Monday, July 16, 2018

The 'Prejudice Gospel' 2: What is it?

I previously introduced this idea here. Now, I'm gonna unpack it.

The Prejudice Gospel movement makes some groups feel further away
Paul wrote, 'He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.' (Eph 2:17). When white middle class brothers act as if they are the near ones, and those at the margins are far away - they grossly distort the gospel. By contrast, the Bible teaches that no matter your class, or ethnicity, or disability, unless you were Jewish, you were in the 'far away' group. Being at the margins of UK society doesn't in anyway make you further from God. Yet, conservative evangelicalism often makes those at the margins feel further away. For the fortunate ones who recognise they are not in reality further away from God, they still often feel further away from their brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Prejudice Gospel movement looks down on those who are weak
If someone shares a weakness, even if it's a mc brother, then gossip and suspicion abound, and doors to service are closed. If someone shares that they need the help of others, they are seen as weak and unfit for ministry. Part of the New Testament good news however is that God is most strong in our weaknesses (2 Cor 12:9-10).

The Prejudice Gospel gives less access to those at the margins
Whereas Ephesians teaches that 'through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household,' (Eph 2:18-19). Conservative Evangelicalism is fraught with the old boy network on multiple levels. Those at the top, keep their own network, and look down on and shut out the next tier. This tier feel hard done by, but they create their own network, that gives their friends plenty of access whilst shutting out the next group. And so on, it goes, until the margins, because networking tends to be a middle and upper class activity that hasn't been impacted by James 2:1-6. At the bottom of the pile, people just feel like they don't have access to the fellowship, resources, and affirmation of the higher ups. Even if you fight the Spiritual battle to know that its not true that you don't have access to God himself, you still feel shut out from your brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Prejudice Gospel movement doesn't preach to the poor
It will preach to the wealthy, and the middle and upper classes, but hardly any funds are diverted to preaching to the poor and down trodden. Great lengths have been taken to ensure the word 'poor' does not appear in any mission statements, even though it features in a number of Jesus and Paul's (Luke 4:18; Matt 11:5; Gal 2:10)! The message is that there's good news for the wealthy, but not the poor.

The Prejudice Gospel movement does not accept everyone
Jesus said, 'Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me;' (John 13:20). Those of us impacted by the prejudice gospel do not accept all those Jesus sends. We tend to only truly accept those who have exactly the same doctrine and practices (even though we acknowledge that our doctrine may be wrong in places, and that our praxis is not perfect). But even then, people at the margins who subscribe to the same doctrinal basis are not as accepted.

The Prejudice Gospel believes in 'strategic' ministry over word based & repentance based ministry.
Whilst the rhetoric sounds otherwise, the church planting strategy, posh boy camps, student emphasis etc. all communicate that unless you're higher up in society, you're not gonna get saved and make an impact. Furthermore, when prejudice is exposed, the good news is that we'll eventually come up with a new strategy to correct it, rather than the good news that we can repent and be forgiven.

The Prejudice Gospel says you must conform to our ways.
Even though Paul said no-one should feel like a stranger (Eph 2:19), there is a distinct culture that demands minorities assimilate. It starts off as subtle offers of training and mentoring. And the minorities' suspicions are assuaged by empty promises of, 'we want to learn from your culture.' But whenever a sister or brother speaks up, they are interrupted, corrected, and eventually branded as outspoken, unless they shut up. 'Strangers' then have the option of assimilating, so as to not feel like a stranger. However, the majority culture will not bend towards the stranger's culture. If the strangers refuse to change their ways, they will be gossiped about and sidelined, because of course, they're doing ministry all wrong!

The Prejudice Gospel uses Straw man arguments of social gospel to avoid loving deeds.
Armed with the propaganda of 1) any second they could slip into the 'social gospel', and 2) poor people wouldn't be poor if they were as responsible as the middle classes-- adherents to this movement avoid any loving deeds that could help alleviate suffering. It doesn't matter that Jesus's good news included bringing justice (Matt 12:18,20; 23:23)-- unless its the abortion issue, they don't do justice. All the while, this communicates that the good news is to be born into a middle class family, and definitely, not to be born a refugee who ends up cut off from their support base, and unable to cut through the red tape of our benefits system.

The Prejudice Gospel teaches faith plus background for ministry
Whilst Jesus said you just need faith to do great works for him, this movement teaches you need faith plus background. 'Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.' (Jn. 14:12 NIV)

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Urban Catechism training videos now FREE online!!!!!!

All the training videos for the Urban Catechism are now available for FREE online below!
Initially, you had to do the Urban Ministry Program for this training, but I really wanted to make it available to everyone without cost.

