This week marks one whole year since I began to serve as Pastor-Teacher at BCFC. Here are some selective reflections on the past 12 months, and on some hopes for the year(s) ahead (God willing, of course). I hope these resonate with you, so that together we can encourage each other in the great task of making Jesus known.
1. Thus far the Lord has helped us
I want to start with some of the things we are regularly thankful for. When we first committed to come to Banchory there was the small matter of what to do about housing. We were keen to live in the community, but had a house in Balmedie to sell, and a housing market that wasn’t exactly buoyant. Together, we took a step into the unknown and God was very gracious to us. We are very grateful to the church for the support to move into Banchory, and especially thankful to the Lord for a prompt sale of our house.
Moving is hard – literally unsettling. Settling into a new local community and church community takes time. We have been very blessed by how well our children have settled in Banchory, and how quickly the ‘new house’ became simply ‘home.’ If you have ever moved church you will know how long it takes to feel ‘at home.’ And yet for the four of us we have felt very much welcomed into our new family – people have opened their hearts to us and we are very grateful for the warmth we have found here.
On a personal note, I have been encouraged by the general responsiveness of our church family to the word of God. I realise that a ‘new’ voice is often easier to listen to (for a while!), but an eagerness to hear from God in his word has been helpfully confirming, and is something I pray will always mark out our church family. Nothing builds up your soul quite like being around people who love Jesus – and that has been the case for us in this year.
2. Through many dangers, toils and snares…
Of course, the last twelve months have not been entirely plain sailing – all of us can testify to that! One of the difficulties has been the challenge of contraction. For some time, the church had the privilege of two full-time pastors, and with that comes an expansion of ministries. Conversely, when the staff team shrinks the whole church has to pick up the slack. But we also know that our church has contracted numerically in the last few years, and so while many people have been working very hard, we have often felt stretched and very dependent on one or two individuals for ministries to be maintained. I’m sure many have found this a difficult adjustment.
And there’s Covid-19. Of all the things we anticipated for 2020, none of us were quite ready for an influenza pandemic. The effects have come at us in waves: fear… suspicion… anger… loneliness… optimism… disappointment… sorrow… fear again. And for the church, and for your Pastor, there’s no manual that says, ‘here’s what you do in a pandemic.’ We have all had to find our way and make the wisest choices we can. Technology has served us well in the last 5 months, but it has been no substitute for gathering together, embracing each other, singing with each other, hearing from God’s word together, remembering the Lord in Communion together. I have missed this more and more with each passing week. And the uncertainties of how long restrictions will continue has meant significant planning as a church has been almost impossible. And now we’re trying to navigate a partial re-opening – please pray!!
Along the way, whether it be lockdown, or a complicated pastoral situation, some have asked, ‘if you’d known you would have to deal with this, would you still have come?’ (I do wonder if any one of us knew what difficulties lay ahead, whether we would ever get out of bed in the morning!) But even though the challenges we’ve faced as a church wouldn’t necessarily be the challenges any of us would choose, I count it an enormous privilege to help shepherd this part of the flock of Christ. All of the encouragements we have known in the last 12 months have served to confirm that this really is where God wants us to be – and that is exciting. The Christian life is not so much about being anxious about tomorrow, but being confident that whatever tomorrow brings, you face it unbreakably united to Jesus Christ, dependent on his grace.
3. Facing a task unfinished
So where do we go from here?
It is never our job to re-invent the church. The things that built up and multiplied the church throughout 2000 years are the same, in principle, today. But churches (including ours) need to be reminded of all that it means to be the church of Jesus Christ. Let me mention a few that stand out to me as areas for particular (and constant) attention – maybe they resonate with you too.
I keep coming back to the mission of the church – summed up in the Commission Jesus gave to his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). To make disciples is not just about discipleship for new converts, it includes bringing people into the family of God (that’s why Jesus tells his followers that baptising is essential to the task). We are privileged to be located in a growing local community, but when that is not at least matched with a growing church community then there are some things we must do.
The first is to pray. We don’t have the power to grow the church – God alone can do that. That’s why we must be a praying church, praying for God to bring people to salvation. And the other thing we must do is be intentional evangelists. Yes, as a church we place the gospel front and centre of everything we do, but evangelism doesn’t take place until someone is brought into contact with the Gospel. We could have slick services and videos that are gospel focused – but if no one is listening, they will not achieve anything. We can have good relationships with those who aren’t yet Christians, but if we never look for ways to introduce them to Jesus, then we cannot expect them to ever come to faith. And we must not engage in evangelism just because we want a bigger church, as J I Packer put it, the enterprise required of us in evangelism is the enterprise of love: an enterprise that springs from a genuine interest in those whom we seek to win, and a genuine care for their well-being… And if we don’t have that motivation, then we must go back to where we started – pray.
Growth in the life of a church is not only numerical, but is also growth in stature (Ephesians 4:13). This happens as believers become more mature. We would never be content to let our children stop growing – it would be damaging for them on many levels – and similarly we must not be content to stop growing as Christians. When we stop growing, the church stops growing. I especially see this as a challenge for men. In general, Christian women are much more pro-active in growing in their faith: they tend to read more; more regularly meet with other Christians; more readily talk about their faith. For the church to grow we need women AND men growing in faith. I especially want to help men aspire to grow in their relationship with Christ; to develop their gifts and abilities to serve Christ. I would be very keen to hear from all of you about how you think you could best be helped to grow (I also need your help if I’m to grow too!).
One tool is North East Scotland Gospel Training (NESGT). This is an initiative I helped to set up which is aims to help ordinary Christians grow. It is a two-year course which runs on Monday evenings (7.30pm), with a fairly broad curriculum. It begins on Monday 17th August with Jeremy McQuoid giving us a Bible Overview. You can find details and sign up on our website (www.nesgtraining.wordpress.com). It is open to all, but if I might pick on the men again – what if a group of us committed to do this course together?
Last of all, the numbers of evangelical Christians in Scotland seems to have plateaued at an all-time low – probably somewhere between 1-2% of the population. When church life is busy it can be easy to overlook the fact that significant chunks of our country are unreached with the Gospel. More than ever churches have a responsibility to help equip and train people to be ministers of the Gospel. If we are to see the church in Scotland grow, then we will need men and women equipped to serve in Gospel ministries, to plant churches, to faithfully shepherd God’s people (2 Timothy 2:2). What if our church invested in ministry training? What if we offered opportunities for interns, or a trainee Pastor, or short-term ministry placements (or all of the above!). Any church that is concerned for the work of the Gospel nationwide will have an eye to training people for ministry – how about us?
Our church vision statement declares: We want BCFC to be:
a growing community of committed followers of Jesus Christ.
This needs to be more than good theory condensed into a short sentence, it has to be reality. The church that is not growing in these ways is in danger. And that starts with each one of us – who can you come alongside to help follow Jesus better? How can you let others help you to grow?
I would love to hear from you on any of these reflections – we need to travel together on the path the Lord has laid before us, but always confident that He leads and He builds the church.
With enormous gratitude for the last 12 months.
 J I Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, 79-80.