Just in case you’re at a loose-end on Saturday and fancy a trip to the Welsh capital for a day of church plant teaching, fellowship and encouragement with Steve Timmis (and a bunch of other like-minded peeps), I thought I should draw your attention to a conference that New Breed are hosting called Taking No Man’s Land. Most of the details are on the flyer below, but if you want to know more simply click on the flyer and it’ll magically whisk you away to the New Breed blog where you can get all the info you need, as well as register your place (thus ensuring there’s a jam donut waiting for you when you arrive!)
It promises to be an epic day.
Maybe see you there…
For some who are reading this the community that you are seeking to engage with the gospel is incredibly familiar to you. You’ve been there for years, you know the lay of the land and many of the people who you rub shoulders with are no longer nameless strangers but neighbours and friends. If this is the case, this post might not be quite as relevant to you as it to the others. The ‘others’ are those who are on the verge, or in the early stages of stepping out on a gospel adventure into uncharted territory. The community is new, the culture is alien and everywhere you turn you are surrounded by people you don’t know and who don’t know you.
Where do you start?
How do you go about reaching these streets?
Yesterday I took my two eldest kids to play in the new playground that’s literally 2 metres away from our front gate! We hadn’t been out there for more than 5 minutes when a loud, violent row erupted between 2 men in a neighbouring house (apparently over drugs). The entire park full of kids (including my own) seemed to stop whatever they were doing as they listened to a tirade of threats and verbal abuse along the lines of “I’m going to rip your f___ing head of you f____ing C___!!” I tried to get my kids back home so as not to expose them to such aggression, but by the time we got to the gate the row was over.
The damage was done.
We stayed in the park for about half an hour afterwards and as I was getting ready to take the kids home I was shocked to find my 4 year old little girl sat under the climbing frame scrawling her name on the equipment. She was with an older girl who she insists had put her up to it. I cleaned the graffiti off (the first to be done in the new park) and went home shell-shocked! Only a week earlier some friends from church had taken my daughter out to play in the park on a sunny Sunday afternoon, only to leg it back to the house with her a few moments later saying: “It’s all kicked off out there, there’s men fighting with metal bars and all the kids are screaming and crying…it’s nuts up here!!”
The reality of what it means to raise my precious kids on a deprived council estate is really starting to sink in. So I guess this post serves 2 purposes.
A couple of weeks ago I went to Birmingham and sat in a sweaty little room full of church planters and gospel practitioners (many of whom are listed as authors down the right hand side of this page!) We were there to drink coffee, eat mini muffins and chat about the challenges that are faced by those who are involved in planting churches on council estates and communities around the UK that are socially deprived and culturally alien to the established church. With literally 5 minutes left on the clock a HUGE issue was raised that we didn’t have a chance to discuss at any length, but that has been on my mind ever since.
The issue is that of leadership.
While it’s probably fair to say that there is a genuine lack of good quality, godly leadership across the board in the UK church at present, it would seem that the problem is far more extreme in these more challenging areas. This was highlighted when I asked this question:
“How many of your leaders have come from the community you’re trying to reach, and how many have you had to bring in from outside?”
Incredibly, every single person (including me) had to admit that their leadership was made up of godly men and women who had sacrificially come to serve from outside the area. I’m sure that there are exceptions to the rule out there, but the stark nature of the leadership challenge that confronts us as churches in these already demanding contexts is as blatant as it is urgent.
“Just keep your head down and you’ll be alright!”
That was the blunt advice given to me by the local shop-keeper when I introduced myself as a Christian who had just moved onto the estate to start a church. Apparently the way to get by on a council estate that has long been synonymous with poverty and social disorder is to opt for anonymity and obscurity. The trouble is that that’s not the life that Jesus has called us to, and it’s certainly not a biblical strategy for planting a church. Besides, we hadn’t just left the comfortable familiarity of life in Cardiff and moved into a house right at the heart of this challenging new community because we wanted a quiet, uneventful, bland and insignificant existence.
Quite the opposite in fact!
We were there on mission. We were there for an adventure. We were there to see the power of the gospel change lives. We were there to make an impact in the Name of Jesus and for His glory. Ironically, we had already settled on a name for our not-yet-in-existence church – Hill City Church – inspired by the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (v14-16)
I don’t think Jesus was saying “Just keep your head down and you’ll be alright!”
Quite the opposite in fact!!!
Jesus didn’t save us to shy away but to shine out. If this dark estate was going to encounter Jesus, it needed a church that was set intentionally and unmistakably high on the hill committed to letting the irresistible light of Christ shine out for all to see! Like Jesus said, no one lights a lamp and hides it under a basket. We certainly didn’t want to contradict Him!
The truth is, however, that when it comes to reaching the unreached and establishing churches in these broken communities, it’s very easy to grab a basket and smother the gospel light that we’ve been entrusted to shine. In reaching a culture like that of a council estate, there is one basket in particular that Christians find it all too easy to hide beneath - the basket of fear!