One of my personal passions and priorities is to see people get involved in urban mission, making disciples who make disciples in communities where there is practically no gospel witness at the moment. That’s why I keep pointing visitors to faithroots.net to our ActBC pages. That urban focus means that we have a particular concern for poor/deprived neighbourhoods and working-class people. It means that we have a strong desire to see genuinely multi-cultural churches. It means that because we are looking to reach areas where there isn’t a meaningful Gospel witness that we expect church planting to be a key ingredient in the mission. It also means that because we want to see churches in areas where there are no Christians and that are well off the natural migratory track for student/graduate believers that we are likely to put a greater emphasis on the need for pioneer missionaries/planters rather than church planting through one church sending off a core team to start a new gathering.
The risk when you have a particular focus is that you get a bit of tunnel vision. Actually, you need that. You need to be focused on your priority (see my earlier article about Billy Graham). So the risk is not so much where your focus is but that:
- We can start to feel, think and act as though our priority is in competition or even conflict with other gospel priorities.
- We can get frustrated especially when our priorities are not the trendy ones and are not the ones that are trending. That frustration if we are not careful can boil over into envy. That’s something I have to guard my heart and mind against.
So, I want to say something loud and clear. There is a both/and to this priority on urban mission. It is not a competition. Here are some vital aspects to that both/and status.
- We are passionate about the local mission but not at the expense of a global missions perspective. What we do happens in the context of what God is doing across the world and through history. Now your political views may shape your opinion on whether the Government has been right to ring fence the overseas aid budget, but I firmly believe that churches should ring-fence their mission’s budgets. We should not reduce our support for cross cultural missionaries else-where in order to support our priorities.
- We have an urban focus and that means that we want to see more effort going into reaching people from poor, working class, immigrant and non-graduate backgrounds. However, we also want to see people from prosperous backgrounds reached with the Gospel too. It’s not an either/or. Just because the majority of evangelical Christians have had or will have a University education does not mean that the majority of students and graduates are evangelical Christians or have had the opportunity to hear the Gospel. Now, in our context there is another factor. Smethwick borders West Bromwich which was recently listed as one of the 10 most deprived areas. We have a number of estates and neighbourhoods which show high levels of deprivation within walking distance of the Chapel. Sarah and I live on a council estate where most of the accommodation is social housing. Yet go 10-15 minutes in the opposite direction to where we worship and you are into one of the most prosperous parts of Birmingham. That’s actually one of the wonders of city life. This means that we don’t want the Chapel to be a church segregated by class any more than by ethnicity. We want it to be a church where people who are reasonably well off can worship and serve together with those who are struggling, a church where refugees get together with doctors for prayer and Bible study. It means that if at some point, a group of people living mainly in the more prosperous area come and say “we’d like to plant a church in this neighbourhood” that we should be as open to that as we are to those working to see an active gospel witness on the estate.
- I think we need to give more attention to the pioneer planter model because I just can’t see the “mother-daughter” model of sending a core team out from one church getting into lots of areas where we are desperate to see Gospel witness now. However, even though I think the “mother-daughter” model will primarily lead to a cluster of churches close together in an area where there already are churches I still think that it’s a good thing for that to happen. Why? Well, one of the drivers for planting out new churches is that existing churches will reach a stage where size/capacity of building etc reduces effectiveness in discipleship, relationships etc and so they will plant just because they are at capacity. The result will be that this type of planting will increase the opportunities for people to serve and use their gifts. I also want to repeat my point that even in areas where there are lots of churches, there’s still lots of people who are not getting to hear the Gospel. So those churches are not in competition.
- We are very much focused on the urban context but rural and suburban mission matter too. One of the reasons I’ve had issues with the “reach the elite” strategy of evangelism whether that’s class or education is that it smacks of the old “command and control” economics where governments tried and failed miserably to pick winners in industry. Similarly, the assumption that you focus on one class or on the strategic city centres with resource churches that then fan outwards seems to me to risk missing other strategic opportunities that God might be sending our way. Now, I’ve a biased perspective here -but for example f you assumed that the strategic heart of the West Midlands was the city centre or the University then you would overlook Bearwood and Smethwick as outliers. However, I’ve just mentioned how we strategically overlap different cultures and economic contexts. Add into the mix that we are literally at the centre of the conurbation, at the heart of the bus network so that people come to shop from all over and at the hub of the rail network too with good commuter links across the region and things start to look a bit different. Now I se that as an illustration because we can assume that “rural” means the middle of no-where and disconnected. However, I know of a number of village churches that find themselves strategically central as the reach out to other villages and to the suburbs on the edge of towns. I say that to prove a point but actually whether or not the places really are strategic does not change the fact that they are full of people who need to hear the Gospel. So the work that John Hindley is doing in Norfolk is as important to the Gospel as Co-missions and 2020 Birmingham.
We have a particular focus to our work but our desire must be to see the Gospel going out across the whole of the UK and out into the world so that many people will come to put their faith in Christ and seek God’s Glory.
 NB I’m aware that some people find the “mother-daughter” term confusing. For clarity, I simply am referring to the situation where one church is planted out of another and not to an ongoing “mother-church”/ “mother-ship relationship