The idea is to help people make disciples who make disciples. Its also a way of learning Systematic Theology, but through the lens of discipleship.

You can still take people through the catechism without this training as long as you have the Catechism and Teacher's Guide (available here). However, this video training will add the following:

1) Take you through the Teacher's Guide, explaining it.

2) Go a bit deeper than the Teacher's Guide, so that you are well and truly comfortable with the kinds of questions people will ask as you disciple them.

3) Give tips throughout the course on how to take a variety of people through the catechism, including young children.

4) Give you the equivalent of a first year seminary level module in Systematic Theology, in a way that you can easily digest and then explain to all kinds of people.

5) Train your group for discipleship in the urban context, without sending them away and losing their missionary power.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The 'Prejudice Gospel' 1: We wouldn't want more prosperity gospel churches planted, so why more prejudice churches?

In conservative evangelicalism I've often heard the perils of social gospel and prosperity gospel. For the record, I'm not a fan of either. However, our own constituency has the 'Prejudice Gospel'. We might not be too aware of it, but many in the word of faith movement aren't too aware of the term and implications of 'Prosperity Gospel' either.

There presently seems to be almost the white man's great burden to plant as many churches as possible to compensate for all the other churches who haven't got it right (I'm not talking about those who plant where there's no evangelical churches at all). But, you know what? We haven't got it right either!

Across the globe the UK is famous for its classism, and there's no reason to assume that at conversion we Christians automatically jettison every classist attitude that we've been entrenched in since birth. When Tim Keller spoke at EMA years ago, he told us we needed to deal with our classism problem in the church. But almost nothings happened. Its possibly the only Keller point that hasn't been celebrated over here! So we're possibly planting classist churches.

Since Stephen Lawrence years ago, and more recently, Brexit, our racism, which we tried to deny for so long, has also become well known. Again, there's no reason to think we as Christians are immune to racism. Those of us who have grown up amongst minorities, and then joined conservative evangelicalism, have witnessed racism in the church, even though it far more subtle than EDL marches. So we're possibly planting racist churches.

We also suffer from ablism. Look at the stats, and see how underrepresented people with disabilities are in churches, especially in leadership. How many churches and conferences even have decent disabled access? Furthermore, where is a robust theology of strength in weakness taught and practised? And where's the support - do we leave it to the government who are doing poorly in this area?

I'm gonna combine classism and racism and ablism here and say we have a problem I call the 'Prejudice Gospel'. I can't unpack it all here, I just want to introduce the concept. In general we have a good news message that wrongly includes the message that certain groups are superior and of more worth, and more desirable than others: 'God died for all kinds of people, especially the white middle classes.' Everyone has access to God and church, but some have more access than others!

What's the solution? Well, what would you expect of Benny Hinn if he were to stop promoting Prosperity Gospel? Possibly public repentance & being mentored? I think we need to trust enough in Christ's righteousness to be able to sit down with people and ask them of their experiences of prejudice (without any push back). And then publicly repent and make changes in keeping with that repentance.

more to follow on the prejudice gospel....

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Should we keep planting all-white leadership teams in London?

London is a multi-ethnic & multi-class city, but we're still planting churches that start with a white (and usually middle class) leadership team. I think this is problematic for the following reasons:

1) From the get go, it communicates that this church is for white middle class people. It really stands out from the rest of London, so the message is quite stark. Of course, some others might join, but usually only those happy to assimilate.

2) The leaders will reinforce each other's blindspots. Peter had blindspots that needed to be exposed by people with different cultural outlooks (Acts 10; Gal 2).

3) Any minorities added later to the team will have to adapt to an already established culture. It will be hard for them to be an equal voice.

Now the common objections I hear in response are:

4) 'But we don't have the people needed for diverse leadership teams.' To which I'd say, 'why not!!!!!! What is your group doing wrong, that it doesn't have diversity? - work on that, fix that first. Otherwise, you're actually compounding the problem, and promoting a system that makes your group even more top heavy with white middle classes.

5) 'But we're going to become more diverse later.' I find this unconvincing. If you don't already have diverse friends, what makes you think you'll gain them or even like them in ministry? You need to first learn how to relate to different groups as peers, or even mentors before you can start leading other groups. Start as you intend to go on, otherwise, later on, with the pressures of ministry, its gonna be even harder to become more diverse, because it wasn't in your DNA to start with.

