th January 2017. Sharing a challenging and inspirational account of the transformational work of Skainos in East Belfast, he described an earlier situation where he had asked a group of students to dream what a piece of derelict land – belonging to the Methodist church of which he was the minister – could be used for. Their dreaming was to be based on this vision of Zechariah, a vision of safety, joy, and children at play, contented old age for both men and women, and of harmony between generations.

Although Zechariah’s vision speaks of the city of Jerusalem, which in turn was applied by Glenn to Belfast, his argument is that this is a picture of transformative restoration: God’s dream for our neighbourhoods, whether city, town or village. Furthermore, Zechariah’s vision – also reflected in many passages in Third Isaiah – is essentially holistic. God’s restoration, which begins amongst His people, extends to the neighbourhoods in which His people live. The restoration is social, economic, emotional and essentially spiritual. Such healthy transformations seem to be common-place these days in stories coming out of South America, Africa & Asia, where God’s people catch His grounded vision.


Some indigenous American cultures weave dream-catchers, handmade ornaments based on a willow hoop, on which is woven a loose net or web, which they hang in children’s rooms to filter out the bad dreams and allow the good ones through. I am not suggesting for a moment that we take up this practice; but I strongly suggest that we extend the scope of our awareness to scripturally and imaginatively consider the breadth of God’s dreams for His world.

This exercise is easier in places where the needs appear to be greatest and where, for a little money, children are educated, fields planted, crops grown, hospitals established, and micro-economies enabled. In such situations, transformations are visible, and are attributed to the work and generosity of the Christians (see the surprising article by Matthew Paris).[i] I suggest that missionary societies and indigenous Christian churches long ago abandoned the idea of such restorative projects as a sop for the ‘Gospel to be preached’. Rather, they are theologically and successfully bringing the full salvation of God to needy people.

God’s Dream-Catchers 

Such imaginative enterprise may however seem more difficult in a place where most material needs are met and where the church has retreated from education and welfare, which are now being met by the state. However, I suggest there is now increasing opportunity, in a world of growing mendacity and fear, to place the missional people of God as purveyors of a peaceable Kingdom.

In a recent blog, one of our Pioneer Ministry students Adrienne Malcolm was featured as being involved in such an opportunity. Over Christmas the churches with which she is involved raised £8,000 to give away 86 bicycles to needy families in the community. The families had been identified by the local Women’s Aid group. Adrienne recounts with emotion the joy and amazement when the bikes were distributed to families who did not know that “church cared that much and did such things”. This project was a powerful witness to bicycle suppliers Halfords, to Women’s Aid and to the extended families of those who received the bikes.

What transformation do you dream of, for your community? Our CertHE in Theology (Pioneer Ministry) could be the means to help you discover and explore those dreams for yourself.

Dr Alistair Macindoe
Tutor in Pioneer Ministry


Immanuel: God crosses a boundary (or two)

Immanuel: God crosses a boundary (or two)


Christmas stories of travel, haste & flight

More than 2000 years ago, in an insignificant part of Palestine, an insignificant couple made a long and onerous journey to fulfil the functional ambitions of a Roman emperor. This journey was to reverberate throughout history and irrevocably change the world.

Nativity scenes on cards and manger tableaux in shopping malls give a false, static view of the Christmas story. The narratives in Luke and Matthew are full of movement: the 90-mile trek to Bethlehem, the rush of the shepherds to see the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths, the pilgrimage of the Magi from the East, the flight into Egypt, and the return journey to Nazareth. These are journeys that crossed boundaries and borders, all in keeping with a God moved by love, a God on the move, and people moving in obedience to His command.

From Nazareth in the northern Galilean region of Palestine, Joseph and a heavily pregnant Mary would have taken up to ten days to arrive in Bethlehem, travelling south along the flatlands of the Jordan River then west over the hills surrounding Jerusalem to finally reach their destination.

