Why local churches suck in inner city housing schemes

Why local churches suck in inner city housing schemes

by Andy Constable

The local church is the hope for the world. It’s God’s primary means for reaching the lost. However it is seriously floundering in housing schemes across the UK and I’m sure across the world. And there are a number of reasons why.

Firstly, there is simply a lack of Christians committing to living and working in places like Niddrie. Much of it is messy, ugly and a far cry away from the middle-class dream of a leafy suburb. It’s not the kind of place you’d imagine bringing up your children. Life is chaotic and violence is common. Many people tend to prefer to plant churches in the student-y, middle class areas where it seems that relationships and church would run more easily.

Many churches that do exist in these areas have also failed to invest in leaders in local communities. A person from a ‘poorer’ area who has become a Christian is often wheeled out for testimonies and events but few are discipled and trained to be local leaders. A person from this kind of area who becomes a Christian is like a rough diamond. They need a lot of support, patience, love and investment that requires hard graft and persistence.

A fundamental difficulty however lies deeper  – in theology – with many churches having very little doctrinal basis. This may be because often it is ‘weaker’ pastors who are sent to these areas, who may well not be properly equipped in their own understanding of doctrine, or at least unable to communicate it effectively. It may be because it can be a challenge to communicate some of the more complicated doctrinal truths to people who perhaps struggle with literacy or have dropped out of school, meaning churches have tended to abandon trying to share these. This is a fundamental error – if there is no biblical basis then you won’t be able to move people on from milk to solid food and they will be blown around by every kind of doctrine. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:11-14- And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” They won’t know what they believe and then they won’t be able to pass it on to others. It is therefore crucial that church leaders know their doctrine soundly, so that they may be able to explain it concisely and simply to their listeners.

Often the only churches that have invested heavily in these areas are the more Pentecostal churches which tend to be spot-on when preaching the gospel and raising indigenous leaders but often place less of an emphasis on long term discipleship. They tend to get a spurt of converts, train up one leader from among those new converts and then leave them to look after the church. These leaders are left with little support and the churches often end up splitting very quickly. These in turn split again and again leaving an area with half a dozen churches fighting over all sorts of different doctrinal issues usually masking a power struggle underneath or personal differences.

Finally, local churches don’t look for long-term impact. The local church should offer long-term spiritual and physical support to the people. We are very privileged to have a church that has been in Niddrie for over a hundred years. It is well known and respected in the area. People have worshipped, lived and served in this area for many years. And we will continue to serve the children, their parents and bury the dead. That kind of witness can’t be bought over night. A church that works in Leeds has the tagline ‘caring for life’. They promise to anyone who comes through their doors that they will care for that person for the rest of their life. They have a farm for people with learning difficulties, a place to house prostitutes and recovering addicts, a ‘back to work project’ and many other things. They are going to be in that city and community long-term to care for people. Churches have failed to do this caring for life thing but it must be done for the work of the gospel in estate like areas.

A result of this breakdown in the ministry of local churches has meant that they tend to leave the hard work to para-church organisations. Para’s often respond to areas that the local church is lacking and in the last 50 years that has meant the ‘poor’. This has meant that local churches have relied heavily on para’s to do the tough work that it doesn’t do. Para’s do a lot of great work and I know some amazing people working for organisations with great vision. But para’s need to watch that they are not disempowering the church from doing their work but supporting and equipping them. Any para-church organisation that doesn’t work alongside the church or seek to help the church is unbiblical. Rather, it should be a means of channelling people into a local church where they can be invested in, discipled in, equipped in, and in turn begin to serve within their community.

Lets pray for a revival in inner city areas. Pray for leaders who work there to be gospel centred, bible saturated with a long-term, enduring vision. Pray that more leaders would be sent into the vineyard. Pray that there would be a local church in every inner city housing scheme across the UK and the world holding out the only hope for this world – Jesus Christ.