6) But its more important to plant new churches, so we should plant even if we're not diverse' - but does the Bible really teach this? Where does this drive to keep planting new churches in London come from? I haven't heard one convincing theologically rigorous argument for this. Surely we want to deal with the prejudice within our movements before exporting them via plants on other people's doorsteps? Now if someone wants to plant a multi-class, multi-ethnic church, trans-cultural church in London - then great, because that's what church should look like and we're lacking that: But again, start with a leadership team that looks like that.

7) 'Its better to have separate homogenous churches' - Again where is the Biblical basis for this? How can you reconcile this with what the Bible says about different ethnicities and classes becoming one and avoiding prejudice? How does it reconcile with the New Testament churches of Jews and Gentiles? Even if you see merit in the homogenous unit principle, I've argued here that in Acts its used a different way.

So what's the way forward?
We need to look at the problems that have led to this sad situation. We need to repent where necessary. We need the leaders who make decisions about church planting to actually be a multi-ethnic and multi-class group themselves. And then, if we really do need another church plant in London, we can plant one with diverse leadership at the get go. OR, if repentance is too hard, maybe we can start working with other church groups who are already more diverse? OR, maybe we need to start new group - but let's remember Animal Farm too!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Image Bearers series is finally finished!

Hi, after 40 sermons, and a workbook, the whole series is now finished.
You can watch it below.
If you want to order a workbook, please contact me here
If you want a sneak peak at the material the workbook covers, check out these blog posts here

Monday, May 21, 2018

NEW!!! The Urban Ministry Show on Youtube

Hi, here's a new youtube show I've started, all about Urban Ministry

Monday, May 14, 2018

Ways We Make Minorities Invisible

I've had a good response to my previous post, 'No Room At The Inn' So I'll write more, trying to answer questions I've been sent. For now, here's some ways that we sadly make minorities visible yet invisible:

1. Photography:
We (conservative evangelicals in the UK) have a tendency of taking photos that suggest we have diversity in groups, whilst not at the same time allowing minorities to have influence. We make them visible in our photos, but in terms of influence, invisible.

2. Name dropping:
We mention the four black people, or council estate church plants we have, in a way that suggests we are diverse. But we don't let the same mentioned people have influence on how we do things. We make them visible in conversation, but invisible in policy making and planning.

3. Type Casting:
We ask a white working class pastor to speak on reaching the working classes, or the Indian pastor to speak on reaching Hindus. But we don't ask them to preach on Justification by Faith, or teach on Exegesis. We make them visible on stage for practical ministry tips, but invisible for contributing to doctrine.

4. Ignoring:
In meetings, we show deferential treatment to the majority culture boys, whilst often ignoring or downplaying the views of the minorities. Sometimes its even cringeworthy hearing majority culture leaders say how understanding they are of minorities, when you've been sitting there for an hour feeling talked down to. We are almost visible in terms of having a seat, but its a kiddie seat, we're invisible in terms of being considered an equal.

5. Training:
We recruit minorities on our training options, whilst not catering to the issues they are facing. When minorities speak up, they are often corrected and put in their place. On paper, the diversity is more visible, but in class, the student feels invisible as their community is ignored. Furthermore, the faculty is usually all white. Then, when minorities start their own training programs, we rarely support and promote these, making those programs invisible.

6. Poster-boying:
This ones a play on words for those who know what 'you're boying me' means. We poster-boy when we write articles about minorities in a way that demonstrates our patronage. This makes the minority visible, but its intended to make the patron even more visible. I've personally not had a problem with being a poster-boy at times, because I hope it will make council estate ministry more visible. But sadly, organisations that do this, often do not give their poster boys a seat at the table in terms of influence. We are used to recruit, but not to influence, thus invisible again.

I've now accidentally hit post instead of save, so here it is!!!!!!!

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

No Room at the Inn for Minorities in UK Conservative Evangelicalism

After trying to build bridges for a decade I sadly conclude that, There is space for black faces, and working class accents, but it's a tight space that produces Conformity, Invisibility & Stagnation. There may be some exceptions, but in general this is what myself and my friends have experienced:

Church groups sometimes give a minority a certain role where they appear visible on Sunday's and in photos, whilst not being given a proper voice to influence - thus invisible whilst visible.

The minorities that manage to stay a long time within the group tend to have learned how to hold their tongue a lot. How much they are promoted and encouraged in ministry often depends on how much they have conformed to the cultural norms. The result, being that the majority culture is perpetuated whilst seemingly being validated with a small number of minority faces.

I think it may be that Cons Evanagelicalism has felt for a long time that it has arrived. So when minorities try to join, they are expected to continue in the same way as the higher-ups. There is already a perfected DNA that needs to be injected into the minorities that come on board. Some of this is explicit, some implicit. Some leaders will be aware of the explicit stuff, and even make public comments about how they need to change, whilst being unaware of so much implicit stuff. We end up with a movement that is far behind the multicultural state of our country. We end up with praxis that misses out too many issues people are dealing with. We end up with blindspots that never get exposed, sins that are never confessed and repented of.