The shepherds on the hills surrounding Bethlehem found the strength to run to see the newly born in the adjacent village (Luke 2:17).  Meanwhile some sages in faraway Persia (now Iran) were getting ready to make a long journey. Sometime later they arrived in Jerusalem, the natural place to look for a ‘King of the Jews’, and were directed to a ‘house in Bethlehem’ (Matthew 2:11).

The holy family’s flight to Egypt would have entailed crossing dangerous cultural and political boundaries: the Roman Empire had only successfully annexed Egypt after the defeat of Anthony & Cleopatra in 30BC. We are not told where Joseph and Mary stayed as refugees in Egypt, nor for how long. However, soon after 4BC (the date of Herod’s death) they took the lengthy road back, avoiding Bethlehem, to Nazareth.

God crosses a boundary

The most cosmic boundary crossing ever made, as Mary laid her newly born son in a cattle trough, was that between heaven and earth. God took a risk. Although He had appeared in theophanies of angelic beings and dreams, never before had He physically entered into human flesh and blood.

Immanuel (עִמָּנוּאֵל), ‎ as we are aware, means ‘God with us’, a name first used in Isaiah’s prophecy some 700 years earlier.  Matthew recognises the fulfilment of the Isaiah prophecy in the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1: 23). A Hebrew speaker once told me the preposition used here has the same idea as ‘coffee with milk’. It is not just that ‘God is with us’, as He had been in times of trouble. In the Incarnation, He took on flesh and lived among us. Matthew and Luke give the narrative, John spells it out: “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). God had crossed a boundary. His mission to redeem humanity had begun in the blood and pain of a birth in Bethlehem.

Bringing heaven to earth

Throughout his life, Jesus crossed cultural and religious boundaries; through his ministry and for the Kingdom. He taught his disciples to pray “your Kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). He commissioned his disciples to make more disciples, to teach them what he had taught them (Matthew 28:20) and to cross boundaries whilst doing so (Acts 1:8). He continues to commission us to imitate him in incarnational mission; to bring heaven to earth. This then is the heart of what it means to be missional church. To cross boundaries, to bring heaven to earth. This is the heart of pioneer ministry.

Dr Alistair Macindoe
Tutor in Pioneer MInistry

Learn to cross boundaries with the CertHE in Theology (Pioneer Ministry). To find out more, complete our Intent To Study enquiry form (this does not commit you to studying with us).

My Mission: Unexpected Gifts at Christmas

My Mission: Unexpected Gifts at Christmas


I met Adrienne who is studying Pioneer Ministry. She arrives a little late for our meeting at Parkhead Nazarene Church, full of apologies. “I’m so sorry — we had a great tutorial and it was just so interesting I just got caught up”. Adrienne’s a mature student with brown hair and brown eyes, dressed casually in jeans with a white top. At first sight she’s a serious sort of person, but on getting to know her she is warm and friendly. 

So why did you choose our Pioneer Ministry training programme?
I want to deepen my faith. I do not want to be a pastor but I do want to pioneer by reaching out to people. It is my personal objective. Our tutor, Alastair Macindoe, says pioneer ministry means crossing boundaries, requires that you have to be open to new things, and other people have to be open too. For me, pioneering is about outreach: there can be all sorts of expressions of church planting.

Are you enjoying the experience?
I am getting so much out of it! I am working at placements including a ministry called Broken Chains and in a food bank. One day a woman, Marie[1], came in to the food bank. After we welcomed her and looked out some groceries, quite unexpectedly she burst into tears. We told her not to worry and not to feel embarrassed. “I’m not!”, came back. “It is just that you are being nice to me”. Then, with some pride she said, “I’m not ashamed to provide food for my children”. I sat down with her and she told me her story. In Marie’s case, her marriage broke up and her friendship circle diminished when she became single. She received no maintenance payments from her ex-husband and a change had affected her benefit payments. Marie was worried she was becoming dependent on her children for company. Of all the problems the worst was loneliness. It came to me in a flash: I know a lady who runs a faith-based cafe – Cafe Hope – and I suggested Marie might drop by. They have now developed a friendship. I can’t tell you how great that made me feel: I asked God to work through me. I feel so blessed to have been used by Him.

