Sometimes, in the discussions on class and the church, what we are actually saying and what people hear are two very different things. It is very common for people to assume we are saying things that we really aren’t saying (or implying) at all. Every once in a while, it seems sensible to look at some of the things that people sometimes hear that we really aren’t trying to say at all.
Tomorrow, I’ll look at some of the things that people often say in this discussion that can be particularly frustrating. But today, here are some things that are often perceived but are not what we’re really saying at all.
There is something wrong with being middle class
I suspect underlying a lot of the push back we get is a perceived sense that we think there is something wrong with being middle class. To my knowledge, nobody making the case that we need people to move to working class communities and reach those we are currently missing thinks this.
When we argue that the dominant culture is middle class or that working class people don’t always feel welcome in our churches, we are not implying there is something inherently problematic or wrong with being middle class. As with anything, there are good things about middle class culture to be encouraged and bad things that ought to be repented of. That is just as true of working class culture. But nobody is saying there is anything wrong with being middle class.
Middle class places don’t need churches
We have been making calls for middle class people to move to working class areas. We do want to see working class churches planted in working class areas led by working class people. But often what is heard is some suggestion that we don’t think middle class places or people need churches.
The reality is, everywhere there are people needs churches. I spent my teens in a very middle class church where I formed a lot of my theology and I am very grateful to them. Middle class people and middle class places need churches. The souls of the working classes are not worth more than those of the middle class.
However, our churches are chocabloc full of middle class people and it is much easier to find a church in affluent and aspirant communities than it is to find one in working class areas. That isn’t to say those middle class churches shouldn’t exist, it is simply to say that this accounts for the majority of our existing churches, which has tended to mean the working classes haven’t been reached. Whilst it is good that those churches in middle class areas exist, we need to focus on reaching those we have been less effective in reaching.
We hate middle class people
Sometimes people seem to think that we hate them because they’re middle class. Just as there is nothing wrong with being middle class, we don’t hate middle class people. That’s not to say we love every attitude they hold and we think everything they do is always excellent. But that’s true of working class people too. But nobody is saying we hate the middle class.
I love middle class people enough that I went and married one. I just spent my holiday with my middle class in-laws (who I love too). Lots of good, middle class people support our church in a variety of ways. We are not ever saying it is wrong to be middle class or suggesting that we hate middle class people.
We don’t want middle class people
Sometimes our calls for working class leadership and working class churches is heard by others as though we are saying we don’t want middle class people anywhere near our churches. For the record, nothing could be further from the truth.
We do want to see working class representation in church leadership. We do think it is a problem that working class people so rarely seem to make it into the pastorate, and we don’t suppose that is primarily down to inability or character failings. But if we are going to see that issue addressed, we desperately need middle class people to come and help us reach people with the gospel, to disciple them to maturity in Christ so that they might go on and take up eldership, missionary, evangelist and pastor roles in local churches. Far from saying middle class people should steer clear, we really want them to come.
Theology and training is rubbish
Some people hear us saying that existing theological training isn’t brilliantly suited to working class people. That is often translated as we think theology is pointless and all training is rubbish. We are, some assume, anti-learning.
But nobody is saying that. All we are saying is that existing training has been built to fit those with degree level education. The assumption has been such people will be the pastors and so the training was made to fit those it was assumed would utilise it. Even when people recognise that this won’t always work for working class people and are willing to countenance doing something about it, the phrase ‘lower level’ or ‘less rigorous’ gets bandied about far more than it should in a conversation where nobody is asking for that.
We want pastors and workers who are as well trained as anybody else. We are just convinced that setting everything up for the degree educated will only work for some and will perpetuate both forms of training and kinds of ministry that are not necessarily appropriate in deprived communities. We aren’t anti-learning, we just want suitable forms of learning for our people so that they might have the same opportunities to pastor the church – and do so in ways that are contextually relevant – as our middle class brethren.