Simon Smallwood spoke last at this year’s RTU conference, on the subject of the third section of the RTU vision statement:
To see a movement of Christ centred churches, reaching socially deprived people in a grass roots way.
My notes on Simon’s talk are not as complete as they could be. I failed to notice that his handout was double sided! So I didn’t take notes from his introduction nor the three surprises he spotted in the book of Acts (chapters 13:48, 2:42-47 and 4:13). The main point Simon made from these three texts, I believe, is that anyone can be made godly and suitably gifted through Christ’s ministry of the word and the Holy Spirit. Middle-class Christians have failed to see the difference between culture or class and godliness. Godliness does not equal being middle-class and giftedness does not need a university degree to be effective in the kingdom of Christ.
Simon shared openly about how good intentions at St George’s Dagenham had led to a number of outcomes which worked against the principle of church in “a grass roots way”. My notes pick up on similar lessons we are learning, about two or three years behind Simon, perhaps. He said much more than what is noted here. My notes consist of he lessons I was taking away, so some of these notes might be my application rather than reality in Dagenham.
Examples of things not going as expected:
- Simon brought good teaching about Christ to Dagenham and his hope was for local people to take that teaching into the community. The problem was people bought into Simon’s alien (middle-class) culture and so stopped speaking like locals.
- Simon did what many other similar churches did, which was to offer ministry trainee-ships to young folk. These schemes often imported apprentices from big teaching churches in university towns. The MTs were mobile and middle-class who ended up being masters not servants in the local church. Rather than developing the gifts of church members, they took over. The church ended up serving the MTs as a training ground.
- This led to the MT scheme becoming a destructive influence rather than building the church. Locals felt they could never be like the MTs and all the resources and training available at the time was tailored to tertiary educated middle-class folk. All this destroyed the confidence of local people.
- A focus on small group ministry meant there was a need for confident, gifted “pastors” who could run small groups which were culturally alien. But small groups which work in one culture might not work in another and so small groups, meeting in the homes of local folk, are not essential if the local culture finds this form of meeting and hospitality alien.
Things we are doing and learning.
- Don’t do more than can be sustained. Do what we can within the body of the local church. Keep Christ-centred teaching and discipleship at the heart of all you do.
- Don’t worry about what other churches are doing. One of MTs at Dagenham was university educated and had a huge capacity for work. He has been replaced by five local men who take it turn about to lead bible studies and talks for the youth group.
- An inexperienced local speaker is heard better by the youth than an experienced outsider.
- Shifting responsibility in church life to local men. PCC was led in the past by people who lived outside the area and this is shifting to locals along with youth work and discipleship. Anyone brought into serve the church from outside must seek to work their way out of a job by training local church members.
- Seeking ways to train local church members in an accessible, suitable and affordable way. The urban catechism; one to one discipleship and the urban ministry programme all recent and very useful for affirming local leaders, pastors and teachers.