How are you finding your classes?
It’s a small class and that means the interaction we have in tutorials is great. Our tutors at Scottish School of Christian Mission are insightful people and they are caring. I feel very loved.

What are you learning on your course?
I know my way around the Bible a lot better and I am seeing it in a whole new light! Isaiah — no clothes for 3 years! Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20; Hebrews 7:1-3) comes from nowhere, no genealogy, no parents! He is the image of Jesus in the Old Testament. His name translated means ‘king of righteousness,’ and he is king of Salem, meaning ‘peace’ so he is also ‘king of peace’. Dr Wesley White, the lecturer, sometimes takes us deep into translation to help us understand layers of meaning in the Bible. It’s eye opening. I am thinking more about how Jesus interacted with people, especially those he was not supposed to be talking to. Being totally immersed in the Bible has changed me.

How has it changed you?
I am a lot more aware of how I behave around people. I work with addicts. It is easy to assume addicts are undeserving, but as I learned about how those I met arrived at their situation I changed my mind. For some it stems from relationship conflicts; others lose their way when they move away from their home; some are victims of abusive relationships. Often addicts worry people will judge them and this can make it so much harder for them. In particular, they fear Christians will look down on them. It is as if they think judgement is lurking waiting to get them.

What have you learned from real life practice?
People in trouble don’t want to be in that situation: they realise they need help and they can change. One woman I know was an alcoholic who regularly ‘escaped’ into prolonged drinking sessions. It was almost as if she escaping from reality. Low self-esteem made the addiction worse. She was abused but did not report it because, as she had been drunk, she felt she would not be believed. That same lady helps other girls now — she comes to Broken Chains, an informal church service. Another woman I know managed to recover by herself by self-reducing methadone. She now runs her own support group — people like that inspire me to help others and not to judge.

I think I have been guilty of being judgemental in the past: I would see people shouting and swearing at each other in the street and I would think, ’that is awful’. Now I’m more likely to think, maybe that person shouting and swearing has had a bad day. At the Broken Chains worship service people will get up and go for a cigarette — they don’t see a problem in that, and why should we see a problem? At one time I might have thought that it was not right, getting up to have a cigarette during a church service, but now I do not.

There are special moments for example, when people begin to trust you. They give you a hug, they open up. When I know their default is to tell lies or embellish and they are not doing that — these are uplifting experiences.

I have learned what Jesus says about love on my course: now I’ve learned what pioneering ministry means in practice. The commandment to love is not easy. But with the God’s help it is possible. Showing love can be just listening and spending time — sometimes it is all people need. People ask for us to pray for them even if they are not Christians: how wonderful is that?

What is happening this Christmas?
My church, Southside Christian Fellowship in Ayr, raised several thousand pounds to help the children connected to Women’s Aid in Ayr. Halfords did us a deal on bikes, providing we built the bikes ourselves. So we’re assembling 83 bikes for kids this Christmas as gifts, and will deliver them all over South Ayrshire before Christmas.

What does the Bible say about bearing gifts? In an instant Adrienne’s Bible is out. She finds the passage about the Magi, travelling from the East (Matthew 2:1–12).
The Magi were pioneers, they crossed boundaries. Yes, I’m trying to do that! Of course we don’t always get to see the kids’ faces with our gifts, but we get to see the mum’s faces. I cried my eye’s out when I read the thank you cards from last year. One mum wrote, “I didn’t think my son was going to have any kind of present and now he is going to have the best Christmas ever!”

I ask what it reminds her of? Another woman, someone fleeing from violence, who had no home to go to and nothing to give her baby, who received unexpected gifts? Adrienne brightens at the thought of one of the women at Women’s Aid being like Mary. She laughs and says,
“Yes, I am very very lucky. Very blessed”.

