Re-imagining Church for Mission

Re-imagining Church for Mission


In 1970 I met the beautiful woman who was to become my wife. We met as part of a seaside mission team, at a time when such summer outreach endeavours were commonplace in Scotland’s coastal towns. At that mission and in subsequent summer missions a number of ‘smack heads’ were converted to Christ and showed signs of genuine transformation. We made every effort to find a church or Christian group that would provide discipleship and mentoring for the new believers, but to no avail. Church culture of any denomination was completely foreign to the (mainly) young men and they felt alienated and uncomfortable in traditional church surroundings. The lack of nurturing possibilities for new Christians was totally disheartening, and it set me on a road to re-imagining the church as a missional community capable of making disciples.

Church is Mission

The Bible sets the task of fulfilling the mission of a loving and sending God squarely at the feet of His people. In his book The Mission of God’s People, Christopher Wright traces the purposes of God, from Abraham through to the great commission of Jesus and beyond to the early church. He writes:

“It is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world, as that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission – God’s mission”. [1]

The New Testament positions the work of evangelism resolutely within the body of Christ. In Ephesians 4:11, the apostle Paul cites the gift of evangelist as one of the essential functions of God’s people. Following the logic of the chapter, evangelists do not operate on their own any more than teachers or pastors do. Paul’s graphic imagery of a dislocated body in 1 Corinthians 12 is close to comical as he invites us to imagine an eye or a foot trying to live a separate and meaningful existence. The church has done just this, with disastrous consequences. It has forgotten or perhaps never learned how to be a missional, discipleship-making community.

Practical Suggestions to Re-imagine Church

It’s buried deep into our Scottishness: a past-times school-room model of church, led by a (usually) male ‘headie’, the Minister or Pastor who does all the spiritual stuff, whilst the rest do as they are told. Let us imagine instead a different, more biblical model of church: a body with many parts, with each part having a God-given, meaningful and important function. As a first – and possibly most difficult – move, let church leaders take the risk of creating space and freedom for other gifted functions to operate. Any local body of believers that is gifted and led by the Spirit will have various teachers, pastors, prophets and evangelists, and in a fully-functioning context those engaged in evangelism will flourish, being supported to bring others to Christ. New Christians will be birthed, taught, discipled and cared for.

The security we might experience from our existing church culture has become increasingly alien to a secularised Scotland, to our neighbours and our non-Christian friends. Our speaking and singing of ‘blood’ and ‘lambs’, our cues for sitting or standing, our prayers of ‘storming the gates’; all must seem strange if not outlandish to a majority of the population who, while longing for a deeper reality and a spiritual  authenticity, feel awkward or intimidated by our regular church gatherings.  Thankfully there is another language that is universally understood, appreciated and accepted: the language of love. I am heartened by congregations now looking for ways to share the message of God’s love, knowing that we make the best job of doing this when we love one another, when we love our neighbours, and go as far as loving our enemies. New initiatives take many forms: common meals, Messy Church, church presence and participation at community fairs, food-banks, Carols in Costa, Christmas give-aways, Alpha suppers, debt relief and support, creative workshopping, and much much more. Such activities are not an addition to church, they are church. As we recalibrate our paradigm of church, so we improve our neighbours’ chances to see, understand and believe.

The School of Christian Mission serves local churches, helping in the equipping of a missional leadership; a leadership that will remain part of their local church mix of gifted men and women. Our courses in pioneer ministry and leadership are designed to serve this end.

Alistair Macindoe
Tutor in Pioneer Ministry

[1] Christopher J.H. Wright (2010), The Mission of God’s People

Mission at St John’s Linlithgow

Mission at St John’s Linlithgow


Andy and David were both called to serve: we meet up at their outreach centre, 183 High Street, Linlithgow. I ask them about different generations in mission. How was it then, how it is now?

“I am not the older one, am I?” David says in mock dismay. “You have three children”, fires back Andy, a youth worker in his 20s. “But they are only wee!” his Pastor replies. “Wee! One is 19!” says Andy – and they collapse in laughter.

We are sitting in what was once a shop, now filled with comfortable sofas and bright cushions, right in the middle of the community. Momentarily it seems that the older man is younger than the younger one. David, the Community Outreach Pastor at St John’s Church, is a big chap with a beard and an irresistible sense of humour. Andy, younger, very direct, very focused, with a busy diary.

