So a contemporary of mine was headed off to Leipzig to plant a church there, at the same time I was off to Dagenham. Because he was going overseas, churches responded enthusiastically to his requests for money and equipment, and to enter into gospel partnership with him for the long term. People assumed, because we were going somewhere in the UK, that that sort of support was unnecessary.
My observation is that churches in the UK think we are ‘Jerusalem’ – in other words, the gospel is going out from us to the ends of the earth. But actually we are the ends of the earth! We are the mission field, the place to which the gospel is going out, every bit as much as it is to Leipzig or Uganda or China.
The mission agency Crosslinks recently produced a pair of world maps. They showed the striking contrast of relative material and spiritual poverty in the world. Although materially wealthy, the UK and Europe are clearly among the darkest and most spiritually bankrupt places on the globe. A recent survey showed there were less Christians per capita in Yorkshire than in Japan!
My point is that we should view the pastor-evangelists in the UK as missionaries every bit as much as those going overseas. And where they’re going into under-resourced situations, there should be no less enthusiasm to respond to requests for money and equipment and long term gospel partnership. Most of the RTU churches we speak to are small in numbers, with members in the lowest income brackets. Gospel mission cannot be sustained there without support. I keep coming across pastors, their families and churches struggling to survive because the sort of support afforded overseas missionaries is simply not in place for them.
What are the chief enemies?
- An unhelpful ‘british’ embarrassment to talk about or ask for money. But we fail to ask because we mistakenly think this is about funding me and my family personally. Whereas it’s actually about investing in vigorous gospel mission right on the front line.
- The prosperity gospel causing us to hesitate. So many pastors have fleeced the sheep instead of feeding the sheep,that we’re afraid our request for money will be misunderstood, that we’re in it for the dosh. But this simply requires us to be transparent, & to have budgets that clearly meet our needs, not provide for our luxuries.
- The isolation of independent churches. For all the benefits of being free from denominationalism, independents have little experience, and an innate suspicion of networking & partnership. We’ve got to get over this and start connecting with churches of means. For generations this is how gospel mission has been funded and resourced overseas.
As a way ahead we need to explore:
- For long term resourcing – how to connect churches and individuals of means with pastors and churches on the estates and housing projects. For example, in Dagenham we have benefitted from long term gospel partnerships with 5 or 6 churches and 10 to 15 individuals, who have enabled us to sustain a team of 4 for over ten years. We have had some additional funding from charitable trusts, but that only lasts for 2 or 3 years at a time. We have close connections with our long term gospel partners, praying for each other, occasionally engaging in mission together, & taking a real interest in each other’s work.
- For short term resourcing – how to sponsor training. Is the way ahead to create an RTU trust fund to which men and women can apply, to see them through courses and residential training? It will take huge start-up donations to establish such an instrument but we believe in a Lord who can do more than we can ask or imagine.