Archive for the ‘8 Keys To Housing Scheme Gospel Ministry’ Category

Avoid Paternalism & Dependency

Many, great, Western missiological thinkers have battled with the issue of paternalism in cross cultural contexts for decades. What exactly is paternalism?

The essence of paternalism is providing outside direction and resources by some “mature” party to someone considered “immature” and not yet capable to carry full leadership responsibility. Though it is much more than providing money, money is a tremendous force for paternalism.

It was an issue I battled in Brasil when I planted the “Good News Church.” We wanted to pass full responsibility on to a Brasilian pastor pretty quickly but many missionaries felt that I needed to stay longer to “train and develop” the people. I was 31 years old, had only been saved 8 years, it was my first church plant, I spoke basic Portuguese and I had limited pastoral experience. The man they wanted me to “train and develop” was in his late 40’s, had been a believer for over 20 years, a pastor for at least 15 of them, was a professor of Greek and Hebrew at a local seminary and wanted to take over the pastorate of the church. You tell me who needed “training and development?” The issue was because I was white, Western and had a few more quid in the bank that somehow I was better qualified than my Brasilian friend. They were wrong and we left.

Paternalism can be a danger in schemes, particularly when middle class believers can (sometimes inadvertently) come across as superior to those who may not have had the same basic education or even read as many books as them. They can view the “people” here as somehow inferior and in need of their particular brand of godliness and expertise. In Niddrie I work hard to ensure that people know we are all equal in God’ sight and some of us have particular talents. The point is that ALL who come to Christ have been saved to serve and thus the Holy Spirit empowers, equips and gives gifts to ALL people in order for them to serve Him better. The key is to not elevate one gift above another and to unlock the gifting in each individual. We must give people a chance to serve and not wait until they are somehow magically “ready” or we feel that they have every part of their life “in order.” Otherwise, we will be waiting a long time for development at any level on the schemes. Paternalism (closely linked to control) is a safe game to play but it usually results in stunted growth, both for the individual concerned and the gospel witness in the community.

Closely aligned to this is the problem of dependency. Once we have reached out to people and they have become a part of our community (both as Christians and otherwise) we have a duty to teach them to take responsibility for their own lives. The danger for many ministries in council schemes is that they can create dependency. The government (and society) is paying the price for this now with our current benefits system. In the OT, in particular, we read that God taught his people to care for the poor but we also read in Deuteronomy 24 and Leviticus 19 that he set in store the principle of “gleaning” so that they could take care of themselves. Yes, we must try to take care of the needs of our own people first (believers) and then those in the wider community, but we must also try to operate systems where people can work to ease their situation (we offer various incentives for this at Niddrie). If they are not prepared to look at ways (in partnership with us) to better their own lives, then we are not prepared to do it for them. I think we are on solid, biblical ground with this approach to both evangelism and discipleship here.

We have made some mistakes in these areas at Niddrie but, thankfully, God has been gracious to us. I pray that he would continue to be so as we make some more mistakes in the future. Sometimes it is messy in schemes and there are no easy answers. Sometimes there are quick solutions (rarely) but often it is painstaking stuff. People just want help out of the moment of pain they are in and our instinct is to do it for them, but we have to be brave enough to see the bigger picture and not just stick a plaster on a gaping wound. God help us as we reach out to the very many needy on our doorstep in ways that glorify God, honour the gospel of the Lord Jesus, serve our communities and empower those in need to partner with us in helping themselves and giving back to society instead of just taking all the time.

A Wholistic Approach to Christian Discipleship

We would be foolish to think that the many problems of housing schemes could be solved by any one approach, or if we just managed to solve one particular problem. We see the foolishness of this thinking in Niddrie as we observe the many tens of millions spent on building new homes and schools etc and yet many of the deep, underlying spiritual and physical issues remain. It is naive in the extreme, for example, to think that many of our problems here can be solved through education alone. Can it help? Of course it can. But not as a stand alone solution. It is laughable to suggest that what our schools need a better teachers as if somehow that is the magic wand that will make everything better. It doesn’t matter how good a teacher is if a child will not obey (and many of the teachers here are excellent anyway!). It doesn’t matter how clever they are if the homes many of their students come from are dysfunctional, violent and lack any moral boundaries whatsoever.

