Inside Out Church

Posted: December 5, 2013 in Church, Clericalism, Evangelism, Gospel, Ministry
Tags: , , , , ,

I’ve been scratching my head since getting back from China wondering why English churches feel so strange, and it’s finally come to me. English churches are inside out.

I don’t mean that the carpets and pictures are in the wrong place, I mean the focus of the church is in the wrong place. I’ll try and explain.
Chinese home churches tend to feel small and vulnerable. Members are evangelists, trying to share the good news with as many people as possible. The church minister is often only a little better trained than the congregation and sees their main role to be encourager and cheer leader for the troops.
In the UK on the other hand the church leader tends to be vastly better trained than the congregation. The leader has probably worked as a volunteer for a couple of years, then spent three years learning Hebrew, homiletics, and history. They may have spent a further three years as a curate/assistant so by the time they get to lead the church they are very much a priest.
The priest is not a cheer leader. They are a teacher, a guru showering wisdom upon the drones who work hard all week to pay the priest’s salary. As a congregation, we turn up on Sunday exhausted and slump into seats waiting the reviving words of the teacher. We hope that there will also be a junior priest looking after our kids.
The junior priest (youth worker) may well be given free accommodation and a salary of £20,000 per year to look after 10 teenagers. The cost per teenager might be as high as £3000 per kid per year. The church’s expenditure on the other 30,000 kids who live in the area is negligible.
In this model of church we have priests providing services tailored to a few paying customers, whilst the 92% who never go to church remain largely untouched.
Church has become a service centre for busy Christians. It has become inward looking, centred around a single priest. Instead of employing a youth worker to train the kids to evangelise the district, we have a youth worker filling in the gaps that busy Christian parents have left in parenting our kids.  Instead of reaching out to the local council estate we say that “we don’t feel moved by the Spirit” to reach that group and ignore them with our leafleting for Christmas Carol Services.

I’ve talked to some of these priestly church leaders about trying to remedy the situation, “What about the Polish, the elderly, the council estate kids close to our church?”
The answer is a look of despair. “Brother”, they say, “I’d like to do more, but I am short staffed, I need to prioritise my preaching preparation time, and then I’ve got two couples on the edge of a marriage break up. On top of that my senior elder is annoyed that his son isn’t getting enough attention from our youth worker, and eight of my best, most able members have just left to join a church plant in Suburbiton. How am I meant to start a new ministry to the elderly, or the Polish, or the council estates, when I can’t even look after my own flock? Brother, you are weighing me down with burdens. Surely we pay London City Mission to look after the needy, so you look after that lot, and I’ll struggle on with caring for my congregation.”
It’s hard to argue with the poor Church minister so I’m going to let Paul do it. In his letter to the Ephesians chapte 4, Paul says this,

“11 And he himself gave some as apostles and some as prophets and some as evangelists and some as pastors and teachers 12 for the equipping of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ”

He didn’t say, “and he gave the body of Christ to pay for the important ministry workers”.

He didn’t say “and he gave pastors and teachers for the work of the ministry and to keep an eye on the body of Christ”.

He said that the church leaders are to be equippers, cheer leaders, encouragers to get the Church doing all the ministry.

The “priest” is the worst person to be doing all the ministry.  They haven’t worked in the real world for years.  The people who are out in the real world need to be doing the ministry.

The church is inside out. Rather than having an inward looking church huddled around a priest for survival, we need an outward looking church, reaching out to the lost, and our pastors and teachers need to be our equippers, our mobilisers. Instead of employing young pastors to keep our kids on the straight and narrow, we need to employ evangelists to train the kids to reach out into the community. The best way to deal with young doubters is to turn them into young evangelists.  When one of our church’s young people thinks up the idea of starting a “football ministry” for kids on the council estate the church minister shouldn’t be rolling their eyes to the sky with thoughts of the effort, but encouraging them and getting a couple of Dads engaged in the project.  When the students want to get involved with ministry to the homeless, it should be encouraged, and telephone numbers provided for the Christian shelter where church members regularly volunteer and run Bible studies.  When the mums group wants to start an outreach to the elderly widows in the community it should be helped with offers of the church premises and a rota for providing the less mobile a lift to church on Sunday.  The minister shouldn’t be running any of these ministries, but they should be engaging with their church members, getting them to do what they are good at, and encouraging them from scripture to reach out with both Christian love and the Gospel that Jesus Christ is our risen Lord.

We need to turn our church’s back inside out.  One way is to plant a new church which is tiny and vulnerable like the Chinese church.  Another is to challenge our idols that leave us so terribly “time poor”.  That is the subject of another blog

  1. Jim Nelson says:

    Wow, that is great. May we all be workers and not see full time people as the key. They are the resource, and we move the community in Jesus name.


  2. Paul says:

    The “priest” is the worst person to be doing all the ministry. They haven’t worked in the real world for years. The people who are out in the real world need to be doing the ministry.