Andy is a student at the Scottish School of Christian Mission, studying for a BA(Hons) in Theology (Youth and Community). He has just been invited to work in a full-time employed post with St John’s. He can often be found at Linlithgow Young People’s Project. LYPP is a busy, community-based inter-church youth project which involves working face-to-face with young people and developing outreach projects. On the other hand, David’s life journey has taken him to Bible college and out again; a period as a prison officer; then working with homeless people; returning to International Christian College to complete his degree 23 years after starting it and, finally, to become Community Outreach Pastor at St John’s.

I ask them about their calling. David responds,“It was not just one call. Every one of the changes in my career felt like a calling, yet in many ways the process felt more like progression. God moves you along as you fulfil the purposes he has for you. Every step of the way, I knew I was needed in the community and God wanted me to work there. The path I took has led me from being someone who was slightly naive to someone who was better equipped to serve”.

Andy goes on, “I too feel I have been rewarded with more as I have done more. I have a sense that discipline and obedience – to God’s plan for me – is important. I sometimes feel like David before he fights Goliath. Yet the steps laid out for me seemed so obvious and right, I have to obey.”

“I had an experience while I was working in York during my gap year. I was 17 at the time, and a woman I met there, Emma Stark, prophesied that I would become a leader of leaders and I must go back to the drawing board and think about what God wanted me to do. I remember her words: she said that, if I worked hard at this, I would have, ’A heart for this nation I never had before’.”

David interjects “How does that feel?” and Andy replies, “Quite frustrating sometimes. I have worked full-time then part-time to study theology. Sometimes I feel I have not progressed fast enough, but if I had not experienced this turning point, I do not know what I would have done”.

David reflects, “Progression and call are not exactly the same thing…” Andy says, “the more I have done, the more I have been rewarded.”

I ask about the practical purpose of study. David admits that sometimes, when he was younger, he felt study was not practical enough for him. “I enjoyed modules on church planting, probably because I was actively seeking out practical hands-on experience, but the real benefits of study came when I started to teach people. It brought a huge positive impact on my preaching. I think I understood scripture at a far deeper level and I was better equipped for pastoral ministry”.

Andy says, “I agree with David”. The serious young man brightens when he talks about feeling ‘liberated’ through study. “I and some of my fellow youth workers have moved into a flat in our community. At the same time I am studying how Jesus moved in his community. I have been thinking about Matthew 22”. Andy refers to verse 8: ‘Then he said to his servants, ‘the wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find’. Andy continues, “This shows how inclusive God is and that is how I must be, too.” David remarks with a smile that since the Holy Trinity is itself community and that we are drawn into that community by the love of God, so Andy living in community is a metaphor or allegory of the same. David says, “Personal faith goes out of the window in this light. The call to being a Christian is a call to the community of God”.

By this time I have given up on finding any generational gulf between them. If anything, they are, though years apart in terms of life experience, walking side by side on the same path. I ask them, what are the greatest challenges you face now?

David says, “Steering the church the way God wants it to go. Bringing the Kingdom, making disciples. Being in the community, not trying to force talking about Jesus into every situation, but trying to help them get more out of their time on earth. Keeping hope, and faith, strong.”

Andy responds, “Changing the culture of young people here in Linlithgow to be inclusive and welcoming. Christians can be a clique and the church in Scotland needs radical change. We need to revitalise the church while still caring for it”.

Find out more about the study options at SSCM.

Music for the Jilted Generation

Music for the Jilted Generation


“Meow meow ma meow meow. Charly says, always tell your mummy before you go off somewhere.”

These are the only words that can be heard on the first single I ever bought, way back in 1991. It was Charly by The Prodigy, their first single and which went number 3 in the UK charts for two weeks. I loved it and I loved their first album, Experience. They were energetic, other-worldly, and they moved me in some way.

I thought The Prodigy stood out among their peers, and it turns out that I was right because they are still a huge success, while the other bands I listened to within their breakbeat techno genre are nowhere to be found but on YouTube, posted by other ravers wishing it was still 1992!