Adrienne Malcolm is studying for a CertHE in Theology (Pioneer Ministry) and was interviewed by Shona Maciver. To find out more about this programme, complete our Intent To Study enquiry form (this does not commit you to studying with us).

[1] Not Marie’s true name.

Pioneers Cross Boundaries

Pioneers Cross Boundaries


The definition of a pioneer might be ‘someone who crosses boundaries’. Most recently the BBC has been celebrating eighty years since the beginning of television broadcasting. This technological enterprise has been hailed as a pioneering breakthrough: crossing and extending the boundaries of technology to a whole new way of communicating.

In those first few years of technological enterprise, women were employed for the first time as programme makers. The BBC has hailed these women as pioneers, crossing entrenched gender boundaries.

The need for boundaries appears to be part of the human condition. They come in many shapes and forms. They can be culture-specific, language-specific, gender-specific, and – reinforced by centuries of tradition – are often more entrenched than simple geographical borders.

The mandate of Jesus to the first disciples

In the Gospels, Jesus was criticised for crossing the boundaries of ritual cleanliness by ‘welcoming sinners’ (Luke 15:2) and, worse still, for eating with the ritually unclean (Mark 2:16)[i].  Following his resurrection, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit as he commissioned his disciples to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). As the child of missionary parents, these words shaped my spiritual DNA.

Something profoundly significant is being implied in these verses.

The words of Jesus promising the power of the Holy Spirit follow the question posed by the disciples, “are you at this time going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)

This question reflects the struggle, aspiration and the deep-rooted ethnical specificity of a people longing for salvation and deliverance from decades of Roman imperialism.

The answer of Jesus was to dismiss the question: ‘this is not for you to know’. Instead he commissioned a mandate to cross boundaries in his name. As Jesus had crossed boundaries, he now commissioned his disciples, beginning in Jerusalem, to be his witnesses also in Judea, Samaria, and to the farthest reaches of the known world.  Jerusalem was the centre of Jewish worship and learning: home to the Temple and prominent Jewish teachers. Judea was where of the common people lived. It was also the dwelling of ‘unclean sinners’ such as shepherds and lepers. Samaria was the apostate nation: they were outside of salvation and the enemy of true Jews. The “uttermost parts of the earth” were the lands of the goyim – the nations – who were to be fodder for God’s wrath. In other words, the disciples were called to be pioneers. The rest of Acts sees this commissioning unfold. These very ordinary men and women were to cross religious, social and political boundaries. They would face hostility, ridicule, danger and martyrdom. It is little wonder that they needed the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

Do we dare cross boundaries?

The Scottish church in the 21st Century is steeped in a long history of religious and cultural boundaries. These boundaries make us feel safe and keep us comfortable. The situation is accentuated by a persistent and dominating belief that these cultural boundaries carry a sacred sanction.

We are challenged not only to cross our own boundaries to reach our communities for Christ, but to cross the boundaries that our communities have themselves created, usually for their own preservation. What about the area of town with a large social housing population and a distinctive ethos of its own, or the nearby affluent community where they generally keep themselves behind the closed doors of their own properties? What about the gatherings of youth who trouble their neighbourhood, or the now large section of our community who feel the failure of their reliance on food banks? Are they welcome in our faith community?  The refugees recently arrived amongst us, or…? The list goes on.

As I travel the country to promote the SSCM Pioneer Ministry course, I am deeply heartened that a great many churches and Christian groups are now crossing boundaries, going out to young people, students, refugees, the disabled, the disaffected and the homeless. The Pioneer Ministry course at SSCM is designed to enable our students to reflect on the process of crossing boundaries in Jesus’ name.

Dr Alistair Macindoe
Tutor in Pioneer Ministry

[i] ‘Sinners’ is a translation of the Gk. ‘hamartoloi’. This is not our contemporary use of the word ‘sinner’. The hamartoloi were a class of people who were ritually unclean, socially alienated and excluded from the salvation of Israel: beggars, tax-collectors, prostitutes, shepherds, lepers, criminals, etc.

