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'Culture Change Needed' Warning as Reforms Agreed

Thursday November 21 2019

A major reorganisation of the central structures of the Church of Scotland has been agreed.

A Commission of Assembly held in Edinburgh this morning approved the merging of the four central councils into two groups, to take effect from January 1.

The replacement bodies have the working titles Faith Nurture Forum (combining the work of the Ministries and Mission and Discipleship Councils) and the Faith Impact Forum (Church and Society and World Mission Councils) – although the Convener of the Assembly Trustees, the Very Rev Dr John Chalmers, told the Commission of Assembly that the names could change, and were in any case the least important element of the reforms.

Dr Chalmers said that the aim was to build “A new way of working… one which leaves managers to manage, one which empowers staff to do what they are good at without having to hold a meeting every time they want to sneeze. And one that encourages the development of cross-departmental teams where no-one belongs to an independent silo, where everyone belongs in a unified workforce supporting one another in delivering the work they have been invited to deliver by the General Assembly.”

The reorganisation represents the early steps in the central church reforms agreed at the 2019 General Assembly.

The Councils themselves (the voluntary groups overseeing the work) will be discharged. The two Forums will be much smaller groups, of 15 each including a convener and vice-convener. Individual areas of work will be looked after by small implementation groups.

The staff of the four councils will initially be transferred into the new groups, pending detailed discussions about the remits and work of the Forums. Those discussions will be held in the spring and recommendations made to the General Assembly in May.

They will include assessments of which work should continue, which should be devolved to presbyteries (which are going through their own reform processes) and which can be discontinued, in the context of the target of reducing the cost of the central administration by 20-30%.

Dr Chalmers also cautioned that reforms of Church structures will be meaningless without a change of culture in the organisation.

“We can engineer yet another restructuring of the central administration, and this time we might actually manage the reorganisation of presbyteries. But if we do not change the way we think of our colleagues, or learn to speak well of our brothers and sisters in Christ – even those we disagree with – it may all be for nothing.

“Ours is a culture that needs to change. It has been said many times that culture can eat strategy; and, in the history of our Church, culture has had many a hearty breakfast.

“We have to understand and embrace the fact that change may be the only constant. And as we’ve crept closer to this first and very modest change in our culture, it has become increasingly clear that while everyone wants change, mostly people want change on their own terms.

“Each of us, in fact, has to be the change we want to see in our Church.”

A downloadable supplement on the latest reforms is available here.


Beatrice Fawkes - Friday, November 22nd, 2019

“I hear what Dr Chalmers says. We do indeed require the 'grass roots' to think seriously about the future of our National Church but even more seriously where our local churches have to move. May we listen to the Holy Spirit.

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