Is it really the best news in the world?

Be honest with yourself do you really believe that the gospel in the best news is the world?  That everyone of your friends, family, colleagues, neighbours and whoever else you might meet would be better off knowing Jesus?

I wonder if subtly our society has led us to individualise that idea.  So the gospel becomes, not good news for everyone but, good news for me, for my tribe, for the

Want, Need And Must Havechurch, for those who like that sort of thing.  Do we really believe that everyone’s life would be more full of joy if they knew Jesus?  That my neighbour down the street who has everything the world can offer, doesn’t have everything they need?  That my friend who is suffering would have more joy if they knew Jesus?  That those whose lives are full of devastation and loss and isolation or guilt, addiction and restlessness could find hope in Jesus?

I’m not sure that we do.  We are not convinced the gospel is really good news for everyone or we would tell everyone, we couldn’t be stopped.  Yet I see in myself and others a reticence to share the gospel.  Some of that may be caused by hardship and suffering we are going through, some of it may be because of the material prosperity of those around us, some of it may simply be because as Brits we are experts at hiding how broken, lonely and searching we really are.

Ask yourself that question.  Do I really believe this is the best news in the world?  That everyone would be better off knowing Jesus as their Saviour?  Stop and examine your life and see what it is telling you the answer is.

What’s the answer?  Now stop.  Don’t berate yourself.  Ask yourself why?  Why do you think like this?  What is it that you believe is better in the world?  What are you tempted to believe is a better answer than the gospel?  Examine it, turn it over, see its flaws.  Then turn to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and read it and see all that is ours in Christ, go on.  Now make a list; from death to life, from lost to welcome, from divided and hostile to united and loving, from without blessing to blessed beyond imagining, from darkness to light and all by grace.  Read that again, isn’t that the greatest news, no burdens, no sins to atone for, just grace, grace, grace?

Drink it in, fill your heart to overflowing with that good news, ask God to help you take in it’s breathtaking scale and scope.  And then look again at the world outside your window, or cubicle, and ask; Do I really believe this is the best news in the world?  And what will that mean?

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We will leave a light on

I don’t know what you think about Halloween, and to be honest I’m not really Light Partythat bothered.  For the last couple of years we’ve made the most of the opportunity and hosted a Light Party for families in the community.

Last night was no exception.  We keep it fairly simple, there’s a big game all together at the start for 10-15 minutes or so as people arrive.  Then it’s a carousel of smaller games (Jar-pong, apple bobbing, crafts, beat the blindfolded keeper, splat the rat, tower of light, and so on), with sweets for each win.  Then we provide hot-dogs and drinks, before a Bible talk on the theme of light, and then a final game, last nights was fishing for donuts.

It’s a fun hour and half.  Last night we had over 50 guests.  There were loads of families from our toddler group come along, and it was great to get to know them a bit better.  Lots of children from the school came and dragged their parents along.  There were old friends, and new contacts.  We pray and hope it will be a bridge for some from the community to other church events, and we pray the simple message we shared of Jesus, the light in our darkness, is a seed sown that eventually bears fruit.

We’d love you to be praying for those that were there.  Last night made us aware again of how stretched we are, almost beyond our capacity to do the event well.  Without a couple of our teens who spent hours setting up, and running games, and others who gave so much of their time we couldn’t run such an event.  But out biggest struggle last night was that we only had 7 adults from church there, each was running at least one game and/or craft, in some cases 2, or cooking.  And that meant we were stretched in terms of time to chat to parents and build relationships beyond a few snatched minutes.

We’ve learned from experience that the calvary isn’t coming.  So please pray that some of those who were there as guests last night would come to follow Jesus and that next year they’d be there running games and serving and chatting for the glory of God, holding out the light they have found to an area in darkness.

Is a lack of holiness our real problem in evangelism?

mind the gapI’m all for cultural engagement.  There are lots of echoes of the gospel story in music, film and books.  And it is good for us to watch with eyes wide open and spot those and talk with others about them.  They can be great conversation starters about Jesus and we ought to take them.

