Posts Tagged ‘Council estates’

An article on the BBC website recently caught my eye.

“London’s New Housing Loses The “Dirty Word”

Apparently new homes being built in London are now being renamed, ‘neighbourhoods’ instead of ‘estates’ because the powers that be feel that the latter has a pejorative association. Indeed, according to the report, which you can read here, the word ‘estate’ is being airbrushed out of common use.

Professor Loretta Lees from King’s College London’s geography department says, “The word ‘estate’ has become synonymous with the term ‘ghetto’. “It’s become a dirty word. Back in the ’20s and ’30s it didn’t carry the same stigma.”

What is almost laughable about this whole thing is that those behind this social engineering think that the gentrification and re-marketing of poor areas is somehow going to relieve the underlying human, social and mental issues. As I’ve written before, gentrification is a good force as much as it is a destructive one in housing schemes. But, as we witness in Niddrie daily, new homes do not suddenly make new people. There is only one power capable of doing that at grassroots level. For real, lasting change to effect our communities people need a change of allegiance to King Jesus.


When was the last time you met a person who took a decision in their life based on how it would affect their Christian community? As a pastor I am informed about decisions to move house, job etc and my immediate response is always, ‘What is the motivation behind your decision?’ For a clear majority of people it boils down to economics – more money or better prospects etc. The spiritual ramifications do not even warrant a thought for many Christians. How will it affect my local church if I move? What about my responsibilities in my local church? Who will take those on? Those are, sadly, ridiculous questions in the mind of many believers in our society.

What’s church got to do with it? This is about me and my family. There will probably be a decent church nearby, but if not we’ll find one somewhere. The implicit reasoning behind this is often, ‘God will sort out the “spiritual” stuff and I will take care of the rest.’

There is a great post here on Kevin DeYoung’s blog about a movement of church planting and growth in our inner cities. He is writing about church planting in cities. But my question to believers in the UK is this:

What if, instead of bettering career prospects, becoming more upwardly mobile and being near a better school for your children, you made a decision to move into one of the council estates or schemes in your area? What if you made the decision based on the need to see healthy, gospel centred churches in these areas? What if instead of moaning about “urban decay” we moved back in with our skill set and set about the work of “spiritual regeneration” in our schemes and estates?

I wonder what the spiritual landscape of our country would begin to look like then?

This is a conference for those working in inner city areas, council estates and housing schemes. Check out their website here. This is a preview of their conference this week where I will be speaking twice. Please pray for it and for the many faithful pastors, evangelists and gospel workers in the UK.

There are all sorts of models and debate about how, why and when we should plant and/or launch new churches. Some people prefer the small group/house church/community group model which is certainly a tried (not to mention biblical), proved and tested way of planting new congregations within certain cultural contexts. I, for one, am not convinced that this is a winning strategy in housing schemes. (This is not to say, incidentally, that these groups don’t have pastoral merit in our context).

On the other hand, there are those who prefer church ‘revitalisation’ as a more effective strategy, and I will write more on this in upcoming blogs. Craig Whitney has written an interesting little piece here on the concept of the “core” and the “launch team” as we think about these matters. He does raise some interesting points. I have outlined some basic considerations below for those thinking about this type of ministry.

1. Gathering a “full time” Team

I think that we need to have a group of around 10-15 committed Christians (obviously living in) in order to begin a new work on a scheme. Preferably,  at least 2 of these people ought to be full-time if we are to see any sort of traction in the community in the early days. We need key members of our team to be in full-time employment (for obvious reasons) but we need to have a full-time presence around the place if we are going to build any sort of momentum. Lots of ‘missional thinking’ works on the premise of seeking to build long-term relationships, but, on housing schemes at least, the ‘work‘ of establishing your ‘credentials’ is done very early on. Here, people will want to know who you are and what you are about straight off the bat. They won’t be as polite (or as individualistic) as middle class people and they will soon ask you what your ‘motives’ are. They want to know what you’re doing in their area, primarily, because people (particularly those who are skilled and educated) dream of moving out not in. If they establish the key leader(s) as ‘safe/cool/alright’ then they will accept the rest of the group, even those they don’t know so well. Being visible during the day and having a routine (paper shop, pub, local caff etc) will enable you to get traction more quickly.

