I’ve never been much of one for ‘playing the game’. I don’t particularly want to ‘tell stories’ or ‘paint pictures’. I don’t like politicking and I don’t want to suggest what is inherently unattractive is somehow fair and bright. I am not interested in the ‘but that’s how things are done in these circles’ school of thought and I flat out refuse to ‘sell myself’ in order that I might be able to ‘get on’.
I minister in a deprived area of a deprived town to which many people simply do not want to come. Our area is almost exclusively made up of Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslims. We are seeing fruit for our labours, with people coming to faith in Christ, being baptised and joining the church in membership. Most of these people are either asylum seekers (predominantly from Iran) with no means or long-term unemployed. Many of these people are moved on at a moment’s notice or, for other reasons, are unable to remain in the area long-term. We desperately need resources such as people and funds to maintain this work.
Beyond this, we have long-term plans to plant in other unchurched areas of our town on nearby – predominantly white British – council estates full of people who, due to the history of racial tension and segregation across Oldham, simply will not come into our area even though we are less than 15 minutes walk away. We have identified four nearby areas of Oldham that currently have no gospel witness in their midst. They are full of people heading for a lost eternity who desperately need to hear of Jesus Christ. This, dear friends, is simply how it is.
It has long been known that the Christian world functions on something of an old boys network. Resources are rarely divvied out according to genuine need but according to a series of measures such as who you know, do those people like you personally and will diverting resources to that work amount to good PR. It is this unfortunate means of operation that often leads to hordes of step-over-their-grandmother types circling like vultures around key-note speakers and higher-ups at various events. They turn up to that which they believe will reward them with good favour from influential men and thus advance them in the, frankly minuscule, world of British Evangelicalism (maybe vainly hoping they will be propelled to glory on the international Evangelical stage). It is often this that leads to the whole vainglorious desire to ‘tell stories’ and ‘paint pictures’ and ultimately make a great deal of what is, in fact, very unimpressive indeed.
I simply refuse to play that game; one which I never signed up to play. I did not become a minister in the cause of Christ to ingratiate myself to others in some desperate attempt to milk a wealthy, middle class Evangelical cash cow. I am not going to ‘sell’ my town to you. I am not going to carefully craft stories for you to buy into. You don’t need my naff pictures. You don’t need these things because you already have the command of Christ. If the word of God doesn’t compel you to come and help, or support gospel endeavour, what on earth will my flowery tales do to convince you?
In truth, my stories are only likely to reinforce your prejudices: ‘Can anything good come from Oldham?’, ‘Wow, the Lord is really working among Muslims – who’d have thought… even them!’, ‘You’re reaching those estates. You’re brave!’. These reactions, at best, make me look good for going to where others won’t. This is not what I am after.
I want people to move to the town. I want churches to get behind the reaching of lost people by praying, funding, resourcing and sending others to join the work. I couldn’t give two hoots about a round of applause or a pat on the back, I don’t want your well done’s and well wishes, we want you to meaningfully partner with us in the work of reaching lost souls. If you want a reason to partner with us, to support our ministry, you don’t need my stories and pictures. You need to open your Bible and apply what it says about people dying in their sin. You need only to know that Oldham is an under-churched, unreached place that needs gospel ministry. You need only to know what the Lord can do through small witnesses to large places (e.g. Jonah to Nineveh). You need only to recognise that Christ calls us to go into all the world and make disciples. You need only to open your eyes to the places that lack churches and resources. You need only ask yourself why wealthy city centre, suburban and market town churches are readily planted while those in deprived communities and on tougher estates aren’t.
It is my desire to reach Oldham for Christ. It is a borough of around 220,000 people who do not know their right hand from their left. We want to work with those who have a desire to reach the lost. We don’t want to be those people you stick up on the fridge and wheel out periodically to prove what a great job you’re doing supporting ‘mission’. We want to be those people you partner with because you love the Lord and believe in the power of the gospel for salvation. We want to partner with those who recognise the eternal repercussions of sitting on their hands, doing nothing and allowing the urban poor to go to Hell because we considered another annex to our building for extra storage as more glorifying to God than resourcing ministry to the lost.
You don’t need my stories because the Lord has already given us the only story we need to know. People face a lost eternity unless they find salvation in the person of Jesus Christ. They cannot know Christ unless we are prepared to go and tell them about him. We, therefore, need to go to wherever Christ is not known. We need to resource those places where Christ is preached and God is at work but the mission won’t continue unless it is adequately resourced. You don’t need my stories, you simply need to open scripture. It’s not stories you need, it’s the truth. After all, it’s the truth that sets you free – not my stories.