But here’s my slight concern.  In the rush to be culturally aware I worry that we’re basically trying to be less holy so that the world likes us and therefore likes Jesus and will listen to the gospel.  Here’s the problem, firstly that doesn’t work, when was the last time a non-believer said ‘Wow!  You’re just like me there must be something in what you believe.’  Secondly, the world doesn’t need us to be more like them it needs us to be less like them and more like Jesus.  It needs to see what purified believers look like.  It needs to see people sold out for God.  What God’s radical kingdom looks like not a half hearted compromised version of it.

The reason Israel failed to be the light to the nations it was intended to be wasn’t that it did not engage enough with Canaanite culture, but that it aped Canaanite culture too much.  It became just like them.  It was not holy.

I’m very aware that that brings challenges.  I’m not suggesting that we withdraw from society, not at all, but that we live holy lives in society.  And yes, that does mean there will be things our friends and family and work colleagues do that we don’t take part in.  Yes it might mean they accuse us of being prudish.  But holiness isn’t just about what you don’t do but about what you do do.

To be holy is to be pure but it is also to be more loving than the world can imagine.  A love that acts and cares and provides for others, even those who oppose us.  To be holy is to be generous and merciful but to stand up for what is right.  I wonder if we’ve dispensed with the purity part of holiness, arguing that it made us seem like a prude.  Rather than adding to the purity the love that is also a part of holiness.

What if we were the most loving, gracious, welcoming people, but we also lived pure lives, if we fought sin in ourselves (not go on a moral crusade against culture) and loved in such a way that the cries of ‘prude’ or ‘bible basher’ (other far worse insults are available) died on their lips and instead they were intrigued enough to ask about Jesus?

How Grace in Christ frees us for courageous leadership

What does it look like to lead successfully?  Is it numbers?  Is it growth?  Is it planting another church?

There are a number of perils associated with leadership; pressure, people looking at and up to you, the fear of being the one that screws up, wanting numerical growth, to run a successful mission, to be respected, to lead well, and be approved of by our own, and other, church leaders to name just a few.

Those pressures can lead us to be one person up front, or when leading or with Christians and another in private.  That’s what the bible calls hypocrisy, wearing masks, taking on the role of an actor.  And that is a tragedy and a recipe for spiritual stagnation at best and shipwreck at worst.  So how do we avoid that?

Here’s another question to think about; which matters most in leadership competency, character or capacity?

The bible stresses character above competence, but that character flows out of capacity, not a capacity for workload, but a capacity to grasp, live and lead out of God’s grace.  Because it’s our capacity and hunger to understand and know God through the Son by the Spirit that sustains us, keeps us, enables us to love, forgive, risk and not be crushed if and when we fail or are hurt.

In Isaiah 6 we see Isaiah’s commissioning and he’s told that his mission won’t be welcome, that it’ll be risky and be a failure in terms of results.  No crowds repenting, no buzz about his ministry, no acclaim, no followers on Twitter and yet God calls him to this risky unpopular ministry.  Ask yourself honestly how keen would you be to sign up?  The question is what will sustain Isaiah in that ministry?  What enables him to keep going?  What stops him being crushed or giving up?  Because what sustains Isaiah will sustain us.

Isaiah 6 calls us not to look externally but to look at God we serve.  To see God in all his holiness, sovereignty and grace because that will enable us to keep going, to risk, to lead, to love even when things are hard.

Seeing God and Receiving Grace

Isaiah’s vision of God comes in a time of pressure; King Uzziah has just died.  He’d ruled well; was a brilliant military leader and social innovator and Judah had flourished under his rule.  As he died Judah was uncertain about the future especially as Assyria was growing as a threat.  But as the human king dies and the future looks so uncertain Isaiah sees a glorious vision of the real King whose reign never ends.

John 12 tells us that Isaiah actually sees God the Son, a pre-incarnate Jesus in his glory.  He sees him ruling and reigning on his throne, above all, this is where the real power lies.  And just the train of his robe fills the temple, the place which symbolises God’s presence with his people.  Just the trailing edge of his glory fills the temple, so great is his majesty glory and splendour.

