Let’s be honest we’re pretty poor at listening to one another as christians. We’re prone to talking over or around or passed each other. We assume, we presume, we react, we get defensive, we don’t want to appear like we haven’t listened so we don’t ask clarifying questions, we don’t want to appear stupid so we don’t say we don’t understand. And so we mishear one another.
I wonder if that’s happening in some of the current discussions about class and the gospel in the UK. From what I hear the recent Acts 29 conference made a great start at clearing away so much of that, I was gutted to be unable to go due to illness as well as resentful of a wasted train.
But I worry that we will keep on missing the point in these discussions because we keep on talking past each other. Here are three key areas where I think this is the case:
We need a working Class church – That is not what I want, it’s not what anyone wants. I want a church like the early church with people from every part of society. The wealthy, the middle class, the working class, the slave. That is where the beauty of the gospel is truly seen. In advocating for a focus on the working class that isn’t at the expense of any other work, but it is alongside and as equally funded as any other work. At present Christianity in the UK is a largely middle class pursuit, with some notable exceptions. We need to redress the balance, not at the expense of any other outreach or gospel work but by prioritising and funding it equally to other outreaches and ministries. We want a class less church in the gospel sense, but that does mean we need to examine current imbalances and change accordingly.
We need working class leaders – That’s often heard as saying middle class people should stay out of estates. That’s not what’s actually being said. What is being recognised is that we need to raise up leaders from the communities we want to reach. I say that as a middle class guy working in a mixed area. I need to have a leadership that reflects the community within which we exist, every part of it. The best person to reach the estate is a guy saved from the estate but living on the estate. I am naturally at a disadvantage, I’ve compared it before to being a missionary taking time to acclimatize. It takes time to learn the rhythms and language and gain acceptance. A local guy has none of those issues, he can hit the ground running, he will instinctively know things which I will have to learn. We need more working class leaders equipped and trained and recognised because they are key to reaching these areas.
We don’t need training/Theology college is rubbish – It seems to some that we are anti-learning. That is rubbish. What we are saying is that existing models of ministry training have evolved to fit those they were intended for, largely those with degree level education, and with access to substantial funding to pay their way through college. Let’s be honest that route works for some and is right for some. But it is not suitable for those from working class backgrounds, where there simply isn’t the finance to pursue that model and where it is not suited to their way of learning. We need to think about new means of training suited to the people and areas we want to reach. I’m thrilled to see that beginning to happen with the Ragged School of Theology and Medhurst ministries.
My prayer is that this conference starts conversations that listen to one another rather than talking passed one another, so that we see real change. So that the gospel that is for all is taken to all.