Shaped by Mission – Journeying from SSCM to Tearfund

Shaped by Mission – Journeying from SSCM to Tearfund


We are shaped by mission!  This is a bold statement that has set me thinking bringing with it a litany of questions including:
– Are we really shaped by mission?
– Are we shaped by particular types of mission?
– What happens if we are not being missional?

I recently read a book[1] where it describes mission as a two-way conversion process[2].  Sometimes when we carry out mission, we expect to go out with our message of good news, encounter those in material or spiritual poverty, and expect them to be ‘converted’ and then walk away ourselves unchanged.  The premise of this book, however is that as we encounter those that we are reaching, both parties walk away changed.

For the last 17 years, I have been involved in mission work on a full-time basis (although not always working for Christian organisations), primarily in the UK and each one of those encounters have changed me.  With each role I have learned new things, but more importantly every person I have encountered has made an impact on my very identity.

As a church-based youth worker, I can name many young people (some of which are in their thirties now!) who impacted upon who I am. Two of them are Gareth and Reece[3], two brothers who lived in a council estate just outside Glasgow suffering absolute poverty.  Both parents were addicts and life for them was a constant struggle to bring order into the chaotic lives of their parents.  As we carried out healthy cookery courses with them, they learned how to provide meals for their families, whereas I learned so much about resilience and the need to listen to those whose lives were much harsher than my own.

Working in Restorative Justice (victim-offender mediation), I had the opportunity to enter into the lives of many young people who had come to the attention of the legal system.  For some of these young people, it was apparent that they had resorted to offending because of damaged relationships.  For others, the offence itself damaged the relationship.  I clearly remember one particular day when a teenage Indian girl was meeting with myself and the manager of a local shop, from which she had stolen some make-up.  The meeting itself was somewhat unremarkable and was typical of a meeting involving a ‘corporate victim’, such as a retail chain.

At the end of the meeting, the girl’s father, who had not been part of the mediation, arrived and wanted to have a word with me.  In that small room, with just two of us, he weeped.  It is not often that I have sat with someone in their fifties, from a completely different cultural background, as they wept tears of mourning for their daughter who was in the next room.

This father owned a shop.  The means of provision for his family was through his shop.  This father had tried to instil values in his daughter about how livelihoods depended on shops.  For that father, stealing cosmetics was not just theft, it was the daughter turning her back on their family values and all that was important to them.  That day I carried out a second mediation, between father and daughter.  The father opened up to his daughter for the first time and the daughter experienced the raw emotional response that her otherwise proud father had.

Even as a supposedly impartial mediator, I was changed that day.  I learned something incredible about being a vulnerable father and the importance of communicating with those closest to us.  Likewise, I learned something about the pain that our creator must have every time we treat others wrongly or are unjust in our actions.

For the last 12 years or so, I have been called to the unusual mission field of a Christian college.  In a college, you are not in the business of the conversion of non-believers, but rather believers.  This conversion is not about convincing them of the existence of God, but rather about trying to enable them to see God for who God really is, rather than our own perception of God.  My particular calling has also been to enable students to understand what mission is within the Scottish context and how this can be done in an empowering, humanising and God-honouring way.  As I have carried out this role, I have been changed by my encounters with staff, students, young people in placements, and many others.

When I arrived at ICC in 2004, originally taking on a part-time post supporting students on placement, I was a very different person from who I am in 2017.  I started as a very naïve Christian with virtually no understanding of theology and having a piecemeal understanding of what a theology of mission is.  Leaving in 2017, I certainly have a more rounded understanding of who God is and his purposes and a passion for the Bible and what we can learn about ourselves and God through it.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at the college and have learned a great deal.  I also hope that I have had an impact in enabling students, staff and supporters to think through how think theologically about youth work and community development.  However I believe that I am now called to a new mission field in which I will both have an impact and be impacted.