Planting churches: a missional imperative

Planting churches: a missional imperative


The church growth specialist and missiologist, C. Peter Wagner makes the bold statement “The single most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven is planting new churches”.[1]

In the 1990’s, whilst studying for my Master’s degree at Trinity College, Glasgow University, I was researching the missiological impact of three urban Church of Scotland congregations. I considered that one of the churches was particularly effective in this regard, and remarked in an essay that it was ‘newly planted by the Church of Scotland’. My supervisor wrote in the margin, “The Church of Scotland does not plant churches; it is the spiritual guardian of the nation”.

The model of church as “spiritual guardian of the nation” lies deep within the DNA of the Scotland’s people but as Christendom influence wanes and postmodernism impacts our culture, the most effective means of fulfilling the great commission is to plant worshiping missional communities, in a spirit of cooperation with and/or ‘out from’ more established communities of faith.


The Hermeneutics of Peoplehood

I am indebted to the late Mennonite scholar John Howard Yoder for the succinct descriptive phrase ‘the hermeneutics of peoplehood’. [2] Yoder’s argument, which holds true for Christian mission as much as for ethics (Yoder was an ethicist), is that the most effective interpretative medium for the Christian message is people: people, in all their complexities, their brokenness, failures and relationships.

This methodology stands in contrast to strategies which depend on performance evangelism and attractive programmes.  This methodology is God’s methodology: Philippians 2:6-11 reminds us that God took on human skin, lived among us, and died an ignominious death on a criminal gibbet.  This was not an aberration of the eternal plan, but a methodology in relational communication which lies at the very heart of God’s hermeneutic: “for God so loved the world that He sent His only SON”.

And so it continues. As God communicates through His Son, so he communicates His overwhelming love through the holistic relational lives and behaviour of His people (John 13: 35). Such incarnational and relational missiology is costly and sacrificial (as it was for Jesus) which is why, I suggest, we have often preferred performance evangelism which costs us little.


Loving one another means preferring one another

The command from Jesus to “love one another” (Jn. 13:34) is the most difficult of all commandments. As I said in my last blog, this is not an aspiration or an optional extra. This is the way God communicates. ‘Loving one another’ means that we stick to loving whatever the consequences for ourselves, our own identity and our own security. It flies in the face of so many church splits through personality differences and trivial issues: all of which mars the Christian witness.


‘Loving one another’ also means reaching out in genuine love and mutual respect to other streams of the Christian church: they often embody centuries of profound Christian truth. Let the founders and members of ‘new churches’ foster cooperative relationships with more established churches. Let leaders in more established denominations allow fresh expressions in missional community to flourish in their neighbourhood and let both find good ways to work together. In my travels to promote the SSCM course in Pioneer Ministry, I am heartened to discover this is happening in exciting ways – from Edinburgh to Ayr and throughout Scotland.


The CertHe in Theology (Pioneer Ministry) is now under way at SSCM in partnership with Nazarene Theological College and is a very practical, in–the-field course, overseen by seasoned church-planters and church leaders.

Alistair Macindoe
Tutor in Pioneer Ministry

[1]C. Peter Wagner (2010) Church Planting for A Greater Harvest: Wipf& Stock Publishers, Eugene OR.

[2]John Howard Yoder(1984)The Priestly Kingdom: Notre Dame Press, Indiana. (pgs. 15-45)

Identity formation for all ages?

Identity formation for all ages?


Identity formation is considered one of the key elements of youth work.  As young people progress on the journey from dependence to interdependence, they are engaged in a process of trying to either find or establish their identity.  Whether this identity is ingrained in their very nature or something established by their social circumstances is an often debated subject. But it is unlikely that this is an either/or discussion, as both nature and nurture are likely to be determinants in the process.  There can be no doubt that our social circumstances do influence our perception of ourselves and how others perceive us, whether this is where we live, our family, our experiences, etc.

