Firstly, folks, our apologies in the late publishing of this blog. You were probably hoping for a daily post – so were we. Life hasn’t allowed for that, unfortunately, but thank you for your patience and your continued interest. Let us know what you think of the blog, perhaps even where we could go from here in providing a forum in which to discuss developments in the Free Church’s activities. Sorry again for not getting these out as regularly as we’d all have liked, and please keep reading and sharing.
In this blog, we are going to reflect on the reports of three Boards – Ministry, Mission and Seminary. ‘Why are you grouping these all together?’ you ask. Not because they don’t deserve a few blogposts each! The reason is that we believe they all have something in common, and hopefully you’ll agree – that is, mission. That word was used a lot at the assembly, and if you read other blogs than this one (which you should!) you’ll have seen it cropping up all over the place. Mission is held high in the estimations of the church in Scotland today, thank God. The question is, how do we operate and co-operate as a denomination and wider church to further God’s purposes in mission?
1. Board of Seminary
The first report we’re going to look at came from the Board of Edinburgh Theological Seminary. In case you’re wondering what this seminary had to do with the Free Church’s General Assembly, Edinburgh Theological Seminary (ETS) is what used to be called the Free Church College. Curiosity satisfied! It has gone through some changes in recent years though, and today it educates many more students than are training for work in the Free Church alone. In fact, that was one of the main items in the speech to the report, given by the board’s chair, Rev Dr Malcolm Maclean. In speaking of the board’s gratitude to God for growing numbers of students at ETS, he asked the congregations of the Free Church regularly to pray for the staff and students.
Historical Scottish Theology, Anyone?
Don’t just skip this section! Part of Malcom Maclean’s presentation highlighted the invaluable treasury that is the study of Scottish theology – not a theology of Scotland, you understand, but the work done by theologians from across the country, across the centuries. He said,
“We can learn a lot about pastoral matters from considering in a focused way the life and beliefs of previous theologians, pastors and preachers, and Scotland has had them in abundance… Theologians and ministers of the nineteenth century Free Church made significant contributions to the importance of the doctrine of adoption, and I suspect that a grasp of the doctrine of adoption and balanced preaching about it is the best way to deal with the problem of lack of assurance found in every congregation. Thomas Chalmers has a lot to teach us about aspects of urban evangelism… The Board and the Seminary are convinced that the study of historical Scottish theology is an important part of what we can use in our promotion of the Seminary.”
Building for the Future
The Principal of ETS, Iver Martin, also spoke, and he highlighted some of the advances made in the use of technology, especially for in the development of distance-learning. Mr Martin raised the issue, too, of the structural improvements made to the ETS building. The sixth and seventh floors have been refurbished, and the hope is that they will house a Mission Centre. The centre would be used to train the denomination’s eldership and other workers, offer direction for church planting and cross-cultural mission work, and provide further education option for those active in mission already.
Is this how you thought of ‘the College’? Do you think you could make use of it as something increasingly central to all the work of the Free Church, and even the wider church of Christ in Scotland and beyond? There is a lot of material available to get you familiar with the work of ETS – you can find it here: http://ets.ac.uk/. While we’re on the subject of ETS and mission, have a look at the latest Mission Lecture given at the Seminary by Prof Donald Macleod:
Also, David Strain gave an outstanding special guest lecture on 'Evangelistic Preaching'
These two messages are a must listen if you are a preacher!
We couldn’t close out a section on ETS without mentioning its connection to the University of Glasgow, and the fifteen years of hard work done by Prof David Jasper in maintaining the link that is the reason ETS is able to award degrees. Glasgow University validates the Seminary’s Bachelor of Theology, the degree we received when we graduated from what was then the Free Church College, and the same degree the final-year students will receive when they attend their graduation ceremony at the university in June. Well done to you all!
A Challenging Conclusion
Finishing off the report of the Board of ETS, and our comments on it, chairman Malcolm Maclean spoke of the unclear future – and clear aims – of the seminary’s training of the currently growing student body:
“Several times it has been suggested that an increase in the number of theological students points to the possibility that God has prosperous times ahead. Hopefully that will be the case. Of course, it is possible that the current tide of opposition to Christianity will make it very difficult to have large congregations, and the increase in number of students may be happening because in the future the church will need more pastors to feed and direct numbers of smaller churches. Whatever the future, the work of ETS is to bring about pastors well-taught and equipped to convey the message of the Bible in a manner suitable for the present.”
Please pray for the work of Edinburgh Theological Seminary, whatever the future God has for Scotland.
2. Mission Board
It’s hardly surprising that this board’s report should mention mission! However, it was the enthusiasm and detailed realism of it that impressed us. The Mission Board chairman, Rev Alasdair Macleod, minster in Ullapool, presented the report of the board’s work during the year urged congregations, if they could, to increase their contributions to the Mission Levy.
A Money Grab?
This is anything but! An extra £50 per month from 100 congregations would result in £60,000 (around two ministers’ wages) and an extra £100 per month would mean the Mission Board would have £120,000 more to spend each year. With this last amount the board could use its finds to plant a new congregation and employ a new missionary every year, with leftover to part-fund other work, be it another missionary or a struggling congregation. You can see what a benefit this would bring, both to the denomination as it is at present, and the rest of the country, too.
Maybe you heard about this idea; maybe you didn’t. If you didn’t, you are the reason the Mission Board is making communication one of its priorities. Alasdair Macleod, the Mission Board chair, said, "We need to tell our folks about the wealth of exciting works that are taking place at home and abroad. We need to inform and enthuse and the support will come.”
May’s assembly actually marked the first full year of the Mission Board’s operation. Previously, there had been two boards – Home Missions Board and International Missions Board. Hitting the ground running, Alasdair spoke about the four principles that had been implemented from the start, principles they were intent on adhering to throughout their work.