In March, I will be taking on a new role as the Head of Church Development (Scotland) with Tearfund.  Those who know me well will know that I have been a supporter of Tearfund for the last 7 years or so and been involved in many levels, whether this be as a volunteer speaker, community fundraiser or on their Scottish Advisory Group.  In this role, I am hoping to continue to inspire the local Church to be missional, whether this be at a local or international level.

In this new role, I believe that I am called to listen.  Called to listen to the local Church in Scotland and respond to what is important to them in mission.  Likewise I believe I am called to listen to the Church beyond Scotland, and particularly in the global south, to learn lessons from them on mission and development that can be shared with the Church in Scotland.

Please pray for me as I step into this new role and as I continue to be changed by mission that as I continue to be transformed by mission, that that transformation will have an impact on the wider Church.

God who sets us on a journey
to discover, dream and grow,
lead us as you led your people
in the desert long ago;
journey inward, journey outward,
stir the spirit, stretch the mind,
love for God and self and neighbour
marks the way that Christ defined.

Exploration brings new insights,
changes, choices we must face;
give us wisdom in deciding,
mindful always of your grace;
should we stumble, lose our bearings,
find it hard to know what’s right,
we regain our true direction
focused on the Jesus light.

End our longing for the old days,
grant the vision that we lack –
once we’ve started on this journey
there can be no turning back;
let us travel light, discarding
excess baggage from our past,
cherish only what’s essential,
choosing treasure that will last.

When we set up camp and settle
to avoid love’s risk and pain,
you disturb complacent comfort,
pull the tent pegs up again;
keep us travelling in the knowledge
you are always at our side;
give us courage for the journey,
Christ our goal and Christ our guide.

Graeme McMeekin

[1] Collier, J & Esteban, 1998, From Complicity to Encounter: The Church and the Culture of Economism, Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Publishing
[2] “Through this encounter [as mission] others are invited to share in the Christian faith experience in such a way that their religious and cultural past is reformed around that experience.  At the same time, this encounter challenges the cultural presuppositions of the missionaries themselves.  The model of conversion implied by this understanding of mission therefore implies both a symmetry and mutuality” (p83) – I am still processing to what extent I would hold to the radical claims of these authors, but I do think that we are at least changed in mission.
[3] All the names mentioned in this blog are pseudonyms other than my own.


SSCM appoints new team members

SSCM appoints new team members


2017 will see some changes to the team at the Scottish School of Christian Mission.

Graeme McMeekin, Vice-Principal, is leaving in March to take up the newly-created post of Head of Church Development at Tearfund Scotland.  Graeme has made a significant contribution to our work over the last 13 years, both in our new form as SSCM and previously as ICC.  It goes without saying that we are sad to see Graeme go, but we are also pleased for him and the opportunities that this new role brings.

Graeme said, “I am passionate about community development as part of the work of the local church.  In moving to Tearfund, I believe that God wants to use me to help inspire Christians in their mission both at home and abroad”.

We are pleased that Graeme will stay involved with us as a visiting lecturer. He added, “The work of SSCM is invaluable as they continue to train men and women for mission in an ever-changing and complex world”.

Graeme’s departure means we will be appointing a successor, although there will be some alterations to the job reflecting other changes to our staffing structure.  We are now recruiting for the position of Vice-Principal.

Pam Mellstrom, Youth and Community Work Programme Manager, is taking over Graeme’s responsibilities as Course Coordinator for the BA(Hons) in Theology (Youth and Community). Pam has a wealth of experience from 15 years spent with an innovative youth work project in Linlithgow, and we are delighted that she will now be part of the school’s leadership team.

Pam commented, “The ways in which we live, work, raise families and worship are being significantly redefined in the UK. SSCM trains qualified youth and community workers who not only understand this context but can respond to the needs and opportunities within our churches and communities”.

Finally, we are creating a new post to enhance our work.  The Director of Development will work alongside Richard Tiplady, SSCM’s Principal, building training partnerships to attract new students and funding for the vital work done by the school. Further information will follow in due course.