The glory of God is underlined by the description of the Seraphs who hover above the throne.  They are awe inspiring in their own right, their voices shake the temple, but they are just God’s servants.  They cover their faces from looking at God’s glory, they cover their feet and call to one another

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

These amazing creatures praise God because he is holy.  We misunderstand that word, we think it is cold, dry, and distant, about restrictions and can’t do’s.  But it’s not, the word holy means totally set apart, not in terms of being aloof or not wanting relationship – that can’t be right because God is Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit, he is a loving relating community and creates us so we can share in his love.  Holy means God is totally different from his creatures.  Jonathan Edwards wrote “Holiness is more than a mere attribute of God, it is the sum of all his attributes, the outshining of all that God is.”

And how does Isaiah’s react to seeing God in his holiness and glory?  “Woe to me!”  Ch5 is full of woes on society and its failings but now in God’s presence Isaiah is personally unmasked.  In God’s presence there’s no argument, no comparative righteousness just an awful awareness of sin in contrast to God’s holiness.  “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the king, the LORD Almighty.”

He highlights his lips because they reveal his heart; we never speak what is not already in our hearts. Do you ever catch yourself saying something and then trying to take it back, saying I didn’t mean that?  That’s a lie.  We did mean it, it was in our hearts, what we mean is I didn’t mean for you to hear what’s in my heart, what I really think!

But secondly compared to the seraphs knowledge and worship of God his own praise from sinful lips is unfit.

Seeing God, understanding more of who he is always unmask our sin, our fears, our hearts.  We pick up our bible and read of God’s character; his love and concern for the poor and find ourselves convicted of our half or hard heartedness.  We read of God’s compassion for the lost, a compassion so great that God takes the ultimate risk in Jesus becoming man, living, and dying and it convicts us of our half hearted concern for family and friends or our fear of risk and love of comfort and familiarity.  Knowing God convicts us until we stand with Isaiah and cry “Woe is me!”

That’s a right reaction, we should be amazed at who God is and convicted of our sin.  Turn to Luke 5:1-11 we see a similar reaction when Peter realises who Jesus is, he drops to his knees and cries “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.”  Isaiah and Peter are both forced to confront their sin in the face of God’s holiness, you and I as we spend time with God and get to know him better will be forced to confront our sin, to see how its roots are more deeply enmeshed in our hearts than we ever dreamed.  Sin separates us from God, and we are helpless to do anything about it.  Isaiah doesn’t cry out for salvation, he simply realises and confesses his sin.

But (6-7)God acts by grace, a coal is taken from the altar where the peace and sin offerings were made which atoned for sin, and it atones for Isaiah’s sin.  Grace is God’s initiative, God’s love freely given to undeserving sinful people.  Isaiah experiences grace just as we do, the altar points to Jesus, the sacrifices which that coal has consumed point to Jesus sacrifice once for all.  Grace is all a Holy God’s initiative and is extended to undeserving sinners.

Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking God’s holiness is the flip side of the God’s love.  In Batman  Harvey Dent, aka two face, has a normal half to his face and a horribly disfigured other half.  He has a coin similarly marked and when making decisions he flips it to see which side of his character will act.

Tragically we can think like that about God; love is one side of God’s character, holiness the other. People even say that is reflected in the Bible, the OT shows the holy wrathful side of God, the New the loving, gracious side of God.  That’s utterly wrong and blasphemous!  God’s holiness is all about his love, it flows out of his love.  You see that here, God’s holiness is his difference from us and our failings and sin, but it doesn’t make him harsh and judgemental.  Because God’s love is also holy just as his holiness is love.  It’s not just his perfection that is other than ours it’s his love, you see we love what we find lovely, he loves because he is love and that means he sets his love on the unlovely, the unholy and makes them holy!  His holiness makes him welcoming and loving and that’s seen in his provision of grace to undeserving Isaiah, it is seen supremely in Jesus who is terrifyingly holy but who lovingly welcomes, bringing sinners back to God by grace, making atonement for us at the cross, making the unholy holy and the unlovable beloved children.

Seeing the holiness of God will show us more of the depth of his love for us.  We mustn’t shy away from reading or exploring God’s holiness because in knowing God we will be more amazed at his grace. It is seeing God’s grace that fuels loving service; that saves us from being crushed by failure or paralysed by fear because it thrills our hearts with his grace.

Grace sustains and liberates us to serve(8-13)

I wonder how you picture(8)?  I’ve always pictured Isaiah stood bravely and heroically declaring in a loud voice that he’ll boldly go on this impossible mission, not unlike Captain Kirk boldly going on the Starship Enterprise.

