What does the Kirk, meeting in General Assembly in Edinburgh today, have to say to the people of Scotland?
On the face of it, there is nothing but bad news, on-going negative publicity over break-away congregations, the sad withdrawal of the gifted and gracious Angus Morrison as moderator-designate, the failure to recruit sufficient new ministers, on top of the relentless assaults from secularists on Christianity in the public sphere.
All this has contributed to a sense, confirmed to me by those with links closer to the centre, of a loss of confidence amongst the Kirk leadership.
In the last year, the Kirk has substantially improved its media operation, with some capable new recruits. But messengers are only as good as the message they carry, and it is here that there is much more work to be done.
For my sense is that the Kirk’s public pronouncements are still too reactive, defensive and confused.
Whether it is the news the Kirk’s membership had fallen again, to just under 400,000 – to much crowing from the tiny, but media-savvy, Scottish Secular Society.
Or the woeful response to David Cameron’s comments at Easter about Britain being a “Christian country” – here the Prime Minister was vigorously defended by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and supported by non-Christian faith leaders from the Hindus, Muslims and Sikh, but had his good faith questioned by the Kirk.
Or perhaps it is the debacle that was the Kirk’s short-lived alliance with the Humanist Society Scotland on the issue of religious observance in schools – a PR disaster which caused real anger in the pews up and down the land.
The Kirk’s public pronouncements have been found wanting. But surely it is time for it to pull itself together, find its voice, and speak out boldly on the message of Jesus Christ for today’s world.
Start championing the good news.
The Kirk’s membership may be in decline, but 400,000 members is still a staggering figure out of a Scottish population of 5million, and the envy of any political party or membership organisation in the land.
Shout it from the rooftops.
Respond with righteous scorn to pronouncements from the Scottish Secular Society, contrasting their tiny membership to the 400,000 Kirk members.
Stop letting them set the agenda.
Accept that the teaching of the church is, and always has been, counter-cultural.
The teaching of Jesus was as offensive to his society 2,000 years ago as it is to ours today. That is no reason to change it.
Finally, remember always that the first and last duty of the church is to present the gospel.
Stay true to that and the church will always have a purpose.