A new year brings new things and the work of SSCM is no different.  Whilst always grateful for what God as done and the people he has sent to do His work, we are excited about what God is doing.  Do pray for us as we seek to equip students to share the Good News creatively, intelligently and in a range of challenging circumstances and communities.

Pam Mellstrom appointed as Youth and Community Work Programme Manager

Pam Mellstrom appointed as Youth and Community Work Programme Manager


In response to high levels of student demand for our new courses, SSCM has appointed Pam Mellstrom as Youth and Community Work Programme Manager. Working alongside the school’s Vice-Principal Graeme McMeekin, Pam will be responsible for the oversight and management of all student placements and tutoring for the new BA(Hons) in Theology (Youth and Community). She will also oversee and manage our SQA-accredited courses, which currently include an HNC in Working with Communities, an HNC in Childhood Practice (which is suitable for those involved in children’s and family ministry in churches), and a PDA in Youth Work.

Pam currently works as Project Manager for Linlithgow Young People’s Project, a community based youth project in Linlithgow. She has a BA in Educational Studies from Strathclyde University and a BA in Informal and Community Education from YMCA George Williams College. She has previously worked as a placement mentor / supervisor on the BA(Hons) in Youth and Community Work in Applied Theology offered by International Christian College, and as a tutor for SSCM on our HNC Working with Communities course and for YMCA George Williams College.

Pam lives with her husband Phill and two children in Falkirk and has been an active part of St John’s Church in Linlithgow for the past 15 years, where she is part of the wider teaching team.

Pam said “The youth work sector in Scotland has seen many changes in the past decade and needs youth work practitioners who are well trained, experienced and have the skills to work with young people in both church and community settings. The Youth and Community work degree and SQA qualifications are designed to equip students to meet all of these demands and I am delighted to be joining the team.”

Graeme McMeekin, the college’s Vice-Principal, said “Pam’s appointment is a great addition to the Youth and Community work staff team and adds a wealth of experience and knowledge to the programme. Her experience as a practitioner, manager and leader in youth work in Scotland provides a rich resource for students to learn from.”

Richard Tiplady, SSCM Principal, added “We are delighted that the levels of demand for and applications to the Youth and Community work degree, which is delivered on behalf of Nazarene Theological College in Manchester, have required us to create this new post. Pam’s experience in managing and overseeing youth and community work practice in a Christian context will be invaluable in helping us to provide a first-class educational and training experience for all our students”.

Why ‘Out Of The Darkness’ probably means more to me than any book (except the one I wrote)

Why ‘Out Of The Darkness’ probably means more to me than any book (except the one I wrote)


As a Commissioning Editor, I have been involved with a lot of books over the past 17 years. Yet Anthony’s story has stood out and moved me in a way that none of the others, however good, have done. I think this is for two reasons. The first is, I have never worked with someone whose transformation was so radical. Tony, the attempted murderer, whom we meet in the first pages of the book, was frightening. He wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill criminal; he was so out of control that the Scottish Prison Service didn’t know what to do with him. Neither the prison staff nor his fellow convicts were safe around him, and he was gripped by a nihilism so strong, nothing could reach him.

Until a prison chaplain did. And then God got hold of Tony, and transformed him in Anthony – a man I first met on a ‘fishing’ visit to International Christian College (now Scottish School of Christian Mission), looking for people with books to write and stories to tell. From our very first conversation, I was struck by the change in him, from the man he told me he had been. Only when I read his actual book, did I discover what he had been like. The person I had met was dedicated to his faith, and dedicated also to telling the truth. And that brings me to the other reason that Out of the Darkness matters so much to me. Because Anthony didn’t get converted in a conventional Protestant evangelical manner. Nor did he just revert to the Catholic faith of his childhood. Instead, hungry, even desperate, for anything and everything that God had for him, he seized on the whole lot. So reading the Bible changed him, praying changed him, fasting changed him, and saying the Rosary both calmed him down and changed the life of another prisoner.

I’m a Prod. I expect God to act along my denominational lines. But He doesn’t. He’s not interested in my denominational lines, nor yours, nor anyone else’s. What He is interested in is the lives of individuals, and bringing them out of darkness into the light. Anthony was concerned that any publisher would want to downplay one side of his experience, or the other – but I promised that Lion Hudson would not. We would put it all in, everything that God had used. I thought of Gamaliel, advising the Sanhedrin after they had seized Peter and John for preaching in the Name of Jesus: “If their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop (this man), you will only find yourselves fighting against God” (Acts 5:38b-39). God had so clearly changed this man – who was I to argue with His methods? Years ago, God showed me how much He grieved over the way Protestants have treated Catholics, and vice versa, down the centuries. Anthony’s book was one way of saying, our divisions and suspicions do not reflect the heart of God.

Alison Hull
Commissioning Editor
Lion Hudson

Buy Out of The Darkness: The Transformation of One of Scotland’s Most Violent Prisoners, by Anthony Gielty, at Amazon.

A Conversation with Greg Boyd, Glasgow, Saturday 23rd July

A Conversation with Greg Boyd, Glasgow, Saturday 23rd July


Neopolis and the Scottish Network Churches are sponsoring A Conversation with Greg Boyd on Saturday 23rd July 2016, from 10am-1pm, at Bishopbriggs Community Church, Glasgow, G64 2SN.

Greg Boyd (PhD, Princeton Theological Seminary) is an internationally recognized theologian, preacher, teacher, apologist and author.  He is the co-founder of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota where he serves as Senior Pastor, and has authored or co-authored 20 books and numerous academic articles, including his best-selling and award-winning Letters From a Skeptic and his recent books Repenting of Religion and God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of GodGreg’s apologetic writings and public debates on the historical Jesus and the problem of evil have helped many skeptics embrace faith, and his writings and seminars on spiritual transformation have had a revolutionary, freeing impact on many.

In our conversation with Greg, we will highlight issues that are pertinent to urban mission and ministry.  In particular, we will explore the biblical theme of shalom and what difference it makes in our approach to ministry in the cities of our world. How are we to understand the identity of Messiah as the ‘prince of peace’ and how does it impact us at a street level?  Why does the apostle Paul offer a midrashic treatment of Isaiah when he suggests that Christ ‘came preaching peace’ and how does this shape the contours of the Gospel for the city?

Furthermore, we will explore with Greg all of the nuances of what he means by an open view of God.  How are we to understand the Bible as narrative as it impinges upon the freedom of God?  How are we to approach the centrality of the Gospel is it relates to human freedom?  Greg will give special attention to how our theological frameworks shape the manner in which we pray—for ourselves, our contexts, our ministries and our missional mandate in the world.

Our time with Greg Boyd will be entirely given to questions, debate, and roundtable discussions.  Come along with the questions you would like to pose to Greg.

Book now via Eventbrite. The charge of £10 per person includes lunch.

The relaunch of the Grogan Library

The relaunch of the Grogan Library

Library NEWS

The Grogan Library is unique across Scotland amongst those involved in theological training and education. The library ensures that students of the all courses offered by the Scottish School of Christian Mission will have comprehensive and adequate resources and support during their study years.

But what makes theological libraries different? The potential and meaning is found in the content of resources and its impact on readers. Christian and theological books are important for students of the institution and for the lifelong development of faith and belief. Theological libraries play an important role in church communities, offering help and making an impact on Christians.

Theological libraries are dealing with similar challenges to those faced by public and school libraries. Firstly, the development of technology is forcing institutions to change their resources, into those that are more accessible online. They respond on modern trends of the current information world, leaving behind the idea of being a ‘repository’ and looking forward to ensure the accessibility and accuracy of the collection and services offered. Secondly, libraries follow into their institutions’ problems, which in theological and Christian colleges are limited budgets, a decreasing number of students and funding difficulties, leading to the need to be more focussed and specialised. Moreover, continual changes in the higher education sector impact on collection development, and leave librarians with questions about breadth and adequacy of subjects in their resources.