At the core, the issue is spiritual(from the Christian worldview at least), but even that on its own is often not enough. “Proclaim the gospel, is the battle cry of many a church, and let the government take care of the rest.” Yet, in Niddrie, when a person makes a profession of faith that doesn’t stop their drug dealer (apart from a lack of income) or their slum landlord from abusing them. They couldn’t care less and will, often very purposely, seek to take advantage of them, Christian or no. Coming to faith doesn’t immediately resolve debt issues, or solve their addictions and/or mental health issues. It doesn’t stop their partner from beating them or sexually abusing them. It doesn’t get their children back from the social services.

Churches need to develop a wholistic and comprehensive approach to discipleship in housing schemes. Yes, our concern is for their spiritual development primarily, but we cannot just leave them in the wind with the other stuff.  This is why having and/or planting  local community churches is essential to the big picture in housing scheme ministry. People need to get connected to community very quickly so that the workload can be spread and Christian people can use their differing skill sets in order to deal with the whole person. This is a relationship that can be beneficial to both parties. On the one hand, the person being helped can see that we care about them and not just about the committment they have made. On the other, the person who is discipling can be challenged by the freshness of a new believer alongside the complexities of teaching the Bible within such a difficult set of scenarios. Spiritual growth for both parties can be little short of astounding. I have seen huge spiritual transformation in many believer in Niddrie as they have had to interact first hand with many of our new believers.

We must see our churches as networks of skilled people: doctors, social workers, driving instructors, council workers, accountants, and lawyers. Of course, these skilled people are not readily found in scheme communities, they left town long ago. But we can (1) encourage them to return for the gospel’s sake and (2) seek the help of other communities in the city who have this skill set. All of these individuals can be used by the wider church to bring their expertise to bear as we seek to rebuild lives in a gospel centred, wholistic fashion and deal, together, with the multitude of discipleship issues we face on schemes. We shouldn’t feel we have to do it all on our own. In fact, we shouldn’t do it all on our own. We need to be seeking to develop mutually beneficial and strengthening relationships with all those in our care. It can bring great blessing to a community when a church comes together in this way to love one another.

Mark Dever notes on The Gospel Coalition blog, that:

Since the Fall, the trajectory of unredeemed human history—the City of Man—is always in the Bible to judgment (the Flood, Babel, Canaan, Egypt, Jerusalem, Babylon, Rome & then Rev. 19). (Not quite as universal as gravity, but seemingly as inevitable in its overall tendency.)

For a comprehensive overview of the Pastor and his relation to his community, read his full article here.

Many churches, likewise, believe that the world is going to hell in a handcart and therefore our role is to preach Christ, rescue some and leave the rest to their own devices. Others believe that we have a role to play when God ultimately ushers in the renewal of all things at the end times.  The result for former group is slipping into a separatist approach to evangelism.  For the latter, it is slipping into a cultural accommodationalism.

Now, I can see how certain eschatological positions can lead us down both tracks when it comes to the relationship between the church and its immediate culture. In fact, I see their legacy in housing schemes up and down the country. It shows itself in two main ways.

1. Those who have historically fought for doctrinal and theological purity at the expense of cultural engagement (for fear of watering down the gospel) now find themselves on the fringes of schemes, with aged, dying congregations. They have a gospel with nobody to preach it to. It suits their worldview of “them against the world” and it is leaving generations with no clue about the good news of Jesus. On the other hand, those who have sought to adapt and engage with culture at the expense of biblical truths tend to be very socially aware but have the same aged, dying congregations. They are viewed as little more than a social work agency and people don;t come when evangelism is not practiced. Both sides are losing out with the real losers being the very people they are supposed to be reaching with the good news of Jesus Christ. Whilst the Christian world has been drawing their theological lines, real live souls have been perishing for lack of witness. In the words of some, old, dead dude: ‘A plague on both your houses’.