The reason why we associate identity formation with young people is probably due to the influence of Erik Erikson’s work on developmental psychology.  Erikson argued that humans (particularly in Western culture) develop through eight stages in a somewhat linear fashion.  He argues that during this period of adolescence we attempt to find our own identity, struggle with social interactions, and grapple with moral issues.  If we do not successfully negotiate this stage, then we will experience some form of role confusion.  The youth worker often has a key role to play in this process of assisting the young person to understand themselves, whether this be providing opportunities to form new interests such as sports or music, assisting in spiritual formation, work around sexual identity, or engaging in political discussions.

However, we should not just limit identity formation to an adolescent process.  Our identity is constantly changing.  Some of this change is caused by a change in our social circumstances.  Marriage, parenthood, illness/disability, commencement of studies, retirement or moving house may result in us becoming a spouse, a parent, disabled, a student, a pensioner or a migrant.  Each of these will affect our perception of ourselves and the perception others have of us.

Likewise, it is not just our social circumstances that result in a continual identity formation. Our values and beliefs are also constantly changing.  As we interact with the world around us – whether through what we watch on TV, the people we meet, or the things we read – our values and beliefs change as we interpret the information and form our opinions.  This is not a new phenomenon and some interpreters claim that this is what Jesus was referring to when he said “The eye is the lamp of the body.” (Matt 6:22 NET).  Nonetheless, it can provide for interesting situations, for example when you meet up with someone for the first time in a long time and both of you have a perspective of one another which is rooted in who you each used to be, and rather than taking into account how values, attitudes and opinions have changed in that time.

The early Christians had a similar experience.  David Horrell, in his book Solitarity and Difference[1], studies how the early followers of Jesus created a group or social identity, which is their outworking of a change in identity through an encounter with the Christian gospel.  He notes that “the identity of a group according to social identity theory has cognitive, emotional, and evaluative dimensions, and is further defined by ‘norms’ that stipulate ‘a range of acceptable (and unacceptable) attitudes and behaviours’ for members of the group.  Moreover, distinctions drawn between ingroup and outgroup members serve to enhance a positive – and necessarily comparative – sense of group identity.” (p92)

For these early followers, they embarked on a process of forming a group identity that was to some extent distinct from the Jewish, Greco-Roman and other cultures from which they came from, but which at the same time was not hostile to them.  An example of this can be seen in Romans, where Paul addresses the Jewish Christians in chapters 1-7 (see 2:17) highlighting that they are children of Abraham through faith, not by obedience to law which is not open to the non-Jewish followers of Jesus.  And then in chapters 9-13 he appears to address the Christians who do not come from a Jewish background, highlighting the rich heritage of the Jewish faith and their interaction with YHWH (God) (e.g. 9:4-5).

For Christians today, we still wrestle with this concept of identity formation and how we continue to be shaped by the Christian gospel.  Our Christian identity and associated values,should not be static, but should be constantly transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2).  Such a continual renewal should result in our reflection on our theology (our understanding of God and how He interacts with the world) and either cause us to revise our theological positions or re-affirm them anew.  Theological reflection is therefore a response to our continual encountering of the Christian message and should both shape our identity and our practice.

Likewise, the other features of our identity will affect how we engage and respond to the Christian message.  Whether we are a spouse, a parent, disabled, a student, a pensioner or a migrant will affect how we both interpret scripture and the Christian message, as well as how we practice it in our worship, mission and discipleship.  Therefore, no single model of church is likely to suit everyone and there is a need to create space for a variety of ways of worshipping, doing mission and discipling each other.  The question for us as a church is how we might facilitate and equip people for this.

Graeme McMeekin
Vice Principal

A number of programmes are commencing over the next few months.  If you would like to know more, please complete our online Intent to Study enquiry form, stating which course or programme you are interested in. You can also call the office on 0141 552 4040.  Courses/Programmes starting in the next few months include:

[1] Horrell DG (2005), Solidarity and Difference: A Contemporary Reading of Paul’s Ethics, London: T&T Clark

A Missional God and a Missional Church

A Missional God and a Missional Church


In lectures given in 1952 at Trinity College, Glasgow, the theologian and missionary Lesslie Newbigin was already addressing concerns for the church under the title of The Household of God: Lectures on the Nature of the Church[1]. Newbigin reaffirmed the Church as a “visible community”, in which an understanding of the body of Christ is more than an abstract or ‘spiritual’ (invisible) notion, but rather it is “the actual visible life of the Christian fellowship in the world” (p71).