For those discouraged at experiencing these things, I'd like to encourage you that you're free, and don't belong to the majority culture (1 Cor 9:19), and one day, it won't be like this, God's end game will succeed (Rev 7:9)!

UPDATE: Due to the large response this post received, here is a follow up
Ways we Make Minorities Invisible

Thursday, April 26, 2018

If you're gonna write on Alfie Evans pls interact with the following:

1. Who decides what's best for a child, the parents, or the state, and why?
2. The State's history of removing children from lower class families.
3. Implicit bias in doctors towards lower classes.
4. Disability and worth of life.
5. Brain death speculation and historical definitions, and recovery stories.
6. Logical Fallacies of denying parental rights based on angry mobs, and why do lower classes form mobs?
7. Implicit bias of doctors on acute treatment wards.
8. Not allowing a sick toddler food for 22 hrs.
9. Should a hospital be allowed to say parents cannot move their child to another hospital at their own expense?
10. Is unkind for a toddler to make a helicopter ride, but kinder to kill him?
11. Evidence and ethics that the toddler is suffering beyond the point of his life worth living.
12. Ethical arguments for killing a child who is able to breath on his own.
13. If this were the Royal Baby, do you think the same would and should happen?

Monday, April 23, 2018

A Different Approach to our Celebrity Problem pt2

I previously talked about our problem in the pastorate with self-righteousness, and promoting narcissists in ministry. This leads to problems with both small time and celebrity pastors.
Today, I want to talk about Matthew 18:15-18, which I believe provides further solutions to this problem.

1) Matthew 18 implies Pastors should be Correctable.
Matthew 18 teaches us to go to a brother or sister with a problem, and to show them their sin. Sadly, many of us have found that we haven't been successful applying this to pastors. We've tried to share but been given the brush off. Sadly we have too many leaders who will not sit down and hear someone out about how they feel sinned against. So, imagine you're a pastor who never takes correction, how are you going to respond when someone warns you about an inappropriate relationship you're beginning to form? You're not gonna listen, and eventually there will be tremendous damage. Sadly, we're letting too many leaders become bigger names, whilst they leave a wake of people who have been hurt and unable to sit down and do Matthew 18 with them. I'd suggest we don't make people pastors until we've seen them humbly live out Matthew 18.

2) Matthew 18 Implies we shouldn't Promote People under Discipline in another church.
Regularly someone is excommunicated from their church for a serious unrepentant sin. They move onto another church, where the leaders assume the previous church was wrong, and promote them back into ministry. This person goes on to hurt more people in the same way as before. I've seen and heard this happen too many times. I'd suggest we don't make people pastors until they've been trained in how to properly restore people from excommunication.

So who knew? Jesus was onto something when he taught the following:
(Mat 18:15-18 NIV) 15 "If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.
16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'
17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
18 "Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

part 3 may follow if I feel led!

Monday, April 16, 2018

A Different Approach to our Celebrity Problem pt1

I read lots of wisdom in Andy Crouch's article on the problem of celebrity pastors, but I'd like to approach it from another angle because I think the problem is much bigger. We don't have a problem with celebrity pastors as much as we have a problem with leaders! I've seen abusive leaders in both small and big churches, narcissists in small time ministry as well as those who have celebrity status (see video below for narcissism). So I think our solutions need to include the pathways people take to ministry.

1. Character over Gifting
Jesus said, we would know people by their fruit, not their giftings (Matt 7:15-23). We are often putting people into various ministries because we like their giftings. I'd suggest, we put more emphasis into character. How do we know someone's character? It takes a long time observing someone in stressful situations to be able to tell their character. Once a narcissist is given a powerful position in ministry, he will hurt people, and then we'll blame him; but who let the narcissist into ministry in the first place?

2. We're saturated in a culture of rightness.
I naturally desire to be in the right, and my theological tribe does too. This desire to be right has become an idol. I think I've seen this in two ways.

Firstly, we trump intellectual rightness over right actions (orthodoxy over orthopraxy). If you want an example, look at how some conservative evangelicals respond to poverty-- we can easily fold our arms in satisfaction that we haven't fallen for the social gospel, whilst not bothering to preach the gospel to the poor (like Jesus did), or care for the poor in the church (like Paul did).