2. Because of this turn of events, much of the evangelism community development work is being carried out in schemes by a combination of government agencies (which is only right) and para-church organisations. Groups are visiting schools and doing RE classes, running clubs and trying to reach young people for Christ, but largely detached from any local congregation whatsoever, and without any real long-term aims and objectives to combat the ‘congregational crisis’ we now face. On the one hand, how can we blame them when the local church is either (a) dead or (b) not doing its job (either from a lack of heart or because it is just unable to).

The only way to reverse these trends is to plant new churches and/or renew existing ones. Spiritual Community renewal and development will not happen at a root level if the local church is not central to our plans. In Brasil when we founded our street children project, we did it with a church plant at the core. Why so? A number of reasons:

1. A localised congregation gives a solid, consistent thrust for concerted evangelistic efforts.

2. It offers a place for spiritual accountability for those working in the field. Many para-church workers I have met (particularly youth workers) have little or no spiritual accountability and have either been burned out or are in danger of burning out trying to deal with the rigours of a front line ministry such as ours.

3. It offers a context in which young converts and believers can grow in discipleship, in community, together. So, it avoids the hit and miss problem of people parachuting in, trying to reach out and then leaving people in the wind until the outsiders return again.

The local church has the responsibility to evangelise, disciple, nurture and prepare people to worship and serve the Living God in their respective communities. Surely, loving our neighbours shouldn’t be handed to those outside of our doors? Are we loving our communities? Are we serving our communities? If we love a community and seek to know it then ideas for outreach, evangelism, mission and development will naturally flow out of this. I think many churches struggle to make an impact on schemes because they do not love their communities enough to really know them at a deep and intimate level. We cannot love the Lord and the gospel if we do not love people. The gospel needs a conduit for it to do its powerful, transforming work. Too many churches are burying their treasure in a field and hanging on for the master to come again.

We recently received news from our church plant in Brasil – The Good News Church – which is an indigenous community that operates in the poorest neighbourhood in the poorest state in Brasil. It’s poor! The church is small (50ish people) and yet recently they clubbed together and built 6 new homes in the community for displaced families! That is gospel driven community development in action. Despite fears in some quarters, it does not water down the Word but rather offers a living example of the reality of the message that congregation is trying to bring to its community.

I appreciate the nuances of this debate, I really do. Christ above all, gospel before all, but when discipleship becomes indistinguishable from helping people deal with some of their life issues, then we have a duty of care. Let’s not protect the gospel to death. That would be a crime.

I am sure we’ll revisit this at some point.

Part A: Church Based Community Development

In his book, Generous Justice, Tim Keller states:

“All I know is, if I don’t care about the poor, if my church doesn’t care about the poor, that’s evil.”

Jesse Johnson, writing an article for The Cripplegate Blog, has a somewhat different perspective. He writes:

…the fact of the matter is that nowhere does the Bible command the church to care for the poor of the world, to lower the poverty rates in society, or to care for the homeless in our community. There are zero verses that command this, and several that even argue against it.

The question of the role of the church in culture, particularly as it relates to matters of social justice, is popping up in all sorts of forums across the Christian spectrum and has been addressed in various blogs, articles and books from men like Mark Dever, John Piper, Tim Keller and Kevin DeYoung et al. I have no wish to further comment on issues I have already blogged about on this site and may do so again in the future (check out the topics section the left hand side of the home page).

My concern in this post is to ask the question of the role of the church as it relates within a poor community. That, to my mind, is a somewhat different concern than a ministry to the poor and oppressed. Reaching out to the poor and planting a church among them are two entirely different propositions. In spite of the reams being written and said, when I have visited many church’s in the UK and overseas, I haven’t exactly been trampled to death by the stampede of poor people attending their services!

I am not, unlike many, trying to build a church with a heart for the poor, I am seeking to build a church of God worshippers in the heart of a deprived scheme. That is a somewhat more complex task! Now, I am with Jesse (and others) when it comes to understanding that the commands to love the poor and care for the widow etc are there for the benefit of the Christian Community primarily (although by no means exclusively). He, I think correctly, gives voice to the concern of over emphasising the needs of the poor:

I am making the observation that when money is going to soup kitchens, it is not going to missions. To guard against that, the church is never commanded to show compassion to the poor as a means for expanding the kingdom. Simply put, you owe the poor the gospel; Jesus died to purchase for them the privilege of hearing the testimony of his death and resurrection (1 Tim 2:6).

