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!