The Bible is replete with the notion that mission is at the heart of the nature of our God. At the very beginning of the Abrahamic story, Abraham is left in no doubt that “all peoples on earth” were to be the ultimate recipients of the blessing bestowed on his family by God (Genesis 12:3). Probably the most quoted verse of the New Testament reads “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16), being later followed by “As the Father has sent me …. I am sending you” (John 20:21)

In his 1991 seminal work The Gospel in a Pluralist Society[2] Newbigin considers the problem how to conduct Christian witness in a society which has “pluralism as its reigning ideology”, without resorting to the past autocracy of Christendom. The issue for Newbigin, as it is for us, is the (in)credibility of a message in which “the last word in human affairs is represented by a man hanging on a cross” (p227). So what is his answer to this dilemma?

“I am suggesting that the only answer, the only hermeneutic of the gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it”.

Newbigin’s conclusion highlights the essential paradoxical juxtaposition of congregational nature: living and loving as the body of Christ for the sake of the world. Even if it ever could have, I suggest that the church can no longer expect to evangelise by propositional proclamation alone. The days of evangelistic rallies are finished in the Western world. The seismic turn in our culture since the 1950s can be summed up in two significant compound words: post-Christendom and post-modernism. Firstly, following a thousand and more years of Christianity and its battles, most Scots believe they have heard it all before and are now rejecting what they perceive as the Christian God. Secondly, as I wrote in my last blog, post-modernism is leading the Scottish population to disbelieve all propositional statements, not just the religious ones. Language, including religious language, is losing its meaning.

For the Christian community, the essential hermeneutic of its message in an age of unbelief and scepticism lies in its believing and a relational life together, summed up by Jesus: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). This hermeneutic reflects the very heart and behaviour of Jesus (John 13:34) which itself reflects the missional character of God. I am not proposing this as a nice idea to which Christian communities should aspire, but rather as a fundamental Biblical understanding of God’s chosen means of communication, rooted in the incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth and his people.

Pioneer missional communities

The majority of congregations in Scotland have not grasped this truth – that they do not exist for themselves, but rather they are for the world. This is the paradox: our love for one another, our worship and learning together, essential as it is to the health and dynamic of our local congregation, nevertheless has a centrifugal purpose and is the driving motive for our community to adopt a missional stance. We witness by the character of our community as much as, if not more than, by our proclamation. If the character of our Christian community falls short of our words about God, then the wider community will simply not believe us. But if our words about God proceed from our character and relationships, then our means of communication is holistic and complete.

At SSCM we are championing Pioneer Ministry, and I say strongly that such pioneers should not and must not be seen by others, or see themselves, as ‘lone rangers’. Interestingly, the early pioneers of the American West did so in large family groups travelling together, not as lonely trekkers. Pioneers for the good news of Jesus should work and relate in Christian love and service, in teams or groups, in which words are interwoven with love and works. Pioneer groups should never adopt an attitude of triumphalism, but strive to serve together in such a way as to become infectious catalysts for further missional attitudes to emerge: such groups are springing up throughout our nation. It is to encourage pioneering and church-planting that SSCM is offering a very practical course in Pioneer Ministry, led by seasoned pioneers. The very first intake of students onto the CertHE in Theology (Pioneer Ministry) are beginning their studies just now. Could you (or someone you know) join those pioneers next year?