Mark Dever is even more direct on this topic.

We, as a congregation, are not required to take responsibility for the physical needs in the unbelieving community around us. We do have a responsibility to care for the needs of those within our congregation (Matt. 25:34-40; Acts 6:1-6; Gal. 6:2, 10; James 2:15-16; I John 3:17-19) though even within the church, there were further qualifications (e.g., II Thess. 3:10; I Tim. 5:3-16). Paul’s counsel to Timothy (in I Tim. 5:3-16) about which widows to care for seems to indicate that the list was intended for Christian widows. One qualification seemed to be lack of alternative sources of support. Thus the instruction that family members should care for the needy first, if at all possible, shows the kind of prioritization of allowing for families—even of unbelievers—to provide support so that the church wouldn’t have to do it (I Tim. 5:16). We can extrapolate from this to conclude that support that could be provided from outside the church (for instance, from the state) should be preferred over using church funds, thus freeing church funds to be used elsewhere.

I couldn’t agree more in terms of the financial aspect of social action and/or community development (however you want to define it). At Niddrie we are not concerned with financial handouts (though we do have an interest free loan initiative in extreme emergencies for both members and non members). As I’ve said before, people here generally aren’t lacking financially, and the state, if anything, is a hindrance in many ways to community development, rather than an aid to it. Indeed, our concern has even less to do with changing the social structures around us and more to do with (1) evangelistic opportunities and (2) discipleship issues. Let me take our Bike project as an example of what I mean.

Niddrie has a huge criminal problem with stolen mountain bikes. Combine this with a huge interest in the sport on the scheme. In a more middle class area with an established youth work, and a solid Christian base, Bible studies may be an option. Here, they are not. So, we have an opportunity to contact people who would never darken the door of a Sunday meeting, go to an evangelistic event or meet a Christian of any shape or form. Our project then serves the purpose as a vehicle (it’s ultimate objective) for evangelism. A young person may then be saved and so can spend further time in the workshop fixing a bike whilst being discipled by one of our youth team. Getting into the Bible then ensues. It just so happens that this vehicle of our comes with a few added extras. Crime goes down (not massively, but it has an effect). Less bikes are being stolen in and around the church. The local police send us their stolen bikes to use as we report any stolen bikes to them. The local school uses our project to motivate struggling children educationally. And so on. There are other off spins. They are all secondary to the gospel’s primacy, but they are not insignificant in terms of community development and justice. Most of our outreach, projects and ideas have the same types of spin off in different areas and across different demographics within the scheme. So, what do we call this?

Again, returning to Dever’s assertion that helping the needy is primarily an in house job for the church. But what about the many community people who we see daily on the scheme? They may not become members, but they certainly become an intimate part of our lives. Surely, we have a biblical responsibility to them? Let’s remember that Galatians 6:10 says, So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Many reformed pastors will emphasis the last three words as a proof text for Dever’s position, but the text appears to indicate helping all regardless of affiliation.

I agree, the answer to our community sin problem (its greatest need) is salvation though Christ. But, sooner or later, discipleship kicks in. So, yes, we can strengthen their Christology and biblical doctrine, but we still have to walk them through abusive relationships, sexual dysfunction, threats from drug dealers, mental health problems etc. That becomes about loving them and practically seeking, where possible, to help them relieve some of their (often) self-imposed troubles. Fighting the macro causes of their issues doesn’t even get put on the table. We just haven’t got the time here even if we had the inclination!

Reformed Churches in the UK have generally operated out of a separatist mindset in housing schemes (if they have ever really operated at all). Many have gone down the ‘Word only’ route. This has left us with some serious problems which my generation of pastors has now been handed. I want to continue this article tomorrow and look at some key issues and why I think the local church must be the centre for change in housing schemes.

