Monday, 18 January 2016

Classist - It's easy to be blind to our church prejudices

Sometimes it takes leaving your culture and country behind for a while to give you new eyes when you return to it.  I'm just back from a few days in New York, a surprise present for my big birthday (so others tell me thought I though 21 was no big deal).  It was a great time of relaxation and rejuvenation.  It wasn't massively restful in one sense - we often walked 15+ miles in day neighbourhood rambling and seeing the sights and the less well seen areas of Manhattan and parts of Queens.  I'm not going to make any observations about America because a four day visit doesn't qualify me to do so, beyond saying New York is one of the friendliest places I have ever been to.

But it did make me realise something on my return.  We are blind to our own prejudices, because we have grown up with them or because they are just part of the fabric of the society we grow up in, part of the air we breathe.  If you've read anything of my blog you will know of my concern that Christianity in the UK is a middle class faith, it is a religion of the comfortable.  Now, don't misunderstand me, the middle class need the gospel as much as anyone, and it is hard work because they often don't realise it.  But you only have to plot churches on a map, or chart where churches are closing or struggling in a city or town to see that Christianity is a middle class faith and as such it has swallowed middle class prejudices that prevent it reaching the working class and deprived with the gospel.  But my time away has made me realise that we are more blind to that than ever. 

With a few notable exceptions where is most of the church planting taking place in the UK?  In middle class or student centres of population.  It is among the affluent and educated.  Why?  Because we are blind to the need on the council housing estates and the working class areas, or because we want to plant churches that grow into independent congregations so we can plant another, or so we look successful and that's harder to do in deprived areas.  I love pastoring the church I am privileged to pastor with it's very mixed congregation and it's working class and estate links.  There is a richness about the diversity in our church family.  There is a sense of barriers being bridged, though we still have so much more to do.

But there is so much more for the church in the UK to do in terms of reaching the working class and estates.  And what has struck me again is that quite simply most churches don't even see the need.  We all tend to want to see those we know - our friends, family, and colleagues - saved.  That is only natural and it is right, in one sense.  But it is also wrong if like Jonah we are not prepared to go to those who are not like us.  For Jonah it was nationality that limited his compassion and grasp of grace, for us in England is it class?

I've had a few conversations recently that have deeply saddened me.  One where someone has struggled to find someone willing to be mentored and coached to pastor a church on an estate desperately in need.  Another where someone else has spoken about reaching the working class and deprived being a generation or two into the future, where we almost need to gradually work our way down to reaching those areas.  Both of those conversations have broken my heart and left me discouraged and angry.

So my prayer as I return to work is that the church in the England would wake up to the millions who are sleep walking into a lost eternity in our estates and working class areas in towns and cities in England.  That God would stir up in us compassion for the lost, that he would destroy barriers as he had to for the early church and the Apostles (Acts 10) and that he would give us a heart for the lost and a belief in the gospel and his spirit that emboldens us to leave the comfortable in order to win the lost.  In short that the gospel would break through our prejudice - class.

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