But I’ve realised that’s wrong.  Isaiah humbly offers himself to God if God could possibly use him.  It can’t be any other way, can it?  He’s just seen God in all his glory, he’s heard God speak, he’s in the presence of the awe inspiring Seraphs.  He can’t in that company be thinking ‘Yep, I’m the only man for this job, God is lucky to have me’.  He’s been humbled and made aware of the sin of his lips, but God has shown him grace so Isaiah humbly offers himself if God can use him.

What is it we need in leaders and as leaders?  An awareness of the greatness of God, a sense of wonder at the grace we have received, and a humble desire for God to use us for his glory.

And what a task Isaiah is given(9-13).  He’s to preach to people who won’t listen, his preaching will harden their hearts.  As he warns people that they have broken the covenant and calls them to covenant faithfulness they won’t listen.  It’s not the way he preaches which makes it hard, in fact some people rejected his words because they were too simple.  So why will his preaching harden?

Because preaching the truth confronts people with their sin and they react one of two ways, they either respond like Isaiah or they reject it, that rejection acting as part of their judgement as they turn their back on God’s word.  In John 8:45 we see the same thing in Jesus ministry.  Jesus, speaking to the Pharisees who reject him because they are Abraham’s children, says “Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe in me!”  That is an astonishing statement, in ch12  we see these words from Isaiah used to explain why so many reject Jesus.  We must expect the same and that will save us from being crushed when people reject the gospel, it’s not a personal rejection.

God’s truth provokes reaction.  However there’s a danger in over realising that truth, it can make us callous and hard hearted – serving, leading, sharing the gospel as a duty and not caring for people. Isaiah asks a brilliant question which shows that he has God’s heart (11)“How long, Lord?”  The answer is until the exile brings destruction, a destruction so harsh that even when a tenth is left it will be laid waste again.  God will judge his people who reject him, his word, his grace, but God still loves and therefore Isaiah still loves.

Leadership burn out is a reality and one of the key factors is lack of response so how on earth does Isaiah keep going in a hard mission field?  I think two things sustain him and will sustain us. Because being a Christian is tough, leading is hard.

Firstly Isaiah knew God.  He knew God in all his glory, splendour and rule and the joy of having his sins forgiven – he remembered and lived out of his identity – who he had been made in Christ.  Whatever he faced, whatever rejection it was not outside of God’s control, and it never mortgaged his experience of grace and challenged his identity.  He was not defined by his ministry and its success or how people viewed him he was defined by grace as a child of God.

Secondly he preached aware of judgement and hope.  (13b)“But…”  If (v9-13a)are judgement here comes the hope “as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”  Judgement was not final, that phrase looks back to Abraham and the promises made to his seed, promises God would keep, and to God’s promise in Gen 3:15 about an offspring who would conquer sin.  But it also looked forward to the “shoot from the stump of Jesse”(Isaiah 11:1) the Messiah and the kingdom he would bring.  God will judge sin but he brings salvation. There will be a day when God will be with his people he has made holy through his Messiah.

Both hope and knowing God will sustain us.  As we lead it is knowing God in his holiness and love that will keep us going – we will dry up and shrivel and burn out if we don’t keep refreshing ourselves in who God is and what he has done for us, if we don’t keep mining the depths of grace as we are confronted with the depths of our sin in the face of the holiness of God.  And we must remember that God is sovereign even over people’s rejection of the gospel or we will exhaust ourselves trying to do what is God’s work in our own strength.

Training at every level

I like an easy life.  I like pre-packaged.  I like off the shelf solutions.  The problem is they just don’t tend to work or translate into our context.  In a small church we have people who love learning, who are decidedly bookish.  But we also have people who have a chip on both shoulders about education and for whom courses, books, and the normal way churches do training just doesn’t work.

I spent last week at the Union Conference as I prepared to be lead mentor for our Doncaster learning community, where we’re offering the Graduate Diploma in Theology. It’s been interesting hearing people’s surprise at a church like ours offering such a theological course (I’m deliberately keeping off my soap box about what that says about our expectations and prejudices).  And we offer it knowing that it isn’t for everyone, in fact it isn’t even for the majority.

