A few weeks back the Bishop of Burnley went to the New Wine Conference and challenged the hearers on their attitude to the poor. There was a bit of media reaction and a bit more social media reaction.
I don’t know what the Bishop is doing to follow up on his fine words but I do know this. For too long the way that the church has approached challenging issues is to have someone say something provocative and challenging at a conference. People are challenged and moved. Then we go back to our homes and nothing changes.
In 2009 (that’s 8 years ago), Tim Chester wrote this blog post challenging us on the models and measures of success that we look to. It was in the light of the first “Reaching the Unreached Conference.”
In the article, he quotes Melvin Tinker as “flying some kites” at the conference. There are 5 of them in all:
- “Do we have a fascination with white, middle-class people and students that is keeping us from reaching the working-class?”
- “Student work offers quick returns and creates people with money to sustain future ministry. So do we need an evangelical equivalent to the ‘Church Urban Fund’?”
- “We will need to educate our congregations to see this as an integral part of the Lord’s commission. We need to seek out and train people for this ministry. We will also need to esteem such workers. Working in poor areas creates ministries that do not look like the models of ‘successful’ ministry heralded elsewhere.”
- “We need a network to provide theological and practical support for such ministries.”
- “The movement will not be only in one direction: rich churches funding poor ministries. The rich churches will receive lessons, prayer and gratitude from poorer ministries.”
So how are we doing against those questions and challenges? Surely it is reasonable to take stock. My view is that there has been some progress. We should be encouraged. Churches are being planted in hard to reach places and books on this type of ministry by people like Tim Chester and Mez McConnell are finding their way into Christian bookshops and hopefully on to Christians’ bookshelves. Duncan Forbes has done great work at stimulating good urban theology whilst 20 Schemes are hard at work planting churches on Scottish council estates. Here in the Midlands we are encouraging urban planting through ActBC and partnering with CPI to provide an urban planters hub. The Church in Hard Places network may help with point 4 and there is something of a little “twitter-based” informal network of practitioners.
However, I would suggest that the general feel from those engaged in this type of ministry is of frustration that no-where near enough attention is going on this vital aspect of ministry with the risk that our Gospel resources are not focused on the majority of people in our land.
- I would love to know if anyone took point 2 any further. Did anyone look at the possibility and merits of setting up such a fund?
- It’s great to have something like CiHP but are The FIEC, Affinity, EA, Union, Oak Hill, Evangelicals Now, Evangelical Times, Keswick Convention Word Alive etc. getting behind it?
- How are we doing at educating congregations? Is ministry to urban Britain, to council estates and inner cities seen as the responsibility and mission of the whole church or just a few “super” Christians?
- And oh how I long for the day when point 5 is a reality and not a dream. Although even that is not going far enough. You see it isn’t just prayer and money we can offer back. To some extent, your rich areas already get something from us when our discipled young people go off to University and join student and graduate churches. But I dream of the day when inner city and council estate churches are planting into suburban and rurual areas as a matter of course.
So here are a few ways you could start to act on this personally:
- Have a look at our ActBC pages – is this something you could get involved in? Get in touch
- Could you go as a ministry apprentice to Oldham Bethel? Or could your church send and sponsor someone there?
- Have you had a look at the CiHP network yet? Is this something you could get involved in?
- Why not set aside time at your regular prayer meeting to pray for some of the churches involved in our inner cities and council estates. Write to them, tell them you are praying for them. Ask them how you can pray for them. It will encourage them.
Let’s make sure that words said at conferences and festivals do not disappear on the wind a few weeks after they have been spoken.