Over the Summer I read numerous books, which is something I look forward to and benefit from. One of the most helpful and encouraging was co-written by a personal friend, Martin Charlesworth; A Church for the Poor: Transforming the church to reach the poor in Britain today (Charlesworth, Martin;Williams, Natalie).
I found it encouraging, and challenging. It was encouraging as it indicated that in many ways we are on the right lines in what we are trying to build here at Hope Church, challenging because it highlighted the importance of what we are trying to do as we seek to start a 4pm service every Sunday from 15th October.
I would highly recommend you buy and read a copy.
Here are some of things I found particularly helpful and some comments on them. (More next week).
- We need to move beyond just social action projects.
The church has more to offer those in need than just social action projects. People are more than ‘clients’—outcomes are more than statistics. People need friendship and community. People need to be valued. Many need someone to walk alongside them as they try to find ways of rebuilding their lives.
We need to find ways of integrating those from poor or deprived backgrounds into church communities, especially as some embark on a spiritual journey towards faith in Christ.
A church for the poor will not draw a false distinction between social action and evangelism, and it will not just provide practical assistance. It will boldly and humbly offer the gospel message to answer the deep spiritual poverty that so often exists side-by-side to material poverty.
Social action is only a part of the story. If we stop there, then we run the big risk that, for the most part, churches will still be relationally and culturally disconnected from the people they are helping. Sometimes social action projects accidentally reinforce existing social divides.
This is something we have realised and is the motivation for starting our 4pm service which will be held every Sunday at 4pm from 15th October. This will build on the work we have been doing over many years e.g. our High Town community worker, Open House; support of Azalea.
- This was what happened in the early church.
To summarise, it seems that the apostles were making a big effort in the Jerusalem church to create a community that accepted all comers, was rooted in personal generosity, was socially inclusive, and had systems in place to help the poorest and most in need.
The pattern is the same wherever we look: all New Testament churches focused on remembering the poor in whatever way was most relevant to them. It was a priority, not an option.
We are left with the unmistakable impression that the churches of the apostolic period were not middle class enclaves, but a wonderful social mix of classes and races and cultures with a strong numerical representation within them of people who were relatively or absolutely poor. This was indeed a church for the poor.
What we are doing is Biblical, it is about seeking to restore the church to how Jesus intended it to be.
- We can learn from churches in previous generations, from Methodists to the Salvation Army to Baptists with Spurgeon.
The genius of the Methodist ‘class’ system was that these groups were easy for the working class poor to join.
Early converts did not feel that they were joining a middle-class church—they felt the Salvation Army was their own, part of their own culture.
Booth believed that the institution of the local church had to look and feel significantly different in order to attract and keep those facing poverty.
The Salvation Army’s straightforward liturgy, direct preaching style, military culture and clear ethical teachings were all designed to be accessible to converts from poorer parts of Victorian society.
Spurgeon’s own city centre church remained largely attended by the middle classes of Victorian London, but he used the resources of his huge church and the training college he had founded to open the way for church planting in the poorer districts of London.
These are important points as we seek to launch our alternative service.
Written by Tony Thompson