PART I: Live In
If we really want to make an impact for Christ in the many housing schemes up and down our nations then we must be prepared to move into the area. This is the GOLDEN rule. There are no exceptions for our leaders. Ministry will fail dismally, particularly if the leader(s) is(are) not part of the community straight away. I inherited a church for renewal so my elders don’t (yet) live in but the challenge has been laid to them. Also, I have (at the moment) one police officer in my congregation and it would be worse than foolish to move him into the scheme because his house would become a target. Even if he didn’t mind this (and he doesn’t), it would not be fair on his wife and young family left alone at night whilst he was on shifts. They have compromised by moving as close as is feasibly safe to do so. But, as far as possible, this rule sticks.
One of the great benefits of living in the community is that you seen get to see, experience and learn what the great needs of the area are. This in turns means that you are more than sympathetic to local needs, but you are fully aware of them because they affect YOU too. It stops us from becoming insular and only seeking what is best for our lives and our families. It gives us a true heart for our community, much more so than if we just travel in at weekends for the odd service and maybe a midweek meeting. Rob Lupton has identified three kinds of people who move in housing scheme communities:
1. Relocators – These are people who weren’t born in the area but have moved in to the neighbourhood.
2. Returners – These are people who were born and raised in the area, moved away for a time (usually seeking a better life) and have chosen to come back to their childhood home because they no longer feel trapped by the sociological pressures.
3. Remainers – These are those who understand the problems associated with living in the area but, despite them, have chosen to stay to work for community renewal.
It is a truism that we don’t really start to look at serious solutions to problems until they become our problems. Moving into a scheme soon gives us an appreciation for the troubles and concerns and causes us to think about how we best try to resolve them. It has been interesting to note in my church how the language differs between members who live outside of Niddrie and those who live within. Those who live within use words like, “we” and “ours” and those without are more likely to say, “theirs” and “them”.
Anybody hoping to begin a church plant in a housing scheme needs to give up now if your first thought is not to move into the area. The chances of developing deep relationships, building a witnessing community and seeing gospel growth are massively increased if we live in the scheme. So simple that it shouldn’t need saying and yet most Christian works on many of the schemes I know are done by para-church organisations with no real foundational base in the community that links them to a lively, local body of believers.
Whilst not decrying the work that many of my members do, it is fair to say that 100% of the relational work we are involved in is a direct cause of those members who live on the scheme. Attendance on Sundays is always helped when locals can walk into a building and be greeted by people they already know. It makes a huge difference when we can walk around the streets of the scheme and people either know us personally or, through their friends, know that we are ‘from the mission’.
Please pray for us as we encourage more members to move on to the scheme and as we work with the locals that God would save more of them and that they, in turn, would draw friends/neighbours/family members in to the community of faith in this place.