One suggestion about why we struggle to reach working class communities is that we primarily have middle class leaders of churches, furthermore, we have middle class leaders because we put barriers in the way of working class people becoming leaders because we identify the qualities and training methods associated required for leaders with middle class qualities.
I think there is some truth in this but I also am concerned that it is simplistic and does not fully answer things. I think the suggestion needs a little more probing lest it become a cliche and an excuse for failure.
So, first of all three reasons why I think we might be onto something and then some reasons why I am not completely convinced.
What we might be onto?
1. I have frequently argued here on faithroots that a model which pulls people out of communities and expects them to move away from home and put vocation on hold does not work for everyone. If leaders must attend a seminary then we rule some people out. To some extent, my opinion here is confirmed by my experience of training and mentoring people and building a team in the secular workplace is that there are people who have not been to University but are equally capable of grasping the same concepts and solving the same problems as University Graduates.
2. The other point I have raised is that if we have middle class leaders making strategic decisions about how, where and why we plant then, their strategies hold us back from reaching the most vulnerable and needy communities. These assumptions include that you need to send an already established sizeable core group in as the starting church. The result of this is that church plants are likely to be limited to specific areas and that we will assume that before we can plant, we must establish resource churches that are wealthy enough and sizeable enough to support plants. This means that people working hard to plant and revitalise in our most needy areas are told that there are no resources (people, money, support structures) for them because we are too busy putting all the necessary strategic stuff in place first. So they keep working hard, sharing the Gospel with people who are open to hear and even seeing converts and baptism but at the same time becoming weary and frustrated.
3. I am not convinced that Theological training has been carefully thought through as a necessity. My gut feel is that for some people, the assumption is that the necessity is the qualification because leaders already had academic training, leadership skills and experience. I think people like Mike Ovey worked hard to change that and hopefully the fruit is beginning to be seen.
Where I think we need a bit more convincing
1. If we say that people can be only reached and led by their class then do we lose confidence in God’s ability to stir up people to cross cultures? Do we end up with what Mike Ovey would consider an over emphasis on local theology at the expense of the global. We cannot speak to and we cannot hear from other cultures and classes?
2. I worry about how we define class are we actually doing it objectively or subjectively. What is it that makes one person working class and another middle class. Is there a risk that we assume that specific music and dress codes make some people working class and others not when they reflect the dress codes and music of people from a particular tribe within working class culture? I don’t think, this is the view within working class ministry but I think it is the outside middle class strategic leadership view and as others have suggested there may be an assumption that we equate working class leadership with a few specific people that we tolerate as eccentrics in the vain of Hudson Taylor rather than the norm.
3. I think we need to be careful that we don’t write off qualities and skills because we assume they are middle class. Humanly we can be quick to divide between us and them. There is also the risk that we patronise and write off working class people. We must be careful to not let the point that our training and expectations are middle class to be interpreted as “working class leaders do not need and are not able to cope with: rigerous Biblical studies including learning the original languages, a detailed knowledge of Biblical and Systematic Theology, to grasp church history and to read widely and deeply in terms of historical theology, philosophy, apologetics, ethics etc.”
As I alluded to above, I don’t think this is what we mean but I worry that this is how we wil be heard so we need to work hard at communicating what we do mean. This means those who have experience of planting and of training need to speak up and be heard.