20schemes is five years old this month (although the idea was birthed over a decade ago while church-planting in Brazil). Personally, I am entering my nineteenth year of pastoral ministry.
During that time, I have worked in council estates in the UK, the slums of Brazil and in Scotland with 20schemes. We currently have seven church-planting sites (in various stages of development) across five cities within three denominations. We train almost 30 people through our in-house discipleship programmes. We train 12 planters in our planting school. We train at least a dozen women on our women’s training track. We have, in partnership with Acts29, started a new global initiative to train, resource and mentor church planters in poor communities from around the world. We currently have 40 men in that network from places as diverse as New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, China and North & South America.
We run two ‘Weekenders’ per year where people can come to our church and spend a weekend with us as we look at issues such as preaching to the working class, discipling people with addictions, mental health issues, women workers, youth work, eldership, evangelism and growing leaders.
I was recently asked to attend a ‘Transforming Scotland’ event in order to present my opinion on the state of Scottish Christianity and what we can do to reverse its current decline. I was asked to speak to a room full of church leaders from my scheme perspective. Here is a summary of what I said.
- Please stop thinking of ministry to the poor only in terms of mercy ministry. What that usually means is that rich churches and/or middle-class Christians come into our communities to do good works (usually a handout or some form of debt counselling). Then, if anybody gets saved (which is rare because they tend not to be open about the gospel), they are encouraged to go to a church outside their scheme (because so few exist within them) and, therefore, outside their culture. This, in turn, means they are forced to assimilate to middle-class cultural values and norms. The best mercy ministry is a healthy, local gospel church peaching the gospel, loving the poor and discipling people right at the heartbeat of our schemes.
- We need to rethink current training and strategies for reaching into urban poor communities. They don’t work and merely service the educated middle and upper classes. We need to push back on the lie that only people with HE degrees can be ministers. Theological institutions are not helping us and they haven’t for some time. They cater to their own demographic and service their own culture. 20schemes is working on developing the vocational model of theological training for its leaders and practitioners. Too often, vocational training is seen as inferior to HE training when nothing could be further from the truth, at least up to BA level.
- We need to return to a long-term approach to financing church plants in schemes. So many middle-class, cash-rich (at least compared to us) churches simply do not understand this. They have bought into the middle-class business model approach to church-planting which expects financial independence within 3-5 years. A leading evangelical minister said this many years ago: ‘There is no money in planting among the poor.’ Of course he is right, which is why it is out of vogue (not that it ever was in vogue). The cold, hard facts are that many church plants in our communities may not be viable for a decade or more. Some, however, will be and can be useful as training and development hubs.
- We need to embrace and expect a culture of failure in our church-planting. Much of educated, middle-class culture lives with a fear of failure. Even those that do fail, in our culture of spin, can and are sold and repackaged as something else. So, for instance, a pastor isn’t sacked from his church, he is moving on to explore new opportunities. A church plant didn’t fail, it succeeded for a season. This kind of language may sound spiritual (and in some cases may be true) but it isn’t helpful. It presents what we do as just too clean-cut. In other words, it doesn’t reflect the realities on the ground. I expect at least 50% of church plants in schemes to fail. They can’t all succeed, even though I want them to. The statistics for planting failure around the world are very high. Without failures there can be no success.[bctt tweet=”Embrace and expect a culture of failure in our #churchplanting. I expect at least 50% of church plants in schemes to fail. (@mez1972)” via=”no”]
- Don’t believe the even bigger lie that only large churches with big budgets can plant churches. We have 80 members in one of Edinburgh’s poorest neighbourhoods and yet we have 40 staff spread across five cities; we support ministry in the UK and around the globe. A handful of small churches can achieve just as much, if not more, than one larger church if we get our heads together and work in partnership.
- Don’t undermine the work and importance of church revitalisation. This has far more cultural pull in the schemes than so-called ‘new expressions’ of church. There are literally hundreds of little church halls and dilapidated buildings around the country which, with investment and effort, we could turn around. The impact would be huge.
- We need to train indigenous leaders. In middle-class churches the cream rises to the top (in terms of leadership development). In the schemes we need to dig around in the dirt and the coal to find the gold.
- We need to train more women for the ministry. We currently train about a dozen women but we need more. At 20schemes, we are complementarian. That does not mean (whatever our critics say) that we sideline women. In fact, just the opposite. Culturally, more than half of the people living on schemes are women. A high proportion of them are single mothers. A higher proportion have some form of mental health issue due to (1) sexual abuse and/or (2) drug addiction. We need a generation of biblically mature, Jesus-loving women who will minister into this setting faithfully.
- We need the middle class in our poorest communities. We need help from cultural outsiders to grow a generation of indigenous leaders. Without this outside intervention we are lost. The problem is that most of them would never set foot inside a scheme. That needs to change. We need a new generation of men and women of faith willing to eschew their parents’ culture of ‘bigger and better’ or ‘move up and move out’. What if God doesn’t want you to go to university? What if he wants you to go to a housing scheme instead? What if he wants you to live and die there for the sake of the gospel?[bctt tweet=”What if God wants you to go to a housing scheme instead? What if he wants you to live & die there for the sake of the #gospel? (@mez1972)” via=”no”]
- Don’t assume you know the culture just because we speak a common tongue. Working (and non-working) class culture appreciates directness of speech. They value relationship by speaking honestly. On the other hand, middle-class people value relationship by tempering their speech. So, for instance, a working-class man and a middle-class man hear the same sermon. Neither of them likes it. The working-class man is likely to say ‘it was boring’ if asked directly about it. The middle-class man is more likely to find something positive to say about it even though he agrees with the working-class man. As a result, one side looks rude and brutal and the other looks wishy-washy. The middle-class man thinks, ‘Why does he have to be so rude?’ The working-class man thinks, ‘Why is he lying?’ This leaves working-class Christians confused by the church. They don’t understand why people get upset at them for telling the truth and yet have no problem with lying. Language and culture are very complicated things, even in the English-speaking world.
- We need big vision and long-term objectives. Scotland is not going to be won by a group of timid men and women in a committee meeting. It is going to be won by those who dream big and trust in the absolute sovereignty of God to get things done. The spiritual decline of decades won’t be reversed overnight. But it will be if we stay and die among the people to whom God has called us.
- Pray. We pray at Niddrie. That is all. If you’re serious about ministry then you’re serious about prayer.[bctt tweet=”How can we transform #Scotland once again? Pray. If you’re serious about ministry then you’re serious about #prayer.(@mez1972)” via=”no”]
Get on with it. Nobody of note that ever accomplished anything for the kingdom did it without facing a cauldron of opposition and misunderstanding. Nobody is going to thank us for it. Nobody is going to hand out prizes. Crack on.