Listening to Your Community

It is noticeable in Niddrie that there are many housing association groups and various other social agencies, largely staffed by outsiders, who impose their ideas and ideals on to the community without much prior discussion. It is taken for granted that the ‘professionals’ know what we need. Often, many church plants can be guilty of the same attitudes. A team can move in to a scheme with a cunning plan and yet their strategy have very little impact on the ground due to lack of research and cultural understanding. In fact, a great danger of only researching the facts and figures about an area  from government websites is that it skews our understanding of what a community needs in order to change.  A good church planter must not only research and observe, he must also listen. There are questions to be asked. For instance, who are the main players in the community? What community groups are there? Which are staffed by local people and which by outsiders? What do local people think that some of the biggest needs of the community are? As I’ve stated, it is easy to think ‘scheme’ and then come with a whole set of presuppositions which can often bare little relation to life on the inside. What do people dream about? What are their ambitions (those that have them)? What do they think that the community needs in order for it to improve? Where would they start? Here’s one of the most important ones. What could they contribute to all of these things? Robert Lupton, notes:

This is often referred to as the felt needs concept. Listening is most important, as the people of the community are the vested treasures of the future. It is important not to focus on the weaknesses or needs of a community.

That last line is interesting. Why does he emphasise this? Well, he advocates an approach to community development that helps us to try to focus on the desires of community residents, what gift sets they have, and then to think of these individuals as ‘community assets’ upon which we can focus our energies. Of course, his context is in reference to community development, but I think we can use the principle in planting.

As a planter the question becomes how we harness some of the talents of local people in tandem with the great commission. Again, it is easy to look at a scheme like Niddrie and point to 10 things that need fixing. But what we think may need fixing from the outside may not even be on the agenda of an insider. What do they think? Certainly the church can help in alleviating some of the great needs of the community but we do it a disservice if we take the burdens solely upon ourselves. In fact, we can be as guilty of weakening the community if we try to solve every problem for them. Many times in my pastoral ministry over the last decade I have had to deal with people disgruntled with ‘institutional church‘. People wanting to leave and move somewhere else, somewhere ‘better’. My answer to these individuals has always been consistent.

“You cannot change a thing by moving on from it. You can only effect real and lasting change from within. Now, what do you think needs to happen and how are you going to help me make it happen?”

I know it is not the most powerful argument ever, but if we’re going to be staying in a community and listening to it then we need to be prepared to hear a lot of talk defeatist about ‘things never changing’. We need to be helping local people see that they, under the Lordship of Christ, are the answer to their community’s problems, not solely outside agencies, and not even the church.

Of course, spiritual regeneration is the ultimate aim, but we need to be developing our listening skills in order to inform our evangelism, alongside discipleship methods that enable people not only to take responsibility for themselves and their community but empower them to get involved. We must constantly assess what we are doing and questioning whether we are moving people toward or away from dependency on anything other than Jesus Christ.

 

If we are going to bring about lasting change on housing schemes then everything we do must be sustainable. That’s why, as we listen, we ought to be developing ministries that will harness people in their gifting and encourage them to stay put for the benefit of all. This is hugely difficult stuff in our individualistic society. That’s why it must start within the body of Christ. If we are moving in, using our gifts, serving one another for the benefit of the whole and all the while, listening, then this is a great, living model for local people.

Listening to people. Not as easy as it sounds is it?

Leadership Development

This is a key area of gospel ministry in housing schemes. Many local churches completely devolve their responsibility in this to Bible Colleges which I think is, sometimes, to the detriment of the church and the person being ‘trained’.  Certainly, in housing schemes, we need to have a clearly defined, multi-faceted approach to developing the next generation of leaders. Of course, the most effective leaders are indigenous leaders, but what do we do when this is not happening, nor likely to happen for many years? I am not a truly indigenous leader (from Niddrie) but I am a ‘culturally indigenous’ leader. I grew up on sink housing estates in Northern England and, therefore, I know the broad ‘estate’ culture. On my Ministry Team I have a group of people who consist of imported middle class (cultural outsiders), indigenous locals, and other culturally indigenous people. Each have their strengths and weaknesses.

Cultural Outsiders

These are generally middle class young people who have a heart for the schemes but do not have the life experience and/or ‘cultural nous’. They are often very bright, good learners, and bring a sense of self-discipline to the team. They may have had some sort of formal theological training, or they may be thinking of doing so in the future. They have come to Niddrie to gain some insight and real life experience of what is involved in full-time ministry, particularly in this context. They are strong on interpersonal skills but can be naive when it comes to dealing with (some) manipulative locals. The drop out rate for this group is quite high – maybe 50%+ do not go on to do this type of ministry. However, those who make it through the first couple of years usually stay on long-term.

