Thursday, 18 February 2016

Church in the Hard Places

Just finished reading this book, fairly hot off the press and I have been anticipating reading it for a few months since I first heard it was coming out. I also enjoyed Mike McKinley's Church Planting is For Wimps book and have heard Mez McConnell speak a couple of times. Overall I enjoyed the book and have learnt from it, I wondered what I would need to add to my toolkit to do ministry in an urban poor setting such as a Scottish Scheme or an English Council Estate, this book affirmed me in my conclusions that I already have the toolkit necessary.

I love that they don't patronise people like me, I am from a Council Estate and remember hearing a guy say "Christians on Council Estates, don't do theology and they don't read books". I was puzzled by this as at the time I had around three large book cases full of theology books that I was in the process of reading in my home on a Council Estate. This guys whole talk left me feeling pitied and misunderstood. Neither McConnell or McKinley do this, they both assume that not only can people from backgrounds like mine learn theology but it is necessary and beneficial for them to do so. 

I liked that the book squarely argues that ministry in Hard Places should be centred on the Gospel. Not any Gospel but THE Gospel consider this quote from Mez, "This is the Jesus that the poor need: a sin-bearing, atonement-making, guilt-cleansing, living Redeemer. A christ who merely affirms us as we are is a saviour who doesn't actually save." p48 As they both rightly go on to show, this is because urban poor people,  like all people are sinners. We cannot approach ministry to the poorer among us as if they are victims- some are victims but a victim mentality doesn't need to be smoothed over, it needs to be confronted with the gospel. Mez and Mike have tried and tested ministry in the hard place and not settled for a leftish soppy social work understanding of what people in Hard Places need and who they are. Mez at one point says that it is only a robust understanding of the atonement will get you through when helping a drug dealer for example that you are dealing with a rat,  but remembering that you too are a rat.

As much as I enjoyed reading this book I was left disappointed, I was disappointed because I've read it all before. You see at one point Mike McKinley in the chapter on Church membership and discipline said, "My guess is that when you opened this book, you weren't expecting a chapter on church membership and discipline". He was right, when I opened it I wasn't,  but after a couple of chapters I would have been more surprised if it wasn't in. I love IX Marks and have read a lot of their stuff already, so to find them going over 'what is the gospel', 'appointing elders', 'preaching', theology, evangelism in a typical IX Marks fashion was disappointing. Not that I disagree, I affirm all these things, just that I am worried that this good book will be read by people like me who don't really need to go over the basics again. I wonder if it had been better if it didn't come with a IX Marks label if more people who need to read it would pick it up, rather than singing to the choir?

I enjoyed the stories of real people who have come into contact with ministry on the ground and have been changed, it was helpful that they didn't romanticise this and also included real life situations of people who came along and then disappeared.

This is a useful book, especially for people who haven't read much from IX Marks

God Bless
Stephen <><