But I am very aware that if we are going to re-evanglise Doncaster we need people who have been trained to this level.  And as the cavalry aren’t coming from the South or the big City/Town churches in Yorkshire to Doncaster we need to be strategic in preparing to do it ourselves.  If we want to see churches established and planted that means we need training on every level because we need leaders on every level.

As a church that’s our aim.  Or perhaps it would be more honest to say that’s certainly what I’m trying to find time to think through.  I want everything from evangelistic, and pre-evangelistic opportunities, and people across the church trained in how to run a variety of courses and less formal approaches, to Graduate Diploma’s because we need people who are learning Christ and loving Christ.  People who are cascading that love of Jesus, who are overflowing (in a good way – think champagne and fizz, not toilets and sewers) about the love, grace and welcome that they have found, and know how to share that with others and then disciple others.

We need leaders at every level, from those who teach at toddlers and disciple our young people on Sunday to those who are stepping up to practically love and serve the church as deacons and are teaching and shepherding as elders.  And I want them all to be growing in their understanding of scripture, to have a sound grasp on grace, to hold fast to the deep truths of the gospel and to pass them on one-to-one, and when we gather.

The danger is that our current lack of leaders paralyses me, that I think I just can’t do it – my mind is often at its most creative when finding excuses.  But unless the church grows its leaders it can’t expect to have any.  I can’t afford to wait, we as a church can’t afford to wait.  As pastors we need to train, to disciple, to raise up.  That means alongside our GDip, we’re beginning a new leaders training course on Sunday’s once a month exploring what church leadership is, how to pray for your leaders and what leadership at every level looks like.  It also means we want to look at everything above, below and in between.  Not to do it all at once and burn out but to create an atmosphere where growing and loving Jesus more is the norm, where discipleship is the norm, where growth is expected.  Where every part if doing its work and the gospel is seen.

Where as we grow leaders the expectation is that they play their part in growing leaders.  Modelling love and service of the Father, Son and Spirit who loved and served us.

Witnessing is the natural overflow of a growing love for Jesus

Overflowing-CupI have a confession to make.  I get frustrated at people not sharing the good news of Jesus.  That frustration has shown itself sometimes in an over focus in applying sermons to that end – get out, witness, share the gospel, tell your friends, you are the missionary to your office, street, neighbourhood and so on…  It’s easily done.  We can manipulate statistics to show the need, especially if we live in the North.  We can preach on passages that vividly picture the plight of the lost.  Evangelism is a biblical imperative.  But guilt is a horrible, inadequate and temporary motivator.  And such motives will skew the way we share the gospel.

I’ve been struck this Lent as I’ve been praying through our 40 Day challenge that actually what we need as a church is to be filled to overflowing with an awareness of the wonder of the gospel.  To taste and see over and over and over again the goodness of Jesus.  To be aware of my sin and how far short I fall and how Jesus makes up for all of that and so much more and that it is all a totally undeserved freely given gift of grace!  It is only as I am filled to overflowing with that truth, as it captures my heart, that I will love others and share the gospel as overflow.

We are all natural evangelists.  We talk about what we are excited about.  Just think about this last week, what have you most passionately shared with others?  Your teams promotion, your grandkids performance, your teachers unfair punishment of you, your future plans for this or that.  We are all natural evangelists for what we believe in and what we love.  What fills our hearts flows out of our mouths.  And that is true of the gospel too.  So I need to do less hectoring and nagging about evangelism and more lifting up Jesus.  Less ‘here’s an evangelistic course bring your friends’, more isn’t Jesus wonderful come taste and see.  Less evangelism as an application and more adoration of our Saviour that leads to an overflow out of the heart.

Leaders lead they don’t tell others to go where they won’t

Leadership is hard.  It takes time and thought.  It both acts and speaks.  It sacrifices and pours itself out for others and yet also at times forges ahead, leading others where they are reluctant to go for their good.  But leadership can never be done from behind the frontlines, it must be embodied, fleshed out, seen, on the front line.