    We need to turn our church’s back inside out. One way is to plant a new church which is tiny and vulnerable like the Chinese church. Another is to challenge our idols that leave us so terribly “time poor”.


  3. John Warwick says:

    Im sure your Church isnt like this but there are many churches which go to far down that path.
    The seeker senitive chuches are all about being outward looking, the Sunday services have become nothing more than entertainment in order to make the non christian feel comfortable, all mention of sin or hell is removed in case someone becomes offended.

    I have been in a “church” like this in the past for years, we are told the church isnt about you its about the new and unreached people, the problem with that is that they are not equiping the saints, people are continually leaving the church and giving up on Christianity thinking that its all show and no substance. John MacArthur said “the only way the church can fail is to fail to be Biblical”

    When I invite someone unsaved to come to church with us I tell them it is a Church service for Christians but you are more than welcome to come as you are, no pressure.

    Im not saying I disagree with you, I personally think outreach is a very important aspect of Christian life and I do as much to benefit the poorer and lost in the community that I can, however I think a balance is important and a Sunday service should be for Christians (but not barring others from coming), however Sunday is only one day and there are six others we can use collectively to reach the lost and be of a benefit both spirituality and practically.


    • Windy_London says:

      Yes John, my main point is not about the Sunday service, it is about what happens on the other 6 days of the week when the Church are busy ministering in their daily lives. My thought about the Sunday service is that it should at least be welcoming and “seeker friendly”, but you are right, it is important that the Sunday service equips the saints to minister for the rest of the week.


  4. Hyl says:

    I watched the Sam Childers movie the other night, and I think he is on to something. He is protecting children and widows – one of the major calls of Jesus. I think that we forget the original mission plan – and people look at us and ask why would you risk being ridiculed like this? Jesus let go of his safe heaven, for us, we have a surety in that we will receive it back. It is so much easier to risk your life for an assured heaven. But we become bogged down in comfort – a false vertebrae. A real man is Jesus – not an ego.


  5. I’d challenge this, though: what does the church have left to offer the western world? Much of the church is so focused on having the right beliefs that it seems totally ineffectual and pointless to be Christian. Evangelism serves little point in our gutted form of Christianity.

    Now if we revive the impetus toward virtue and toward advocating the downtrodden and despised, then Christianity has meaning, and evangelism makes sense. Until then, it remains an awkward attempt to convince someone to believe the same things you do.


    • Windy_London says:

      We shouldn’t separate beliefs (faith) and actions (love). It is the God given beliefs in the grace, love, forgiveness Jesus showed us in the past, the knowledge of his presence with us today, and the hope of an end to suffering & fellowship with God that transforms us and motivates us to get on and be loving to our neighbours. Without knowledge of Gods grace our good deeds can become a drudgery of duty


      • I disagree. The point of Christianity seems precisely the opposite, that the work of God requires no special knowledge. Otherwise, how can we say the Samaritan had faith? Same of the Roman Centurion.


      • Windy_London says:

        Not sure which Roman Centurion you are taking about but the first convert, Cornelius of Acts 10 was a God fearing Roman soldier. The God fearers had been taught the scriptures (that make us wise for salvation 2 Tim 3), as had the Samaritans. Paul taught “Christ and him crucified” to the Gentiles, and Jesus taught, “Repent and believe for the Kingdom of God is near”. The Kingdom was shorthand for a whole series of eschatological teaching that the Jews would have known about.
        Romans 10:14 is helpful on this as well, ” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”
        Now I’m not saying that people need a series of lectures before coming to faith. A typical route to faith would be
        1) friendship and acts of love
        2) feeling party of a “gospel” community
        3) coming to understand who Jesus really is
        4) declaring that Jesus is Lord
        5) showing fruits of the Spirit and living a loving life

        Even the thief on the cross saw who Jesus really was, that is all it takes to begin, but it doesn’t end there.


      • The point of the Good Samaritan story is not simply that the priests didn’t help when some random guy did; it’s that the random guy also had all the *wrong* beliefs and practices. He may have known of Jewish religion, but his faith was not the expression of a commitment to Christ or YHWH. His faith was his love for his fellow man. Christianity is saying, essentially, that humanism is how to serve God.


      • Though I say this all the while believing that Christian beliefs are conducive to the sort of love we should have.


  6. robstroud says:

    Quite thought-provoking. Thank you. We have churches in Suburbiton across the pond as well.


    • Windy_London says:

      Glad you enjoyed the blog Ed. I see a LOT of tired ministers as I travel around London but not so many fruitful ministers. I’m praying that we as the church will wake up to the task God had given us all and not leave all the ministry to a few tired souls.


  7. Adam M says:

    Not exactly what you were getting at but I saw it today and it reminded me of your blog post…


  8. Chapman says:

    Ironic that this photo at the top of this article is of the Bombed out church (St Lukes) in Liverpool.
    Where Christchurch Liverppol ( recently help a carol service to “reach out” from!!


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