1. Scripture – As a denomination which tries to base all its belief and practice on the Bible as God’s own word, it is entirely right that this should be top of the list. We look forward to seeing how this principle will mould the work of the board.
2. Heritage – The theology and mission of the Free Church can be traced back to 1843. Rediscovering the way the denomination operated in the 19th century will guide us in our attitude and action in the 21st.
3. Internal Collaboration – The Mission Board wants the Free Church to take ownership of its vision of Biblically and historically driven mission, at home or abroad. They do not work alone; mission is the work of every one of us.
4. External Collaboration – With the above in mind, mission cannot be the work of the Free Church alone, either! The board hopes mission work will happen in partnership with other likeminded Christian groups, Presbyterian or otherwise.
Towards Every Nation, Tribe and Language
The last point we want to talk about here is the current and planned work overseas – work you might never hear about. Alasdair Macleod spoke about the full-time, short-term and mission group-supported works happening right now. For example, the Free Church is helping Dumisani Theological Institute in South Africa and Manuel and Patty Reaño in South America.
There are a lot of works starting up, too. Alasdair outlined four new long-term works in Cambodia, Nepal, Italy and Central Asia, and then highlighted the Small Grants Fund which had already helped with mission in Senegal, Kenya, Nepal and South Sudan. More are expected to be funded in the coming year. This work is being done through the money which has been raised by people in the Free Church. If you have contributed to the work of mission, you are the reason these projects are going ahead. One group within the denomination which has consistently proved to be invaluable is Women for Mission, who have themselves given to work in Kosovo, Moldova, Uganda, Israel and Glasgow. Thank you ladies; you are an inspiration to us all. On top of this there are the various Mission Support Groups of the Church. These have funded mission in the Philippines, Cambodia and Peru, and ministry to Asian communities. Again, thank you for all your hard work.
All of this shows that the Free Church and the Mission Board, far from abandoning foreign work, have shown their commitment to spreading the message of the gospel to the world.
After what was a lengthy and involved presentation of the Mission Board’s work, the General Assembly thanked God for his protection of all the mission workers in the past year and prayed that be kept safe in the months ahead, as some of the work does involve risk to the missionaries.
Please pray for them all, and for the efforts of the Mission Board in directing the Church’s support to where it is needed.
3. Board of Ministry
We have one board left to think about today – the Board of Ministry. Its chair is Angus Macrae, the minister in Dingwall, and he had some really encouraging news to share with us at the Assembly. There are currently nineteen candidates being trained for service in the Free Church with more to come, and he spoke of his belief that God was readying the Church for future work of revitalising congregations and planting others. Addressing the content of the training future ministers were receiving, Angus said, “We strive for training for gospel ministry that is Biblical, confessional, missional and practical. A love for the gospel will inevitably lead to a proper concern for evangelism and church planting.”
Current Encouragement and Future Need
The Board of Ministry has in its remit oversight of the ministers currently serving the Free Church. With that in mind Angus Macrae expressed the board’s gladness that some ministers who had in the past few years joined the denomination to serve its congregations were participating in this year’s General Assembly, including Andrew Coghill, David Court, Ivor MacDonald, Athole Rennie and Benjamin van Rensburg. These men and others have spread out across the country and we’re sure they would appreciate your prayers as they work within a denomination whose structures and practices might be quite different from their previous contexts. He added that “The number of ministers, probationers, and candidates for the ministry entering the Free Church ministry is roughly in balance with the number of existing and projected vacancies for the next two to three years.” This is positive news, however Angus also spoke of the needs of the future:
“This Church has to grow. The number of congregations has to grow. The number of workers employed in existing congregations has to grow. The number of church plants has to grow. The number supported in cross-cultural and international mission has to grow. God is supplying workers for the harvest; our challenge as a Church is to ensure that they are sent into the harvest field as well-prepared, well-resourced and well-supported as is possible.”
That is where our prayers for harvest labourers come in, and Angus Macrae asked the Assembly, and the whole Church, constantly to pray for more candidates for ministry:
“Pray that our candidates will be gospel-shaped men, who plant and lead gospel-shaped churches.”
On the same day as we heard about the need for more workers, the Assembly welcomed two men into the Free Church - Alberto de Paula and Andrew McMillan. Alberto is the minister of Broughty Ferry Presbyterian Church, which joined the Free Church during the Assembly week. Andrew serves West Church in Inverness. Please pray for these men (and their wives, Luciane and Brenda, and Alberto’s two children) and the congregations they work with. If you’re in the area, visit them and get to know them. Here are their websites where you’ll find all the information you need:
So, did you see the mission pattern? Is the whole concept of what mission is a bit clearer? We hope so, and we hope you don’t think mission is just a fad or the latest idea that’s doing the rounds. No, mission is at its most basic making Jesus and his gospel know to those around us. It is this that the Board of ETS, the Mission Board and the Board of Ministry all have as their goal. Please pray they would be able to work towards that goal – that the Seminary would excel in training its students; that the Mission would have the necessary resources and the wisdom to appropriate them; and that the Board of Ministry would imbue those under its care to prioritise the gospel of the Lord Jesus in all things.
As exciting and encouraging as the reports were, we couldn’t help noticing the overlap between them all. Could more be done by the boards to collaborate and interact so as to provide a truly shared vision for mission? We think so. This was the third key principle of the Mission Board for the coming year, and what a step forward it would be if all relevant Boards produced a joint statement on mission that to which they – and we – could hold them all accountable. Something for them to think about, at least.
Do you have any other comments on the boards’ reports? We’re sure they would appreciate prayerful and thoughtful feedback and encouragement to labour towards their goals. After all, they are our boards.
Soli Deo Gloria
Andy and Sean