June 3, 2013

Don't Let Personal Prejudice Get In The Way Of Leadership Development

Long-time followers of this blog will be only too aware of my opinion(s) on the reason we have such a shortage of healthy gospel churches and trained, indigenous leadership in the poorer areas of the UK. Pretty much all of the internships, training pathways, and leadership development initiatives are aimed at, and packaged for, the middle classes and those with a high standard of education. Very often, people from poorer backgrounds who come to faith are overlooked, not properly discipled, and not given the opportunities afforded the (so-called) ‘brightest and best’—a mentality that (not so) subtly influences far too many churches.

Of course, for many churches, this lack of development is down purely to the fact that they do not work in poor areas and are, culturally, leagues apart from a massive percentage of people who live in the UK. For others, engaging with the poor means nothing more than engaging in mercy ministry or some form of specialised outreach. Far too many churches have no plan for the intentional discipleship and training of converts from poorer backgrounds. They are just not thinking that far ahead. One Church of Scotland Minister recently said that 20schemes was not needed because, “every Parish has a church”.  But, the fact remains, we have a crisis in our schemes and in our council estates throughout the UK.

Not only are “Parish churches” declining, but they are not seeing any young men and women coming through to leadership, regardless of the presence of religious buildings. Although it is a nuanced issue, some of this, surely, has to be down to the prejudice of the majority Christian culture. Many men and women from our backgrounds just do not fit into established middle-class churches. We are the ones expected to adapt to the majority culture, and that will include leadership. I think the issue for many is that their faces do not fit. They don’t wear the right clothes, read the right books, and talk the right way to be leaders in a largely middle-class cultural context. They will be overlooked for those who fit the right profile and will blend in to the status quo. It’s frustrating. It’s damaging. It’s sinful. It needs to be addressed.

So far, so normal for this blog. As regular readers know, the aim of 20schemes is to try and redress the balance and encourage church revitalisation, planting, resourcing, and training for indigenous converts in poorer areas in order that they will be the future generation of leaders. The problem is that, at the moment we have very few, if any, working examples where this is going on and so we are having to establish our ministry vision using, largely, middle-class cultural outsiders both from the UK and the USA. The problem? Most of these people are not like me. Most of these people are, in fact, very different to me. They look different, they dress differently, they talk differently, and I find many of them to be very formal (almost coldly clinical), particularly in their speech and (perceived) well-to-do demeanours. I mean, some of them admit to watching “Strictly Come Dancing” for goodness sake! During the interview process and reading application forms, I have groaned inwardly time and again and wondered how on earth many of these people are going to be any good, or even slightly effective, in housing schemes. My temptation has been to write people off because they don’t quite fit the mould of my ideal candidate for scheme ministry. Really, what we need are more people like me. That will get the job done. That will ensure success for the 20schemes vision.

Read those last three lines again because I did say them out loud. So, in effect, I too am guilty of (largely unconsciously, though not always so) judging people very different to me. Not only that, I am seriously tempted to overlook them for ministry, and even pass over them for opportunities to serve God in schemes because they are not ‘just like me’ enough. I find myself as guilty as many churches, and leaders, in the UK right now of ‘leadership development prejudice’. And it is sinful. And it has been sobering reflecting on this over the past few months. Who am I to judge a person because he likes hummus and I like chips? Who am I to say a man is not qualified for this ministry because he is a little shyer than I am or he’s never so much as looked at a pint of Lager? Who am I to say that a girl might not cut it with people on a scheme because she enunciates all of her words and speaks with a (perceived) posh accent? God is bigger than all of these things. We must be too. I must be. I often forget that the very people who reached out to me with the gospel were vastly different to me. Middle class, squeaky clean (in my mind), and completely naive to my world and issues. Yet, God, grace, and the power of the gospel overcame it all. Which makes it all the more breath-taking, I suppose. My leadership development prejudice is actually an attack on the power of the gospel to do it’s job by using people we would never imagine in ways and areas we would never dream possible.

I am praying for my own heart in these days in all of these matters. I am praying that I can rise above my cultural bias and inverted snobbery, and I am praying that 20schemes will not reverse model which has been going on for far too long in our schemes and council estates when it comes to ministry and leadership development in the UK.

Pray for me. Pray for the work of 20schemes.

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