David Smith’s new book on urban mission, Seeking a City with Foundations: Theology for an Urban World is just out from IVP. David is one of our leading evangelical missiologists and always a stimulating read. He is Senior Research Fellow at the International Christian College in Glasgow where until recently he led their urban mission masters programme. He was also a speaker at our first Reaching the Unreached conference.
This book is the fruit of many years of practical and theological engagement with urban mission. But don’t take my word for it … (continue reading…)
2. Through the gospel and for his glory, God transforms the places and people we would never choose.
It appears that our constituency is almost frightened of social work… or perhaps more accurately, of having their ministry labelled as ‘social work’.
It is true that we are not social workers, we are gospel workers, but it seems to me that the gospel directly addresses the social needs of our communities – of all communities – but it becomes so obvious amongst the ‘urban poor’.
In recent years the estate that I work on has been on the receiving-end of some urban re-generation (thanks to a huge European Union grant) Every council house has been given new windows, doors, kitchens and bathrooms; there is new tarmac on the worst roads; a new medical centre, and a new public park. I’m very pleased that people have been given a nicer environment to live in. But it has not changed them. The people are exactly the same, living messy, dysfunctional, screwed up, lives – in refurbished homes.
What our community needs above all else is spiritual regeneration… it needs Christ. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ – of living with Him as Lord and Saviour, that transforms lives and transforms communities for good. It is good news to know him as Saviour and it is good news to live under his Lordship – for he is a good King to live under.
As I think about it and look at people’s lives, every issue is addressed through the gospel. These are deep issues but let me just touch on a few:
People have low self-esteem – inevitable when you have been unemployed for 10 or 20 or 30 years and with no qualifications. But through the gospel we see how valuable we are: first that we are all made in the image of God, and second that He loves us so much that he sent his Son to die for us so that we may know Him and be forgiven. The gospel tells us that we are valuable and loved despite our personal circumstances; and it encourages to look in the right place for that value and love.
Relationships are in disarray. Children don’t know who their father is; many live with grandparents; husbands and wives (or more commonly, partners) often exist under the same roof, but it looks like a nightmare. Parents have lost control of their kids and frankly don’t know how to be parents (partly because they have had no decent model themselves). But the gospel tells husbands to love their wives (sacrificially) as Christ loved the church and wives to submit to their husbands. That’s how marriages will work. And the Scriptures also teach us how to relate to our children, parents, neighbours and even our enemies! The gospel turns lives and communities upside down (or more accurately, it turns them the right way up!)
People’s finances are horrendous. There is huge debt… often being paid back to loan sharks at the door. But the gospel addresses our idols and issues – there is nearly always some kind of materialism and greed behind debt; and of course the gospel helps us to see where true wealth really lay. Where I live we are seeing a number of people who have been saved now addressing their materialism and debt. They have realised that not only are they eternally rich beyond compare, but also that they are suddenly financially better off as the Lordship of Jesus directly affects the choices they make with their money – and they are even beginning to give some away!
For those who have been saved and are living under the Lordship of Jesus it’s all change: One man who has been saved is now addressing all sorts of issues. He is addressing the kind of father and husband that he is. He is getting counselling for his alcohol addiction – wanting to rely on God rather than booze to get him through life. He has recently been convicted by the Holy Spirit of his need to stop stealing (including benefit fraud). As a result he and his family have less money to live on – but Jesus is His Lord. For the first time in over a decade he is looking for work – because God’s word tells those who have been stealing to steal no longer but to do something useful with their hands that they may have something to share with those in need. (Ephesians 4:28)
And of course all these things bring glory to God and directly affect and improve society at large… less debt… less money stolen in fraudulent benefit claims… less tax loss through knocked-off goods… relationships beginning to get sorted… children growing up to respect authority and to not join in with anti-social behaviour. These and other things are what governments across the world want… but they can’t do it because, despite billions of pounds and dollars being spent on social regeneration, only the gospel is God’s power to save those who are perishing – to really regenerate lives and regenerate communities.
May we have confidence to take the gospel to the ‘hard’ places of Britain! The truth is they are not that hard… in fact middleclass places where people’s lives appear to be sorted and respectable are much much harder! People think they’re okay, and that they don’t need God. But when the wheels are coming off (as they very obviously are in some communities), there are lots of opportunities for the gospel, and often openness to find out – and the change that comes to those who turn to Christ is incredible.