Alistair Macindoe
Tutor in Pioneer Ministry

[1] Lesslie Newbigin (1955), The Other Side of 1984: Questions for the Churches, was originally published by the British Council of Churches for a year-long discussion programme in the UK. It was reissued by the World Council of Churches in 1984.
[2] Lesslie Newbigin (1991), The Gospel in a Pluralist Society London: SPCK

Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? Part 2: The Church & Her Witness

Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? Part 2: The Church & Her Witness


My last blog post was based on the small book by the Reformed/Pentecostal scholar James K.A. Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church.[1] In this I outlined his analysis of three major philosophers who have shaped Western culture in the 21st Century. Once properly understood, Smith contends, they become allies of and not obstacles to Christian witness. I want to summarise Smith’s arguments for the Church’s opportunities in postmodernity.

Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) is considered the father of deconstructionism, a term often understood negatively. Smith maintains however that Derrida’s intention is not destructive; rather it is to make the case for interpretation as the means by which we all – including scientists – perceive and understand the world. Derrida thus challenges the claims of empirical objectivity which have dominated Western Enlightenment culture from the 17th Century (Descartes and Hume) until the 20th Century (Bertrand Russell and AJ Ayer).
This opens a space for us to question all those current assertions which claim to be universal facts, not interpretations, and allows for the possibility of other constructions, including that of the Christian narrative. The postmodern loss of objectivity, says Smith, “does not entail a loss of boldness about the truth of the gospel” (p51), for our knowledge of God does not come from ‘proofs’, but from His self-giving (revelation) to us. Furthermore our witness does not rest on rationalistic persuasion, but on the convictional power of the Holy Spirit.
Derrida argues – in the light of deconstruction – that genuine interpretation comes from corporate sources, i.e it is something done in community, with others. This chimes with the Bible’s emphasis on that ‘host of witnesses’ (Heb 12:1) past and present, local as well as global, who continue to shape the Christian confession in conjunction with our prophetic voice.

The scepticism of François Lyotard (1924-1988) was aimed at the widely-accepted rationalistic/humanistic metanarratives of social progress (Kant and Marx), as well as those of the scientific enterprise which have dominated modernity. Smith cites the work of the American physicist/philosopher Thomas Kuhn (1922 – 1996), who argued that scientific knowledge depends on ‘paradigms’ which in themselves are forms of belief; a “matter of faith” (p71).[2]
Smith suggests that the suspicion of rationalistic metanarratives presents a unique opportunity for Christian witness (p70). The postmodern scepticism of autonomous reason allows us to promote the ancient Augustinian contention for “faith preceding reason” (p72). In other words, faith is the ground or basis of all comprehension, including that of scientific discovery.
Following Lyotard’s  argument for the narrative construct of knowledge, Smith reminds us of the narrative character of Christian revelation which should be repeated with joy in a ‘story-telling church’ in worship and in lives lived together; this in turn becomes a dynamic aspect of our witness.

Michel Foucault (1926-1984), in his study of prison discipline, aims a general critique at all structures – prisons, schools, hospitals, churches – in which privileged knowledge functions primarily as a means of power. Smith argues passionately that the 21st Century Christian church, so often the perpetrator of abusive manipulation, should strive to display the servant image of Christ: the “renewed image bearers of God” (p106).

I end with an illustrative story. A number of years ago I had the privilege of baptising a lady of 86. A member of the Communist Party in her youth and a convinced atheist all of her days, she came under the influence of a caring Christian house-group in her later years.  One day, looking around at her beloved small garden, she mused to herself “there must be a God: this beauty cannot be an accident”! At that moment “everything fell into place”, and was the beginning of a journey to Christ. It was not, as some might suggest, that she had capitulated to the irrational, but that by conviction of the Holy Spirit she realised another more plausible narrative was possible. The Christian narrative is one we can continue to tell and gain a hearing for in our postmodern society.

Dr Alistair Macindoe
Tutor in Pioneer Ministry

[1] James K.A. Smith (2006), Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic
[2] See also the writings of the Hungarian-British polymath/philosopher Michael Polanyi (1891-1976), e.g. Knowing and Being (1969), who argued that all knowing takes place within the context of personal commitment.