June 4, 2014

Too Posh to Be Effective in Inner-City Ministry?

I get to travel and talk to a lot of churches about the work of 20schemes. Given the demographics of evangelical churches in the UK and the culture within which it (largely) operates, a lot of the young people that talk to me are well educated and middle class. Almost always, their first question is: “Am I too posh to work in the schemes?” That is a good question.

Despite objections (usually from those in power) that the class ‘thing’ is overplayed, there is a definite cultural divide along class lines in our country. People feel it. How they walk. How they talk. How they dress. How they handle conflict. All little tell-tale signs. Now the young people in question wouldn’t claim to be posh. They would claim to be normal. They would claim that the one’s making all the class distinctions are ‘us’ (the working/lower class). In that, they are probably right. We ‘urban poo’ don’t just have a chip on our shoulders, we have the whole bag of spuds! To us, ‘posh’ means that you like humus, have both parents together, and probably play a selection of board games with your pals in the evenings. We like the chippie and the X-Factor. Posh folk like Strictly, Downton Abbey, and a glass of red with friends.

So, as I check out my earnest little inquisitor (note the customary shirt and slacks), my first question is: “Do you think people are going to hell unless they turn from their sins and put their faith and trust in Christ alone for forgiveness?” If they answer yes to that question, then we are in business. If they go red, quibble, um and ah and generally look uncomfortable, it’s probably a good bet that they’re not going to be cut out for ministry in our setting.

You see, at 20schemes we don’t care how posh you are (well maybe a little bit) we just want to know if you’re genuine. We just want to know that you will give us straight answers to our direct questions. I have guys on my team who eat humus! I know! Can you believe it? My Assistant Pastor watches Downton despite all attempts to rehabilitate him. He even carries a satchel through the streets of Niddrie, and I often have to endure the scorn and shame by walking next to him when he does it. But you know something? Niddrie wouldn’t be the same without him. Our church wouldn’t be as cool. My life wouldn’t be as rich. Who would there be to mock about his posh ways? He is known and loved around our scheme, largely because he is a genuine man who loves people and is willing to speak straight up into their lives.

Do you know and love Jesus Christ? Do you love people enough to tell them about their sinful condition? Do you love the local church? Are you willing to get deeply involved in messy lives for the long haul? Then keep your M & S boxer shorts. Keep your special edition Royal Wedding(s) Box set (in a drawer obviously). I have three planters working in some of Scotland’s ‘roughest’ schemes. All are from middle-class backgrounds. All are cultural outsiders. Two of them would be considered posh by our crew (the other one looks like one of the hairy bikers) but I think they are going to be OK. They are going to teach us a lot. We are going to teach them a lot. They are going to suffer culture shock (although they don’t realise it yet). They are going to bring colour into their communities. More importantly, they are going to bring gospel light. What does it matter if they do it sipping chai tea lattes? They are doing it at least. And I am grateful for them. I am privileged to get to train them and to teach them. They’re not too posh for this ministry. Nobody is. The thing is, I’m guilty of class prejudice. It is a sin and I am constantly repenting of it. I do what we all do. I judge a person by how they dress and how they speak. But, thankfully, the Lord judges the heart. It is the character beneath that will tell if the person will stand the test of this ministry (or any ministry). Sometimes, I have called it right and people have not been suitable. Many times, I have called it wrong and the man/woman has absolutely smashed it against all odds. I have learned to reserve judgement and slowly but surely God, by His Holy Spirit, is whittling those spuds on my shoulder down (there is still a long way to go). Posh doesn’t come into it. Do you have a heart for it? Do you have the character for it? Do you have the theological and doctrinal conviction to go with these attributes? Are you teachable? Bosh. We are in business.

How about the team in your church? How many guys (and girls) with tats, bad teeth, and a checkered past are being welcomed into leadership? Think about that as you prepare this week’s sermon to the strains of Bach.

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