As we enter another year, it seems worth revisiting a question that has been a regular feature here. Who will go to deprived communities in 2019?
I won’t rehash all the stats and figures, you can search previous posts for those, but Evangelicalism remains largely white and middle class. There have been some good noises made on this issue in 2018 – notably this and this from Affinity, this from Acts 29 and various things coming from the FIEC – but it still bears saying that much of this remains mere noise. It would be brilliant if 2019 was the year we moved from making noises about deprived communities and began actively moving resources and planting churches in those areas that – as it stands – we have largely overlooked.
So, with that in mind, let me make four suggestions for 2019:
It is often this time of year when we start thinking about mission partners. Perhaps existing commitments have ended, you have funds and capacity to support somebody new or you don’t yet support anyone and feel like you ought to start. Instead of sending all your money to missionaries abroad, could you consider partnering with an existing church in a deprived community or think about sending a missionary into a deprived community in the UK?
Most of the churches in deprived communities across the UK report a similar story: chronic lack of funding and few people willing to go and help. The converts who come in often end up moving on in time. Maybe they experience social lift or perhaps receive asylum papers. There are dozens of reasons why the people reached simply don’t (or can’t) stay. Could your church commit to supporting a church in a deprived community financially in 2019 or – better still – fund and send a worker this year?
It is great that church planting has come into vogue over recent years. There can be no doubt that the UK needs more churches. There are questions surrounding much church planting that deserve an answer (you can, again, search the blog for some of those things if you are so inclined). But in 2019, could we resolve to plant new churches into a deprived community?
Could we determine now not to plant on top of other churches (even if they are not quite our flavour but still preach the same gospel) and choose to send our folks into areas where there are no churches? Instead of simply drawing a circle around where our existing members live and sticking a church in their midst, could we not identify a needy community and plant into it?
This will require us to encourage our people to move, often to places where the people are not like them and into areas they wouldn’t otherwise choose for themselves. But if we are to reach the whole of our nation for Christ, we must stop planting where churches exist and around where our existing people already live and resolve to go to where there is need (and a map of these things will show you deprived places are among the least reached).
If we are to see churches established in deprived communities – and those already there fully equipped and supported – it is going to require training. We are going to need to train a new generation of would-be pastors and planters specifically for the deprived context.
In 2019, could you look at your congregation and consider who might be appropriate to send and encourage them to consider training for ministry in a deprived community? Could you thinking about sponsoring an indigenous worker from a deprived community to train for future ministry? Could you think carefully about where you send your people to train and whether what they learn is appropriate for ministry in a deprived community? If we are simply sending our people to Bible colleges that will not equip them for ministry in deprived places, we are essentially guaranteeing those people won’t go to deprived places because their skill-set will not suit such areas.
For those involved in Bible college ministry, could you make 2019 the year you really assess your course options. Do you provide anything that is suitable for ministry in a deprived community or are all your courses geared towards middle-class graduates for use in middle-class and graduate contexts? Would your college be willing to honestly ask the question, are we locking people from deprived communities out of our insititutions and, more broadly, about ministry and could we partner meaningfully with churches on the ground to tailor courses specifically for people either from their communities or geared up to equip those willing to go into them?
Let’s be honest, unless we are actively praying about sending people into deprived communities, we can’t be that surprised if the Spirit never leads us to do it. If we aren’t asking the Lord to open up an opportunity for us to do it, it speaks to a heart that has already resolved not to go. So perhaps, even if you don’t feel you can partner with a church in a deprived community and aren’t in a position to plant into one (yet), could you identify an unchurched deprived community (whether local to you or not) and resolve to pray meaningfully and regularly that the Lord would grant you the means to plant there, or support a church already there, or support another church planting there?
This would be a soft, easy and straightforward way to support efforts to reach deprived communities. You don’t have to go (yet), it doesn’t cost you any money (right now) and it takes only a few minutes each day to ask the Lord to establish a new church, or cause an existing church to thrive, in a deprived community. The apostles James says, ‘you don’t have because you don’t ask’, so if the noises we’re making are genuine, could we not commit to at least asking for churches to be established and supported in these places?