Indigenous Leaders

This group is the long-term future of the work in housing schemes. In Niddrie, many of our converts are in their late 40’s (we have the odd one in their 20’s) but, regardless of age, many of them have serious mental and/or psychological problems. They are just not cut out for positions of leadership. They are strong in terms of relational ability with people in the community, but they will not be the future leadership of the local church in the scheme. That lies with a longer term 10 year plan (minimum). It is why the Ministry Team at NCC have committed to at least 10 years and why, after gaining independence,  we have shifted much of our focus onto children’s and youth work in the scheme. We must have a dynamic ministry in this area. It is telling that hardly any young people have come to faith in Niddrie in the last decade. I am willing to go out on a limb and say that this is not just confined to our scheme. Our future indigenous leaders are about 5 years old right now and so we have to invest our time, energy and resources into evangelising and discipling them, enabling them to grow into the next generation of young Niddrie born, Christian leaders. As Christian’s in schemes we must buck the trend of ‘moving out and up’ but of ‘staying put and developing’. We must stay and we must help them to stay in order to build and establish a strong, healthy, dynamic Christian community in the heart of this community.

Culturally Indigenous Leaders

We can continue to recruit cultural outsiders whilst we work on our long-term objectives but I think we miss a trick in our context if we don’t place a value on culturally indigenous leaders. I have a couple of young men on my team currently, one Scottish and one English, both have been to prison and both have grown up in schemes. They have a built-in cultural awareness and an intuition that cannot be taught. They are fearless when it comes to dealing with locals and have no problem sharing the gospel boldly and aggressively. They have many weaknesses, not least of which is a more chaotic approach to life. They make mistakes, they can lack personal discipline and can struggle with ‘stickability’. But, they are teachable, bright and soak up biblical teaching and doctrine. Again, they intuitively apply the Bible without having to be told.There are many such men and women like this around the country, usually sticking out like a sore thumb in middle class congregations.

I have lost count of the number of calls I get from churches around the country asking me about ‘x’ who has come from a ‘difficult background’ (read prison and/or drugs) and is ‘struggling to fit into the church’ (read, we don’t know how to adapt to this individual and they would probably be better off with you). At one level churches like this should stop complaining and just get on with it. It would do every church in the country good to get a couple of people from ‘difficult backgrounds’ and learn how to deal with them biblically. Not only that, but disciple them and take a risk by giving them some leadership responsibility. Except, the fact is that once you come from a ‘difficult background’ the danger is that you then become that church’s flagship ‘testimony bearer’ – wheeled out for evangelistic events but not really thought of as a potential leader. That goes to the nice middle class people without any ‘issues’ and who don’t have the same ‘baggage’ (discuss!).

In Niddrie, one of the ministry areas I would like to develop is an on the ground training course for culturally indigenous leaders, in order to better disciple them, equip and send them back out into the thousand of needy schemes across the country. We could do some serious damage for the kingdom with this strategised approach to training. I think this could be a key area as we try to regain a foothold in many of these places.

This is a topic I want to write about further, including dealing with the financial concerns of these approaches. However, in partnership with Porterbrook Training Material, I believe the future could be bright for our many needy housing schemes in Scotland. I think it can be implemented across these ‘leadership types’ and tailored to suit our specific needs. What our communities need are strong, young, Christian leaders from all backgrounds, working together, learning together, united by Christ and pushing forward for the kingdom of God in some of our country’s most deprived areas.

Please pray for us as we continue to think and work on these thoughts in partnership with others.

Part III: Developing Community Skills

Robert Lupton would call this a ‘redistribution of resources’. His logic being (albeit from a community development perspective):

1. We live in the area we are trying to reach

2. We work toward a ministry of reconciliation at a Godward level and a community level

Then (3) we are, hopefully, going to see a redistribution of community skills and resources. What exactly does he mean by this? When God’s people commit to moving back into areas of urban deprivation then they are bringing their specific gift set back in for the benefit of the wider community. They enrich it almost by default. The creative and intellectual resources which left in large numbers are now returning. Just by living in a community and trying to be a responsible neighbour, a Godly witness for Jesus, and seeking the good and betterment of the community,  we are seeing this principle in practice. If this is true for one individual, then imagine the power of a committed band of Christ followers? Imagine the influence for good they could have even in the darkest place?

