In my previous blog I highlighted three lessons learnt from a book I read over the Summer, A Church for the Poor: Transforming the church to reach the poor in Britain today (Charlesworth, Martin;Williams, Natalie) as we look to launch our 4pm service. This blog gives a further four.
- A church for the poor will need to be aware of issues of race.
Race is hugely relevant to poverty in Britain today and therefore vitally important when contemplating how to build a church for the poor.
if a white, middle class leader stands up on a Sunday and says to the congregation that we want a diverse, inclusive church, but doesn’t ever invite anyone from an ethnic minority or working class or poor background to dinner at his house, we have to ask some questions about how important inclusivity really is.
It is encouraging that we have become increasingly inclusive over the last number of years, this seems to be a good foundation to really impact the poor in our society.
- Building an inclusive church which includes the poor is not easy.
Materialism can be an obstacle to building a church for the poor because it can hinder our generosity and cause others to feel that they need to attain a certain standard of living to ‘fit in’ with the culture of our churches.
So we need churches where the working class and the middle class sit together, speak with one another, share food and faith and find community that transcends postcodes and income levels and educational achievements.
But building churches where people from all different backgrounds form community is a time-consuming, painstaking, decades-long process.
If the largely middle class church is unwilling to modify its culture, there will be challenges. Also, if those making the journey into the heart of that community come from significantly different class, race or economic backgrounds—relational issues will often arise.
We cannot afford to be complacent, we need to be willing to put in the hard work and continually we willing to change as God directs us.
- Some keys for building an inclusive church that includes the poor.
So here are four key factors that usually have a place in the process of being called to work to build a church for the poor: biblical conviction, personal experience, community circumstances and prophetic leading. All of them will help us on the journey.
From a New Testament point of view, it appears that it is an important skill of leaders to set the main culture so that all the significant sub-cultures in the church feel that they have a stake in the main culture.
A mature church has a number of flourishing sub-cultures whose members feel both a security in their own sub-culture and an ownership of the main church culture, which, of course, takes them somewhat out of their sub-cultural comfort zone.
The combination of key activists with a strong and sympathetic leadership often opens the way to the growth of social and ethnic diversity in local churches.
four key foundations in the early church’s care for the poor. Practical care. Advocacy. Evangelism. Discipleship
There are four vital resources to consider.
Human resources – Social action requires leadership and organisation. This can rarely be provided effectively by church pastors as they have numerous other responsibilities.
Many projects can’t really get off the ground or develop well until suitable leadership is put in place. Once this has been done, then activists are usually not hard to find.
Spiritual resources – have seen too many cases of emotional burnout as church leaders, project leaders and church members wilt under the pressure of constant front-line caring and giving.
Wow – what a list. However, it is encouraging that much of this is happening. We have a biblical conviction that this is right, we have gained much experience (including the fact that I, Tony come from a working-class background, we also have circumstances and prophetic leading. It does seem as if God is with us.
Other things are in place.
- Some specific relevant advice for us as we start our alternative service
Care has been taken, however, to ensure that there is as much relational contact as possible between the two congregations even though they meet separately. This has been done through social events, personal friendships and church activities. In this way, a wider unity between them has been maintained. Also, some more established members of the satellite congregation have chosen to join the main congregation.
Preaching is fairly short, but very direct and practical. Storytelling in preaching is particularly important. Strong biblically-based talks with a single well illustrated point tend to achieve the best impact.
We are seeking to apply these.
Overall, I think we are in good shape to become even more a church for the poor, to become more like the church God wants us to be. Let us not be complacent, though and seek to pray and work it into being.
Written by Tony Thompson