April 12, 2013

How Can the Church Respond to Bankrupt Britain

‘Bankrupt Britain: An Atlas of Social Change’ by Daniel Dorling, says that society in Britain is shot through with inequality and poverty. According to their research:

It is well-known that of all the countries of Western Europe, the UK has among the highest rates of child poverty and by far the highest rate given the wealth of the country. (UNICEF figures)

But what exactly does child poverty look like in the UK compared to a starving orphan in Africa, for instance? Apparently, the UK now defines child poverty in the following way:

The proportion of children living in families in receipt of out-of-work benefits or in receipt of tax credits where their reported income is less than 60% of the median income.

All this means that in England in 2007, 21.6% of all children live in poverty. Beaten only by Tower Hamlets in London, Scotland is home to a massive number of children forced to live in these conditions. The highest rates of childhood poverty being found in Glasgow City, Dundee City, North Ayrshire, West Dumbartonshire, Inverclyde, East Ayrshire, Dumfries & Galloway, and North Lanarkshire. According to Dorling, (not substantiated but, still, believable) the largest group of the poorest households in Western Europe also live in these areas.

The question then is how do we respond to these findings as gospel believing Christians of all denominational persuasions? Can I make a few suggestions?

1. Christians need to be challenged by Philippians 4:11, now more than ever, about the need to be satisfied with what they have. As long as we continue to buy into the secular, materialistic lie that ‘up sizing’ is somehow glorifying to God, then the housing schemes of Scotland will continue to be laid waste (of course, in certain instances it may well be helpful and of benefit to the kingdom to upsize). Now, before you succumb to your ‘yes, but’ knee jerk reaction to that statement, just take a breath and ask yourself why many consider it sound, missiological advice to encourage indigenous people to continue living in schemes whilst they are happily miles away on the other side of town safe and sound in their beds? Imagine the impact if rich, professional Christians (and others) began a migration back in to housing schemes for redemptive purposes. I can guarantee you that this would cause a national ‘stir’. Maybe ‘social lift’ would be less of a problem for local converts if they had more of their ‘spiritual family’ around them on the ground.

2. We need to be offering hands-on training to a new generation of church-planting teams (men & women) specifically to reach these poorer areas. Niddrie Community Church is currently in discussions with other local churches in schemes/council estates in the UK about offering training placements for those wishing to engage in this kind of ministry.

3. We need to have a (minimum) 10–15-year plan when engaging in housing scheme church planting and/or revitalisation. It’s going to take time and it’s going to cost money.

4. We need to be looking to raise up local leaders decades in advance. Children and young people need to be a focus.

5. We need to be establishing‘real’ Christian community at a public and corporate level before locals will embrace us at a personal level. In other words, we need to be offering more than a service to invite people into.

6. We need to be preaching/teaching in such a way that presents what God is for and not what we are against.

7. We need to rediscover the importance of the local church as the best way to bring about change in these places as it seeks to evangelise and disciple people in the mess of everyday life.

8. We must embrace an evangelism that both calls people to come but also sends us out.

9. We must be prepared for messy discipleship issues. Oftentimes we take on an extended ‘family’ (often not in the traditional sense) as we work with an individual.

10. We must have a rigorous theology on issues that we may not have given much thought to. For instance, ‘What does the Bible say about signing on?’ Or,‘I am a Christian but my partner and the mother of my 3 kids isn’t. Do I stop having sex with her now?’ A couple of the easier ones!

11. We must be prepared to challenge the spirit of self-righteousness that permeates schemes. ‘I am a good burglar (I don’t rob from the elderly or the disabled). I rob people but I don’t take drugs. I beat people but I am not a kiddie fiddler’.

12. People respect firmness of belief. We must end this namby-pamby middle ground approach to theology and practice that ties so many Christians up in knots for fear of offending or being thought of as a religious nut.

13. We need a clearer understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Is discipleship merely doing a Bible study and praying with someone? It is certainly not less than that. But, it is also much more than the diary driven, time constrained, ‘fit you into my window’ offering that plagues much of modern Christian thinking. Doing life, as with Jesus and his disciples, seems to be the more biblical option. We need to look at how we pass the Word on verbally (not solely reading), and how we model it as people become involved in every area of our lives.

Some food for thought as we think about the providential opportunity the recent recession offers the local church to seek comfort in Christ, practice the ‘one anothering’ of Scripture, and to care for the poor and suffering in our communities.

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