So, a skilled and professional workforce re-enters the community. The creative minds are returning to make their mark. Community renewal is happening without even having to strategise it (which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do this). With new people come new relationships and new resources. New skill sets can be taught to existing community members for the benefit of all. Cultural and economic transformation can start to come about in a one to one context, where some these new skills are learned and passed on. Worldviews can be shared to bring depth, understanding and a broadening of the mind. This, incidentally, is why I believe that gentrification is not really a bad thing.

Churches can get involved by developing ministries that seek to harness the, often, latent ‘gifts’ of local people and find avenues in which they can express themselves, such as art clubs, drama groups, literacy classes, apprenticeships and work experience placements (indeed a whole host of ideas according to the particular contextual needs of the area). This is the sort of thing we are trying to encourage at NCC. We offer people chances to help with admin, office work, cooking in the cafe, basic accounting skills, computing and we have plans for a host of others with the development of our Back2Work initiative.

All these things, of course, are merely avenues for the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ which is to be proclaimed loud and clear. He will bring about the only true, lasting change, both spiritual and physical. But, we don’t hang about waiting for people to repent before we make a contribution to better our community. We do it regardless of the response to our message. It is a sign that the message we proclaim has a basis in reality by how we lives our lives and share them as a body of believers, and with our wider community.

Heady stuff which I am still digesting.

Part II: The Ministry of Reconciliation

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:18-21)

Jesus is in the reconciliation business, therefore the church must likewise be in the reconciliation business. Our primary concern in schemes is to see people reconciled to God. That stands above all other considerations and needs (perceived or otherwise). Yes, we want to see people get jobs, pay the bills, get up of the floor, break free from addiction (all idolatry in fact) and a multiplicity of other issues. But we want to proclaim the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ and see people respond to him in repentance and faith for the forgiveness of their sins. Forget community renewal if there is not first reconciliation between sinful men and women and a holy, just, loving & wrathful God.

Reonciliation is needed because their relationship to God is broken

We at NCC, of course, want to develop programmes and outreach that serve our community and seek to better it for the benefit of all, whether that is helping with teens on street corners, helping out on local boards, developing community outreach events and a whole host of other things. But we know for sure that if we are not driven by a deep need to see people reconciled to God first and foremost then we will quickly lose focus. Schemes are full of broken people. Beaten down by life. Beaten down by a lack of opportunity. Beaten down by prejudice. Beaten down by their own inherent sinfulness and laziness. Beaten down by bad choices. But we know they are broken because at root their relationship to God is broken. That may not be their presenting issue but if we fail to hold at the gospel to them then they will never find a real and meaningful fix to everything else.

Reconciliation is needed because their relationships with one another are broken

Feuds run deep amongst some families and have done for generations. Reconciliation is needed at a local level between people. Churches can model this by having different types of people and different classes of people working together under the gospel for the common good. One of the questions I am often asked about working in schemes is, ‘Do you think a middle class person could do effectively what you do here?’ Of course, the answer is “Yes & No”. Anybody could do what I do here: love people, treat them as equals, seek their welfare, proclaim Christ to them, and share life with them. No, in terms of natural cultural connection and instinctive evangelistic ability to contextualise on the hoof.

The point is we don’t want a church full of Mez’s any more than a church full of middle class people. We want a mix, do we not? We want the church to reflect something of the culture around us. Niddrie is not all deadbeats and drug addicts. There are hard-working, young professionals in desperate need of Christ also. Both sides are suspicious and dismissing of each other. The church has a chance to paint a counter cultural picture through our life and ministry together in community. We must continue to work hard at modelling in our church culture what this unity and reconciliation looks like. For example, ‘A ladies brunch’ is a foreign concept to Niddrie. It is a middle class expression of fellowship. We had one here recently. The key point is that Miriam, my wife, made sure to invite women who didn’t even know what the word meant. So, two groups who would never normally mix, did (at a small level). The question now is how that is reciprocated so that fellowship is not driven by one particular cultural group and there can be seen to be balance and a recognition that one way of expressing togetherness is not seen as superior to another. At a micro, communal level, this is a picture of reconciliation between people (whether they realise it or not).

