A Bittersweet Day – The End of an Era

I suppose it was too much to hope.  In this internet age the news was never going to be kept quiet.   Last week I told my elders that after almost 27 years in St Peters I was giving six months notice and would be leaving in July 2018.  The congregation were told yesterday.  Before I got home last night there were numerous messages, not just from people within the congregation but from many other places throughout the world.   The trouble is that when you say you have resigned there is immediate speculation as to why….so to avoid all of that here are the reasons for this change.

  1. Annabel and I have been in St Peters for 27 years.   We are both in out late 50’s and at some point we were going to have to move on anyway.
  2. The congregation has grown to the extent that it requires a fresh start – with new leadership and someone as senior pastor who could devote all of their time to it.
  3. As the congregation has grown so has my wider work – (secular media, evangelism and writing – including this blog and the Quantum Podcast )
  4. With both areas growing – (the way I describe it is that my method is to throw several darts at the board hoping that one or two of them will stick. In recent years almost all of them have been sticking) the workload has increased to an unsustainable level.  Something had to give.
  5. For several months I have agonised about this but we came to the conclusion that there was a wider work to do, and it could not be done in conjunction with being the senior pastor of a large and growing church (at least in Scottish terms!).
  6. I have been offered a post with City Bible Forum in Australia to help them develop an evangelistic outreach called Third Space – seeking to use cultural engagement and what I do, to help the Australian churches reach out.  This will be done as part of a team.  The team aspect for me is very important because I am not a big fan of being a lone ranger.   Sometimes ministry can be very lonely – not least when you are engaging a hostile culture.
  7. For various reasons (which I may elaborate later!) it is not possible for me to do this kind of outreach in Scotland.  I hope to return in a couple of years – perhaps to do the same kind of work – but at this stage that is impossible.  I hope that will change.
  8. The hardest part in this whole decision for us both is leaving St Peters.  I have a deep love for the people here and it will be a wrench to leave – but we have to follow the calling of the Lord.   Of course how we know what that will is,  is the question!   I believe that he has guided myself and Annabel this way.  The warm (but sad reaction) from the congregation yesterday was a confirmation.  It was a bittersweet day.

This is the congregational letter:

download-1St Peter’s Free Church

December 9th 2018

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am writing my ‘annual’ congregational Christmas/New Year a wee bit earlier than usual – for reasons which will become clear!

Firstly I want to thank you for your support, fellowship and love in the Gospel over the past year. It has been an encouraging year in the midst of an increasingly challenging and confused culture. We continue to growth and many new people coming. For me the gatherings for public worship on the Lord’s Day remain the highlight of the week and the foundation of all that we do as a congregation. I will miss it and you all. Because I am writing this letter to let you know that this week I gave the Kirk Session notice that I will be resigning as minister of the congregation at the end of June 2019. Annabel and I have been here for almost 27 years so this has been a hard and difficult decision to make. At some point in the not too distant future we were going to have to move on anyway.

I wanted to write and explain to you a little of why we have made this decision. As St Peters continues to grow I have also found that the other work I am involved in (secular media, evangelism, writing) has also continued to grow. The trouble is that with the building deficit limiting our finances we are less well staffed than we have been for several years. Ten years ago when the congregation was about 80 we had four staff (thanks largely to missionaries), today we have less than three for a congregation that is almost four times the size!   For the congregation to grow and develop St Peters needs a senior pastor that is full-time here. My decision was whether to give up the wider work and concentrate solely on the congregation. I’m afraid that I could not do that because I feel called to the public engagement and evangelism.

Annabel and I have agonised and prayed about this for months but at the end of November we finally came to the decision that it would be better to move on. I have therefore last week accepted a post as the director of a new evangelism project in Australia – looking to evangelise Australia’s cities.   This is a two-year post and we hope to return, hopefully to do the same kind of thing, in Scotland. Of course we remember James’ warning that we are but a mist and cannot boast about what we will, or will not do, in a years time!

I decided to give six months notice in order to help with a smooth transition and to allow the Kirk Session to begin the search for a new minister immediately. This also allows me to spend the next six months with you – I hope it won’t just be a long goodbye!   Please feel free to talk to me and let me know any concerns or questions you may have.   Meanwhile can I ask you to remember and pray for the following:

Charleston – the work that is going on here is very encouraging. But we must be fervent in prayer. Please support Andy, Caireen and the whole team working in a challenging but exciting situation.   You can support through prayer, giving and asking any of the team involved about what is happening.

