For a while, I've heard a variety of conservative evangelicals talk about having, a new strategy for reaching urban or deprived areas. People are recognising we haven't been good at reaching out to our diverse population, and are thinking a new strategy will help. This frustrates me because it was 'strategic thinking' that got us in this mess in the first place! I am convinced that what is needed is Repentance rather than Strategy. Strategising can easily be a false messiah promising fruit that will only come from repentance. Here's my reasons:
1. Historically, we 'strategically' targeted the wealthy and the white, creating a Christian machine that is almost unable to reach diverse and deprived areas. The idea was overtly driven by strategy, and no doubt covertly driven by the prejudice that exists in all our hearts. Strategising from sinful hearts didn't work then, why would it work better now? Surely deep repentance of all our prejudices must precede strategy. Surely such repentance also takes time, and the fruit is more, 'Can I sit with you and hear how I've hurt you,' than, 'I'm going to launch a new strategy.'
2. Some of those calling for new strategies are the same people who have been unhelpful to those ministering to deprived areas. Unless there is repentance, how can their new strategies bear fruit? Growth will not come from strategy unless the Spirit of repentance is doing the work. Unless there is character change, how can long term partnerships last? Conferences and initiatives can be fig leaves that ignore some of the relational alienation that has taken place through sin. Repentance on the other hand would involve rebuilding relationships before doing any online posturing about deprived areas. Repentance would lead to godly character, and character can lead to helpful strategising, but to skip character, is a dangerous an unbiblical approach.
3. The idea of a new strategy from Evangelical gatekeepers is so patronizing. It would be far better to say, 'We've got it wrong, we've caused pain, we want to sit down and listen.' Instead the message is, 'We've decided we're gonna do a new strategy, we will gather some people we have chosen, so that we can know how to make our strategy good. Repentance on the other hand would involve having a change of mind about patronizing behaviour. This would take time, as well as listening to those who have been pushed out of the 'chosen group' and who felt patronised. This would then lead to a change of behaviour which would be far more beneficial than a change of strategy. Godly behaviour rather than clever strategy is what the Bible consistently calls for.
4. The knowledge base is too small to make a good strategy.
Conservative Evangelicalism just does not know much about diversity or deprived areas. There's a number of people having a go at it, but we're few in number compared to Pentecostal and Charismatic groups etc. Furthermore, our old boy network approach to ministry means that many of our practitioners never get to contribute to our narrow knowledge base. All this to say, I don't think we know enough to start new strategies, UNLESS we're humbly in repentance going to our brothers in Christ we've ignored for years, and asking their forgiveness, and then later down the road asking their advice.
What we really need is repentance that will bear fruit.
So, the next time you see the word 'strategy' in a blurb, try replacing it with the word 'repentance' and see if it sounds more biblical and might produce more fruit?