Posts Tagged ‘20Schemes’

Please take and use this video on your blogs/Facebook pages and even consider showing it in your church service(s). 20schemes is making more contacts across Scotland every week with people and churches looking for support in some of the country’s poorest areas. We currently have several openings in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee & Selkirk. Most of these opportunities are with existing works in desperate need of revitalisation and at least two of them are start-ups.
If you would like us to come and speak at your church/event about the work then please do not hesitate to contact me: mez@niddrie.org. Otherwise, contact us through our website at www.20schemes.com.

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In all the recent talk of the city as the main focus of church planting and theological thought (at least in many quarters) it seems that rural ministry is a bit like the ugly girl at a wedding. Everybody knows she’s there but nobody wants to dance with her. It’s not my intent to talk about rural ministry in-depth in this article, but I am determined to highlight the plight of what we at 20schemes are terming rural housing schemes scattered throughout Scotland in what are often – incorrectly – thought of as less deprived areas than their urban counterparts.

Doubtless, our Western world is urbanising, and has been since the industrial revolution. The poor and needy on the fringes need Christ and they need gospel centred churches in which to grow and mature. But the massive gospel deficiency in rural areas in the UK is just as pressing and as needful of deep thought, concern, discussion, theologising and church planting action. Of course, this site is a forum for inner city housing schemes but I have been struck recently by the plight of rural areas as we at 20Schemes have gone about researching the need for health churches across Scotland.

During the research we have carried out in the last couple of years, we have discovered the existence of a great many invisible housing schemes in rural areas across the country. Why is this phenomenon not being widely reported in Evangelical church planting circles in our country? The problem, according to a recent report (Jan 2012) from the University of Dundee, is that the way we measure deprivation in our nation is somewhat faulty. For example, we read:

The conventional practice of using geographic units to analyse deprivation misses small pockets of deprivation in rural areas – when counts of deprived people rather than deprived places are used, the difference in deprivation between rural and urban areas is substantially narrowed.

How, therefore, is deprivation measured in Scotland?

According to the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD), there are 7 key factors to take into account when looking at terming an area ‘deprived’:

  1. Income (based on the receipt of key, means tested benefits, tax credits or pension credits)
  2. Employment (based on receipt of out of work benefits)
  3. Health (based on deaths, receipt of sickness benefits, hospital admissions and drug prescriptions)
  4. Education, skills and training (Based on the level of qualifications, participation in education or training and absences from schools)
  5. Housing (based on overcrowding and lack of central heating)
  6. Geographic access to services (based on public transport and drive times to key services)
  7. Crime (based on recorded offences)

Urban Deprivation v Rural Deprivation

Does it make any real difference whether you live in a scheme in the inner city or on the outskirts of a rural town? Well, there some major differences it has to be said. For example, startlingly, we have discovered that geographic access to services (based on public transport and drive times to key services) is 10 times worse if you live in a rural scheme than if you live in an urban one.

There are some researchers who feel that the data used to define deprivation in Scotland is skewed toward urban and industrialised areas. So, for instance, the rural poor may live in a nicer area (and thus not be qualified deprived according to the majority of the 7 factors noted), but they are far more likely to be socially excluded and have a greater struggle with isolation given where they live. According to Dr Donald Houston from the University of St Andrews and Dr Alistair Geddes from the University of Dundee:

Deprivation in urban areas tends to be geographically concentrated in certain neighbourhoods. In contrast, in rural areas deprivation often exists at the scale of streets rather than whole neighbourhoods.

What does this mean for 20Schemes and our vision? Well, at the very least it means that we will be recruiting church planters and male and female gospel workers for rural schemes alongside urban ones. These rural areas may not feature high up on the SIMD but they are a high priority for us as we seek to plant and/or revitalise gospel work in all of Scotland’s needy areas. Watch this space for further discussion and developments on these and other important issues in the coming weeks and months.

(Much of this information has been taken from The Church of Scotland Mission & Discipleship Council Rural Strategy  – “Understanding Rural Deprivation Report”, January 2012)

Watch this short film on gang culture in Glasgow’s housing schemes. People ask me if we are exaggerating the problem in our country. See for yourself. What is the solution to these issues? The young man at the end of this film thinks it is about more social services but I think we should be planting gospel centred churches.

Find out more about what we can do for Scotland’s many housing schemes at www.20Schemes.com

Check out the new website for the Gospel Partnership here. We had a great conference this past weekend with 150ish people on attendance from around the country. 20schemes was well received and we had some seriously positive feedback and many requests for help and support. Watch this space for how things develop over the coming year. At the moment we have a couple of young men form the scheme volunteering to man the stands and help us behind the scenes. that has now grown to 4 young men and we are hoping that in the future that 20Schemes will be able to employ some of these men in a full-time capacity and/or offer them Ministry Apprenticeships alongside some of our church planting/ revitalisation partners. who knows, we may even have some church planters and pastors in our midst. Continue to pray for us.

I am a (very convinced) Reformed Baptist, ministering and working in an independent Evangelical Church. I have even written a short book on preparing people (confessing believers) for baptism. Since my move to Scotland 5 years ago I became aware of ‘Presbyterians’ of all shapes and forms. Free Church, C of S, Continuing Free, United Free Church of Scotland, Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Are there more? Probably. Now, I have to confess my complete ignorance of all things Presbyterian before my arrival. My only experience of this denomination was in Brazil where, I have to say, they are doing an extremely credible job in producing serious theological study. In Scotland, however, the reputation was of people not allowed to get the bus on a Sunday, who don’t celebrate Christmas and don’t like musical instruments. So, not very ‘free’ at all then.

So, what have I learned during my stay here? I have discovered, firstly, some very good, and supportive, friends within Free Church circles in particular. I have met several outstanding men who reached out to me in the early years here and continue to be a real encouragement to me when we (all too rarely) meet up. I have met men committed to the spread of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ around our nation. I have met serious men with serious theological foundations. You know, I am sure there are some clowns in the Free Church, but let me guarantee that I know there are some clowns in the Baptist Church. People who want to fight over the last vestiges of tradition and wrap it up under the term ‘conviction’. People who want to shoot theological arrows across the denominational divide whilst Scotland burns. But, in the main, and in my experience, they are men with whom I’d gladly take my stand in the fight for souls in this nation.

Why am I writing this article? Primarily because I was reminded this week about just how gracious and thoughtful debate can be between Baptists and Presbyterians in an article published on The Gospel Coalition blog by Kevin DeYoung. Entitled, ‘Putting in a good word for Presbyterianism’ it argues the case for Presbyterian church polity. As a congregationalist (of sorts) I found the following paragraph quite enlightening and thought provoking.

I wonder if a latent Presbyterianism is already present, in practice, in many Congregational churches. Is there not an assumed intermediary step whereby the disciplinary matter is brought to the elders before it is told to the whole church? Few churches, I imagine, ask for conflicts and sins to be aired ex nihilo before the whole congregation without first having been handled by the elders. And yet that’s what Matthew sounds like if ekklesia means the whole gathered assembly. Even in Congregational churches the “tell it to the church” step usually means “tell it to the elders, who deal with the case for several months or years and then at a later juncture will bring their recommendation to the congregation to ratify their decision.” The Congregational process is similar to the Presbyterian process except the former ends with a congregational vote and includes an extra step in the discipline that, on their understanding, Jesus makes no mention of in the text.

Yes, I know it’s about polity but it did get me thinking (at least in mt own case) about how far away I am from my brothers in so many areas. Yes, I know wars have been fought over this stuff but that was another time. If the Tron debacle is going to teach us anything it is that we evangelicals of all stripes are going to have to start playing well together, and that means more than just sitting around a table and calling one another brother. Am I saying, let’s throw our convictions out of the door? Of course not. But I am saying the (metaphorical) Indians are circling the evangelical wagons in our country and they are picking us off with every attack. How ridiculous it sometimes seems to be that we are still trying to sort out who wants to use what weapon, what armour should we wear and how best to organise the defences. If you click on the TGC link to DeYoung’s paper and scroll down to the comments you will find the usual suspects turning it into a theological war across the denominational divides. But if you look closely, toward the top, you will see a two-line comment from a certain well-known Baptist that gives me hope for a continued spirit of mutual respect and collaboration. This is a great example of how we can love and support one another without feeling like we’re selling out.

