This is a key area of gospel ministry in housing schemes. Many local churches completely devolve their responsibility in this area to Bible Colleges which I think can be, in some cases, to the detriment of the church and the person being ‘trained.’
Certainly, in housing schemes, we need to have a clearly defined, multi-faceted approach to developing the next generation of leaders. Of course, the most effective leaders are indigenous leaders, but what do we do when this is not happening, nor likely to happen for many years? I am not a truly indigenous leader (I’m not from Niddrie) but I am a ‘culturally indigenous’ leader. I grew up on sink housing estates in Northern England and, therefore, I know the broad ‘estate’ culture. On my ministry team I have a group of people who consist of imported middle class (‘cultural outsiders’), indigenous locals, and other culturally indigenous people. Each have their strengths and weaknesses.
These are generally middle class young people who have a heart for the schemes but do not have the life experience and/or ‘cultural nous.’
Positives: They are often very bright, good learners, and bring a sense of self-discipline to the team. They may have had some sort of formal theological training, or they may be thinking of doing so in the future. They have come to Niddrie to gain some insight and real-life experience of what is involved in full-time ministry, particularly in this context. They are almost always strong on interpersonal skills.
Negatives: They are often extremely naive when it comes to dealing with (some) manipulative locals. They also tend to have a highly romanticised view of ‘the poor’ and this can quickly lead to depression and despondency when reality hits. The drop-out rate for this group is quite high—maybe 80%+ do not go on to do this type of ministry. However, those who make it through the first couple of years usually stay on long-term. They can have a tendency toward paternalism when dealing with local people who they view as less educated, less intelligent, and less able to deal with complex theological thought than they are. This is almost always evident in a lack of growth amongst those they are reaching out to and/or discipling because they are often molly coddled and overly protected.
This group is the long-term future of the work in housing schemes. In Niddrie, many of our converts are in their late 30’s & 40’s (we have the odd one in their 20’s) but, regardless of age, many of them have serious mental and/or psychological problems. They are just not cut-out for positions of leadership. They are strong in terms of relational ability with people in the community, but they will not be the future leadership of the local church in the scheme. That lies with a longer term 10-year plan (minimum). It is why the ministry team at NCC have committed to at least 10 years and why, after gaining independence, we have shifted much of our focus onto children’s and youth work in the scheme. We must have a dynamic ministry in this area. It is telling that hardly any young people have come to faith in Niddrie in the last decade. I am willing to go out on a limb and say that this is not just confined to our scheme.
Our future indigenous leaders are about 5 years old right now, and so we have to invest our time, energy, and resources into evangelising and discipling them, enabling them to grow into the next generation of young, Niddrie-born, Christian leaders. As Christians in schemes, we must buck the trend of‘moving out and up’ and replace it with ‘staying put and developing.’ We must stay, and we must help them to stay, in order to build and establish a strong, healthy, dynamic Christian community in the heart of this community.
Culturally Indigenous Leaders
We can continue to recruit cultural outsiders whilst we work on our long-term objectives, but I think we miss a trick in our context if we don’t place a value on culturally indigenous leaders. I have a couple of young men on my team currently—one Scottish and one English. Both have been to prison and have grown up in schemes. They have a built-in cultural awareness and an intuition that cannot be taught. They are fearless when it comes to dealing with locals and have no problem sharing the gospel boldly and aggressively. They have many weaknesses, not least of which is a more chaotic approach to life. They make mistakes, they can lack personal discipline and can struggle with ‘stickability.’ But, they are teachable, bright and soak-up biblical teaching and doctrine. Again, they intuitively apply the Bible without having to be told. There are many such men and women like this around the country, usually sticking out like a sore thumb in middle class congregations.
I have lost count of the number of calls I get from churches around the country asking me about ‘x’ who has come from a ‘difficult background’ (read, ‘prison and/or drugs’) and is ‘struggling to fit into the church’ (read, ‘we don’t know how to adapt to this individual and they would probably be better off with you’).
At one level, churches like this should stop complaining and just get on with it. It would do every church in the country good to get a couple of people from ‘difficult backgrounds’ and learn how to deal with them biblically. Not only that, but disciple them and take a risk by giving them some leadership responsibility. Except, the fact is that once you come from a ‘difficult background’ the danger is that you then become that church’s flagship ‘testimony bearer’—wheeled out for evangelistic events but not really thought of as a potential leader. That goes to the nice middle class people without any ‘issues’ and who don’t have the same ‘baggage’ (discuss!).
In Niddrie, one of the ministry areas I would like to develop is an on-the-ground training course for culturally indigenous leaders, in order to better disciple, equip, and send them back out into the thousands of needy schemes across the country. We could do some serious damage for the kingdom with this strategised approach to training. I think this could be a key area as we try to regain a foothold in many of these places.
This is a topic I want to write about further, including dealing with the financial concerns of these approaches. However, in partnership with Porterbrook Training Material, I believe the future could be bright for our many needy housing schemes in Scotland. I think it can be implemented across these‘leadership types’ and tailored to suit our specific needs. What our communities need are strong, young, Christian leaders from all backgrounds, working together, learning together, united by Christ and pushing forward for the kingdom of God in some of our country’s most deprived areas.
Please pray for us as we continue to think and work on these thoughts in partnership with others.