My friend Stephen has written a typically robust blog headlined “People are not going to Hell because of a lack of training options.” Stephen argues that there’s a lot of talk about how we train in people for urban ministry but that’s pointless if we don’t have the people to train and if we don’t have the resources to support them.
I love the provocative punchiness of Stephen’s title, no, people won’t go to Hell because of a lack of training or get to heaven because of its presence. Nor do I know anyone who says that. However, yes, we can all lock onto particular strategies and tactics and although we know in our heads and somewhere in our hearts that these tactics are not what saves, we act and more importantly we worry as though it were true.
It is worth going and looking at Stephen’s blog post carefully because you will see that his issue is not with training. He is involved in encouraging training in partnership with the Northwest Gospel partnership and with Union. His point is that the most immediate need is for people to respond with their hearts to a Gospel need and come/send/give/pray. His concern is that people offer shiny training courses as the cheap and easy option.
For those reasons, I am not writing to disagree with his point, in his context. However, I also write from a context. When I talk about training needs, I am looking specifically at our circumstances here. I am writing as someone involved in urban mission. I appreciate that others in other contexts will have different immediate needs to ours. The reason I talk about training and equipping as a priority here is because:
1. We do have a couple of people who have committed to Gospel ministry in our area. This includes one person who is planting a Spanish speaking church as well as developing a ministry working with refugees during the week. We have a young man from the City Mission and another man who is in a position to be a tent-maker. We have a young mum who has stepped out of a teaching role to work with us reaching local families. So, we do have people who need some training, equipping and mentoring.
2. We do not have a lot to offer ourselves, we are not a wealthy church. We have been encouraged by some sacrificial giving especially in response to the need for additional workers to be supported. What we can offer is time, experience and knowledge. So, what we have been saying is “Come and train with us” because that’s something we can offer. In different ways over the past few years we’ve invested time into people and the result is that we are seeing people engage in Gospel work. Indeed, that’s the point. I am not sure that we should be looking for someone to design the next shiny off the shelf course. We have lots of people serving the Gospel in our neediest areas and they are able to teach and train. Let’s make full use of them.
3. Because when you have a local church there are always people to be trained. Training for urban mission is not just about full on theological training for lead planters and potential pastors, there are elders, children’s club leaders, home group hosts, preachers and 1-1 evangelists to train.
4. Because there is still a need. The 2020 Birmingham conference this year reminded us that it is the harvest field which is plentiful and the workers that are few not the other way round. With that in mind, I pray in hope because we continue to need more workers. I would love to see 2 additional pioneer planters commit to Sandwell or West Birmingham in the next year or two. I continue to long for a Gospel community on our estate, we would like to have an additional communities worker based from our Community Café. I can’t see where they will come from and sometimes I get discouraged and think it will never happen. Yet, we have prayed to the Lord of the Harvest, we trust him to provide and so I continue to think about how we will support, train and partner with those workers when they come.
Now, none of this changes or excuses the point that Gospel outreach into our urban communities needs people and churches whose hearts are stirred by a love for God, a concern for his glory, a joy in the grace of the Gospel and a deep passion for the lost.