To that end we need to call out people when they try to lead from behind the frontline.  When they try to send others where they won’t go.  I’ve had a few conversations with people about working in or going to church in hard places.  Invariably they have seen it as their role to play the role of the influencer, to go to, or stay in, the comfortable places rather than the hard place.  To stay and influence rather than uproot and risk and go.  They reason that from there they can have a greater influence, sending people, encouraging people to join churches in hard places, on estates, in the north and so on.  But it doesn’t work, because our actions belie out words.  We’re asking them to do something we won’t.

When we read the Bible God sends.  Just think of Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, Jesus, Paul and so on.  They were not called to send others to do what they would not do, they were called to go.  And that going took them way outside of their comfort zone.  They influenced others not from the comfort of home base but by leading and walking with them, modelling Godliness on the frontline, in the struggle.

As the church in the UK we need people to go, to get onto the frontline.  To influence others yes, but to influence them to join them in the places of most need because the north, our estates, and huge swathes of the UK face a lost eternity whilst we’re sat pretending we can influence others from our comfortable places.

Leaders lead.  Influencers influence by going not talking.  And God calls us to go.

We need generous gospel giving not poisonous patronage

As a small church we have always depended on others for our financial survival.  We are immensely grateful for the gracious generosity of our partner churches and individuals who partner with us in accepting that where we are we’re unlikely to be become financially self-sufficient.  These partners are prepared to commit themselves and their money to give long-term to enable a gospel presence and witness where we are.  We exist in part because the gospel has influenced these people’s wallets.

It’s a picture we see again and again in Acts.  Be it Barnabas with his generous giving or Paul’s collection for the churches in need.

If we want to reach the unreached parts of Britain with the gospel we need more people, and more churches, to grasp this kind of big-hearted generosity and commit long-term to supporting churches in tough areas.  Too often church planting is targeted at areas of affluence, areas where churches that stick can become self-sustaining financially, ideally within 3-5 years.  But that severely limits where we plant and who we reach with the gospel.  As well as establishing unhealthy correlations between numbers, finance and gospel success(?!?).

The other problem I sometimes see is a poisonous patronage.  An expectation that because I or we give we expect some measure of control, some influence, some say.  It goes back to feudal lord mentality.  The haves hold the purse strings so they give but those strings stay attached to their money.

I am so grateful that those who support our ministry are humble enough and trusting tough to give, pray and encourage rather than dictate because they feel their giving has secured some patronage.  The question the church in the UK needs to ask how do we facilitate more of this type of giving to support more of these types of plants in these needy areas of not just gospel deprivation.

If we are going to train up leaders for these gospel deprived areas we need leaders trained in them and yet it is these very churches that so often do not have the finance to do so.  Most assistant pastor positions are in middle class churches that have the resources to train the next generation.  But with the best will in the world they can only prepare someone so far for ministry in a deprived area and context.  The best place to train more pastors and planters for these areas is in these areas.  What will it look like for the church to grasp this challenge?

 

Each one reach one

use-meI don’t think we’re alone with this but I think we as a church have a tendency to assume evangelism is other peoples job.  We talk about sharing the gospel, we train for it, we hear preaching on it, but I wonder if somewhere subconsciously we think it’s someone else job.  We’ve tried to address that in our mission statement – ‘we exist to equip God’s people to speak and be grace where God has placed us for his glory.’  But I still have a hunch people are thinking it’s for the natural evangelist, maybe for the pastor, or the real keenies it isn’t for me.

We’ve run a course called Sharing Jesus and walked through Uncover John this academic year looking to train people in evangelism and defeating defeater beliefs.  But there is still that barrier.

I’m toying with trying something different this Sunday.  Each one reach one.  What if each member of church took that responsibility this week to reach one other person with the gospel?  What if each family took a responsibility to reach out to and show love to and live out the gospel in front of one other family this week?  I wonder if the problem with our talk of evangelising the neighbourhood or the workplace is just too big.  Whether simply focusing on each one reaching one makes it seem more tangible, more possible.

Imagine the impact if each one of us reach done other person with the gospel this week? What if we did that every week?  If we boldly lived out the love of God, if we shared our faith and its impact on our lives, if we opened our homes and let people see the 90% that remain under the surface, unseen.  If we opened our mouths and boldly shared the good news, addressed peoples hopes and fears and dreams and identity with the gospel of Jesus.

Mishearing

Let’s be honest we’re pretty poor at listening to one another as christians.  We’re prone to mind the gaptalking 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.