In the last post, we reflected on how middle-class Christians (for want of any better label) tend to be unaware and uninterested in the ways non-middle class networks operate and function. We often unknowingly give the impression that faithful Christian discipleship will always embrace middle-class ways of relating to other individuals and groups. It is no wonder Christianity often stays only middle-class.
Today I want to reflect on how “middle-class” discomfort with social “disadvantage” and social problems often derail our effective witness to others.
Tim Chester recounts how…
Andy Mason, church planting in World’s End, London, says that the first things many middle class Christians see on council estates are the social problems. These capture our attention, so we think our role is to fix them. Of course, it is right that we address them. But, he asks, what does God see? He sees people for whom he sent his Son. Their fundamental problem is not social policy, but sin. And the solution is not gentrification, but Jesus. (“Unreached” p17)
Yes, the Church must be a community who love those around them. Yet, “love” does not first take the form of church run social/community services to “lift” people into the middle class. As individuals we are called not to ignore the physical needs of fellow believers (James 2:15-16), but this does not mean that we need to make others more “in-tune” with the middle-class life before we can effectively witness to them.
One of the dangers for middle class outreach in deprived areas is that the (Christian)workers become advice-givers. But advice does not save anyone. Of course, sometimes giving advice is an appropriate act of love. But it can all too easily become patronizing. Wires still, it can communicate a message of morality about how you clean up your life. (“Unreached” p108)
…the poor often lack the veneer of respectability, and the resources to cover up their idolatries. As a result, they live messy lives. There is less hiding and less pretending. This is what makes work among the poor exciting. People are more real. Their lives are open – open in the sense that their sins are on the table, as it were, and open in the sense that their crises bring an openness to change (“Unreached” p108-9).
Those in “middle-class” society are just as captivated by idolatries that control them, as those belonging to less stable and less affluent cultures and networks. The “middle-class” are perhaps better at either justifying these idolatries or hiding them. However, those in the “middle-class” often only spend time with other “middle-class” folk, and so they grow blind to their own expressions of social sin, such as greed, arrogance, self-importance, workaholism, lack of hospitality & judgmentalism. Middle-class folk generally won’t try and fix these deficiencies in one another before ministering the gospel, so why are those outside the “middle-class” discipled differently?
Those who belong to less stable/affluent/educated social networks, marvel that the “middle-class” can be SO BLIND to their own very “middle-class” moral and social disfunction.
Too often “middle-class” ministry to “non-middle-class” folk gets derailed, spending all its resources (time, money, emotion) trying to help people become more respectable. When the “middle-class” church witnesses to people in this way, they are often simply teaching people the “middle-class tricks” to hiding sin. “Middle-class” folk often feel they have converted someone once their lives begin to look more “middle-class”. The truth is, the old idolatries often remain, now just hidden from view. Before simply addressing the issues of homelessness, addiction, violence, irresponsibility etc. people need to understand how their behaviour is an expression of their attitude towards God himself. People don’t need to hear advice: they need to hear that God is a more trustworthy, good and satisfying foundation than the things they are currently building their lives upon. They need to hear that they, and the lives they are building for themselves, will not withstand the storm of God’s judgement. They need to hear that Jesus’ promises are the rock on which to build their house.
Find Tim Chester’s book that I’m quoting/reflecting on here: