Here are some more thoughts prompted by recent discussion about reaching working class communities with the Gospel, by Stephen Kneale’s articles about where you belong and by my own experience.
I grew in South Bradford, it’s a working class area. We lived just off the Odsal Estate and I attended a large, tough Comprehensive at the centre of the Buttershaw Estate. My dad had been the first in his family to go to University and so that probably disqualifies us as “working class” when you look at the definitions in our last article. However, it also reminds us that working class does not mean ” ignorant and anti-learning.” Go back a few generations and my Great Grandfather was part of an Italian immigrant community, they signed their names on birth and marriage certificates with a cross suggesting low levels of literacy. But Dad, a few generations later wasn’t held back. His mum saved up sacrificially to buy him encyclopedias to read. He went to Grammar school and then off to Oxford. We were encouraged to read and enjoy learning but at least back in the 1980s that didn’t split us off from the working classes, it just distinguished us from those who preferred sports or DT.
Yet, we didn’t have the stereotypical Middle Class upbringing either. We weren’t showered with material goods, the TV and automatic washing machine were late arrivals in our house and our cars always were second hand.
Now, my upbringing means that there are lots of people around who I can’t say I have shared experiences with. For example, I never went to public school or lived on a country estate! I hope this would not stop me from being able to witness to or pastor people who have.
And that’s the point. If we draw the boundaries and assume that we cannot speak to people, love and live along side people and listen to and learn from people who have different experiences then we will narrow down our ability to proclaim the Gospel and make disciples. We will deny the truth of the Gospel expressed in Matthew 28 that Jesus is with us always as he commands us to go and make disciples.
In our community there are people who:
– Have been abused and/or deserted by their partners
– Have got into serious debt and are threatened by loan sharks
– Are from different religious back grounds
– Have fled violent situations in other countries to seek asylum here
– Have at some point committed serious crimes and spent time in prison
– Don’t think they’ll ever find a job
– Face a language barrier every day as they struggle to learn English
– Battle with addictions
-Struggle with their sexuality or gender identity
The list goes on and in many cases, I simply cannot even begin to imagine what their life is like, it is that far outside of my experience. But actually, if each of us is honest, whilst there may be some things on the list where we say “been there, done that” there are simply lots of things that our outside our experience. This means that Gospel workers are always going to be crossing boundaries.
This is why I fundamentally disagree with the assertion that only working class people can reach, teach, pastor and train working class people. Only humble, teachable people who love Christ and are completely dependent on the Holy Spirit can.
Working Class people are human beings made in God’s image. They are not a different species. It is time for the church to repent from idolatrous classism and return to the Gospel on this matter. Reaching the whole of Britain with the Gospel will require working class, middle class and upper class believers to be willing to serve God anywhere, work with believers from all backgrounds and share the Gospel with hungry people no matter where they are from in terms of race or class.