The aim of community reconciliation at this level is to break down these barriers of suspicion. I’ve lost count of the number of times a local has said about X in the church, ‘Actually, he/she is alright. I thought they’d be a stuck up ******* but they’re alright.’ Or, conversely, ‘I thought I wouldn’t know what to say to Y but he/she is actually really switched on and asks intelligent questions’. Why the change of mind? Because the individual(s) crossed the cultural divide and engaged in an activity outside of their norm. This kind of conciliatory behaviour, then, must be a two-way street if it to have any lasting effect. There is huge power in the reconciliation brought to us through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The testimony of a life transformed by the ravages of sin is a powerful tool. That power is further intensified at the community level as they see reconciliation and barriers broken down through the community life of the church alongside other ministry outlets. Of course, this is a big topic with much to say.

To summarise: One of the most important keys to gospel ministry on the schemes is to remember to hold out the ultimate reconciliation by proclaiming the Word and modelling it at the micro level in relating to people. We’re ambassadors for Christ, not for our class and culture. We’re holding out the truth and working out together what that looks like as we respect our distinctives in Christian community and consider others better than ourselves.

PART I: Live In

If we really want to make an impact for Christ in the many housing schemes up and down our nations then we must be prepared to move into the area. This is the GOLDEN rule. There are no exceptions for our leaders. Ministry will fail dismally, particularly if the leader(s) is(are) not part of the community straight away. I inherited a church for renewal so my elders don’t (yet) live in but the challenge has been laid to them. Also, I have (at the moment) one police officer in my congregation and it would be worse than foolish to move him into the scheme because his house would become a target. Even if he didn’t mind this (and he doesn’t), it would not be fair on his wife and young family left alone at night whilst he was on shifts. They have compromised by moving as close as is feasibly safe to do so. But, as far as possible, this rule sticks.

One of the great benefits of living in the community is that you seen get to see, experience and learn what the great needs of the area are. This in turns means that you are more than sympathetic to local needs, but you are fully aware of them because they affect YOU too. It stops us from becoming insular and only seeking what is best for our lives and our families. It gives us a true heart for our community, much more so than if we just travel in at weekends for the odd service and maybe a midweek meeting. Rob Lupton has identified three kinds of people who move in housing scheme communities:

1. Relocators – These are people who weren’t born in the area but have moved in to the neighbourhood.

2. Returners – These are people who were born and raised in the area, moved away for a time (usually seeking a better life) and have chosen to come back to their childhood home because they no longer feel trapped by the sociological pressures.

3. Remainers – These are those who understand the problems associated with living in the area but, despite them, have chosen to stay to work for community renewal.

It is a truism that we don’t really start to look at serious solutions to problems until they become our problems. Moving into a scheme soon gives us an appreciation for the troubles and concerns and causes us to think about how we best try to resolve them. It has been interesting to note in my church how the language differs between members who live outside of Niddrie and those who live within. Those who live within use words like, “we” and “ours” and those without are more likely to say, “theirs” and “them”.

Anybody hoping to begin a church plant in a housing scheme needs to give up now if your first thought is not to move into the area. The chances of developing deep relationships, building a witnessing community and seeing gospel growth are massively increased if we live in the scheme. So simple that it shouldn’t need saying and yet most Christian works on many of the schemes I know are done by para-church organisations with no real foundational base in the community that links them to a lively, local body of believers.

Whilst not decrying the work that many of my members do, it is fair to say that 100% of the relational work we are involved in is a direct cause of those members who live on the scheme. Attendance on Sundays is always helped when locals can walk into a building and be greeted by people they already know. It makes a huge difference when we can walk around the streets of the scheme and people either know us personally or, through their friends, know that we are ‘from the mission’.

Please pray for us as we encourage more members to move on to the scheme and as we work with the locals that God would save more of them and that they, in turn, would draw friends/neighbours/family members in to the community of faith in this place.