It is an annoyingly political approach to problem solving to first claim to ‘recognise’ the issue and then, subsequently, to ‘discuss’ the problem. Taking your time to ‘recognise’ and then spend an age ‘discussing’ the problem has several personal benefits.
First, this approach allows us to alleviate our guilt at having done nothing about the problem up to now. If we recognise the problem and then discuss the issue, we readily fool ourselves into believing we are actually doing something about it.
Second, this recognising and talking allows us to stall the point at which we finally have to do something tangible to resolve the problem. If we can pass off our recognising and talking as action of some sort then we can suspend our disbelief just far enough to believe the fiction of our own minds that we have actually done something in reality.
Third, in concert with the previous two points, it is a short step from recognising and talking to the fiction that we are doing something to solve the problem. From there, it is an even shorter step to the belief that we have actually resolved the problem simply by acknowledging its existence and talking about it.
When discussing the issue of resourcing, and planting, churches in deprived communities, this often feels like the approach taken. One is reminded of a scene from Yes, Prime Minister where any issue is greeted by the promise of white papers, committees and revision bodies in which there is a recognition of the problem, a great deal of talking, and an utter lack of any action.
When discussing church in deprived communities, I have heard, with some regularity, the claim that ‘we recognise the problem’. I have also been curtly dismissed with comments such as ‘we’ve had a conference about this’, ‘we published articles on it’ and/or ‘we invited speakers to specifically help us on this issue’. Those things are great but they generally seem to be stated with the fairly unsubtle subtext, ‘we are doing something about this’. Not only that subtext, but curtly enough to suggest that the matter is therefore concluded and there is no more to be said or done – problem solved, so to speak.
The problem with this, of course, is that a conference about the issue doesn’t actually resource anybody. Inviting those in the thick of such ministry to write an article here or there doesn’t plant any more churches on the ground. The money, people and resources that churches in deprived communities sorely need are not suddenly bestowed upon them because we invited an expert to impart their knowledge to us or we recognised the problem and held a conference on it.
All too often, these things feel a little as though we are being told that because they recognise the problem and have talked about it a little, this amounts to having done something tangible. Whilst keeping the issue on the agenda at all is important, it falls well short of actually doing anything.
We need to accept that there are no solutions to resourcing existing churches in deprived areas, and planting new ones, that don’t involve an investment of time, money and workers. There are a variety of different ways we may choose to use our time, money and people but – at some level – if each of those things do not physically find their way to the churches and plants on the ground in deprived communities then all we have really offered is a recognition of the problem and a load of chat. And, as the saying goes (and I suspect is fundamentally why this is the sole response), talk is cheap.
Let’s move beyond the talk and really consider action that might help. Some suggestions as to things we might do:
- Set up a grant system that will help address the yearly giving deficit that often exists between money coming in from a church of low (or no) wage givers and the costs of running a church e.g. employing pastors, running ministry, etc.
- Set up a fund that will meet most, or all, the salary cost of ministry posts such as women’s workers, planters and evangelists who can work alongside ministers in deprived communities who could not afford such things alone.
- Create a system of partnering large, affluent churches with smaller churches in deprived communities with a strong emphasis on the sharing of workers, funds and regular prayer support.
- Support training hubs in the locality of deprived communities so that those from the communities themselves can stay in their home church and continue to train for ministry (FYI, a North West hub based in any given city will simply be too far to travel for most from deprived communities, especially those at the fringes of the region itself e.g. hard to envisage folk from Stoke trekking to Manchester on a daily basis for lectures).
- Incentivise workers to go to deprived communities.
- Encourage larger churches to actively send their trainees (and others) to deprived communities rather than creating more and more in-house posts for them.
There may be other way we can help too but some of these things would be specific ways that we might move from words to real action.