January 10, 2013

Can I Plant a Church in a Deprived Area Even if I Don't Come From That Background?

One of the questions I am routinely asked by (mainly) middle class, educated people who are interested in this type of work is: “Can I do it even though I don’t have the life experience or cultural background?” My answer is (almost always) a resounding, “Yes!” We don’t disqualify people from planting in a particular context because they weren't born in it. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have had a modern missionary movement because everybody would have stayed at home or only reached out to people like themselves!

Many of us need to swallow our pride and do away with our misconceptions. We have to get to grips with a simple fact: Scotland is as unreached today as some of the darkest parts of Africa were hundreds of years ago. If this is true of Scotland generally, it’s even more true of the schemes. Many churches have either shut down or relocated. Some have been left with socially aware but theologically liberal clergy doing lots of good deeds but managing a dying institution. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that many churches in housing schemes are burying far more than they’re baptising—and have been doing so for many-a-decade.

Because of this, there simply isn’t a generation of culturally indigenous church leaders coming through. However much we may want to see local leadership, it’s just not there. Therefore, it must be generated. It must be developed and trained. All of which is going to take a long time. When I first came to Niddrie, they hadn’t seen a local convert in 10 years (or more). All the younger believers had been shipped in from the mother church in the city centre as they sought to “revitalise” the church in the scheme. And yet, there wasn’t a local believer in the building under 60 years of age. It was desperate!

By God’s grace, things are markedly different now, several years in. We are, at last, beginning to see some momentum. But, how have we done it? In order to answer that, we need to understand the following missiological categories.

At Niddrie, I categorise people in the following way (for the purposes of this article, not in reality, you understand).

  1. Cultural Outsiders. In other words, those who do not come from a housing scheme and/or council estate background.
  2. Culturally Indigenous. Those of us who did grow up in, and understand, housing scheme and/or council estate culture, yet are not indigenous to the one in which we are serving.
  3. Fully Indigenous. Those who have been saved from their own housing scheme and/or council estate and are now engaged in reaching it with the gospel.

When I first came to Niddrie, there was myself and a single mother who we employed to work in our community cafe. Both of us were“culturally indigenous.” Then there was my wife, who was a complete “cultural outsider.” There were no local converts.

So we had to import our leaders from those who were “cultural outsiders.” We needed them to generate initial momentum. To that end, we employed a youth worker and an assistant pastor. I spent the early years training and developing them in terms of outreach and discipleship. We then began an internship training programme. Again, with very few converts, we had to initially import from outside of the culture. Years later, we’re now seeing the fruits of our long-term objectives beginning to bud.

Currently on our apprenticeship programme, we have two fully indigenous women who are actively engaged in teaching and discipling within the community. We have a Brasilian who has been a resident in Niddrie for over four years. In our entry-level intensive discipleship programme we have four men, all of whom are “cultural insiders.” They’re being taught to not only receive but serve the community, and we’re hoping they will progress into full time apprentices over the next 12–24 months. All are (or will be) meeting, studying, and praying with people from around the scheme from all sorts of cultural backgrounds. This is healthy and it has taken time to develop. My team is purposefully “broad” as we seek to try to (1) reflect the cultural makeup of those around us and (2) build an effective model for training future leaders.

The point is that even though we may be years away from producing elders and church leaders, we could not have made the strides we have without the initial (and ongoing) help and sacrifice of “cultural outsiders.”Those people were prepared to admit their frailties and lack of insight, but open enough to sacrificially move into our scheme and rally around our long term vision of producing indigenous leaders who will go on to train indigenous leaders and pastor and plant churches all over Scotland (and further afield!).

Please pray for the work of 20schemes and for young men and women from all over the globe who would be willing to come and join us in our vision to not only reach the lost in our schemes but disciple and train them to become the future leaders and gospel preachers in Scotland’s needy housing schemes.