2. Have a long-term Team Building Plan

Myself, a single mother, my wife, a youth worker and a pastoral assistant make up my core team. Within that group myself and the single mother are what I call “culturally indigenous” – we grew up on a council estate/housing scheme. The others are middle class ‘imports’. On my internship I have a Brasilian and a young, semi literate “culturally indigenous” convert from the scheme (he moved there 4 years ago). In my “pre-internship” I currently have an “indigenous – to Niddrie” single mum – about to be married and 2 “culturally indigenous men”. All are (or will be) meeting with, studying with, praying with people from around the scheme from all sorts of cultural backgrounds. This is healthy and it has taken time to develop. My team is purposefully “broad” as we seek to try to (1) reflect the cultural makeup of those around us and (2) build an effective model for training future leaders.

We must be thinking 5-10 years ahead when we’re working in schemes. Even if you are on your own now, you can turn this around by even seeking out one key person to invest into. People ask me how we attract our interns. Pray for one (or more), advertise for them, envision them. Show them how they can be part of a bigger vision for kingdom work in your area (and not just there to do your photocopying). Invite them along to help change the culture of your church and/or set the future direction of a new one. In my experience people are attracted to vision. More than that, they are attracted to those who they think have the credibility to pull it off. Once you attract one young leader, more will follow, momentum will build, vision will grow and you will begin to see movement. One of the dreams we have at Niddrie is to train and send interns out into difficult areas with men who are under resourced in order to encourage them and help them build this forward momentum.

3. We don’t have to be big to make an impact

Can I suggest that a church of 20-60 active and committed believers living gospel centred lives in a housing scheme is extremely healthy and can be a real catalyst for further, similar plants.

3. You Must Have a Full Time Women’s Worker

I think that whatever approach we take to planting in schemes, we must have a full-time female worker (not necessarily the planter’s wife). Without this, I think we have little or no chance of developing a wholistic ministry and breaking into to what is often a very matriarchal system (mums and grans rule in these here parts!). Often, they can be the key to the rest of the family. (My own preference for church planting would be to go mob handed: planter, women’s worker, youth and/or children’s worker as a minimum in a brand new work).

4. Don’t ‘Go it Alone” or ‘Panic Employ’

I have counselled people who are going into schemes once a week for a children’s club or a Bible study and they are discouraged by the lack of fruit and progress. Others, disillusioned the local church, have moved in to be a ‘presence’ in the community. But this type of ministry is not a sole venture. Likewise, I have spoken with elderly and/or dying churches in schemes who think that the key to solving their problems in these areas is to employ some ‘young person’ and throw them to the wolves. Usually, it is some wide-eyed middle class kid who is going to get eaten by anybody over the age of 8. Again, without a wider strategy and team support system in place, this is almost certainly a disaster. Worse than this, I know churches who have employed men in their late 50’s and early 60’s to turn their church around or to replant/revitalise. This is a disastrous policy if he is not able to get a young team around him quickly. Even now, in my late 30’s, I realise that my ministry future will increasingly lie more and more in training young men to do the job.

5. Where You Gather is Key

Now, I think this is perhaps more important than any other consideration (and not mentioned in the article). In housing schemes people regard religious gatherings – in what they view as non church like buildings – with great suspicion. Anything not considered a ‘church’ is considered cultish and extremely suspect. I cannot overstate this point enough. For example, in my first church which met in an old community hall, my dad was really uncomfortable and at one point questioned me as to whether it was even a ‘real’ church. Yet, in my second church, which met in a reclaimed Church of England building, he and my step mum went along (relatively) happily, enjoyed the service and felt very much relaxed. Both communities were evangelical and had pretty much the same worshipping style, and yet it was the building that allayed their fears and prejudice. There’s a lot of talk about the church being the people and not the building and I understand what this was (largely) a response to. But, do not undervalue the ‘where’ of a new church plant when working in the schemes.

Alongside this, reputation counts in schemes. In Niddrie, for instance, we meet in a brand new building that looks more like a community centre, which seems to go against everything I have written above. Yet, people on the scheme trust it (even if they don’t come to church) because of the 100 year history associated with the ‘mission’ in that place. Interestingly, a couple of church ‘plants’ have been and gone in Niddrie the last 5 years. Their meeting place each time? The local community centre. In my opinion one of the (many) reasons for their failure was that people here do not associate that place with ‘church’ and therefore did not take it seriously.

Some initial points to consider as we think more about ministry in housing schemes across the land.

by Mike Stark

Most of us are familiar with the terms  ADD or ADHD (attention deficit disorder, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). We work with and know many local children who have been diagnosed as such, placing them in a box and giving them a medical label to help them understand their (so-called) deficiency. Closely tied to these conditions is the issue of “attention span(s)”. Much is said, and has been published, about the length of time young people can really concentrate on something. The average young person, apparently, has an attention span of around 10-20 minutes. In our local High School, lessons last 50 minutes. In the High School where my wife teaches, periods last 35 minutes. The theory being that young people can only concentrate on a topic for a short period of time before needing to move on to something else.

So, when we see these articles that pop up from time to time, telling us that children can only concentrate for short bursts, and that their minds are being eroded by TV and video games, we may naturally begin to think about our context within the church and, specifically, our preaching on Sundays. Are our sermons too long for our young people? Are our sermons even too long for the adults?

Since the start of the year, our average sermon length at Niddrie has been 29.5 minutes long (yes, I have counted!). We often have a group of people from the community coming along to services on a Sunday morning. In recent months, we’ve also had a few young people as a direct result of  our school’s work and the other activities we do, such as our Youth Café. These individuals are not Christians, they’re ‘un-churched’, and they’re generally not in the habit of sitting and listening to a 30 minute sermon.

Bearing this in mind, we’ve been careful about our preaching recently, and those that bear the bulk of the teaching responsibility take great care each week to contextualise their message, often meeting together to run through it on the Friday beforehand to share ideas. They’ve also been careful about the length, although I’m not even convinced that the length of a sermon is necessarily the defining issue. Many of us will have experience of 10 minute sermons that have bored us to tears within the first minute. My old minister always says, in preaching: “If you’ve not struck oil in the first few minutes, stop boring”. On the other hand, I’m sure we’ve sat through 60 minute sermons that seemed to fly by. So the length isn’t everything.

Recent experience has shown me that even a group of Niddrie young people can sit still, listen to, and learn from a 30 minute sermon. Without going into too much more detail about some of the technical and structural changes the preachers have made (that would be an other blog post), I’d like to share with you just a few things that have worked well for us in Niddrie with the young people who have been coming along each week.

  1. Sit with the young people throughout the service. Be deliberate and make sure other youth leaders in the church are being deliberate too. In our church, some of us have to get up to play instruments; we have to make sure that when we get up, the young person we were sat next to isn’t left by themselves. Young people don’t like being a Norman-nae mates – sit with them!
  2. Try and ensure young people have the freedom to make a little noise. They’ll need someone to help them find their way through the Bible, they may not understand something that’s been said and sometimes they’ll want to ask a question. This can be done quite easily and without being a distraction to the rest of the church if, (a) you’re putting into practice number 1 above, and (b) the young person is capable of whispering – which is never a guarantee. Hopefully whoever is preaching will be sensitive to the situation and not get too distracted and/or irate. I’ve tried to speak to whoever is preaching beforehand to be sure they’re aware. One young man who came for the first time last week (after a number of invites) needed to leave early to visit his dad. He told me beforehand, and so I told Mez beforehand; that way he wouldn’t be distracted when he got up to leave. Sometimes a short answer to a young person’s question isn’t possible, and will have to be explained further after the service. Be sure and remember what the question was!
  3. Finally, give them a notebook and a pen. This has been the most helpful thing we’ve done. Mez said that the best thing anyone did for him when he started coming to church was to put a notebook and pen in his hand. It gives them something to focus on and it helps them to process what’s said and even reflect on it later. Two of the boys that have been coming along recently will testify to the difference it has made for them. It helps that I also take notes, so there is a sense in which they’re watching me and doing as I do. So far they have been copying points that I’ve noted down, but that’s because they’re not used to note-taking. With time, they’ll be able to jot down their own thoughts and points that have challenged or encouraged them throughout the sermon. It’s a skill that needs to be learned, but it first needs to be put into practice.

