An interesting Gospel Coalition came into my blog reader asking, ‘Is God Calling You to Go Home?’ The article was clearly articulating a scenario in which somebody from a deprived community had spent their time trying to get out and subsequently felt that God was seeking to call them back. It is a good post centred on the US church and the need for people to commit to small-town America.
What interested me was that the article was shared by a number of folk in the UK. Whilst the post worked with respect to aspirational pull causing people to leave deprived communities in America, the question does not translate well to the UK. Mainly, that is because the rhetorical question is actively encouraging people to consider moving back to their hometowns. When that call is the denial of one’s aspirations or comforts in order to serve unreached people as an indigenous planter or pastor, there is much merit in it. As a call to aspirational Americans to commit to their small, deprived hometowns, it works.
The slightly unsettling thing about UK believers sharing it is that the call takes on a slightly different edge. It is well known that UK Evangelicals are overwhelmingly white and middle class. A disproportionately high number have been to university compared to the general UK population and over a third of all UK Evangelicals live in London and the South East. There are almost twice as many Evangelical churches in the South as there are in the North.
What does this mean for the encouragement to go home and share the gospel? I suspect it means largely what we see already in the UK. It means areas of high deprivation will lack churches, BME people are not brought into our congregations and those who do not live in areas of high educational attainment are largely unreached.
UK Evangelicals largely do not need to be encouraged to ‘go home’. If most Evangelicals are white and middle class, encouraging them to ‘go home’ as a service to the Lord is to encourage them to go to most affluent communities that most people aspire to live in. Frankly, they don’t need much encouragement as the figures on Evangelicalism and the spread of Evangelical churches attests.
British Evangelicals need less encouragement to ‘go home’ and more encouragement to reach the unreached. There is less of a need for homebodies and more need for missionaries. We need people who will set aside the comforts of home and go to those that others simply won’t reach. Getting people to move within walking distance of a tube stop really isn’t all that difficult. Getting someone to move to a council estate in the North East or a deprived community that is majority South Asian seems to be a much taller order for most Evangelical people.
Of course, I would love to see a new generation of indigenous workers raised up from each and every part of the UK, in both working- and middle-class areas made up of both working- and middle- class people representing the ethnic demography of their immediate context. What we have, however, are disproportionate numbers of white middle-class believers in white middle-class churches in white middle-class areas. Unless some of those believers are willing to lay aside their desire to be with people like themselves, and commit to areas of greater deprivation full or working class or BME people (or both) that equally need the gospel, calling on people to commit to ‘going home’ will perpetuate the white middle class nature of Evangelicalism as it stands.
Do some people need to commit to their hometowns and estates? Of course they do. Is that the encouragement that most UK Evangelicals need? Absolutely not. Most Evangelicals do not need a call to go home; they need a call to cross-cultural mission. Most do not need a new vision for the place they are from, they need a wider vision for the overwhelming number of lost people in the deprived communities with which they have often had little to no contact whatsoever.
Take my town, for instance. Does Oldham need a generation of Oldhammers to commit to the town in order to win it for Christ? Definitely. But there needs to be a generation of believers who will take the gospel to a largely unchurched town before we can hope to see that generation of indigenous raised up. We don’t tell missionaries to go home before they have been to where the Lord has not been proclaimed. Let’s not make that mistake on the home front. We need fewer Evangelicals to ‘go home’ to their middle-class areas and far more to deny themselves and proclaim Christ in the deprived towns and communities where he is not known.