John writes: ‘Whoever lives by the truth come into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.’ (John 3:21)
When lives are so radically turned around in places of social difficulty, it is very striking, and obvious that only God could do such a thing. God chooses the places and people that we would never choose and through the gospel he transforms them. All glory be to Him!
Prompted by Andy’s post below to think a little bit more about the reality of conflict in and around our congregations i’ve returned to a chapter of a book, that i’ve found helpful in the past. How to act right when your spouse acts wrong: Leslie Vernick. I realise that the book is targeted at marriage, but don’t be fooled into thinking that the principles don’t apply into most areas of our relationship struggles. It could easily be titled, ” How to act right when you, and those around you, have screwed up”. The book is great at helping us unmask what is going on inside of us as we respond to conflict, it helps us to put Gospel armour on so we might overcome evil with good.
I particularly liked the chapter with the title; stop reacting, start responding. It shows that at our first contact with conflict we tend to merely react with the likes of anger, fear and guilt. The Lord is often not let into the scene. The author goes onto show that in the light of the Gospel we can respond in a way that overcomes wrong and evil with good.
Even if you aren’t married you will find this book full of practical theology, relational wisdom and Gospel responses. Enjoy
A few weeks back Pete Jackson and me did a seminar together at the Northern Evangelist’s Conference about reaching out to council estates. Pete’s material was excellent and he’s kindly agreed to let us all have a look.
Something strange has happened in conservative evangelical circles in recent decades. It seems that a strategy for gospel ministry has developed that goes something like this: Let’s reach the brightest and most influential people in society, because if we reach them we’ll reach the nation. And so there has been a concerted focus for the evangelization of our nation on university cities and towns (but mainly the bits of those cities and towns where the predominantly middle-class students and graduates live). To our shame the working class and, for want of a better term, the ‘benefit-dependant underclass’, have by and large, been ignored by our constituency.
But it seems that God’s strategy is very different to the way we have played things. A quick look at how Scripture reveals that God has operated in redemption history should give us confidence to take the gospel to the council estates and the high-rise flats and the visibly broken communities – as well as the other places!
We already know that the gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s power to save those who are perishing – and that alone should be enough to send us to wherever people live, for there is no other power, no other good news that will save those who are perishing.
But it seems to me that God’s word gives us further reasons for confidence to take the gospel to those places which from a worldly point of view would be considered the lowliest: the places where many people, given the choice, might not choose to live.
1. Through the gospel and for his glory, God chooses the places and people that we would never choose.
In salvation history God chose a people for himself – he chose a nation through which he would draw men, women and children from across the globe to himself through Jesus Christ. But God didn’t choose one of the large, great, powerful nations of the time like Egypt or Assyria. No, he chose a small, unimpressive, often dysfunctional nation – Israel (raised up, incidentally, from one of the most screwed up, dysfunctional families in Scripture!)
Over and over again we see God choosing and using individuals that the world would never have chosen… Abel not Cain; Isaac not Ishmael; Jacob not Esau; Rahab (the prostitute); Ruth (the Moabitess); Gideon (least in his family and from the smallest tribe); Nineveh (a place with a human-rights record worse than China and North Korea put together); and David (the shepherd boy with seven brothers all of whom, in worldly terms, were far more impressive than he).
When Jesus was born, to whom did the angels announce the birth of the Saviour? Not to kings or princes but to smelly shepherds – the equivalent of young men with an ‘ASBO’ who were only good for looking after dumb sheep. Then there are the twelve apostles – the world would never have picked them! How about that woman in Mark 5 – an unclean social outcast due to twelve years bleeding? She came trembling to Jesus aware that having touched his garment; his power had healed her and turned her life around. In the previous chapter, Mark tells of how the disciples were also terrified of Jesus when they saw his awesome power to calm a storm. Both the woman and the disciples were afraid… but Jesus calls the female social outcast ‘Daughter’ because of her faith, but criticizes his disciples at that stage for their lack of faith.
Jesus was not impressed with social status or riches. He commended the poor widow who gave two small coins to the work of the LORD, and implicitly criticized the rich who gave proportionally very small amounts from their vast wealth.
And there are plenty more examples in Scripture of God choosing those that the world would never choose. But why does He do it?
All for very good reason: Listen to what the apostle Paul said to the Corinthian church (a church, incidentally, with probably more ‘issues’ than any other that he wrote to). 1Corinthians 1:26-27
‘Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many of you were influential; not many of you were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are…’
Isn’t that brilliant! God intentionally chose those who the world would not choose. He did not target the well-qualified or the respectable, but instead, chose the low achievers and the people whose lives were a right mess (as a quick read through of 1Corinthians confirms).
