A large forest in Africa has been destroyed to provide the paper for the thousands of articles written on the benefits of ‘incarnational’ ministry. In church planting contexts such as ours it is an important consideration. Should the minister live on the estate which he is trying to reach? There is a glaringly obvious response from most of us to that question but there are still many who would answer with a resounding ‘no’. Space, time, rest and a variety of other reasons would be cited. What about the schooling of our children (an issue for us but resolved by having a Christian school on our doorstep!)? What about the safety of family etc?
When we first arrived in Niddrie it came with a big reputation and there was quite a lot of scare mongering and exaggeration going on. Estates like these thrive on ‘reputation’ and the reality, compared to the street gangs of Brazil, was far different to the picture we had been given. The bottom line is that church planting in inner city estates is doomed to failure unless the ‘core group’ live in the area. Why?
(1) It helps to understand the local culture
(2) It helps to be ‘seen’ in the community
(3) It helps us to be open and aware of gospel opportunities (more of this in a moment)
(4) It enables us to establish meaningful relationships apart from ‘preaching at people’. What do I mean by that? If the only time we have contact with people is at a Christian event then we can come across as either moralistic or as superior. Being with people because we like them and want to hang out with them, rather than using it for some hidden ‘friendship evangelism’ freakiness actually leads to deep and meaningful relationships.
(5) If the leader of the plant is not prepared to move into an area then you are lost. How can we expect the troops to ‘go over the top’ if we are comfortable behind the battle lines?
I have noticed, particularly in the last 2 years, that many of the things we do now to (1) bring Christ to our community and (2) serve them, have come in response to us perceiving a need ‘on the ground’. For instance, I was in the community cafe recently and a lady was in and asked to speak to me. Her son had been in attendance at our youth groups. She is a care worker in a local nursing home and wondered if we would be prepared to offer some spiritual support for some of the residents (as per the law). In her words: ‘I only popped in for a buttie cos I was hungover but I have been meaning to ask you for some time.’ That opportunity would never have arisen had I not ‘been there’.
This led to a visit to the home and we left, not only with the promise to lead some of the services on Sunday’s but also we offered to help paint the place to brighten it up, help cut the grass and perhaps even offer some help on growing a vegetable patch for some of the residents there. All because we were ‘available’ and took our opportunity not only to be able to preach but to be able to serve them in a tangible way to show our love for Christ and concern for our neighbours. Praise God for his sovereignty and his grace.