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Five Things We Learned from the 20Schemes Conference

Here’s some thoughts on the Healthy Churches in Hard Places Conference from Tim Zulker, director of The Philip Center.

The day following a conference is often full of nitty-gritty details, like emails and expense reviews. But it’s also when I begin categorizing some of the ways God spoke to me, so I don’t forget and walk away from James’ biblical “mirror” (James 1:23). Here are a few of the speakers’ thoughts about fruitful ministry among the urban poor, and about Scotland.

1. We need a long-range plan built around gospel-centered churches. Mercy ministries that address crises but don’t bring heart-level gospel transformation are not making a difference. What happens past crisis mode, where we hand out soup and coats? ”How will we prepare the poor, as leaders, for the works of service that God has called them to?” In mercy ministry, most often, people are not being moved to spiritual maturity. Our middle-class guilt complex leaves us happy about crisis help, but without a plan. We need a plan to see people saved, maturing in Christ, being trained and making more disciples. We need a strategic plan before we start our ministries to the poor. The plan must include healthy churches that provide a church community centered around the gospel. We need to be brutally honest about this. These are Mez’s thoughts, and this is the central message of 20Schemes.

2. Preach Romans in your inner-city church. Mez recounted the hopelessness he felt when community workers would tell him he was simply the product of a bad situation — a basically good kid who got a bum deal. But when he heard the message of Romans — that he was a sinner and responsible for his life — he says he finally felt hope (even though he didn’t like the message a whole lot!). Don’t skip the deep teaching of God’s Word believing, falsely, that an uneducated person is an unintelligent person. Preach the Word. Preach Romans (and the rest of the Word, of course). Make the problem clear from Scripture, and make the solution clear from Scripture.

3. Matthew Spandler-Davison is a model of Mez’s point that cultural outsiders are needed in the work of the inner city. Mez: “Matthew is the sort of guy I would have beaten up at school.” Though a Scot, Matthew grew up in affluent Aberdeen. Cultural outsiders are not only able to help, but are necessary. They need training, and they need hands-on mentoring. But cultural outsiders are not exempt from “going” to places like the Schemes.

4. Scotland is a tenth-of-a-point from being an unreached people group! 0.5% evangelical. That’s sobering. This is the country of Alexander McKay, Mary Slessor, Eric Liddell and the St. Andrews Seven. Matthew stirred our hearts with the bleak picture of Scotland’s spiritual famine. As Christians, we can no longer see the country the way the Scottish Tourist Board presents it. In just 20 years, there will likely not be a church left in most of Scotland’s cities. Currently, you are more likely to run into a Christian on the streets of Saudi Arabia, than in a scheme in Scotland!

5. 9 Marks and 20 Schemes make a great pairing. When we think of planting churches among the urban poor, we can forget about fundamentals like expositional preaching, biblical theology and the nature of the gospel (“How will those keep a homeless man warm on a cold night?”). The biblical foundation that Ryan Townsend laid for the conference — “Why the Poor Need a Healthy Church — was more than a routine introduction. His teaching was crucial to understanding the core message. By starting with Ezekiel 34 and God’s censure of Israel’s wicked shepherds, Ryan pointed us to Christ the Good Shepherd — the only working solution for the needs of the inner-city poor (and for the rest of us). The two ministries develop the gospel solution and make for great ministry partners.

These are important thoughts from Ryan, Matthew and Mez. I’m grateful for the gospel missiology, the prophetic call and the roll-up-your-sleeves lifestyles of these men. The Philip Center, and our own church, Godspeed Fellowship, is glad to join up with 20Schemes, just as 9 Marks has.