Returning to Scotland was always the plan.
Burdened for the people of Scotland to know and embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Matthew Spandler-Davison left his job in Scottish Parliament in 2002 to participate in a ministry internship at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.
The next year, Matthew moved to Louisville, Ky., to pursue a Master of Divinity degree from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with every intention of returning home to Scotland and planting a church.
“When I came to seminary here, I came with a strong conviction that I was not going to be that guy that doesn’t go back to Scotland,” he said. “The struggle we have is that in places like the UK, we lose our best because they get trained up and they don’t go back. I didn’t want to be that guy.”
But God had other plans.
Though born in Norway, Matthew, 37, grew up in Aberdeen, Scotland, where he now knows of only six Gospel-preaching churches in the entire city of almost 237,000.
“Most of them have considerably less than 100 people in those churches,” he said. “For me to come [to the States] and see so many churches and so many good churches and faithful churches, and to be in a seminary that is literally pumping out thousands of ministers every year, was such a culture shock for me and it just increased my burden for Scotland.”
Matthew’s home church in Scotland, where he was converted as a teenager, does not have a pastor nor can they afford one. Even if they could, Matthew said there are no men to hire.
“I know churches in Scotland that have been sitting without a minister for years and have been desperate for a minister to come but there’s no one applying,” he said. “There are churches around here where, if a job opens up, you get hundreds of resumes. A job opens up in a church in the UK and you may spend three, four, or five years before you get your first resume from somebody interested in that position.”
With that kind of weighty information, Matthew was plagued with the question: How can I be here and yet see such a need there?
Yet, in 2004, God called Matthew and his wife Tracy to plant a church in Bardstown, Ky.
“There were many churches but not healthy Gospel-preaching churches in the area so we were convicted to plant a church and start a small group Bible study in our house,” he said. “It was a Tuesday night meeting that became over time a church, not necessarily by design, but it developed into a church. But from the very beginning, the first year of our church, we had a mission trip to Scotland. From the very beginning we were thinking through, ‘How can this church really be used by God to see a church established and planted in Scotland?’”
Enter Mez McConnell.
Mez, the pastor of Niddrie Community Church in Edinburgh, Scotland, grew up in a scheme, served time in prison, and was himself caught up in addiction.
When released from prison, Mez was converted. He moved to Brazil and started a church among street kids before experiencing the same convicted as Matthew.
“He was surrounded by all these missionaries and he thought, ‘Who is sharing the Gospel back home? Who is starting churches back home?’” Matthew said. “So he felt led to go back to the United Kingdom and went to this little community on the edge of Edinburgh called Niddrie.”
A community known for poverty and violence, Niddrie was a place people typically avoided. And it was just the place Mez planted a church in 2007.
“I was fascinated by a number of things,” Matthew said of meeting Mez in 2011. “One, his own story. Second, the fact that he is seeing a church growing in Scotland. That is unusual to see a church grow in Scotland. I’m used to seeing struggling churches but he’s seeing a church thrive. He’s seeing people come to faith. He’s seeing a church grow through conversions.
“And the fact that it’s in a scheme, that we’re seeing someone come from heroin addiction be converted and now being trained for ministry in this little church right there in Niddrie, Edinburgh, a church of 60 or 70 people, I was just so excited.”
Though the men differ in personality and background, they share a love for the church, a love for the Gospel, and the same heart and passion for church planting in Scotland.
“I want to see churches like this established right across the schemes of Scotland,” Mez told him. And right then and there in the backyard of Mez’s house, the pair started mapping out what would become 20schemes.
“Let’s do it,” Matthew told Mez. “Let’s come together as two churches where we can watch this ministry and let’s recruit workers. Let’s get other churches to partner with us. Let’s raise some money and plant some churches right across Scotland.”
Matthew smiled. “That’s how the Lord in His providence and wisdom uses a little church in central Kentucky to do the very thing I felt like I was called to do: plant churches right across Scotland.”
Now, five years after launching 20schemes, the organization has seven church planting teams in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, and Glascow, all at various stages of planting or revitalizing the Gospel work in Scottish schemes.
“It is incredibly exciting to see what the Lord is doing, to see His church built right across the most unlikely parts of Scotland in the schemes,” Matthew said. “As you reach the poor then other churches across the city will take note. You cannot deny Gospel transformation in the poorest parts of your city. When you see a community that has been transformed by a Gospel-preaching church, when you see someone converted from heroin addiction to life in Christ Jesus, when the government has been pumping money into these communities to try to deal with the drug culture and the decay and the urban blight, and yet you see a church started and all of the sudden families are transformed because of the Gospel—people will take note of that. I don’t think that will just affect the schemes but the whole of Scotland for the sake of the Gospel.”
“That’s what Jesus does, right? That’s where He went first. He went first to what seems foolish to the world. He went first to the most unlikely of places and yet the leaders took note. The Pharisees took note, the governor took note, the tax collectors took note, because they saw a transformation happening in the most unlikely of places, and I think that’s what’s going to take place in the schemes of Scotland.”
The country, which is home to almost 5.5 million, is not the poorest nor the least reached nation in the world, but there is a great need for the Gospel and a great opportunity to meet it.
“There’s a wide open door right now, there’s a great opportunity to come and be a part of this ministry,” Matthew said. “Ministry is actually pretty easy there. You’re not trying to create ministry opportunities, it’s everywhere. In fact, people are very open to having spiritual conversations.
“Jesus is worthy to be worshipped in the schemes of Scotland. We’re convinced of that. There are parts of Scotland where He is not being worshipped today and so our motivation is that Jesus be worshipped amid the poor of Scotland where He deserves to be worshipped and across the poorest of Scotland. Who will go? Who will join us?”