The church then (and today) is living proof that salvation is not a human trick and is not to do with human wisdom or greatness. We look like a pathetic and feeble bunch compared to the wealth and celebrity and greatness of many in the world.
And the reason? So that on the last day, no-one may boast before Him. On the last day, no-one will say, ‘Of course he’s here in heaven… he was so wise, he knew so much… She was such a bright cookie – I knew she’d work it out eventually.’ No! On that day, apparently insignificant people who have responded to God’s word of the cross (the foolish message of the cross), will shame the one’s that the world in it’s wisdom would have chosen… the beautiful, the so-called ‘wise’, the rich, the famous, the powerful – and all who with them who turn their noses up at the word of the cross.
I used to be in a bible study home-group made up predominantly of professional working people most of whom had been Christians for many years. There was also a dear lady in the group from the local council estate. Her son was an alcoholic and drug addict, and her husband was chronically depressed. The family lived entirely on benefits and in worldly terms were nothing special. But this lady got saved. The striking thing about her was that although she was not academically bright… and though she was a new believer, she had a humble willingness to actually see what the Bible said (rather than assume that she knew the answer already), and so had understanding of the Scriptures that put the entire group to shame. And God gets all the glory!
I have a Christian friend who has been in and out of work – eight jobs in six years and various spells of unemployment. I have sometimes (perhaps naively) thought to myself that if things don’t work out for me I could get a job in Tesco. My friend aspires to work in Tesco – he has applied several times, but they won’t have him! He is inarticulate; he has no qualifications, but… he understands the gospel, loves Jesus, and is one of the best evangelists I know. The world would never choose him – not in a month of Sunday’s, but God is glorified through him.
God uses the weak, lowly and despised to shame the proud and strong. Glory be to God!
James 2:5 ‘Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised to those who love him.’
Yes he has – because that way, no one will boast before him. And he will receive all the glory. God uses the lowly to shame the wise. That’s the way God operates… and so it should drive us to the places we have avoided, and cause us to sit a bit more loosely to the humanly ‘strategic’ places. The council estates of Britain are great places to be doing gospel ministry!!! Interestingly in James 1:18, James tells us that is through the word of truth that God chose to give us birth. God chooses and draws people to himself, as the word of the gospel goes out (it’s the gospel that brings people to new birth). So we must have confidence to preach God’s word in the so-called ‘hard to reach’ places.
So first, for his glory (and through the gospel), God chooses the places and people that we would never choose. Second…
It’s a big issue anywhere, but I reckon helping people deal with conflict has got to be up there as one of the big issues for discipleship on council estates. Anger, violence, harsh words, lack of self-control has got to be one of the most destructive sins we see again amongst friends and family. Of course, on the other hand, I don’t want to suggest that middle class self-control and ‘restraint’ is any more godly. We’re not talking about polite passive-aggression as any solution!
Firstly, let’s think about conflict amongst Christians. Surely, resolving conflict peaceably has got to be one of the key counter-cultural elements of the church community. This is a key way in which we are different from the world. How do we do it?Turning to the New Testament it seems to me that being “in Christ” changes everything about how we deal with one another. This is the starting point for how Paul views other believers e.g. Rom 16:2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11b, 12, 22. When there’s conflict in Corinth, what does Paul ask Euodia and Syntyche to do? they are “to agree with each other in the Lord” (Phil 4:2). Not just get on with each other, but to submit their conflict to their both “being in Christ”. This is the framework or atmosphere in which we are to view each other as Christians, and how we are to view conflict with one another. What implications does this have?
1. I cannot distance myself from you as if you are a thing or an object because we are united in Christ. Whatever issue divides us, it is smaller than Christ.
2. When I look at you I must remember that I am dealing with a member of Christ, yes even Christ himself. When I wound/lie to/manipulate/rage at/hate you, I am doing all these things to the body of Christ.
3. All Christ’s promises are as true for you as they are for me.
4. The Cross saves you as much as it saves me.
5. When I speak truth, righteousness and goodness, I am honouring Christ in you.
6. When I am cowardly before you or avoid confronting your sin I dishonour Christ in you.
The point is: being in Christ does not mean that we stop having conflict or diasgreeing with one another. It does not mean that we avoid open and truthful discussion. Nor does it mean that visible, immediate harmony is the ultimate goal. But, rather, it means that we handle these issues in a unique way amongst ourselves. We remember that we are “in Christ” right now and that sets the parameters for how we deal with the conflict. Look here for an excellent article on creating healthy peace within the church community.
