May 22, 2013

The UK Church and the Poor: Why Have We Fallen So Far and What Can Be Done About It? (3)

This week we are looking 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. This is part III of a continuing series. Today, we look at some helpful tips for cultural outsiders coming to work in council estates and housing schemes.

Be sure we understand language being used. Even the Holy Spirit communicated the truth in local language (Acts 2). This is a problem even if we all speak English. For example, on schemes we value straight talking, as a sign of respect in our relationships, whereas more middle-class people often value relationship by seeking to tailor language so as not to offend. One side looks rude and aggressive, whereas the other appears wishy-washy and superficial. Be careful to understand how a person speaks and acts before attributing suspect motivation or a character flaw. Many housing-scheme converts are overlooked for leadership because they can appear gauche, rude, aggressive, and black and white in their outlook on life. Understanding our culture can help with some of that and take the edge off (so to speak). We must, of course, challenge sinful behaviour whatever our culture, but I fear many are not being used because of a lack of understanding in this area.

Cross-cultural exposure is an absolute must for leadership development, particularly for cultural outsiders coming into a housing scheme context. Do not for one moment make the mistake that, because we speak the same language, we have the same cultural values and norms. Gaining cross-cultural experience, no matter how brief, forces us to ask difficult questions of ourselves, our own cultural preferences and blind spots, and, in turn, hopefully, drives us to seek biblical solutions as we operate outside our natural bounds. Those who have done this are far more likely to succeed in later years in a ministry such as ours.

All outsiders must be able to come in and love the culture/community rather than see it as something that is more damaged than their own culture and in need of greater fixing. We must appreciate that, as with the doctrine of total depravity, every culture and socioeconomic group in the world has been damaged by the Fall. There are positives and negatives in all cultures. Our job is not to fix anything, but to share the good news and disciple those God draws to himself. We must be watchful for our ethno-centricities.

Aligned to the above, we must constantly be assessing the strengths/weaknesses of the culture we are engaging with. People come into council estates and housing schemes with many assumptions and presuppositions about what it and the people are going to be like (dirty, crime ridden, criminal, etc.). It is easy to focus on the strengths of our own cultures and examine them in light of the weaknesses of a culture outside our experience. The key is observation, observation, observation. This was Paul's approach in Acts 17 before he brought the challenge of the gospel at Mars Hill. Not a prescriptive text, but not an entirely unhelpful principle.

Embrace conflict as a discipleship tool when you build teams, particularly when mixing cultural outsiders, insiders, and indigenous people. I have issues in my office every week with people misunderstanding one another, misreading motivation, bad use of language, and cultural misunderstandings. It is normal. It is something not to be avoided but used as an opportunity to challenge one another’s heart issues. The mature learn tolerance and patience and the young learn how we resolve conflict. All are blessed by the sanctification process. A team without conflict has either buried it or consists of only one person. If we employ and train only people like us, then we will produce only people like us to reach people like us. We don’t want to employ ‘yes men’ and women. We want strong, free thinkers who submit, ultimately to authority, but push the team and ministry forward. Conflict needn’t be a killer.

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