Council Estate Christianity: blessings and challenges
I've been asked to write on this topic, so here goes, but bear in mind this is written from my perspective, and I'm not claiming everyone who works in such an area feels this way!
Blessings of ministering on a council estate:
- When I ended up in a wheelchair because of a genetic disability, it was non-believers on our estate who were the most encouraging to me. They mourned with me in ways that most of my Christian friends didn't have a capacity for. The solidarity I felt, the acknowledgement of the loss, was healing balm to my crushed soul.
- Being able to minister at ground zero, sharing the gospel to people who are hearing it for the first time is an incredible experience. As you see people's eyes light up, as you see a church formed from grass roots, realising you're not building on another's foundation - its a wonderful experience of seeing Jesus building his church (Matt 16:18).
- Not having a big ministry is a blessing. Whilst percentage wise, churches in deprived areas grow more, in terms of numbers, they tend to be smaller. This means there are less souls to have to answer for on judgment day (Herb13:17). It also helps with pride. I still have to put to death the pride in my heart, but I'm sure I'd be worse off if I had some better known and shinier ministry.
- Sharing the gospel with the poor is special. Its what Jesus did, and it comes up in his mission statement (Matt 11:5; Is 61:1; Luke 4:18). So if you wanna get back to NT Christianity, ministering to poor people is a great way.
- Limited resources helps focus on real growth. Its easy to grow a church or any secular organisation if you have enough resources. But then its harder to know if that growth comes from the Spirit, or the flesh. When you hardly have any resources, you really have to pray, and focus on gospel-centered growth, because you've got nothing else! Of course, at times, I prob do rely on certain techniques too much, but I might be even worse off if I had more resources too.
- Lack of male leaders. In general on estates there is a lack of male leaders. It's not something that's been cultivated much. This means developing leaders takes a really long time, and involves a few crash landings along the way. Due to gentrification of estates, when men who grew up there get married and move out of their parents' place, they often leave the estate because there isn't affordable housing there. This means you lose the leaders you've spent years discipling. Furthermore, the church budget isn't normally large enough to recruit leaders from elsewhere.
- Lack of financial resources. It can be tough when you see adverts for part time youth workers who will get more money than your whole salary you're trying to raise a large family on. Then again, this is cause to trust God more and see how he provides.
- Lack of understanding from your theological tribe. Its hard to relate to people you meet at conferences etc. who have little accurate understanding about the culture you're living in. You find yourself tired of always explaining your context to others, and why you've had to do things a bit differently. If you also have some estate values, you'll find yourself butting heads at times with your middle class friends, and they'll just think you're rude!
- Gossip. Estate culture is very gossipy. In the early days, the devil tried to flop me through violent confrontations, but when that stopped working, the gossip came, and it hasn't stopped. Over the years, all kinds of things have been said about my family. Some is just stuff you laugh at, other stuff is hurtful. Some of the stuff can really hinder your testimony, like one time, a bloke stole something from where I worked, and made up a story that I stole it. It took a few years before one of my colleagues said sorry for not believing me.
But, as you can see, there are more blessings than challenges!
Duncan Forbes is a Pastor on the Alton Estate, London, trying to work out how to become more like Jesus in a deprived area.