“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!
There is a genuine fear that grips the hearts of many who dwell in the nations more ‘dangerous’ communities. Much of this fear is understandable as the streets are merciless: Violence, abuse, addictions, gangs, ASBOs, arson, joyriders, happy-slappers, daylight thuggery…it’s all happening out there and people are petrified – literally paralysed by fear.
Tragically, the same fear has infiltrated the ranks of the saints, to the extent that where churches do exist in these areas, they are all too often made up of weak-kneed believers cowering each week in their heavily fortified church buildings, afraid that engaging the outside world will inevitably result in persecution (they’ll damage us or our stuff) or pollution (their sin will lead our young people astray!) Consequently, the doors remain shut, the saints remain ‘comfortable’ and the lost remain hell-bound. This same fear is arguably the main reason that, while there is an abundance of hip churches being planted in ‘safe’ areas (appealing to students and the upwardly mobile 18-30′s), church plants behind enemy lines in the ghettos and sink estates of the UK are a rare phenomenon.
So how do we resist the temptation to slink away beneath the basket of fear?
In short – we embrace the gospel! Jesus didn’t shy away from the bad, the broken and the diabolical. Rather He made a bee-line for them! He pursued them all the way to a blood-soaked cross and beyond.
So should we!
However, it’d be foolish to suggest that obeying the gospel-call to reach the unreached is achievable without fear being a factor. Planting churches where Christ is not known is a scary business. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve trembled when confronted by very real (and sometimes savage) opposition, aggression and trouble. I completely get what Asaph was on about when He said:
“My flesh and my heart may fail…” (Psalm 73v26a)
However, by God’s grace I have learned that by the power of His Spirit fear is not a dungeon in which we need to dwell:
“…but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73v26b)
God is a liberator!
Yes, church planting in hell’s backyard is terrifying, but we are not in this alone – and that’s what makes it do-able!! When I first felt the call of God to take the light of the gospel to the darkest corners of Wales I drew my passion from the command of Jesus to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28v19). However, as I’ve come to understand the reality of what that actually means and costs I have found myself clinging ever tighter to the awesome promise found in the following verse:
“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (v20)
We are not alone.
God is with us, He is love and perfect love drives out fear.
May His presence keep us joy-filled, gospel-faithful and basket-free!