As we’re in a new year and you might be thinking about fresh starts and new opportunities, let me put in my annual plea for you to consider coming to Oldham. We are still in need of people, and that is before we even speak about the other needy areas nearby into which we would like to plant some churches.
But many have said, and I increasingly agree with them, just because we need workers doesn’t means we want anybody. We have learnt that to our own cost. Assuming you are willing to consider moving to a deprived place – whether Oldham or somewhere else – here are some important questions that we are going to have to work through before we say you are the right person for us.
Do you believe the gospel?
This is key question. We frequently have people who come along to our church who think they’re saved but it becomes clear that they are not. Because of the kind of work we do, it is not at all uncommon for unbelievers – who know they’re unbelievers – to desperately want to join in and help with the work too. We’ve even had a couple of applications for roles in the past from people who were in no way genuine believers. It may seem basic and obvious, but to so many it isn’t. The first question we ask of anybody seeking baptism and membership at our church is this: can you tell me the gospel? It is the first question I would ask of any potential worker too.
Can you apply the gospel?
But more than that, whilst there are plenty of people who have grasped the gospel for themselves, they have no clue how to apply it to others. They believe by faith in Jesus Christ but then proceed to tell people in our community that all they need is for us to communicate the love of God for them in our actions towards them. Surely they will see our love for them and they will know there is something different about these Christians, they say.
Well, actually, no. Maybe they will see there is something different about us (which may or may not be a good thing), but that isn’t what is going to save anyone. Maybe they will think we are kind to them (but in our entitlement culture, plenty more will just see it as their right), but our kindness gets nobody into glory either. What they need is the clear and direct communication of the gospel. They need to know that their deepest need is the same as our deepest need; we are sinners facing a lost eternity in Hell unless we trust in Christ who alone can save. That’s what they really need (just like us). Can you apply the gospel you claim to believe to others who need it just as much as you do?
Seems an odd question to ask when, ultimately, it’s because we have some obvious needs. But it’s an important one because people have all sorts of mixed motives for wanting to join. Maybe they’re running away from somewhere else, maybe they’re seeking something a bit more edgy and exciting, perhaps they really believe they have something specific to offer. But whatever the reason, in my experience, if it isn’t ultimately one centred on Christ, his gospel, the person isn’t going to last.
The reality is that work in areas like ours is hard going. Whilst many of the headlines sound great, underlying that is a lot of dull, trudging, unglamorous and (often) lonely work. If you are coming for a reason that is anything less than Christ-centred, and you are looking to be satisfied by something in our work that isn’t Christ, you aren’t going to cope, you will become dissatisfied and your will discourage the rest of the church too as they see yet another person who couldn’t hack it up and leave. Before you come, we’ve got to make sure you want to be here for reasons that are valid.
What do your elders think?
I have both seen this issue elsewhere and had my fingers burnt by my own folly on this too. I am ashamed by my own conceited sense of, ‘but we’ll obviously manage things better than them.’ A question I would be asking any would-be worker these days is this: what do your elders think about this? In other words, if your elders aren’t on board, then nor are we.
This achieves two things. First, it gives you a clear sense of how the person views the local church. If the elders either haven’t been consulted or, worse, have been but are being ignored, we have a fairly clear idea of how this person will treat our local church when they arrive too. Just as the person who arrives grumbling about previous churches will inevitably moan about yours, so the person ignoring their existing elders are hardly likely to submit happily to you.
But second, you can get the assessment of those who know the person best. If they have been flaky, uncooperative, or caused issues in their current church will only be found out if you actually speak to their elders. Likewise, if they are keen to commend them too you (presuming they aren’t cynically trying to pass off somebody who is a pain to them), that is a good affirmation that you have somebody who will serve your church well. It may also give you insight into how best to support them and make best use of them in the gospel if/when they arrive.