Church outside the middle (pt4): “Social-lift” vs “Social-drop”

middle4In Chester’s book (“Unreached, IVP), he describes the phenomenon of ‘social-lift’ – the tendency of new “non-middle class” Christians to begin aspiring towards the middle-class social values of the church they have recently joined.

Here Chester is noting that when people become Christians and part of a Church household, they often begin aspiring to embrace the values of those around them.

So if everyone in a middle-class Church values home ownership, or private education for their kids, then new members (not from the middle-class) will likely begin to aspire to those same middle-class values. This is what chester calls the “Social-lift” effect of becoming a Christian.

In this way, the church is constantly cutting itself off from those outside the middle class; converting people as much to middle-class culture, as to Jesus.

Chester wonders why being converted so often goes hand-in-hand with becoming more middle-class.

 “Why should such as [social] lift equate to moving away from those in need, when we follow a Saviour who left the glory of heaven to come to the poverty of earth? Paul’s default was to encourage people to remain where God had placed them (1 Cor 7:17-20). So along side the “social lift” that comes from the gospel, we should expect a parallel phenomenon of “social drop”, in which people remain in, or move to, deprived areas. Social drop, too, is a product of the gospel. It arises because, through the gospel, people no longer live for career, comfort or security, but instead want to live generously and make it their ambition to “preach the gospel where Christ[is] not known” (Rom 15:20).

I wonder, how much of “non-middle-class” culture is the church happy to embrace for the sake of discipling those who are not “middle-class”. Are we happy to alter the substance and style of our food? Are we happy to compromise on the expense of our leisure activities. Do we simply absent ourselves from social gatherings or situations that we have no interest in, or even look down on, saying “that’s not really my scene, but thanks all the same”. If nobody shows interest in socialising in non-middle class ways and contexts, then what choice do non-middle class folk have: they will either be forced to be alone, or conform to middle-class tastes.

Perhaps though, we should speak more of “Social- Adaptation” that “Social-drop”. It sounds perhaps a little arrogant and snobbish to say that chosing to embrace “non-middle class” preferences is a “drop”. It is an opportunity to freely express love towards brothers/sisters we care deeply above. There is often nothing esspecially “elevated” about middle-class culture.

“The dominant culture within society [or a community] needs to adapt more, in this case middle-class Christians. Without this intentionality, the dominant culture… will dominate in the Church.  …the working class will defer to the middle class, because this is how everyone is used to things functioning, and middle-class cultural mores will be seen as the norm.”


“So, while middle-class Christians should not pretend to be working-class, they should make radical and sacrificial changes to remove any trappings that hinder gospel communication or create unnecessary barriers to belief.”

Yet, I might offer just one small adaptation of Chester’s thoughts above:

It is not simply the “numerically dominant” who should adapt to minority groups within the church – though that certainly helps. Rather, it is the more spiritually mature, those most willing to love, those who have the greatest grasp of the gospel, who should bare the greater privilage of adapting for others. To be unwilling to take initiative in adapting for others, is to reveal spiritual immaturity and gospel poverty.

This means that we will often have to be gentle, patient and forgiving towards those in our churches who are unwilling to “adapt” for the sake of the others. People will only love in accordance with the measure of faith they have been given. If they struggle to give up their own rights, we must patiently seek the depening of their faith. Only then will they be able to sacrifice thier own cultural preferences out of love for others. Without love, the sacrifice of “our way of doing things” will simply be too great-a-burden to bare.

#As a side point, the above observations often apply equally well at a racial level. An Anglo church might be very happy to invite Spanish speakers to participate in their Anglo culture. But Anglo dominant churches are probably not so willing to embrace “public dancing” and 10pm dinner parties out of love for the Chilean  minority in the church.

Find Tim Chester’s book that I’m quoting/reflecting on here:


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