None of these are particularly new or revolutionary ideas. There’s still much more that could be said on tweaks and changes that the preacher could make in order to help maintain young people’s attention; but perhaps these are a few helpful suggestions if you’re the one  sitting in the congregation each week, wanting to help your young people engage more with what’s being taught up front.

Incarnational Living | Church Planting | Urban Youth Ministry | Missional Community| Urban Church

Proximity 2012 is a conference happening this May (25th-26th) in Salford, hosted by the Eden Network. It aims to bring these five streams above together in one place for two days of vision, conversation, inspiration and celebration. If you’re a leader or practitioner in any of these five overlapping areas of ministry Proximity could be of interest to you. Our tickets are being booked this week.

Proximity will be light-hearted and yet intelligent; fast-paced and yet reflective; boundary-pushing and yet affirming.

For more information, you can download the programme here. Or visit

“I’d die if I didn’t have my BlackBerry.”

Recent comment from young person

According to the news, a UK survey shows that TV is being pushed aside by mobile internet devices in the lives of young people.

Among 7-16 year olds, 61% have a mobile phone with internet access, and use that phone for an average of 1.6 hours a day. Before and after school, young people are now more likely to play with their mobiles than watch TV. On the topic of social media, here’s a short, very well made, and interesting video I though would be worth embedding…

If you do any work with young people, you don’t need me or the BBC to break this news to you – I’m sure you’re already perfectly aware of how significant mobile phones and social media are in the lives of young people today. The above quote would be fairly normal in my youth work experience and I’ve become quite accustomed to having conversations with young people who are simultaneously holding umpteen other conversations with friends via BBM (BlackBerry Messenger), or Facebook.

I’m all for engaging with young people and communicating in ways with which they’re comfortable: I’m happy to accept Friend Requests on Facebook (so long as I actually KNOW the individual), and I’m comfortable having mobile numbers and texting young people.

In fact, there are lots of ways I could go with this post: we could talk about how, with 600+ Facebook/BBM friends, our young people are growing up with a more diluted concept of what friendship is; we could talk about the trend of sexting (sending revealing or explicit photos and/or video to others, sometimes with the goal of meeting for sex) and how, according to research, 80% of 16-24 year olds have used either a smartphone or the web for some form of sexual contact; or we could talk about some of the practicalities of using social media and the need for transparency and appropriate safeguards. As is often the case, it’s real life situations that lie behind these posts, and one of the reasons why I noticed this particular news article was down to the fact that for the past 2 hours, I’ve been having a text message conversation with one young person who’s in real need of pastoral support.

Though useful for certain things, BBM, texts and Facebook are simply no substitute for face to face contact. There’s no depth to the conversations you have through typing – even something simple like the tone of what’s being said is very tricky to read, and something intended to be clear and innocent can be easily misinterpreted. Even phone conversations are no substitute for face to face – although the conversation can flow more freely than through text, you’re fundamentally unable to ‘listen’ to what the person is not saying: in their body language and such like.

I’d much rather sit down with the young person I’ve been texting this afternoon and just listen to what they have to say. But for now, they feel most comfortable with text messages, and that’s fine. In the past I’ve had long email conversations with young people in need of pastoral guidance and advice, and often these emails have been the precursor to deeper, more fruitful face to face conversations about their situation and where the gospel speaks into that situation. It’s my hope and prayer that this will be the case here, and that this individual will get the support they need.

