As I have worked in some of the most deprived areas of the world I am convinced that for any deep down spiritual change to occur, we need to commit to area’s for the long haul. Several years ago my wife and I decided to commit to Niddrie for at least the next 10 years (unless God calls us on). This is a huge decision for us because it means we are tied down to this area long term. The work is tough and grueling but it is also exciting because our vision for the area is to penetrate all of Niddrie with the gospel of Jesus.
Initially, it was a difficult decision because I come from a generation that wants things to happen quickly. The reality, in God’s kingdom, is quite often the opposite. I come from a generation that wants things to happen now and for everything to change miraculously overnight. However, this is not what Jesus taught about the kingdom of God or even how God changes individuals deep down.
Think about our own lives and the sin that is so deep within. We are so often blind to it and stubborn to change. But, in God’s grace, He slowly uses circumstances and His Word (through the conviction of the Holy Spirit) to point out areas of sin and transform us into Christ’s likeness. This is a process we can be very slow to learn. Every part our heart is tainted with sin because of the fall and so there are lots of things God has to put right in us. Further, the sin of pride holds us back from wanting to change as we hate to be challenged. God is working in us but it takes perseverance and time. The children of Israel are a case in point. God took them through the desert for 40 years until they were ready to go into the Promised Land. He wanted to root out their pride and self-sufficiency but yet they still went astray once they got there. I know that we are this side of Jesus and that we now have the Spirit working in us but that sin of pride and self-sufficiency is the same thing that we struggle with each and everyday. That’s why Jesus had to come and why we must remind ourselves of him regularly because through His grace He points us away from ourselves and our own self-sufficiency.
If our personal spiritual sanctification is a journey then what makes us think that it’s going to be any different in a scheme? Many from my (middle class) background tend to have this romantic vision that God is miraculously just going to change the poor overnight. Sometimes He does. Sometimes He brings multiple conversions. But even when he does that, the real work is just beginning. Conversion is almost too easy. The brutal slog comes in helping our people walk in relationship with Jesus. I’ve likened discipling someone to completely rewiring their hard drive. Everything must change. People from schemes often need help with a wide variety of issues, such as how to run their families, how to look after money and how to be more self disciplined. They come from such chaotic lives that making sense of them and reordering them to reflect and honour Jesus Christ is a long-term process. It’s not just a quick walk around the block. It is a long, hard hike up a mountain path. One of the things that we offer in Niddrie is a family home for people to live in who have made a commitment to Christ. This is necessary so they can see Christian life and family modeled in reality. One of our guys lived with a family for 2 years to give him the stability and discipleship he needed to reorder his life. Some take six months. Some are still needing structured help many years in. If we want to see true disciples of Jesus and not simply converts then we need to be in it for the long haul.
Not only do we need to disciple men and women from schemes but we must actively train up leaders. It’s all well and good a person from a middle class background (like myself) coming and serving in a place like Niddrie but the future of these estates lies in the hands of those who have come from these areas. Culturally, they are more savvy and local people relate to them more quickly. They understand the culture because they are from it. This, again, takes time and costly investment. Jesus spent 3 years with 12 disciples and invested in 3 particularly. He was cultivating leaders for when he departed earth. In the same way we need to be training leaders long-term for the future of these estates. Too many churches simply attract Christians from other churches because of their music and popular speakers. But not many are reaching out to their communities with the gospel and actually seeing indigenous converts from non-Christian backgrounds grow into leadership positions. This is because many churches take a short-term view and decide that it’s easier to attract then to invest. In the schemes it is even worse because there are very few gospel churches in the first place.
There are further complications if you are working in a scheme and you are revitalizing a work. Six years ago Niddrie Community Church had no local converts and most of the congregation came from outside the estate. Evangelism was done on an attractional basis and there was little to no personal interaction with the community. They did not know the culture and they were getting attacked by the community. Both cultural mindsets had to be changed and shaped in ordeer for meaningful ministry to occur. These new ideas and perspectives took time to penetrate but, several years on, and many have moved into the area, the church is no longer being bricked and people are starting to build some meaningful relationships within the community. We are by no means perfect but we are on the right track to reaching Niddrie for Christ. This has been six years of hard slog by Mez and others. Learning new ideas, concepts and culture takes time to be embedded and taken on board by the Christians in the church. But it has been worth it.
Work in these areas is exciting and I am expectant of what God is going to do in me and this estate in the next 10 years. The question is: Are you committed? Are you ready to take the gospel to schemes across the UK and world? Will you slog it out and take the narrow road instead of simply attracting Christians from other churches? Will you invest and pour your lives into people like Jesus and Paul and fly in the face of our culture by persevering in the face of indifference, hostility and difficulty?
We need people to come and serve with 20schemes. We don’t need super qualified people. We need super faithful people. Humble learners. Perseverers. People willing to truly give up the best years of their lives and spend them in service to the King in our nation’s schemes. If that is you then contact us and begin a conversation. We pray that in the next decade many young leaders will be raised up in schemes across Scotland and the UK to change the face of our spiritual landscape.