Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Church Report (3): sets low standard - fails to achieve?

I'd like to consider those churches who serve the poorer, needier and more deprives communities in our land for it often here than numbers and money combine to bring forth an inherited poverty that inhabits (and perhaps controls) both spiritual and physical worlds.

Confused (then, job done, perhaps I should stop now whilst behind)? No, of course you're not - well I hope you won't be:

A church I happened across was in an Urban Priority Area (UPA); one of those places that exists somewhere in every city, town and village. The people were lovely - they were the sort of either lived to work and worked to live or were what they called 'government artists' (a local euphemism for those who 'drew' benefits). Like many from churches that are in UPA or 'Estate' settings many of those who were drawn to gave more than perhaps their income or lifestyles might have led you to expect and not only did they give pound notes but they gave of their time and themselves too. This is a reality that makes some inner-city, UPA and estate churches such a blessing - people where living is hard and living as a Christian is harder still - and yet they do admirably.

So what am I talking about, because this billing doesn't appear to have anything to do with 'inherited poverty', does it?

I'm talking about the fact that even though they gave, many assumed that they'd struggle to pay their share and so, accordingly, they did! In fact that hadn't managed to pay all or much of the share for a number of years and when the issue was raised, so too were their voices as they said (in unison), 'But we're a poor church, we can't afford to pay!'  They were so convinced that they were poor and couldn't pay that this became something they tried to ignore - for rather than bless and be a blessing it became the hallmark of poverty and defeat.

What I think was going on was that the church was under a curse they had pronounced over themselves. This course was, of course, poverty and from this poverty they found themselves unable to pay which confirmed the curse they were under and one fed the other to leave them impotent as a 'poor' church.

They looked up the road to the big successful church (whatever happened to 'Giving as Ministry' ?) and saw in their success further confirmation of their inability to pay and of their poverty in terms of numbers (and yet, oddly, both were evangelical and occupied the same beliefs and attitudes) and ability to 'be or do' church.

Then along came a new minister. Not young and flashy, not full of tricks, gimmicks, buzzwords and a 'drop dead gorgeous and talented 'worship band' (isn't it ALL worship?) but committed to breaking the cycle of poverty that had limited the congregation. They set about paying their share and amazingly, they did!

Now this will have done many things:

i. It says to the people -'you are not chained by poverty but have been set free' (and free indeed!); now live like it,

ii. It says to the diocese - 'We are committed to being part of the diocesan family',

iii. Invites renewed (visible) commitment from the diocesan as they recognise the achievement, and

iv. It beggars the question of the other churches around it - 'Were you helping or praying when they were failing or merely content because you weren't? '

It is so easy for poorer communities to believe that they are too poor to reap the benefits of God's Grace and too poor to meet their church's commitments.

It is easier still for those churches with money (and numbers) to sit back comfortably and pay from what they have whilst celebrating the many people they have who are able and active and forget about the poorer church 'up the road/across town'. Because even though this is about them - they don't stand in isolation - Do They?

Malachi's entreaty that we 'bring all of our tithe into the storehouse so that none may go without' doesn't stop at our doors but continues to the whole family.

If a man falls into a hole and has no friends, he perishes; but if he has friends he will be saved.

Who's going to help break the chains that surround so many of our vulnerable and essentially placed churches I wonder?

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