A good friend of mine gave me this book recently because he felt like it would encourage me in terms of my own ministry here in Niddrie. This book was a New York Times best seller and charts the ministry of Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest and founder and director ofHomeboy Industries’. Their mission statement sums up what they do far more adequately than I could hope to:
Our Mission: Jobs not Jails: Homeboy Industries assists at-risk and formerly gang involved youth to
become positive and contributing members of society through job placement, training and education.
The nine chapters are choc full of stories and anecdotes about gang members he has met in his life, those he has helped and those who have died. In each chapter he attempts to extrapolate some meaning from the stories and apply them to themes such as, ‘compassion, jurisdiction, hope, and gladness’. So, what to say about this book? Firstly, how can we not help but admire a man who has selflessly dedicated his life to helping gang members of every stripe get out of trouble, find meaningful employment and make a positive contribution to society? Some of his stories are heartbreaking, some hilarious and some deeply inspiring. I won’t pretend that gangland LA is anything like Niddrie. We don’t have that same gun culture (yet) Here is it knives, claw hammers, mallets, the odd shooting and Samurai swords. If anything, the book resonated with my time in Brasil with street gangs – a sort of LA without the law and order! There some real gems hidden within the book. Consider the following response to a question about how ‘you work with the poor’:
You don’t. You share your life with the poor. It’s as basic as crying together. It’s about “casting your lot” before it ever becomes about “changing their lot.”
Or, consider this thought in relation to pressurising the powers for social change.
If we choose to be in the right place, God, through us, creates a community of resistance without our even realising it…Our locating ourselves with those who have been endlessly excluded becomes an act of viable protest. for no amount of our screaming at the people in charge to change things can change them…The powers bent on waging war against the poor and the young and the “other’ will only be moved to kinship when they observe it. Only when we see a community where the outcast is valued and appreciated will we abandon the values that seek to exclude.
It seems almost churlish to critique a book that left one reviewer ‘in tears of both sorrow and laughter’. It has been favourably reviewed by film stars, pastors, secularists and atheists alike. Like Mother Theresa, the good works of this book shine for all to see. And yet. If I am honest the endless stories become a bit tiresome and mask the theological superficiality of the book. Happy stories, sad stories and funny stories and I wonder if what stops him from becoming depressed and insane is his universalistic approach to life. I may be wrong, but what I took from this book is that pretty much all people get to go to heaven, even bad boy gang members. I will say that I absolutely appreciated his ‘positive’ spin on the average gang member. His emphasis on seeing the common grace of God in humanity is a lesson to those of us who have become jaded over the years by working with inveterate liars, manipulators and cheats. It’s often easier to jump to the doctrine of total depravity as our starting point rather than the Imago Dei. Yet, I can’t help feeling that he comes up short every time. Jesus is mentioned from place to place but only for some homespun wisdom or as an example for us all to follow. To be honest, this could have been a book about any religious person in the world and it wouldn’t have made a difference to the overall feel.
As the subtext says, there is a ‘power of boundless compassion’ but there is a far greater power in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. As Paul reminds the Romans it is ‘the power to salvation for all who will believe.’ Their mission statement above is one I can identify with and something we hope to emulate on the scheme with micro businesses and our ‘back2work’ project. But my dream is that we save them from the coming wrath. Jesus came to humanity to seek and save the lost. That was his primary mission. The souls of the perishing. That’s why, I suppose this book ultimately left me more than a little sad. It seemed to imply that eternal peace with God was a given and that our job on earth is merely to fill in the time between now and the end by serving in compassionate love those whom society rejects. I weep for the lost in the many schemes and council estates of our nation that have no access to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, I want to help them and serve them and show compassion to them through acts of service, love and sacrifice. But, I weep for their souls. We need a spiritual renewal in our land long before we need a socio-economic one.
A great little book and worth a read of only for the inspirational stories. Theologically, it will leave you somewhat frustrated.

What enters our minds when we think of inner city housing schemes, council estates and/or projects? What do the residents need to alleviate the problems they face? It is easy to try to appease a guilty conscience by doing ‘good stuff’ in these areas. Maybe helping out in a children’s club or doing some other community project. Social projects are two a penny in Niddrie. Charities and foundations getting financed off the back of the people who live here. The government seems happy to throw hundreds of thousands of pounds at a variety of projects from self-help, to the arts, to encouraging ‘green issues’. Some, doubtless, legitimate and necessary, and others a momentous waste of time and money. Worryingly, many churches seem to take an almost uncritical leaf out of these secular approaches to working in areas like ours.