Secondly, we have a hard time admitting we're in the wrong. Although my tribe 'believes' in Christ's imputed righteousness, I've hardly ever heard a church leader say sorry for hurting someone. I've heard people admit past 'mistakes' in ministry, but this is usually to a third party, not the injured party. When, I think about it, there are only two Christian leaders I remember hearing saying sorry about something, M and B. You prob don't know them, that's not the point, the point is that I've been in churches for over 30 years, and known lots of pastors, and authors, and I can only think of two pastors who say sorry if someone brings something to them. There must be more, surely? hopefully?

In my experience, it doesn't matter whether its a leader of 10 people, or 500 people, we have a culture where leaders so badly want to be in the right, they can't even consider being in the wrong. In some ways this culture starts when we start learning good doctrine - there's a sense that we are in the right. But it also grows when we judge other church groups as not being in the right. For some of us working class leaders, it occurs when we look down on the prejudice we've experienced from other leaders who are not in the right. And we egg each other on with a sense that we are in the right. And then someone comes to us and says, 'I feel you wronged me' and we say, 'Of course not, I'm in the right!' Well actually we don't say that, but we think that.

So the solution is Christ right?
Our character needs to be more like him. And we need to be more firmly convinced of His righteousness each day, so that we are open to being in the wrong.

For a better understanding of narcissism, watch this excellent video by Diane Langberg

part 2 of this article can be found here

Monday, April 09, 2018

Disability: Every day is an adventure

Pretty much each day I wake up wishing I hadn't. I don't feel like I can do anything, as if the rest of the day is mount Everest looming outside my tent.

Then the adventure starts. I have to get ready, and that involves praying and meditating on the scriptures. 

Then I set out, which means actually getting out of the bedroom, one foot in front of the other. Outside the bedroom are a whole bunch of obstacles, not just toys on the floor that my easily-dislocating knees dislike - but also a world of people with needs. Again, I have to pray for the strength to not be selfish, and instead to serve others. 

The day continues, like a mountain climb where you stop for a break occasionally and are either surprised by how far you've climbed, or discouraged that you've not got far at all. 

One lesson I keep trying to learn is that it doesn't matter so much how far I've climbed. What's more important is who have I been climbing for? If I'm climbing for myself, trying to overcome my disability, I've just been selfish, and will be discouraged when my climb doesn't go well. If on the other hand I'm climbing for my Heavenly Father, then I can rest each night knowing he is pleased with me, no matter how slow and short my climb is, or even if I fell, only to be caught by his carabina.

Help me Father to climb for you.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

What can a broken hearted person do?

The other day I posted about my heartbreak in 'The Cry of a Broken Hearted Pastor'
Today, I'm talking about what we can do when heartbroken. Obviously, I've already mentioned crying, and I think I almost cried every day for a long time, and the tears still come. But I've been crying them out to the God who hears:
The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.(Psalm 34:17-18 NIV)

BUT the other thing I did, was think of the cross. And in the midst of betrayals and abandonment, I wrote this song with my wife, 'At The Cross.'

Notice the lyrics in the bridge:
When I’m feel-ing lonely
when I think God don’t love me
I’ll fix my eyes upon the tree

where you bore heartache for me
where you shed your blood for me
I’m a sinner but you have set me free
The video with lyrics is here:

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Cry of a Broken Hearted Pastor

When I saw Aaron Neville sing 'I don't know much' and imagined he was letting out the pain of losing his wife, (his teenage sweetheart) into the mic, I wished that I too could cry my pain into a mic that might somehow empty the emotional pain inside me.

Not the pain of the trauma I faced as a child, because that is now a memory I can talk about with a wince, like running a finger over a scar that has healed much but has a slight tenderness. Not the excruciating physical pain of my medical condition hEDS, But the far worse pain of being hurt by the Christian brotherhood I've invested in all my adult life.

I'd like to cry out the pain of the betrayals whilst my wife and I tried to deal with disability and grief, and the lack of support for a disabled council estate pastor.

And I wonder if I could cry that all out like Aaron Neville, if somehow all of the pain of the last 3 years would be dissipated?

And I could tell you. with tears, that even though I'm so disenchanted with the UK Church, and particularly my theological tribe, I still believe God loves it so much, enough to die for it, and the Church is still his plan, and I love the Church too. And I could tell you that all the badness I've experienced from others, also resides in me; even if it is displayed in different ways.

But, I do so wish, that the Church was a safe place for people like me; cos if it can crush a hard-nut like me, what will it do to others?

See part 2 here

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

RTU conference vids should be online in February [UPDATED]

Sorry for all the radio silence, I'm proper busy finishing off my doctorate. God willing, I'll have the conference videos online in Feb.
UPATE, make that April, very sorry for the delay!