A New Minister and Assistant –We are intending to petition the General Assembly for a full-time assistant. If that is granted it will mean that we will be looking for two new ministers.   Please pray for the Lord’s guidance and the willingness of suitable men to come. Also pray for the elders/deacons as they lead the congregation.

Evangelism and Outreach – There is a danger that with a full church a degree of complacency can creep in – but the vast majority of the people in Dundee and environs have never heard the Gospel. Pray for Crawford and the events team as they planned an exciting series of outreach events.

Annabel and I – As we wait for visas and prepare for this big change.

I thank my God every time I remember you.4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)

Your Pastor in Christ

David

The Pastors Heart – Interview with Dominic Steele

45 thoughts on “A Bittersweet Day – The End of an Era

  1. Sad to hear you are leaving St Peters. Glad to hear of the Lords increase in so many areas. Praying for a suitable and God appointed a successor. This is sad for is us as in June we move back to Scotland and would have loved to get to know you on a personal level. Hope all your ‘darts that stick’ will bring glory to Christ.

  2. Indeed a bittersweet day for all the dear folks at St Peters. However it’s a real encouragement to see God opening the door to an exciting new chapter in your lives of Gospel service.

    May you all know Gods leading and guiding hand in these days ahead and His Grace to face the task before you.

      1. Thank you David and Catherine, yes I had to re-read a couple of time, thought I was missing something!
        No matter, it is still sad news among all the rest of the sad news in UK today.

        Amen to all the other thoughts on here but every blessing David on your new venture.

  3. Every blessing David; there is always a right time for a long established pastor to move on and to leave room for fresh blood.

    But I hope this is not the end of the Wee Flea blog which regularly both inspires me and challenges me.

      1. Thank goodness for that! St Peters will surely have an new Pastor, but your 1 million plus blog readers would be left bereft if you stopped that too!

  4. I know what it’s like leaving a church, not easy (and that after only 8 years) but God will move us by His spirit and plant us down elsewhere; it’s all good and often a benefit to everyone to have a new challenge or new set of eyes, it’s often said ‘who can tell what the future holds?’ We know what the future holds and as John Wesley said “the world is my Parish!”. I don’t know you personally David but I admire you and glad you hope to continue with the areas of Christian life you are so able and willing to address. It is such a valuable resource in so many ways for those of us concerned about modern life and the faith. You make us think. Thank you. God bless you and Annabel in all your endeavours.

  5. Dear David,

    It is indeed very sad that you will be leaving St. Peters next year. Personally I have been greatly encouraged by your writings and interviews. You have been one of a small band of God’s people who have engaged at great cost to yourself with a culture which has denied its Christian heritage and have stood firm in the Lord Jesus . It is heart-breaking to see so many (even those who claim to be faithful Christians) deny Christ in our day. As the Lord Jesus told us in His word, following Him has a cost and may God have mercy on all who feel too weak to fight.

    It is so comforting to know that our great and mighty God is still Sovereign over His universe; that those who love Him have a future home with Him in Heaven. He is a God of wrath as well as a God of love. May we remember that and faithfully serve Him wherever He has placed us. May we see those who hate Him through His eyes and pray for them with compassion and love.

    God bless you.

    Gloria Rea (N.Ireland)

  6. As a fully committed Scottish Catholic now living in Sydney I find this very exciting news. It’s a different world here and you will love it. Looking got to hearing you speak.

  7. There have been very few on the Christian front lines of the battle between belief and unbelief in this entire country. David Robertson has been one of the very few. Not surprised his work load was unsustainable. Will those of us who attempted to offer him some support, care, encouragement and back up, now retreat once he is gone? We have seen the vicious vitriol he endured and know the price he paid. Are we willing to pay the price, endure the slander, twisting of our words, mocking and ridicule and hatred? Has the gospel had its day in Scotland? Lord have mercy.

  8. To add a slightly lighter note.

    At least in Australia you will escape the dire mess that is Brexit (perhaps that was a factor in your decision).

    That is until you come back, because it will be continuing for years and years…..