In my opinion, most inner city housing schemes do not need crisis intervention and rehabilitation programmes, rather they need deep, spiritual renewal and even deeper thought on biblical, ethical developmental approaches in terms of community regeneration. We need to be planting churches. Also, if we are going to have any hope of resolving some of the generational malaise that blights these areas, we must do it in conjunction with local people. That, obviously, raises questions:

How do we work in partnership with local people? How do we encourage one another to invest in the long-term future of our schemes, for the benefit of future generations? How do we plant, raise & train truly indigenous leaders in housing schemes?

Surely, it is done in the long-term? Yet, many churches are still looking on with what I call a ‘crisis mindset’. They are not thinking past the needy people in front of them. I saw it in Brazil with street children. Many well-intentioned Christians would come out to work with the children and immediately begin spending thousands and thousands of pounds building recuperation homes and various other projects. Whilst they met an immediate and grave need, they didn’t actually try to deal with the root of the problem. Millions of pounds came in and many amazing institution were built but the problem just wouldn’t (and isn’t going) away. That is why my wife and I fought very hard with the ‘Off The Streets Project‘ we founded to concentrate on church planting and community development.

In the UK, I believe that we should let the state do its job, for better or worse. We need to evaluate our schemes with a more critical eye and leave behind the middle class guilt complex. It is damaging both to the middle class and the so-called ‘poor’ that it’s supposed to be helping (it isn’t). There are many ways to evaluate the labels, ‘poor’ and ‘deprived’ in Western culture and this is not the place to do it. But, let me assure you the ‘poor’ in Niddrie (and countless other schemes in our land) lack hope, not money. They can get that easier than us and, often, far more of it than you dare believe.

Churches (and Christians in general) need to be careful that we are not suffering from ‘soup kitchen syndrome’. This is where we react to the needs of those around us and immediately begin operating a ‘handout’ system of help. Let me tell you as a person who spent nearly 6 years homeless how the system worked in my favour. Church soup kitchens usually opened on different nights of the week (Christian solidarity and all that) and so we sussed out pretty quickly which night of the week we could get some free grub, a shower, some clothes and a bed. We had no need to spend our benefit cheques because we had our week’s mapped out. Take all the freebies we could and then spend what we could beg, borrow and steal (literally) on drink and drugs. It was a beautiful system that worked in our favour. I remember laughing with my friends about how the Christians were ‘helping’ us but not in the way they thought. They were, inadvertently helping us to carry on with our lifestyle.

Recently, I have been observing a new trend in church planting. No plan is apparently now complete without the addition of some sort of mercy ministry to encourage believers to aid the poor and oppressed of our major cities. On the one hand, I applaud this sentiment and, on the other, it makes me feel slightly uneasy. Well done to the evangelical church for waking up (at last) to the thought that God might actually just be interested in poverty, oppression and injustice. But, what is slightly galling for seasoned practitioners like myself, are those churches who have ignored our ministry for years (and left it to the work of parachurch organisations or ‘mission halls’) are now hosting talking head conferences in their nice little offices lecturing us on the principle of Jubilee in Leviticus. Ministry to the poor or mercy ministries has almost become the new test of missional orthodoxy.  And, yet again, the middle class power brokers are dictating the rules of the game and the rate at which it gets played.

The problem is that the ‘poor’ have moved on. We are the church now. A precious few of us are pastors and leaders. We’ve been doing community together for a long time and what we need is a voice, a platform, and a seat at the table, not an invitation to hear ‘Johnny big name’ come and give us a lecture about how we need to reach our communities! It’s so patronisingly sad, that it’s almost hilarious! Whilst many in the church have been deciding if God is into it or not we have been breaking our backs in the field.  What housing schemes planters need is parity, resources, help and encouragement.  We have wisdom to give and we have wisdom to receive. But let’s be clear. We’ve moved on from just rolling up to give our testimony to a room full of bloated middle class Christians who want to live vicariously through our stories.

