I am English. I went to a private school and received a degree at the University of Edinburgh. My Dad worked in insurance. I like to play golf. I love reading the Sunday Times. I speak with a slightly posh, London accent. I enjoy eating humous with pitta bread.
I work in Scotland and for those who have seen Braveheart, the Scots dislike the English. Most of the people I work with don’t finish school and virtually nobody goes to university. Their parents are on benefits. They like to play football and every other sport is for ‘posh’ people. They read The Sun if anything. They talk with a strong, sometimes unintelligible, Scottish accent. They think that humous is for girls and that you should eat proper food like chips and burgers.
Sociologically the differences couldn’t be bigger, unless perhaps I was an African Imam with a particular fetish for Greek food. A few people have asked me: Can you actually make an effective difference in a community that is so different to your own? Can you get to a point where people ‘accept’ you and where you can speak the gospel into their lives? Can you fully relate to those whose lives are so different from your own? I would argue that it is possible to build strong relationships and friendships, regardless of background but there are a number of crucial points to consider…
Firstly people will accept you into their culture if you are there to serve. Any Christian, no matter where they are, should back up their words with actions. We don’t simply give people the gospel and then run but we serve people’s physical needs as well. If someone needs electricity for their house then we help them out, if someone is hungry then we give them food and when someone is homeless we give them a home. When people see that you are there to help then they allow you into their lives. We of course need to be wary that we don’t simply rush in and impose on people what we think are their perceived needs but serve in a way that is helpful and wanted.
Secondly people accept you if you are genuinely interested in their lives. What is your reason for getting alongside people? Do you have a burden and love for them or are you simply serving out of duty? People know when you’re being fake. We need to be driven by the pure love of Jesus Christ. Do you feel the weight of these people on your heart? Do you pray for them regularly? Are you desperate to see them transformed by the gospel? Do you care about their lives, their interests and their families? Its not simply getting into a friendship with someone so that you can get in the back door and get a gospel opportunity but we need to be deep down concerned for people’s lives and well-being. Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 2:8- “…So being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel but also our very selves, because you had become very dear to us.”
Thirdly people accept you if you live a transparent life. People in Niddrie know a genuine person when they see one. They can smell someone out who is simply being phony. They are used to people manipulating, stealing and lying to get their own way and so they know when someone is being genuine. We are called to live our life like open books before unbelievers. Paul writes in in verse 4 of that passage from Thessalonians-“For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts…” We need to be sincere and transparent with our lives and message. We do not aim to deceive but live sincere lives before all people.
Fourthly people accept you if you are personable. You will find it hard to be accepted by people if you are unable to start up a conversation about anything apart from the doctrine of election. People love a good chat in Niddrie. In the café people drink cups of tea and chat non-stop from all day long. If you can’t ask questions, talk, listen and actually engage then you’re not going to get to know anyone and be able to get alongside them.
Finally don’t be a snob. I was lucky to be brought up in a home that was very unassuming. My parents constantly invited people from all walks of life to live and eat with us. They didn’t view any person as better than another. If you are someone who doesn’t want to get their hands dirty and you view people as below you then you need to get a reality check before God. We are all sinners before His holiness. In His eyes there is no difference between a guy who lives in a mansion on 100k a year and a man who lives in a one bedroom flat with a dysfunctional family taking drugs. There is no room for pride in this business.
I know these are probably simple truths but they can distinguish between whether you’re cut out for this ministry or not. I know that ministry is not always about being accepted and that there will be times when people dislike us because of the decisions we make and the gospel that we preach. But if people aren’t willing to listen to you, don’t trust you, don’t know you and don’t come to you with their problems then it’s going to be hard to be effective. In fact, I would suggest, that you’re not cut out for this ministry.