2oSchemes is coming to Scotland and it may work and it may not. One conviction driving this Reformed Baptist is that I want to serve, love and find resources for any and all congregations committed to planting and revitalising a gospel centred, biblically healthy church. I know for a fact that this is going to mean working with Presbyterians of all stripes because many such congregations straddle schemes in this country. What will this collaboration look like? I have no idea. Will it work? I have no idea. Let me be clear, I want to plant Reformed Baptist churches and I will if I have to. But, I would prefer by far to strengthen existing gospel churches of all stripes and denominations. This is going to cause us a huge headache. The easy option is the planting option. But I am hopeful and prayerful that with a spirit of generosity and mutual ‘grace’ we can bring and/or strengthen gospel light in many dark communities around Scotland.

Pray for us.

Niddrie Community Church, as part of our 20Schemes initiative, are currently involved in a year-long assessment of the viability of a church plant in West Pilton, one of  Edinburgh’s toughest housing schemes. Here is a short film highlighting the needs of this work.

FYI: I am very happy in this film to be on camera..

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. Others would take the opposite view and would suggest that the New Earth will have with it a new, improved human culture and, therefore, Christians and churches should be engaging in cultural renewal in the here and now. The bottom line question is:

Is our culture redeemable and should the church be engaged in this so-called cultural redemption?

Those who are seeking to engage with this issue, at least in the USA, are falling into (being herded into?) different ‘camps’. We have:

  1. Two Kingdom Proponents. (God is working through the church and we should not be engaging too heavily with worldly, dying culture).
  2. Transformationist Proponents. (The church should be active in seeking to redeem the culture as we move toward the end times).
  3. Counterculturalist Proponents. (The church stands as a clear model of God’s kingdom and, as such, is a prophetic voice against the prevailing worldly culture).
  4. Cultural Relevance Proponents. (Christians should be looking for where God is active in culture and affirm that).

Obviously, I have just simplified in a sentence what is often a confused, heavily nuanced and emotive debate across evangelical, theological and denominational divides. I find it very difficult to place myself in this list. Indeed, I find the whole culture of Christians ‘tagging’ one another more and more unhelpful as I get older. If anything, I am more inclined to numbers 1 & 3. I believe that our job, as a church, is to glorify God, preach the gospel and make disciples. In doing so, by sharing our lives and living in community, engaging with our neighbours, seeking the good of our scheme and living clearly counter cultural lives, then people will be drawn to Christ by His Spirit, born again and will, in time, person by person begin to make an impact in our community. Community renewal is therefore the by-product of gospel centred preaching and healthy churches. Who knows what that makes me!

What is helpful for this discussion is tracing the roots of many churches in Scotland and the UK as they have sought to engage, or not, with their culture in the past 30 years. So, many churches, likewise, believing that the world is going to hell in a handcart, have focused on preaching Christ, rescuing repentant sinners, and leaving the rest to their own devices. Others, believing that we have a role to play when God ultimately ushers in the renewal of all things at the end times, have sought to engage more with the surrounding culture. The danger for the former group is slipping into a form of separatism.  For the latter, it is slipping into a form of cultural accommodationalism. In fact, I see the legacy of both these positions 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 “us against the world” and, sadly, it is leaving generations with no clue about the good news of Jesus. People aren’t going to church anymore than the church is going to them. It’s a sort of spiritual Mexican stand off. Each side is hardening their heart against the other as time wears on. One believing the church to be full of ancient, judgemental do-gooders and the other watching the world destroy itself because of their ungodly, sinfulness. Spiritual desolation and confusion ensues and we have schemes littered with dying congregation or none at all.