We need help in developing our training and material. We need help in manpower and servant heartedness. We don’t need a volunteer pitching up at our kids club for an hour a week. We need them in the community full-time involved in the grind of people’s lives. We need to be thinking long and hard about our church planting strategies and employing the language of ‘helping the poor’. Sometimes helping is not helping. Sometimes kindness is cruelty. Sometimes it is good to ask. Sometimes it is good to just come and be around a community before deciding to stick them as an addendum to a strategy. Oftentimes, the one’s who need the help are the those who think they need it the least.

Tomorrow I will be reviewing a book that asks many of these questions and more.


There is a lot of talk these days about living ‘missionally’ as the answer to the problems of the local church in housing schemes/council estates. People say that if we live like they did in Acts where everybody shared their possessions and spent more intentional time together then we would have a much more effective church. I agree that churches need to be sharing much more and spending intentional time with each other but we need to ask ourselves the question whether this is what we really want? People talk a good game, but do we really want difficult people in our lives? Do we really want to spend time with addicts, the homeless, the mentally ill, not to mention the generally ‘deprived’? Do we really want these guys to become Christians?

I ask this last question because the problems begin when some of those from housing schemes/council estates give their lives to Christ. It’s exciting at the beginning. They have fascinating stories and a great testimony. We get them to meet our friends and family. We help them out in any way we can. But then the days roll into weeks and the weeks into months. You begin to get tired of hearing those stories you once found fascinating. You get frustrated that they monopolise so much of your time. You don’t like the friendship they are building up with your family. You find it difficult that they are always in your house. You feel like others should be taking the burden and not just you. It all gets a bit monotonous and uncomfortable for you.

The truth is that discipling people in community, as I’ve said in other blogs, is a long term investment involving hard graft. The reality is more like what I described above. When we are discipling people from chaotic backgrounds in particular, we have to take them into our homes or spend a concentrated amount of time with them if there is going to be long term spiritual growth. We invest and help them with everything from their finances, to looking after their children, to how to read the Bible. They are people and you are their new family. They are not just for Christmas but for a lifetime!

Some Christians have great intentions but when their lives become a little uncomfortable they freak out. I mean we have boundaries. We need space. We need time. We have structure. However, these are things that you will have to battle with if you want to grow real friendships with people from schemes. Their lives are messy. They need time and energy. They will mess up your plans. They will invade your space. We talk about wanting to win people for Christ from housing schemes without realizing that they become all encroaching. When it comes to it we get upset and are unwilling to do it. Maybe you’re someone who is discipling converts from housing estates. You have taken people into your home. You have built friendships with people. Or maybe you are thinking about getting involved. I’ve got three bits of practical advice that I’ve learned over the last couple of years.

Firstly, you must know that its painful sometimes but very necessary. It is going to be difficult but that’s the nature of any ministry. If you want to work in schemes then you have to be ready to have your life invaded and your comfort rocked. We are too comfortable as Christians in the West and we like keeping difficult people at arms length. But, we need to repent of this sin and know the necessity of long-term, time consuming, often residential discipleship.

Secondly, it’s important to know your heart issues. We like to blame others for our frustration or anger but the Bible says that we must look at ourselves first and foremost. Where are our idols? If you struggle with control then you may get frustrated when the person you are discipling constantly changes your plans because of their needs. If you struggle with security then you may get anxious if they take a lot of resources and time. We need to repent of these things and not take our sin out on the person we are discipling. Do not be surprised that those we disciple transform us too. God always works both ways. God is working in you. You are investing in them but they are going to challenge your heart issues also.

Thirdly, you need to know that it gets more natural the longer you do it. We are so programmed by society to have our own space and love ourselves but as our comfort zones are challenged and wrestled with it does get more natural. It will become less of a challenge because you are used to the pressure, time, and energy that is needed to disciple new converts from estate/scheme areas!

Paul offers us some encouraging words in Colossians 1:28-29: “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” Is this what we want? Do we want to labour with all the strength that Christ powerfully works in us to present people mature in Christ? Then know that Christ helps us but that it’s painful. Know that it’s worth it but its going to cost you. And keep persevering if you are already involved because it is Christ working in and through us! It is a great privilege discipling people and I wouldn’t want to do anything else!