If we really want to make an impact for Christ in the many housing schemes up and down our nation, then we must be prepared to move into the area. This is the golden rule. There are no exceptions for our leaders. Ministry will fail dismally, particularly if the leaders are not part of the community straight away.
I inherited a church for renewal, so my elders don’t yet live in, but the challenge has been laid to them. Also, I have (at the moment) two police officers in my congregation and it would be worse than foolish to move them into the scheme because their houses would become a target. Even if they didn't mind this, it would not be fair on their young families left alone at night whilst they work shifts. One family have compromised by moving as close as is feasibly safe to do. But, as far as possible, this rule sticks.
Now, I have been criticised in the past for using the term “must” when it comes to this issue, but I stand by my case. I agree that “must” is a strong word. Usually, I would bracket it with the term “in my opinion” on matters like this. If asked to prove it biblically, I think the knee jerk reaction could be to run to the doctrine of the incarnation as a “proof doctrine”—particularly at a macro level. It’s the usual, “God became flesh and dwelt amongst us” train of thought. The logic being that his incarnation gives us a model for ‘incarnational’ ministry. Doubtless, we are a “sent” people (Matt. 28), but I have my suspicions on using the incarnation in this way.
Simply put, for me, it is a big ask not to identify and contextualise the good news unless we are prepared for “full immersion” (in the non-baptistic sense). In Acts 20, when Paul was bidding farewell to the Ephesian elders, he said he not only proclaimed the word to them but reminded them of the “manner in which I lived among you” (v18). Granted, there are no direct imperatives here to “live on housing schemes”but even this superficial, cursory glance at some texts points me toward my position stated in the opening sentence.
One of the great benefits of living in the community is that you soon get to see, experience, and learn what the great needs of the area are. This in turn means that you are more than sympathetic to local needs, but you are fully aware of them because they affect you too. It stops us from becoming insular and only seeking what is best for our lives and our families. It gives us a true heart for our community, much more so than if we just travel in at weekends for the odd service and maybe a midweek meeting.
Rob Lupton has identified three kinds of people who move in to housing scheme communities:
1. Relocators – These are people who weren’t born in the area but have moved in to the neighbourhood.
2. Returners – These are people who were born and raised in the area, moved away for a time (usually seeking a better life) and have chosen to come back to their childhood home because they no longer feel trapped by the sociological pressures.
3. Remainers – These are those who understand the problems associated with living in the area but, despite them, have chosen to stay to work for community renewal.
It is a truism that we don’t really start to look at serious solutions to problems until they become our problems. Moving into a scheme soon gives us an appreciation for the troubles and concerns and causes us to think about how we can best try to resolve them. For instance, it has been interesting to note in my church how the language differs between members who live outside of Niddrie and those who live within. Those who live within use words like, “we” and“ours” and those without are more likely to say,“theirs” and “them”.
Anybody hoping to begin a church plant in a housing scheme needs to give up now if your first thought is not to move into the area. The chances of developing deep relationships, building a witnessing community, and seeing gospel growth are massively increased if we live in the scheme. This is so simple that it shouldn’t need saying, and yet most Christian works on many of the schemes I know are done by para-church organisations with no real foundational base in the community that links them to a lively, local body of believers.
Whilst not decrying the work that many of my members do, it is fair to say that 100% of the relational work we are involved in is a direct cause of those members who live on the scheme. Attendance on Sundays is always helped when locals can walk into a building and be greeted by people they already know. It makes a huge difference when we can walk around the streets of the scheme and people either know us personally or, through their friends, know that we are ‘from the mission’.
Please pray for us as we encourage more members to move onto the scheme and as we work with the locals. Pray that God would save more of them and that they, in turn, would draw friends, neighbours, and family members into the community of faith in this place. Please pray for 20schemes as we seek to develop this model as we recruit church planters, female outreach workers, and ministry apprentices for the needy schemes of Scotland.