May 21, 2013

The UK Church and the Poor: Why Have We Fallen So Far and What Can Be Done About It? (2)

Yesterday, we looked at the problem of the lack of churches and indigenous leadership training in council estates and housing schemes across the UK. Today, and for the next few days, I would like to offer some possible solutions to tackle the issues.

We need to give our younger converts ministry responsibilities more quickly than is often the case. Often, the middle class approach to leadership training is, “Prove yourself and then we will see”, but a better way within scheme culture is, “Take responsibility until you prove you are unable.” In other words, give local converts responsibility more quickly and release them into areas of service and teaching (not just chair stacking). Alongside this, shadow them. In other words, equip them from behind and from the side, not just from up front. Walk with them. That is how Jesus did it with the disciples. They did life together and he taught them along the way.

At Niddrie, we have a young Youth & Community Trainee who has been saved for less than a year. She is a local girl who came to us with no previous knowledge of the Bible. Within two months we took the decision to employ her part-time to reach out to young people in the area. Before long, she started a Bible study with five friends. She knew hardly anything, except the gospel, but within weeks, some of her pals were attending the church and a couple were saved, closely followed by her sister and her boyfriend. She made more progress locally in six months than we did in six years.

What we did in the studies was to let a mature Christian woman sit in, but not lead, just to offer help and advice if our young lady got stuck. With this culture of freedom, she has gone on to start other ministries within the community, whilst simultaneously being trained through our teaching programme. Remember, the state has made people passive. We need to get them younger and give them responsibility more quickly because, my experience is that by allowing people freedom to minister sooner, it actually frees them for ministry, allows the gospel to spread more quickly, helps them mature, and gives them the ability to develop spiritually.

“Seek out people with high leadership potential. Assess their current strengths and weaknesses. Challenge them with tasks that are slightly beyond their comfort zone. Support them in the tasks.”

Teach cultural insiders and indigenous people the gospel in culturally understandable ways, and they will be able to express it more easily to their people than outsiders. They will do this naturally once they understand it. We need the gospel to go viral before we establish our leadership structures. It will only go viral if new converts are released early, not over discipled or molly coddled and not expected to live up to some super idealism imposed from cultural outsiders. The early church was a bit of a mess, but the gospel also went viral as it fell into the hands of ordinary people. Let it loose and mop up the mess afterwards. Far too many leaders are control freaks. Of course, we will face the accusation of promoting people too quickly. This is a favourite one of cultural outsiders. Leadership development requires practice as much as knowledge and character.

Jesus allowed the early disciples to engage with him in ministry. They failed, they misunderstood him, and they let him down, but none of that suggested they weren’t ready. Knowledge is good but insufficient on its own. Remember, Bible college students who think they can preach a good sermon are no good if they can’t understand the basic principles of cross-cultural communication and culture.

Create a culture of multiplication in everything we do as Christian leaders. Why are we not multiplying churches in housing estates and schemes? Because it is not being modelled at the ground level. We have to model this across every area of church life. Who are you multiplying yourself into? Hebrews 10:24. Who are we provoking into love and good deeds? Are we stifling growth by making people over reliant on us, our theologising, and our approach to ministry? What is your plan for freeing people into ministry? Are we keeping our spiritual children in nappies for too long? It’s like seeing a 9-year-old being breastfed. It’s not natural. Cultural insiders and indigenous people are not going to look like outsiders. They won’t be polished or have Bible College education, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t lead. In most middle-class churches, the cream rises to the top. But in estates and schemes, we have to dig through the coal for the golden nuggets. They are usually hidden under a bit of a mess.

We must promote and build a culture of failure in our ministries. We are so puffed up with pride that we think any person who falls or goes back to their old ways is somehow a black mark against us. That, somehow, we look bad or our ministry isn’t as legitimate as a person’s who looks more successful. If we’re not failing, we’re not growing. We are going to make some mistakes with leadership, and we should get used to that. It will help with our process of discipleship.

Again, Jesus gave the early disciples room to fail. They often learned in the heat of battle. We must loosen the reigns. We must fight the fear that they’re not ready. That is the killer on the mission field, and hampers more than it hinders. Since when did it become more biblical to be cautious rather than taking risks? The early church leaders would have been very young in their faith.

5. We must repent of our lack of faith in the power of the gospel & the Holy Spirit to transform the unlikeliest people into future leaders. The fields are white unto harvest. God is doing a work and will continue to do a work in our areas if we just trust him, preach the gospel, and release people into ministry. It really is as simple as that. They may not look like us and they may not be just as we’d like them to be, but we have to give room for God to do his work. We can’t just hold people back in the name of spiritual maturity. Some of those we let loose are going to fall away. Read the Bible. This was an experience that even Jesus suffered. Take another look at that diamond in the rough, who you may see in your congregation as not even close to leadership material. Take another look, and maybe invest some time, and who knows what God will do. I know nothing will happen if we continue to overlook many in evangelical churches who don’t quite fit the current cultural mould for leadership.

Part III tomorrow.

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