On the very first day that we moved into our new house up here, I still remember the pearl of wisdom given to me by one local lady on how to do life on this estate:
“Just keep your head down and keep yourself to yourself and you’ll be OK!”
Good advice if you want a quiet life, but what if you want to plant a church that would be a blessing and a beacon of hope to the whole community? Anonymity is probably not the best strategy. After all, was Jesus keeping His head down when “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood”? (John 1v14) I don’t think He was. In fact hiding away has never been God’s way. The Great Commission is still ringing out the same message to the people of the cross – “Go!”
Sadly, however, it seems that these days the church is much more inclined to treat her buildings as bunkers to hide in rather than bases from which to launch audacious search and rescue missions behind enemy lines. Rather than looking out of the window and lamenting the tragedy that is 21st Century Christ-less culture in Wales, surely we should be seizing every available opportunity to live out the reality of the gospel in our communities. To engage culture, rather than hide from it!
That might sound fine in principle, but what does that actually look like on the ground? Well this week here in our context it’s meant installing a cat-flap in sub-zero temperatures for an elderly couple on the estate. It’s meant enjoying a lush meal with a beautiful family from our street. It’s involved going to a cookery class for parents (and turning up too late to cook but bang on time to eat!). It’s entailed going out mountain-biking with my mate, being asked by a councillor to join the local Resident’s Association, and dishing out flyers about our new youth club! It’s meant walking my daughter to play group and sweeping up broken glass from the street (it was from Shel’s car after all!) Over the months it’s meant running DJ workshops, setting up an action-group to regenerate the derelict playground in front of our house, and letting local youths chase my dog!
Why? What’s the point of doing all that stuff? Surely as a Pastor I should be locked away in my study (if I had one) praying, digging deep into scripture and steering clear from the filthy pollution of the world in order to remain holy, pure and righteous! There’s definitely got to be time for stuff like that, but there’s also got to be time for rolling up our sleeves and getting stuck into the messy world we want to see reached for Christ!
Personally I want to know what makes people tick! I want to see the world from their perspective and learn how to apply the gospel in a way that’s appropriate to them. Besides, I also just like hanging out with real people because they’re so often refreshingly genuine and interesting!
Ultimately, truth will never change but culture is transient and constantly evolving. We need to stay flexible enough to keep learning from culture, yet passionate enough about the truth to keep living and preaching it authentically! Failure to do either will result in either irrelevance or liberalism.
And they both suck!