Nancy K. Maxwell in her book Sacred Stacks: The Higher Purpose of Libraries and Librarianship (ALA, 2006) suggests a special mission for libraries in the modern world as places with a “higher purpose” and suggests that there are similarities between libraries and religious institutions, and between librarians and ministers. The theological libraries of the world therefore have a double responsibility to serve their members, their communities and the wider world.

The collection in the Grogan Library is currently being refined and developed, both for the new students who will start their studies at SSCM in September, and for the relaunch of our external readers scheme during the summer.

Find out more about The Grogan Library.

Sylwia Grabowska-Szumska

New librarian appointed for the Grogan Library

New librarian appointed for the Grogan Library


We are delighted to announce the appointment of Sylwia Grabowska-Szumska as the new Librarian in the Grogan Library, which is hosted by SSCM. Sylwia is from Poland and moved to Glasgow in 2013 to study for an MSc in Information and Library Studies at the University of Strathclyde. Prior to coming to Glasgow, she worked as a librarian in a regional academic library and a high school library in the Polish city of Elblag, near Gdansk. She is also a qualified teacher.

Sylwia said, “My professional interests include digital- and technology-based services which can improve existing services through expanding on traditional library methods while also creating innovative new practices. I am passionate about the 21st century library, which will be a centre of learning that adapts cultural changes and technological developments. My aim is to expand and develop the unique collection held in the Grogan Library to make it available to our students and to people across Scotland”.

During the next few months, the library will get a significant makeover which includes development of the collection and the availability of our graduates’ MA and PhD dissertations online. We will shortly be relaunching our library membership scheme, which will allow external members to borrow books from the collection.

Alistair Macindoe appointed as Tutor in Pioneer Ministry

Alistair Macindoe appointed as Tutor in Pioneer Ministry


We are pleased to announce the appointment of Dr Alistair Macindoe as Tutor in Pioneer Ministry. Alistair’s role will be to assist with the development of a new Certificate in Theology (Pioneer Ministry) and, following its launch in September 2016, to act as tutor and to provide support to students and placements for this exciting new programme.

The Christian Church in the western world now finds itself operating in what is widely recognised as a radically changing, post-Christendom context.  As a result, the Christian Church must consider itself as being in a pioneering and missional environment in a new social reality, leading to the need to reflect upon the practices and presuppositions of both the Church and its surroundings. Pioneer ministry, by definition, is innovative and does not rely on any fixed approach or method, therefore the programme is devoted to preparing students with skills and knowledge that may be applied to a range of varied and creative settings. The Certificate in Theology (Pioneer Ministry) programme aims to equip students for a range of ministry vocations which fall within the general rubric of pioneering ministry. In general, these vocations seek to establish forms of church and ministry that are appropriate to our changing culture and context.  What brings coherence to this form of ministry is the commitment to an approach that takes account of both the Biblical text and the cultural context.

Alistair was born in West Africa, to missionary parents who had been students at the Bible Training Institute in Glasgow. He has a BD(Hons) from Kings College, London, an MTh from Glasgow University, and a PhD from Edinburgh University, for which he conducted ethnographic research into three ‘new’ (charismatic) churches in Scotland. He has worked for UCCF and Scripture Union, and in 1990 he and his wife planted, along with four other couples, Rock Community Church in Dumbarton. He was the church’s full-time leader from 2000 until 2014.

Alistair is married to Patricia, a graduate of Glasgow School of Art, teacher and textile artist.  They have four married children and ten grandchildren who, he says, “keep him well occupied”.

Alistair commented, “I am excited by the emergence of SSCM, as this historical college continues to be a training place for missionaries, not to far-flung places as before, but to Scotland. It is an enormous privilege to help shape pioneer ministries for the gospel of Jesus Christ in a post-Christian nation”.