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, ironically, also have the same aged, dying congregations. These ‘churches’ (if we can call them that) are viewed as little more than social work agencies. They don’t see any sides but view us all as God’s children and the church as a force for ‘good’ in the community. The world sees them as a means to an end but not salt and light and certainly not a challenge to their souls. The church in this case is seen as more organic than organised – a church ‘without walls’ if you will. The result is the same empty churches as our friends above. The same dying congregations with no real spiritual impact on their community.

Sadly, both groups are losing out, with the real victims 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 battle lines over culture and contextualisation, real, live souls have been (and still are in great numbers) perishing for lack of a concrete gospel witness in housing estates and schemes up and down our nation. In the (slightly adapted) words of some, old, dead dude: ‘A plague on all our houses’.

2. Because of this turn of events, much of the evangelism and community development work is being carried out in schemes by a combination of government agencies and para-church organisations. Many such groups visiting schools in schemes, teaching RE classes, running clubs and trying to reach young people for Christ, are largely (although not always) detached from local churches, 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, in my opinion, to reverse these trends in our housing schemes is to plant new churches and/or renew existing ones.

Wherever this discussion goes, it is a cast iron fact that housing schemes need healthy, gospel centred churches to make a comeback. Why? Here are three quick reasons:

  1. A localised congregation gives a solid, consistent thrust for concerted evangelistic efforts. A community of Bible believing, gospel proclaiming Christians living right in the heart of a community is a far more powerful apologetic than a part-time witness.
  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 in housing schemes. Gospel workers need the spiritual accountability and discipline that being a member of a local church brings.
  3. It offers a context in which young converts and believers can grow in discipleship and 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.

A God glorifying, Bible believing, gospel preaching, actively discipling, healthy, local church living in Christian community, serving and loving one another is going to make an impact in a housing scheme. It is what we desperately need. Even a small, tightly knit band of brothers and sisters is going to effect cultural and community renewal. Not because that is its goal but because that is the spin-off power of the kingdom at work. Pray for us as through our 20Schemes initiative we seek to bring back gospel light to dark places through church revitalisation and planting.

To be continued…

Note: This is an updated version of a previous post.

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 denigrate their (weighty) opinions but I feel that this subject needs more commentary from (a) the so-called ‘poor’ to whom many are referring and (b) actual practitioners of gospel ministry in deprived areas and not only to them.

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, never mind being trained up for future leadership!

Let me clarify. I am not, unlike many, trying to build a church with a heart for the poor (although that is not a bad thing), I am simply seeking to build a church of God worshippers in the heart of a deprived scheme. That is a somewhat more complex task on multiple levels than if I were, say, coming into Niddrie twice a week to do some schools work or to operate some kind of ‘outreach’ event. The latter may be viewed as some form of mercy ministry/outreach (although I would contest that) and the former I see as building the local church. 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 (although I disagree with his premise below):

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 solely with financial handouts. We have, at times, used an interest free loan initiative (for members and non) which, whilst we have received back our money, has not helped people as we hoped it would. If anything, we enabled their perilous lifestyle choices (that’s one for another blog!) and in some cases maybe even made it worse.

People in Niddrie 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. Of course, there are those who are struggling badly but in almost every case it is down to lifestyle choices. Our main issues here are to do with mental health not (very often) people who can’t feed themselves. Obviously, we have emergency situations and we deal with them as sensitively and unobtrusively as we can. Will we give someone a fiver if their heating has gone or some food if the cupboards are empty? That depends. Can we help you look more closely at your finances to help you budget better for these occurrences? Those who don’t want that help don’t get our money. It’s as simple as that. It’s not the most mathematical scenario, and we’ve had our fingers burned many times, but it is the best we can do.

