March 3, 2017

Reaching Everyday People With Everyday Leaders

Oh a fireman is a person in your neighbourhood, in your neighbourhood, in your neighbourhood! Oh a fireman is a person in your neighbourhood, a person that you meet each day.

Remember that little ditty from Sesame Street in which everyday jobs were held by people who lived around you, and how your streets were occupied by all sorts of professions?  I reckon a whole bunch of you are humming the tune about….now.


Well there’s a good article on the Gospel Coalition Australian site about reaching such people (assuming there are some people who are not everyday people outside of Adele, Beyonce, et al) in the modern evangelical setting.  Read that article here.

One of the questions that goes beyond how we reach “everyday” people in Australia (and by that the article is referring to the non-tertiary educated worker, someone with a technical certificate or below), is the fact that if you want to reach everyday people you just may need a church led by everyday people to do it.  And from what I can see that is something that simply doesn’t seem to exist in middle-class-evangelical-land. We simply don’t raise up everyday people as leaders.

Now “everyday” is not being used pejoratively, more a case of saying that the average evangelical church is not primarily made up of tradies, labourers and FIFO workers, who are thicker on the ground on the average Aussie street than doctors and QCs. And the stats bear this out.  As someone has just pointed out to me, there is a 70/30 percentage split in Australia between blue collar and white collar workers, but a complete 30/70 reversal split in our churches.  And from my observation the more conservative evangelical you are (think small “r” Reformed), the more that 30/70 starts to look like a 10/90.

Here’s my concern.  To even ask how churches reach “everyday people” is to signal that we ourselves think that, given the check list of what makes someone “everyday” we are not everyday people.  We have a label for those not like us.

We look around at our congregations and our leaders – especially our leaders – and the word “everyday” does not spring to mind.

And it’s not as if we can put out a sign that says “Hi everyday person, you are welcome at our church.  We will treat you just like we treat ourselves – the non-everyday people.” (Oh and if we need a plumber to fix the church bathrooms on a Thursday night before the small group leaders meeting we might give you a call.  In fact we will have to give you a call because chances are you are not one of those leaders so you won’t be there by invite.)

Which brings me to the big issue: the missing cohort of everyday people who are leaders.  I went to my old theological college graduation ceremony the other night and it went ok.  But what struck me most of all was not simply how middle class the graduating class was (not that that is bad), but how middle class the whole event felt.

After ministering in a much more working class setting in which three of my leaders are a firey, a limestone waller, and a beekeeper, even I felt the disconnect, and I am as middle class as they come primarily because, as the son of a factory worker and a stay at home mum I went to university at 18, and that changed everything.

But more than that, the graduation ceremony is a cultural expression of the education offered. One of my leaders shows great potential after only being Christian for six years.  He’s got character, leadership qualities, biblical insight, an uncanny ability to exegete a passage rather than eisegete it.  Yet he has hardly cracked a book in his life apart from the Bible, and he hates reading in general.

This leader can watch a good sermon on Youtube, listen to a download talk by Tim Keller, but ask him to write and essay and it’s all over. Theological college, the way it is done now, will sink him.  That’s not to say he can’t do a day conference or a night time unit over six weeks, but semester by semester learning, year by year?  Not going to happen.

This struck me when we asked him to preach. In order to do that he and I needed such a long run up at it in terms of weeks and dialogue, compared to the white collar bloke who has a fair idea of what is expected in terms of learning frameworks, and putting an essay together.  There is a knowledge iceberg under that sermon tip that we all too often take for granted.

I am not saying we cannot reach so called ‘everyday people” as “non-everyday people”.  What I am saying is that evangelical churches in general give off a middle class odour that says to the working class set, “If you play your cards right you could be like us.”  The fact is working class/everyday people aren’t aspiring to be middle class – that’s simply a middle class conceit.

So it’s hopeless then.  The church will by and large be devoid of everyday people. Except it isn’t and it won’t be. Evangelical small “r” Reformed churches are, but by and large the more Pentecostal churches are not.  Of course most of our crew are not going to touch that form of doctrine or style of worship with a barge pole (an everyday person’s working tool if ever there were one), but somehow there are plenty of everyday people, and even plenty of less-tham-everyday people who you probably only see sleeping in the shop doors of your street, in these churches.  There’s just something about the way these churches come across that does not smell of eau-de-middleclass.

Hate what I say or love it, it’s a fact.  And until we come to terms with that, our middle class efforts to reach everyday people will be sporadic at best, and our middle class training will continue to fall woefully short of providing an appropriate educational framework for those leaders whom God has placed his Spirit upon.

We have leaders in our midst who could lead the everyday churches that we simply can’t grow, and thereby reach the 70 percent of our population we only see when the wall needs built, the tap needs fixing, or, perish the thought, the house fire needs extinguished.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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