Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Class Barriers in Church

A couple of days ago, I posted some initial thoughts on the book Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis. I said that it raised some interesting questions about class and evangelical Christianity.

One church leader commented to me recently: 'Social class is British evangelicalism's equivalent of racism in American evangelicalism.'... It means the leadership in conservative evangelicalism largely runs along lines of social class. Those from a lower social class who achieve positions of prominence do so by adopting the culture of the upper class.

I'm pretty sure that should read "middle class" at the end...

When we look at church throughout the world, God is choosing the weak and lowly to shame the power and wealth of the West. It seems that God's response to the imperialism of global capitalism is to raise up a mighty church in the very places this new empire marginalises and exploits. Let the Western church take note.

One of the reasons we have middle-class churches that are failing to reach working-class people is that we have middle-class leaders. And we have middle-class leaders because our expectations of what constitutes leadership and our training methods are middle-class. Indeed, working-class people only really get into leadership by effectively becoming middle-class. p.117

I think they're right, of course. In one sense it's a symptom of the old problem where attempts to improve education levels in working class areas tend to produce middle-class people who then leave the areas and so create no overall improvement. Chester & Timmis even suggest (probably rightly) that one of the keys to reaching the working classes is for converts to decide to stay rather than to leave.

Another is of course "downward mobility", Christians moving into more working-class areas intentionally instead of following the standard trend of society to try to move out of them.

But there's an awful lot to be said for the massive problem facing evangelicalism in the UK - that it's just too middle class to seem relevant to the working class. Stuff like the "reaching the unreached" conferences help, but there's a long way to go in terms of changing culture, not least in terms of mobility around the country. Generally speaking, working class families are rooted in a specific area over generations, and middle class families move around a lot and are geographically dispersed. For me to be fully part of the community I live in would require my family to have lived there since the 1950s.

There's a big challenge here...

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