Their second album, Music for the Jilted Generation, impressed further, as it was a kind of genius merging of genres, one that managed to cross the musical divide between electronic-based music and purely guitar-driven punk and metal. The album’s title, artwork, and tracks like Poison, Their Law and Voodoo People were astounding, and the sentiment and feeling in the music was potent, raw, aggressive, and euphoric. I still love it.

At that point in time Keith, the frontman, still had long hair and they still hadn’t fully crossed over into the psycho-punk voodoo-looking style of their third album, Fat of the Land, for which they are credited as being one of the pioneers of the new Big Beat/Techno genre.

With Fat of the Land came controversy, a new look and new success, of which the latter has increased as the years have passed. I lost interest in their new stuff after their fourth album, but The Prodigy have in my mind been the most successful techno group in the world. I can’t think of another band like them with that much mainstream success, longevity, and critical acclaim.

So why did I lose interest?

I think it’s because they continued to be musically relevant to their culture, where as I started to be much more conservative, bordering on having ridiculous generalised views like, “the music today is garbage”. I could genuinely debate with anyone about the ways in which music has been on the decline in quality since the early 2000s, but what would be the point?

What I do want to think about is – can we learn something from The Prodigy?

If the church and our Christian lifestyles continue to live in 1992, listening to breakbeat techno, wearing the horrible 1990s clothing (yes, it was worse than the 80s), and telling everyone in the culture of 2017 that they should be listening to Music for a Jilted Generation by The Prodigy, then I am not sure how much success we will have.

What arrogance to say that 1994 was the year in which we achieved the best music, the best sense of style, the best whatever. I certainly don’t like people telling me the 60s or 70s was the best for music. I agree with them to an extent, but The Prodigy were not around then, so that can’t be, as they couldn’t even have imagined making the sound the Prodigy made back then.

The Prodigy didn’t take a gamble with their second or third albums. They wrote music they liked, music that was organic, that came from them, but it was also written and performed with the audience in mind. They must have asked “how do we make our fans explode with excitement?”, and “how do we wow the world of unbelievers, into believing and experiencing us?”. They must have, because they achieved both, with great success.

My wife Lynsey and I feel called to the Jilted Generation that the Prodigy are referencing. It’s not just a one-off generation. It’s more that every generation has a jilted contingent. Punk, Goth, Metal, Underground Rave, Breakbeat, Conscious Rap, or whatever music, art or style they feel most in tune with, we want to be in tune with them.

We are staying 100% true to our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are staying faithful to His word, and we will not sacrifice sound theology for the sake of ‘fans’, but we are going to their pubs and hang-outs, not thinking of how we get them anywhere geographically, not thinking how do we get them to enjoy worship, we’re just thinking that we want to cross the huge divide between the mainstream expressions of church and the sub-stream, counter-cultural, and alternative communities and loners throughout Scotland, those who find ‘pop music’ or ‘pop church’ off putting. We can’t let the church be a block to Christ. People need avenues to Christ, and we are the pointers. Where is God pointing you?

Church may very well have been better back then, in a lot of ways I wish I was back then, whenever it was but we are not. We are here and now, in a culture where Lynsey and I see on a weekly basis when teaching health & wellbeing that so many of our youth hate their bodies, devalue themselves, self-harm, starve themselves, over-eat, over-exercise, and are really angry, I mean REALLY angry about a lot of things, and we are entering scary territory for Christians. We need to wake up, and as Matt Morginsky once wrote “Unite, ignite and spark a light to burn so bright; The sight will blind the blind of this our modern time”.

We can’t let the Church only be found on YouTube, posted by people who wish it was whenever in the past. We can’t be retreating monks in a scary hostile world. We all have to be brave and obey God when he says, “Hawl you! I want you to love them. I want you to go there”.

What angers you? What need do you see? That may be where you must go. Some may even call you a pioneer.

Whatever is on your hearts, let us as Christ’s body of believers in Scotland, write and produce Christ’s Music for the Jilted Generation.

Stuart Gilmour

The CertHE in Theology (Pioneer Ministry) is offered by SSCM to help Christians in Scotland to offer Christ’s music for a jilted generation. To find out more, complete our online enquiry form. This does not commit you to studying with us.

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)