Further to Dai’s post about bringing kids up on estates i thought i’d direct you to an
that my missus did recently at a women’s convention. It talks about her fears, experiences, prejudices and discoveries. Obviously i’m biased, but i thought that for someone who isn’t confident speaking in front of large groups she did great. I’m also confident that it would be helpful to anyone who is thinking of making that kind of move.
Reaching out to Inner City Communities – Jane Casey
1. Why the inner city?
- The Lord goes after those we would easily overlook
2. Why not the inner city?
- Why the prospect of going was so unappealing
- Why the initial reality of going was unappealing
3. What i’ve discovered in our inner city community
- People are precious
- My own prejudices
- The need to bridge build
- We over-value worldly success
- God is sovereign
PS – At the same Link you’ll find material by Simon’s missus, Lizzie Smallwood. Well worth a listen too, i am told.
Jerram Barrs is helping me to think again about how to unsettle a bunch of lovable, but stubborn, old battle axes that i get to speak to every week about Jesus. We have a kind of pensioners “just looking” where they get a meal, get a message from Luke’s Gospel and then discuss it on tables with a leader, before doing some sort of activity. They are salt of the earth, quick witted, traditional working class ladies who love a bit of banter yet have a real hard time believing they need a saviour. They are the war generation, many of them having had to face very difficult times in years gone by. If there is one thing that defines them it is the proud announcement that, “we pay our way”. The day i suggested that we will give them a meal for free i nearly got linched! And, i’m sad to say, they respond to the Lord Jesus the same way. How do i unsettle their flimpsy self-righteousness?
Many of you will be familiar with the Tim Keller material on 3 ways to live (Religious: Finding righteousness in your performance and being your own saviour, Rebelliousness/license: Finding you righteousness in being your own Lord, Gospel: Receiving your righteousness from Christ and trusting Him as Lord), and i’m a big fan. But as i have tried to present Christ within this framework the ladies have applauded when they meet Christ the righteousness-giving saviour of the rebel, yet have remained painful unconvinced that they are so like the religious who need an alien righteousness too.
For that reason this book is giving me a few ideas to think through, as “plan B”, in helping these dear ladies (who i love dearly) taste their need of the Gospel. Here is a snippet from Chap 9 entitled “The Sinful Women and the Righteous man.” It is exploring how Jesus uses the law to unsettle those who are confident in their own righteousness by throwing them back to the law as a standard they can only fail to meet. I like Barr’s writing because it holds the law in such high regard. It makes me wish i could fulfil the law, and makes me rejoice that i have a saviour who did it where i fail. See what you think:
The Kindergarten of the Law
For many people the law of God (what God demands of us) must be communicated prior to the gospel. We might describe the law (i.e., ” You should obey these commandments; you should do these good deeds”) as “preparatory school” or “kindergarten,” a necessary precursor to the good news of the forgiveness of sins. Jesus essentially sends Simon to kindergarten, outlining the requirements for pleasing God and listing the acts of love that the woman has done in service to God’s Son. While the gospel (i.e., ” There is nothing you have done which can make you acceptable to God; acknowledge your guilt and need and receive the forgiveness of Christ”) is for those who know they are sinners, kindergarten is for those who don’t. That is why the sinful woman receives the good news and Simon is left with only the charge to serve God better.
So, when should we give the good news, and when should we send someone off to kindergarten? To which unbelievers should we give only the law for the present, and to which should we give the good news right away? These may seem like strange questions- a new way of thinking to some, and absurd or even heretical to others. However, there are many examples of Jesus doing precisely this in the Gospels. The Bible teacher (Luke 10:25-37) and the wealthy young man (Luke 18:18-27) are both given tasks and sent away to obey the law. They are sent off to kindergarten.
It may not disturb us that the Bible teacher is sent away to learn what it truly means to love God and to love his neighbour, so that he might discover that he too is a sinner in need of mercy. However, we find it more troublesome that Jesus also sends the wealthy young man away with a set of commandments to obey, even though he is a person who claims to be genuinely seeking God and eternal life. We want to say, ” Surely everyone needs the good news of forgiveness and grace. People should not be left hanging in limbo, trying to please God by keeping his commandments, when nobody will be saved that way. Why not tell everyone the good news and forget about ‘kindergarten’?” How should we respond to such concerns? In answering this difficult question, it will be helpful for us to compare what we see in Jesus with what is often the situation in the church today.
