BY ANDY CONSTABLE
There is a lot of talk these days about living ‘missionally’ as the answer to the problems of the local church in housing schemes/council estates. People say that if we live like they did in Acts where everybody shared their possessions and spent more intentional time together then we would have a much more effective church. I agree that churches need to be sharing much more and spending intentional time with each other but we need to ask ourselves the question whether this is what we really want? People talk a good game, but do we really want difficult people in our lives? Do we really want to spend time with addicts, the homeless, the mentally ill, not to mention the generally ‘deprived’? Do we really want these guys to become Christians?
I ask this last question because the problems begin when some of those from housing schemes/council estates give their lives to Christ. It’s exciting at the beginning. They have fascinating stories and a great testimony. We get them to meet our friends and family. We help them out in any way we can. But then the days roll into weeks and the weeks into months. You begin to get tired of hearing those stories you once found fascinating. You get frustrated that they monopolise so much of your time. You don’t like the friendship they are building up with your family. You find it difficult that they are always in your house. You feel like others should be taking the burden and not just you. It all gets a bit monotonous and uncomfortable for you.
The truth is that discipling people in community, as I’ve said in other blogs, is a long term investment involving hard graft. The reality is more like what I described above. When we are discipling people from chaotic backgrounds in particular, we have to take them into our homes or spend a concentrated amount of time with them if there is going to be long term spiritual growth. We invest and help them with everything from their finances, to looking after their children, to how to read the Bible. They are people and you are their new family. They are not just for Christmas but for a lifetime!
Some Christians have great intentions but when their lives become a little uncomfortable they freak out. I mean we have boundaries. We need space. We need time. We have structure. However, these are things that you will have to battle with if you want to grow real friendships with people from schemes. Their lives are messy. They need time and energy. They will mess up your plans. They will invade your space. We talk about wanting to win people for Christ from housing schemes without realizing that they become all encroaching. When it comes to it we get upset and are unwilling to do it. Maybe you’re someone who is discipling converts from housing estates. You have taken people into your home. You have built friendships with people. Or maybe you are thinking about getting involved. I’ve got three bits of practical advice that I’ve learned over the last couple of years.
Firstly, you must know that its painful sometimes but very necessary. It is going to be difficult but that’s the nature of any ministry. If you want to work in schemes then you have to be ready to have your life invaded and your comfort rocked. We are too comfortable as Christians in the West and we like keeping difficult people at arms length. But, we need to repent of this sin and know the necessity of long-term, time consuming, often residential discipleship.
Secondly, it’s important to know your heart issues. We like to blame others for our frustration or anger but the Bible says that we must look at ourselves first and foremost. Where are our idols? If you struggle with control then you may get frustrated when the person you are discipling constantly changes your plans because of their needs. If you struggle with security then you may get anxious if they take a lot of resources and time. We need to repent of these things and not take our sin out on the person we are discipling. Do not be surprised that those we disciple transform us too. God always works both ways. God is working in you. You are investing in them but they are going to challenge your heart issues also.
Thirdly, you need to know that it gets more natural the longer you do it. We are so programmed by society to have our own space and love ourselves but as our comfort zones are challenged and wrestled with it does get more natural. It will become less of a challenge because you are used to the pressure, time, and energy that is needed to disciple new converts from estate/scheme areas!
Paul offers us some encouraging words in Colossians 1:28-29: “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” Is this what we want? Do we want to labour with all the strength that Christ powerfully works in us to present people mature in Christ? Then know that Christ helps us but that it’s painful. Know that it’s worth it but its going to cost you. And keep persevering if you are already involved because it is Christ working in and through us! It is a great privilege discipling people and I wouldn’t want to do anything else!