At the end of the day, when all else is ‘stripped away’ I’m forced to ask myself important questions of identity, mission and purpose. The truth is that God’s call on my life hasn’t altered. My heart still aches to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell…..I’m not one content to stay within the sound of chapel bells! My heart is for the folks like those I chatted to last week, everyday working class folks, who don’t think that church is for the likes of them. I don’t mind the gritty reality of a small gathering of Jesus followers and seekers in a tough place.
The church in Britain, England in particular I believe, has a great challenge in reaching beyond the respectable of our society. The main reason for this is that the ‘working class’, whilst besotted with celebrity culture, soaps and having the latest stuff are still a people firmly rooted in a very real sense of authenticity. The fascination with those outward thing is, I believe, a form of escapism from the reality. However, this transparency often means that when it comes to church, folks have little time for religious games.
If you come from a cut and thrust world of Britains council estates, you just don’t invest your life in something that appears to be namby-pamby. There is, quite honestly, too much at stake. No, this God thing has to be real, gritty, honest, transparent and quite frankly, it has to work. Its perfectly possible to experience more ‘community’ in my mother’s front lounge than in your average church. See, when you visit my mothers, the front and back doors to the house are often open and there are often people coming in and out through the day for coffee, for the loan of some sugar or a quick £20. If you’ve had a bad day, you come in and you talk about it with no appointment necessary. If you need help you ask and you usually get it if it is there to be provided.
I read this today, and there is a lot of truth in it for any situation, but is particularly true and pertinent to the shape and character of any new urban church in post-Christendom:
Key words for me in that quote are ‘participation,’ ‘their own setting’, ‘real transformation’, ‘authentic’ and ‘gritty engagements.’ I firmly believe that the church of Jesus Christ was actually hard coded to function like this in a whole variety of settings to be at its best. For Britain, religious shows won’t cut the mustard. We’d rather watch the telly – and vast swathes of our population do just that rather than bother with church!
It was Catherine Booth that said
‘Show the world a real, living, self-sacrificing, hard-working, toiling, triumphing religion and the world will be influenced by it. But anything short of that and they will turn around and spit on it.’
It is prophetically true.
Don’t get me wrong – everyone needs the gospel, we all need Jesus. However, I think that when it comes to function, community and authenticity, we see it best amongst people for whom following Jesus isn’t a social opportunity but a life necessity. The more middle-class, educated, privileged I become due to the ‘natural’ prosperity of being a life transformed with Christ (the elevator effect) the more I actually feel I need to connect with my roots to learn something of the sacrament that is called ‘life’.
“Some wish to live within the sound of Church or Chapel bell;
I want to run a Rescue Shop within a yard of hell.”
– C.T. Studd.