I’ve been greatly encouraged to hear of what Daniel and Grace have been labouring toward. I trust that you will be equally encouraged and motivated to pray – find out more at www.projectgrantham.co.uk
For a long time my wife Grace and I have had a burden for a large estate in Grantham, Lincs. We prayed about doing outreach there and felt the Lord was prompting us to start a church on the estate.
Grantham is a market town of nearly 40,000 inhabitants and the Earlesfield Estate is on the southwest corner of the town. With 5500-6000 inhabitants, the Earlesfield is within the top 25% most deprived areas of England.
We started in January 2009, reading lots of books on church planting and church models. We also began networking a number of church planters. The lack of resources and information for reaching council estates was evident and we have struggled to fully understand the mind and thinking of the people who live on the estate. Neither of us are from council estates and we have experienced a stiff learning curve.
Beginning last September, we took three months visiting all the local church leaders and Christians in the town with varying responses, many of them supportive. Since January 2010 we have spent approximately two days a week on the estate getting to know people. A questionnaire has proved very helpful and we find most people open to chat about spiritual things. A number of contacts are being worked on and relationships built. Bibles, evangelistic books and literature have been gratefully accepted. A team of Bible College students joined us for a week in February and we were able to run two children’s clubs in the community centre. These were well attended with many enthusiastic children.
We are in this for the long haul and recognise that it is going to take time to win confidence and trust.
We only know of one elderly Christian couple who live on the estate and they are planning to move away. We have yet to meet any other Christians.
The whole project so far has been bathed in prayer and we have set up a prayer partnership scheme. Over 150 individuals now pray for us regularly as we keep them informed of progress.
It is impossible for us at this stage to move to the estate (we live 20 minutes away) but we are praying that God will give us a couple who are willing to live on the estate and work with us. There is so much more we could do – 1) Regular children’s activities 2) Prayer meetings 3) Somewhere to invite people 4) Occasional BBQs/Games evenings etc. 5) Run courses e.g. Christianity Explored.
The spiritual ignorance on the Earlesfield is appalling resulting in immorality, broken homes, substance abuse, vandalism and a general despondency. The Gospel is the only answer and we are 100% convinced that the Gospel can and will change hearts and lives and in turn transform the estate.
Jesus says: ‘I will build my church’.
A very uncomfortable challenge for wealthy Christians from the great Scottish preacher, Robert Murray M’Cheyne:
“Your haughty dwelling rises in the midst of thousands who have scarce a fire to warm themselves at, and have but little clothing to keep out the biting frost; and yet you never darkened their door. You heave a sigh, perhaps, at a distance; but you do not visit them. Ah! my dear friend! I am concerned for the poor but more for you. I know not what Christ will say to you in the great day….I fear there are many hearing me who may know [now] well that they are not Christians, because they do not love to give. To give largely and liberally, not grudging at all, requires a new heart; an old heart would rather part with its life-blood than its money. Oh my friends! enjoy your money; make the most of it; give none away; enjoy it quickly for I can tell you, you will be beggars throughout all eternity.” (p.483 Sermons of M’Cheyne)
It struck me a while ago that church planting is a bit like surfing. The big thing with surfing (I imagine!) is that you can’t control the waves. The size and frequency of the waves are created by things outside of your control. In the same way, there are many things you can’t control in church planting and many challenges/opportunities you have no responsibility for and which you can take no blame/credit for. Your are dependent upon the waves God sends you. On the other hand, when the waves do come in surfing you have to get up on your board and surf. They don’t magically flip you up and balance you on the board. In the same way, in church planting you have to grasp hold of the things God gives you. You have to do the best you can to get up on the board and ‘surf’. You can’t just sit back and think things will ‘magically’ happen. God calls us to act – and His sovereignty works itself through our acting.
A simple analogy, I know, but this has really helped a number of times. When I look at my ministry it:
1. humbles me (when I think I’ve made things myself) because every ‘wave’ is in God’s hands
2. comforts me (when I feel ‘nothing is happening’) because I can patiently wait for God to send a ‘wave’
3. challenges me (when I become apathetic and lazy) because I need to ‘get up on my board’ and do the best I can to stay on.