  9. 1 This has been bubbling under for some while now.
    I’m still unsure how well being a pastor/minister sits with evangelism in the wider world, rather than in the immediate locality of a particular church, as the church members support the absences.
    2 Having read the On the Precipice post below and having been to a number of Autumn lectures on the Reformation and having come across Higher Criticism on a Methodist Faith and Worship course and having benefited greatly from Josh McDowell’s New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, to critique and answer Higher Criticism(HC), I’d agree that HC’s influence continues within the church in various manifestations, but is condensed in the biblical revisionist agenda. It then becomes open doors , open season, to all sorts scriptural justification against the Gospel, and scripture imperatives.
    3 It is a canker within, where first order doctrine becomes second order and everything is second order to permit even promote good disagreement (which is nothing of the sort in many places) in perpetuity.
    4 What will be missed is you, as a Christian Minister, going against the flow, as it is usually left to some para church organisation, such as RavZim to do the work of a evangelist, to speak in the public multi-cultural marketplace. Unless I’m wrong, you seem to be to be joining such an organisation and that is a loss to the local worshipping church and at a time when ministers in general (if not in the Free Church) are in short supply, and at a time when discipleship is at a premium. Our church has been without a minister for over a year and there is not one on the horizon. Discipleship is more than ever necessary.
    5 Having been born again into the CoE and moved to membership of the Methodist church, what came as a bit of a surprise was the longevity in the post of reformed minister. Wesley, if I’m not mistaken, was of a view that ministers should move every 5 years or so, so that the local church did not seek to rely, trust, love the minister in place of Christ.
    5 On a personal level, I can’t recall how I cottoned onto your blog, but it may have been from one of your books. It was around your time as Moderator. Your blog was the first time I’ve ever commented on the internet, and it was with some trepidation, as it would reveal my keyboard ineptitude and lack of coherence after a stroke (and I’ve long been allergic to fleabites and Scottish thistles). It does do that, but it also helps me to think when otherwise I wouldn’t and the process of writing helps to marshal thoughts. But at a deeper level it unsettles, as it frustrates through a sense of pandering to vanity.
    6 That comes back to the need for both local- church -hands-on, and public square high profile persuasive evangelism and for follow-up discipleship.
    7 Yesterday I struck by how much has changed.
    There’s a Care Home less than 200 metres from our church building, where for years the church has always been welcome. Yesterday, a few of us had a short Carol service with scripture reading and a short evangelistic story, all unamplified. It was packed. All the residents were sitting in cinema-like rows. What a joyful noise. But what struck me was the number who from memory, as it hadn’t been typed and handed out, joined in the prayer Jesus taught. In 10, 15, 20 years time that is unlikely. There was a small hand knitted angel gift from the church (ladies) for all, with a handwritten tag about Jesus. While the way the chairs were arranged and the time constraints limited the scope for a great number of personal conversations the tag was an opening to briefly talk about Jesus. “I’ve always been a good citizen”, “I’m a Catholic” were amongst some of the responses as we reminisced and laughed about places and family. Full gospel? No. All ages worship? No. Most were likely to be pre/post war children, untouched by the digital age (except TV) but having lived through the vicissitudes of life yet to be experienced by the culturally mollycoddled of today. Yet todays and yesterdays generations both can be lost to the gospel.
    8 May you and Annabel be aware of our LORD’s presence through thick and thin. May the armour of Christ, shield of faith, protect you from the fiery darts of the Enemy
    9 By moving to Australia, you’ll be achieving your dream of Scottish Independence and Brexit at the same time, without the SNP, SDP and without usurping Parliamentary sovereignty by exercising personal sovereignty, under God.

  10. I listen to you from Bandera, Texas via podcast. I will miss hearing you each week but realize the Lord often calls his children to new paths for their good and His glory. May you be blessed in your new endeavors and may the Lord do a mighty work through you in Australia.

  11. Well, you are likely going to have your work cut out for you, that’s no maybe.
    At least the weather in that part of the Southern Hemisphere is less inclement than the UK.
    Out of interest,David, bearing in mind that the non-religious are currently the fastest growing group in Australia how effective do you truly believe your evangelizing will be?

      1. Obviously not – perhaps you could try your hand in the Muslim community?
        Would they be open to trading one idiotic superstition for another, do you think?

      2. Really? Atheists too, eh?
        Then I would surmise they weren’t proper atheists in the first place. You know, much like all those deconverts who the Faithful are forever accusing of never really being Christians to begin with, right?

