As a retired former secondary school deputy head in a provincial Scottish west coast town, I now see the names of former pupils emblazoned across the sides of their predominantly white vans. I am always delighted to see that these young men and women are successfully plying their trade as independent plumbers, electricians, joiners and painters and I wish them every success in their enterprises.
As time passes, these craftsmen and women become well known characters in Scotland’s small towns, not least because they carry out work repairing and improving the homes of ordinary people in the locality.
They are however an enigma when it comes to matters of faith. At 11am every Sunday morning very few if any of this group are to be found in church. Indeed in my town more adults attend primary age football games on a Sunday morning than attend all of the church services put together. Why is it that white van men and women seem to be out of reach of the church while remaining in plain sight in Scotland’s towns and cities?
There is no easy answer to this question. However we can glean some clues from the Bible. Writing to the Christians in Rome, the Apostle Paul urged fellow believers to share the good news about Jesus when he said: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”
The clear implication here is that it is the duty of Christians to ‘preach’ Christ to non believers. In our 21st century culture, we should perhaps read ‘communicating’ rather than ‘preaching’ as most people today do not like being preached at.
Sadly the body of born again believers, whose job it is communicate Christ, is largely middle class and the ‘church’ lifestyle is pretty disconnected from the rest of contemporary society. In an article in ‘Christianity Today’, Caryn Rivadeneira ‘cuts to the chase’ when she says: “Lots of folks talk about how churches and the Christians who fill them up are known more for what we're against than what we're for and more about whom we'd like to keep out than who'd we want to invite in, or at least keep in.”
Herein lies the challenge for the church.......how can the body of Christ in 21st century Scotland begin to connect with all of society in a meaningful, culturally relevant manner....... What practical steps need to be taken?
Here are some starter questions which any church member/leader could begin to ask if serious about the mission of the church.
Does your church have a strategy for evangelising its own locality? Was the whole church involved in developing the strategy? Is that strategy regularly discussed, promoted and reviewed? Has your church identified and commissioned evangelism leaders? (Pastor can’t do everything) Does your church train its members in evangelism/how to share their faith? Does your church have a support/teaching programme for new converts in expectation that locals will come to Christ?
It is really heartening that some born again Christians in Scotland do say that they want to share the love of Jesus with people in their locality. The real challenge is: do they love Jesus enough to move from words to deeds?
People deemed to be ‘out of reach’ can be reached when there is heart commitment, proper planning and real servant leadership by local Christians.
White van men and women need Jesus just as much as everyone else, but the key question is, does the church want them?