SSCM Principal Richard Tiplady added, “We are delighted that Alistair has joined the college’s teaching and tutorial team. His experience and studies will be invaluable in helping us to shape and deliver training programmes in pioneer ministry which will support the mission of the churches in Scotland in these challenging times”.

City (De)lights

City (De)lights


Wes White provides some reflections on what makes a good city.

The prophet Jeremiah (9:23-24) juxtaposes what God takes particular delight in with an arrogant spirit of human endeavor and attainment that is often manifest in the peculiar habit of boasting.  Jeremiah may be understood as intending this as a general evaluation of humanity in opposition to God, but given the context of Zion (8:5, 19; 9:11, 19) it is more likely that an untoward pride engendered by the city’s standing is in view.  That standing might easily be commendable, but not when it oversteps its bounds and becomes boastful, suggesting a destructive dénouement and ultimately placing itself in opposition to that which is delightful to God.

Jeremiah’s urban evaluation highlights three city realities that, while being perfectly wholesome in their own right, sadly bespeak abuse or idolatry, or both.  These include: 1) The wise person and her or his wisdom; 2) The powerful person (‘the mighty man’) and his or her power; and 3) The rich person and her or his riches.  Urban environments, in their better configurations, bring these together in the mode of providing places of higher education that rightly pursue wisdom, and might or power that comes with governance of larger swaths of people in terms purely associated with numbers, and the accumulation of wealth that is accorded places of accentuated commerce.  These can be representative of the better purposes of a city except when they lose their humble posture of service and become, rather, defined by arrogant boasting that is invariably a portend of destructive agendas in the Scriptures.

It is not coincidental that the Prophet’s alternative is likewise described in a three-fold way.  The only manner of boasting that is countenanced is that which has a theocentric perspective, summarized in the dual experience of both understanding and thus knowing God.   According to Jeremiah, anyone who knows God will invariably understand, contrary to urban arrogance, that the Lord aims purposeful action (‘exercises’) in the direction of that which directly contrasts with and contends against wrongful use of wisdom and power and wealth.  These include: 1) Lovingkindness, which is, perhaps, the proper framework and goal of education, the guiding grace of wisdom-seeking; 2) Justice, that both defines evil at work in the world and defies it; and 3) Righteousness, that offers a measuring rod of what will promote wholesome living, not just for the select few (i.e., the rich, the powerful, the wise), but for all.

The promotion of justice is necessarily central in this trio precisely because it cannot be ignored if the urban domain truly wants to maintain a theocentric vision.  It exposes the lie, so easily promulgated among the power bastions of boastful city-dwellers, that the Hegelian doctrine of progress will eventually bring equality.   Rather, real wisdom does not hesitate to affirm that altruistic philosophy (as Susan Neiman rightfully suggests) is actually an honest attempt to come to terms with evil in the midst of the good creation of God. (See her, Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative Model of Philosophy [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004], 102.).  N.T. Wright similarly suggests that “the big question of our time…can be understood in terms of how we address and live with the fact of evil in our world.”  (See his, Evil and the Justice of God,  [Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006], 39.)

Jeremiah, it might be said, goes deeper and further.  His ultimate concern is more about wrestling with what actually brings God pleasure in the actuating of lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness.  “‘For I delight in these things,’ declares the Lord.” (9:24)  What God delights in is the measurement of urban health from this Prophet’s point of view.  It is the provocative Hebrew word צחָפֵ (chahphats, חָפַצְתִּי chahphatsi “I delight”), blatantly indicating divine satisfaction and pleasure in terms of grace (hesed) and proactive justice that defies and replaces evil with good, and righteousness that takes on deliberately social contours.  The Prophet’s message has rich and significant implications for urban idealisation because it unhesitatingly contrasts the arrogance of Zion with an approach to the city that is all about the delightful ideals of God.