Reaching the unreached and our models of success

Last week I attended the Reaching the Unreached conference organised by the regional gospel partnerships and hosted by St Helen’s Bishopsgate. It was exciting to see around 150 people there to talk about we can reach people living in the marginalised areas and estate in our cities. It was still at the level of ‘this is something we should be doing’ without a great deal of ‘this is how we might do it’, but it was a good start. I’ll post notes on David Smith’s opening address in a future post. He emphasised that we need to see this is a missionary challenge. This means setting the challenge of reaching these areas just as we set the challenge of reaching unreached people in other parts of the world.  But it also means learning from the experience of communicating the gospel cross-culturally. One of my great frustrations is that despite the rhetoric of seeing the UK as a mission field, we still do not learn from the mission world – we still do not think the principles apply to us. My one concern with the conference was the extent to which people kept emphasising the need for preaching (as in sermons). It’s frustrating because they made the error of assuming being word-centred means being sermon-centred. But what concerns me more is that I see this as a kind of test case of whether we really are prepared to see the UK as a mission field and to learn from mission elsewhere. Ah well.

Melvin Tinker from St. Johns, Newlands in Hull ended his address by ‘flying some kites’ …

Do we have a fascination with white, middle-class people and students that is keeping us from reaching the working-class?

Student work offers quick returns and creates people with money to sustain future ministry. So do we need an evangelical equivalent to the ‘Church Urban Fund’?

We will need to educate our congregations to see this as an integral part of the Lord’s commission. We need to seek out and train people for this ministry. We will also need to esteem such workers. Working in poor areas creates ministries that do not look like the models of ‘successful’ ministry heralded elsewhere.

We need a network to provide theological and practical support for such ministries.

The movement will not be only in one direction: rich churches funding poor ministries. The rich churches will receive lessons, prayer and gratitude from poorer ministries.

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17 thoughts on “Reaching the unreached and our models of success

  1. Hi Tim,

    thanks for this encouraging post.
    after a decade of ministry in the trenches of inner-city in Sydney
    (including King Cross, the centre of Sydney’s sex work, drug trade and homelessness), it is pleasing to hear that evangelicals are becoming more concerned for this kind of mission.
    the stereotypical assumption of too many people (at least in this part of the world)
    has been that a desire to serve God in urban and poor areas equals a liberal theology and / or abandoning mission.

  2. Tim – I appreciated your post a lot. We are a reformed church in the city (www.ERC.LA). One of the key things we’ve done is organizing mission saturdays into the heart of our neighboring city, Compton, California. These days have been an immense blessing both to those of us who have gone and to those who live there. Now we’ve got teams of people moving into that city to love it from street level. It’s an incredibly exciting time. Some of the outward stuff you can see at Blessings upon you as you take a word-centered approach that isn’t just about preaching.

  3. Hi Tim

    Interesting stuff. Again, as you say, the assumption is that the cross-cultural mission stuff doesn’t apply to”us’ (western europeans), simply because we are assuming that since they look like us and live around us, drive the same car as us, then they obviously see the cosmos – give or take a few details about Jesus – just like “us”.

  4. Hi,

    I had some good white friends who moved into the North Bronx in the 80’s. From all their time and effort they we never accepted by the people in their housing complex. Four years later when their flat was burnt out, people said to their face, yeah, we all knew you would leave, we just didn’t know when?

    Unless we have people from the housing estates or move in for the long term and are leaven amongst people on estates, the gospel will never take place doing drive by evangelism. They need people in the flesh, 24/7 to understand what does Jesus following like. Unless like The Message says, Jesus moved into the neighbourhood, its not going to happen, no matter how many books, seminars, etc….

  5. We have one of our Gospel Communities living on such a housing estate and none of them are hard core, edgy or particularly streetwise. The work began with a handful of middle class, university educated people getting houses there and being good neighbours. The original three who moved up there are now in their 5th year. There is nothing dramatic or spectacular about it. They simply get on with life and work hard at being part of the community. You’re spot on Tim in identifying the refusal to think of our own context as a mission field as a significant problem. But so too is a refusal to pay the price of gospel ministry. For example, living in certain areas and being committed long term to the people in these areas can mean significantly reducing your chances of finding a husband or wife because there are so few Christian willing to leave the suburbs. I think until we see a significant upturn in evangelicals moving into these areas for the glory of God and the sake of the lost then our understanding of the gospel is suspect, no matter how orthodox our creedal statements are.

  6. As being disciples is being of a community, it would be best if we could cultivate communities of people moving into a community onto an estate and not be clinging to each other but generative in their life together, imparting what they posses. life, hope, willingness to listen, learn, love, cry, laugh. I think there is probably a greater possibility of younger families or singles and maybe some old folks like me, than people well established in their careers?