      3. *Smile*
        So real Christians do deconvert then?
        Seeing all those empty pews in front of you – now that must hurt.
        Patient? You are one of the most arrogant, condescending arses I have ever encountered on WordPress.

      4. Ark – as you continually demonstrate your prejudice has so blinded you that you seem to have an inability to read those who disagree with you, or understand what is going on. So for example you make a sneering comment like “seeing all those empty pews in front of you – now that must hurt’. Last Sunday (as every Sunday just now) we had a problem finding seats (not pews) for all those who wanted to sit downstairs – the overflow had to go upstairs and sit on the pews. Your last sentence is a lovely summary of your position and explains why you will be posting less, if at all on here!

  12. I’ve always wondered how you balance your evangelism work with your role as senior pastor! I agree that it appears you have a calling for outreach evangelism to our secular culture. I am disappointed that there are obstacles in your way to do more of this work in Scotland. As you say, I hope you can return here and do more of it after your time in Australia. It’s very heartening to hear that they are so keen to have you! God bless this venture and all that you do, David.

  13. I’m a singer: only music can properly say what I want to. And our Lord’s “deep peace” is something I suspect you will be needing to refresh you in the days to come – as anyone who’s ever moved house will know.
    This one’s known in the trade as “Garlic Dressing” but it’s also greatly beloved and I can’t improve on it for a blessing and farewell/au revoir. May the Shepherd walk with you wherever you go.
    https://youtu.be/_8MKEpXqGko

  14. David

    You have been used by the Lord to build a local church whose witness is far reaching. Personally I have been blessed and helped by many of your blog posts. I trust your time in Australia will be really fruitful. Did you comment on whether you’ll continue this blog? I’ll need to check. I suppose it will be harder to be alert to what is happening here. I trust the transition will be smooth. Many thanks again for your efforts in this blog.

    John

  15. David, it appears I have missed this announcement—I was doing so well keeping up, reading and in turn sharing much of what you have shared…and then my grandmother duties were ramped up and I was doing good just posting something, anything, myself…albeit it short and sweet.

    I have grown so much in my own understanding and walk of Faith having found you and your alter ego the Wee Flea. 🙂
    The folks who read my blog have also been greatly blessed by your words as I have humbly and feebly done my best to share your wisdom.

    And so I thank you.

    And yet I fear I must confess, I think dear Ark may have found you from having read my blog…as I referenced you often, offering links to your posts, etc.
    He became such a nuisance and distraction to my own thoughts and desire to share my faith that I had to actually ban him…
    As you are very much correct, Ark’s own prejudice has so blinded him that he cannot see beyond his own seething disdain for all that he disagrees with.

    I look forward to what I hope will be the continuation of the Wee Flea albeit from down under 🙂

    Blessings David and always know that I am truly indebted to your sharing of the good fight!!

    1. Many thanks….God willing both the blog and the podcast will continue….(and don’t worry about Ark….I am used to being plagued by fundamentalist atheists….we pray that one day the truth will break into his closed mind and heart).

  16. Some of us ‘olde’ Australians; i.e. been here for generations, have had somewhat romantic views of their Scottish roots and former ‘homeland’. You have helped open the eyes of many concerned Christians of the present day, that all is not well in Christendom let alone in the Church of Scotland and elsewhere.
    Thank you for your keen insights which should help us to realize that Christianity is intellectually defensible and is not just a matter of the emotions, or of ‘good times’ past.
    Your coming to Australia is encouraging! God richly blesses us in Christ Jesus.

  17. David just read your latest on your Australian calling.
    Aah but what is Scotland’s loss is Australia’s gain.

    God speed and the Aaronic blessing be on yourself and and Annabel as you prepare to leave, journey, settle in and take up your new posting.
    There will be no better place to work than in the centre of God’s will, whether here or there!

  18. Hi David

    I listen to you podcast when I can and discuss it from time to time with another regular listener from our church. Your thinking sharpens mine and encourages me to be more engaged with the opposing worldviews I’m surrounded by. I was genuinely gutted to hear about you leaving Scotland… a place in my mind crying out for a strong Christian voice. I’m sad to think what might be some of the other reasons you allude to which means you can no longer be that voice in Scotland at this time.

    Having just read this blog post today I wanted to add my thanks and promise to pray on that God will see fit to use you for the honour of His name both here in Scotland and elsewhere.

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