I was recently sent a number of questions by an American interested in ministering in Scotland. Not having the time to answer them myself, I asked a fellow Presbyterian to provide the answers. Bear in mind that his answers are especially focused on Presbyterian churches. The picture may be a bit brighter here and there for other churches. It’s a discouraging but, I’m afraid, realistic picture of where Scotland is spiritually and ecclesiastically. I fear that, barring a major revival, this is where the USA is heading as well.
1. What perception does the average Scotsman have of Christianity?
The average Scotsman does not have a positive perception of Christianity, but rather sees it as outdated or bigoted. Scotland is really post-Christian. And so, while there may be some lip service in places, perhaps under the guise of tolerance, really there is either apathy or hostility.
2. What are the most common objections/challenges raised against the gospel?
In truth, many people don’t raise objections, so long as it does not interfere with their own lives. And yet others will treat it with scorn as a thing of the past – that was for their grandparents’ generation, not our “enlightened” one. The sad thing now is that most people don’t know what the gospel is – darkness is over the land. “Religious assembles” in schools have become “assemblies” and often the so-called chaplains don’t know the first thing about true religion. In my experience I have noticed school children who don’t want to hear anything about God or religion, while others seem interested in finding out what it all means: “Was Jesus a king or something like that,” one 15-year-old girl asked.
3. Is there an openness to discuss spiritual things?
Most people don’t want to talk about these things. Those who do want to talk, tend only to do so in order to put Christianity down as a thing of the past, or even as something pernicious. As in question 2, perhaps among some youth there is an opening. They don’t know enough about it to be angry at it – like their parents generation.
4. Are most people aware of the Christian heritage of Scotland? If so how do they view it?
Absolutely not! I would reckon that 99% + of children in the public school have never heard of Rutherford, Boston, McCheyne, Chalmers, even Knox. And if they hear of Knox or the Reformation, that would be viewed as intolerant bigotry. Sadly, even in a lot of the professing churches, these men and the heritage is not well known.
5. What are the greatest challenges to ministering in Scotland?
Apathy in the church is one of the biggest problems which is coupled with little or no desire (and/or ability) to evangelize. In some cases, this is due to erroneous thinking regarding the work of the Holy Spirit – some believe that unless the Spirit works they can’t do anything, therefore they need to wait for Him to work. Judgment begins at the house of God. There are many challenges engaging with the secular society, but you need to engage the brains / lives of complacent and indifferent Christians.
6. What are the greatest advantages/blessings?
There are still faithful godly pastors throughout the land, but their ranks are thin and thinning. There is a warmth and godly zeal that does remain with many good people. There are many of God’s dear people who love the Lord and serve Him with the talents they have. There is also a desire to maintain orthodoxy in some of the churches. With that you have a simplicity of worship that characterized the worship brought back at the Reformation. There is a thirst still for God’s Word among His people.
7. What is your greatest need as a church? How might the church in America best aid you?
The greatest need is for a mighty work of the Holy Spirit to give us preachers who preach the whole counsel of God. The problem, I believe, is in the pulpit – to a large extent. And yet, there have been some of the best and finest preachers who served faithfully for years and saw little fruit. We need a Reformation. We need unity among the Reformed churches – there are often 5 congregations representing 5 different reformed denominations in one small village – all with the same confessional basis!
We have lost our youth. We have only a handful of Christian schools, and home-schooling is not popular and difficult for parents to do. Most Christians think the state school is fine. I believe we need to establish in our churches the Christian worldview.
When Iain Murray is asked the second question [How might the church in America best aid you?], he replies: “Send our men back!” In honesty, I am not sure how that [American churches helping Scottish churches] could work. The solid churches can hardly work together. And so, I am not sure how to answer this one.
8. What forms of outreach are generally most successful?
The best form is to establish relationships with friends and neighbors and then invite them to church. This worked well in Glasgow. The church had a “soup and sandwich” event on the Saturday and just got to know people. From there, inviting them to church was easier. The pastor of the church happened to be very gifted, which helped. Sadly, you hear the complaint from many that they don’t feel able to invite people to church because if they can’t understand their own pastor then what hope has the man in the street? Again, it’s the word preached that the Spirit especially uses in convincing and converting sinners. Some have tried things like knocking on doors, handing out tracts, street preaching, etc, with limited success.
9. Are there many churches who are in need of a minister?
Yes, probably 100s. But many of these places have less than 10-20 people, and I would reckon the vast majority are very elderly. I’m not sure that simply more ministers is the answer. We need a change of mindset, as well as new ministers. But Scots are not quick to change. And in truth, whatever reticence there would be if someone from within tried to change things, someone from outside would be viewed with more suspicion.
10. Are most people in your churches converts or were they raised in the church?
The majority are raised in the church, few have come in. A lot more have left.
11. Do most of those who are raised in the church remain in the church?
No, in the last 10-15 years many (probably the majority) have left. Churches are declining in number all over.
12. What would the perception be of an American ministering in Scotland both with the church and with the population?
With the church – It probably depends where you go. If you go to the more conservative churches, they would possibly be a little wary and would need to feel you out. So, not impossible, but you would have to be very careful in your approach. If you come in with great ideas for change, it won’t work.
13. What particular skills would you encourage a man to develop if he wants to minister in Scotland?
You would need a lot of patience, tenacity, a thick skin and wisdom. It would be good to learn the history of the church you would hope to serve in.
14. Are there particular books/resources that would be helpful to study to better understand Scotland and the realities of ministry in Scotland today?
Iain Murray’s book “A Scottish Heritage” gives a good overview of the past up to the present. I can’t think of too much else in more recent times.
15. What are your general thoughts about where the church in Scotland is (not the CoS)?
The majority of the professing church has lost its moorings. A lot of those who have maintained the Reformed worship and doctrine need revival from within.
16. Where do you think it is headed?
Well, humanly speaking it is going down and in many cases the candlestick is being removed. That sounds pessimistic but it is more the reality. I think that unless the better churches can work together then we have a big problem. There are some pockets of good news here and there, but the general picture is bleak.
I’d be glad to hear of brighter spots but please pray for this needy land.