  7. Tim,

    You are absolutely right in your final sentence about mission being 2 way, not just from “rich” to “poor”. The New Testament is full of principal setting examples like the Macedonian church (the poorer church) taking up an offering for the church in Jerusalem (the “rich” church). I am working in a network of churches ( that is trying to do just that. We have seen on a global level great blessing and significant impact from churches in Kosova, India and Cambodia on churches in the UK and the US.

  8. The current state education system militates against Christians living in the inner cities. When it comes to educating our children, we Christians’ elbows can be as sharp as everyone else’s: we move, as does everyone else, to the ‘nice’ area to get tax-payer funded education away from the problem children and schools that inner cities tend to generate.

    A solution is home education – education vouchers would help too. And Home Ed is good for many reasons – not just saving you money by not having to move to a more expensive area for good schools.

  9. Hi,

    We home educate our kids for this reason: We are responsible for the education of our children. We may accept the opportunity from the State to educate our children, but is our responsibility. We do not own our home because we only have one income, we don’t take great holidays because we only have one income. I find most Christians are cultural captive to house buying and great holidays and not many churches will speak up against this. We have enough of Jesus for Salvation but not enough for us to bring the kingdom..


  10. Hi Tim C
    seems this is what the home mission societies used to do before they were loosed from evangelical moorings and became institutions of welfare provision. here in sydney it is interesting to watch the amount of effort going into reconnecting the social welfare agency of the denomination back to the local church and re-envigour an understanding of the social concern and impact of the gospel community. like Geoff said – many would have assumed you were liberal if you had said this 15 years ago.

    in your context I believe that Oakhill college was originally established to train working class pastors and planters – am i right – it doesn’t seem to reflect that these days? is this because evangelicalism is too ‘aspirational’?

    I wonder if part of the issue of evangelicals being mobilised amongst the urban poor is that we have married middle class aspirational values too closely with what it means to be evangelical. like Steve T suggests, unless we address this syncretism there will continue to be a kind of paternalistic view of mission amongst the urban poor that is mono directional.

  11. Hi Shane, I didn’t know Oakhill was founded to train working-class pastors. Interesting. Can anyone confirm or refute this? (PS Shane, I have received your email – just thinking about it!)

  12. Hello
    I was at the conference all the way from Northern Ireland. I thought David Smith was thought provoking. Melvin Tinker was excellent in my view: social networks of love centered round the Gospel. I work in a mixed housing public / private area of 1200 homes. The most effective witness for the Gospel comes from people who have been born, bred and born again in the estate. I must say I felt affirmed by the comments at the conference on preaching. We have had some growth recently, and have worked hard at expository preaching with relevant application to our area.
    There was no reflection on the black / pentecostal experience or the role of prayer – an area which maybe they could address in future.
    But it was a good time of sharing and I look forward to next year.
    PS Tim I loved your book on Busyness. I speed read it.

  13. Interesting comments Marty. All the recent talk of evangelising Council Estates is encouraging. However there is very little talk of equipping the indigenous Christians on estates. I’d like to see a dual pronged approach of 1) Christians moving into Council Estates, and 2) Council Estate Christians being equipped. Unfortunately often more emphasis is put into 1, instead of 2. Even more unfortunately, sometimes people do 1, and ignore the indigenous Christians on the same estate.

  14. Tim, you said, “learning from the experience of communicating the gospel cross-culturally,.” and then you mentioned sermons.

    I think that one of the big lessons here is that the indigenous people are the ones who are best suited to work out how to preach teach the Bible (within biblical parameters). Brucko’s story is an example that springs to mind.

    In my experience, non-indigenous Christians keep telling us Council estate Christians that we don’t want expository preaching, but we’re saying (talking about myself and my friends) “Yes we do! – but we want good expository preaching that deals with the text, and speaks to our hearts.” We get people from other estates come to ours saying, “We came cos we heard that you explain the Bible here”. Then when I go to conferences etc. I hear people say, “Council estate people can’t handle sermons.”

    So I think that here, one of the biggest lessons to learn from cross cultural missions overseas is to help the indigenous Christians to do their thing (within biblical parameters).

  15. Thanks Duncan. I worked in a large v m class church as a student. Loved the people and would not say anything critical about my time there. But in general experience I observe that in our current ministry, people in w class areas are far more direct. I can actually have a real conversation about life and death where I am. I mean, if you can’t expound Luke’s Gospel and relate it in an area of heroin / alcohol abuse, where can you do it?! In other more m class parts maybe spiritual reality has to compete with educational / social achievement. Idolatory in those parts is far more subtle.

    By the way, a great thing about the conference was meeting and listening to others. I met a great bloke working in Yorkshire and hope to learn from initiatives in his church. (Hello Pete!)

    Thanks again brother, Marty

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