However, it’s one thing reading Mark Dever’s paragraph from the safety of our laptops in a leafy suburb and quite another when you live in the maelstrom of chaotic lives in a Scottish housing scheme! Even when we know people have done it to themselves, it is extremely painful to listen to story after story of suffering, abuse and horror without feeling some sort of emotional want to reach out and ease it. It’s hard to take the members only approach when we see so many people day in and day out on the scheme.  These people 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. So, how do we avoid getting swamped then? How do we avoid just turning into another ‘social agency’? Simply, as a church we have clearly defined our mission to our community and the world.

Glorifying GOD, preaching the gospel and making disciples of Jesus Christ

Our main concern on this estate is the spiritual well being of its residents rather than expending (too much) energy on changing societal structures or partnering with Jesus in cultural transformation (whatever that means!). Again, many have written extensively on the issue of the church in relation to culture. Tim Keller has produced the following, helpful, diagram. Click the link here to view. At Niddrie the question is not where do we fall on Keller’s diagram but how does what we do match up with our mission? Is it leading us closer toward it or taking us further away? I find myself frustrated by the diagram because, as usual, it is men trying to box other men into corners. I think personally, and as a church, we probably have people who fall into all the categories in one context or another. 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! The answer, for us, is to make sure we keep the gospel front and centre. We can make mistakes in all of the other areas but once that starts to slip then we really are going to have problems!

Many (not all) 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. So, what we need is careful thought and consideration as we discuss and think these issues through. The only real hope for areas like ours are healthy, gospel centred churches. That is the foundational underpinning of 20Schemes.

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.

I found this extremely helpful article in The Briefing written by Richard Coekin. He makes some great points about smaller churches reaching a wider geographical spread and this is certainly some of the thinking behind our 20Schemes project. We are not going to grow mega churches through this initiative (although God in His grace may intervene) but we do want to see small pockets of 20-40 believers established in housing schemes across our country.

Worth a read.

I recently spent a couple of days away with our Ministry Team in order to discuss polices, have some concentrated teaching and enjoy a bit of fun and fellowship. We try to do it every year in order to welcome any new faces into the fold. This year there were 13 people and their families present. This is our largest year to date and includes people across all levels of our current structure. Present were:

  1. Ministry Team Members (5). These are senior people who have been with the team 4 years or more and are committed to us long-term.
  2. Ministry Apprentices (3). These are people who receive a small stipend to pay for their ongoing training and development.
  3. Intensive Disciples (4). These are four men who are newly converted and live at JRH. They must give me 1-2 years clean living and follow a discipleship programme before they can progress onto our MA programme.
  4. Church Planting Apprentice (1). This is a young man who has moved to one of our local housing schemes as part of our ’20schemes’ initiative.

As many of you know, one of the chief rationales behind our 20schemes initiative is to draw in church planters, women’s workers and ministry apprentices either from the UK or the USA (in fact from anywhere!) with the long-term objective of training and developing local leaders in these areas. It is our 10-15 year plan to see this happening. The question of whether this approach will work remains to be seen but we feel that our attempt is better than no attempt at all. This means, of course, that cultural outsiders (those born outside of housing schemes) will dominate the early years of 20schemes. However, I remain largely untroubled after sitting back and observing events at our NCC weekend away trip.

For the first time in our history we observed that the number of cultural insiders (those raised in a scheme or council estate) and indigenous converts (those from Niddrie itself) has surpassed the original team of cultural outsiders. So, we currently have 5 cultural outsiders, 1 international (raised in a poor part of Brasil), 4 cultural insiders and 3 indigenous Niddrons. We are 5 years into our experiment to grow more local leaders and I hope that in 5 years time that will translate into positions of real leadership in our church and others connected to 20 schemes. It gives me real hope that the Lord can and will raise a generation of leaders from the most unlikeliest place in this country – the schemes – to bring the gospel to this land and to build healthy Christ centred churches. We are praising the Lord that He would choose weak and foolish people like ourselves to shame the wise and strong in our nation. Please continue to pray for us. Please continue to pray for the growth, strengthening and development of gospel centred churches in Scotland’s poorest areas.