Hugh Balfour on inner city ministry


Thanks to Hugh Balfour for his honest, helpful and encouraging view of ministry in the inner city which arrived from Reform this week. Here he states the factors which militated against him getting out of Christ Church, Peckham when he wanted to move on to the greener pastures of suburbia but failed:

…as I look back I can see that other factors were at work, which I suspect are more common than we realise.

The first factor concerns why we wanted to move. This was principally because of burn out with the inner-city and fear about our children’s education. In other words our desire to move was not motivated by faith but by fear. Why do you want to move?

Secondly, I knew deep down that I was running away from what God had called me to. I had had a call to the poor since the early days of my Christian life, so whenever I went to look at a parish, I was always asking about the local council estate. I think that sub-consciously I was trying to con God that I could fulfil this call in some green and pleasant place. He wasn’t having any of it! When it came to the job I most wanted and seemed best qualified for, He abandoned me in the interview. Not an experience I would recommend! Since submitting to the Lord’s will and deciding to stay in Peckham, I have experienced a hugely increased sense of joy, peace and fruitfulness in ministry, and the Lord has wonderfully provided great schools for our children.

The lesson of all this is, trust God, and do not imagine that means we have to send our kids to terrible schools. He is our Father, He knows our needs and will give good things to those who ask Him (Matt 7: 7-12). I think this is one of the biggest battles we face, but once we learn to trust our Heavenly Father life becomes much simpler. The second lesson is that we are not professionals. The church is not a career path where we start in a small church, perhaps in the inner-city, before progressing on to a large suburban evangelical church. We are called to preach the gospel of the Kingdom. Nowhere does the New Testament command us to build churches; Jesus will do that. We have to be faithful to the ministry to which He called us, which will lead to suffering and persecution with great joy. Again if we have not got this clear we are likely to make bad choices, experience much heartache, and possibly make a shipwreck of our ministry.

I’ve said before that more must hear the call to inner city ministry, but perhaps that statement falls short of reality. Of course God is calling many ministers to the inner city but we respond by running from God’s call. Britain’s inner cities need more Jonahs of the repentant, obedient and not fearful kind. Thank God for men like Hugh Balfour.

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3 Responses to Hugh Balfour on inner city ministry

  1. Laurence says:

    I agree that people should think seriously about inner city as a valid option, and not disregard it….

    Part of me says though, that if God wants someone in a particular place, like the guy above… then it’ll happen. If you end up somewhere else, then that is God’s plan for you.

    yes/no ?

    • Jim says:

      So much for free will.

      Guys, I appreciate that we want to perceive all that happens as God’s Will and ourselves as being in the center of it. And it goes without saying that God CAN impose God’s will upon any person, situation, etc., without regard to our acquiescence (of course, while this goes without saying, I include the obligatory acknowledgement so as to identify with the piety in all of us). But God doesn’t impose God’s will, instead using us, the Body of Christ.

      The upshot of it all is that the only thing that can keep God’s will from being done is us. We run from God’s calling, though, because we fear the total commitment that will wrest from us our identity, ego, and comfort, in favor of the sacrifice of our lives. We do, indeed, flee from God’s calling…every day, and justify the flight by saying, “if God willed it, He would make it happen.”

      For shame on us.

      If we looked as hard for those for whom Jesus looked as we do for advancement, comfort, and our retirement years, the Kingdom might actually start advancing.

      Kudos to Balfour not for doing anything extraordinary, but for doing what we are supposed to do, what we are all called to do. Seeking those in the margins of our society and bringing them the Hope that lies within us.

  2. neilrobbie says:

    Yes, like Jonah, for example.

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