But I have long been of the view it isn’t all that bad. In fact, some of the most exciting and helpful advances our church has made in recent years can be traced back to social media and the vehicle it has provided for a certain pastor’s blog™© about our little tinpot church.
But Twitter is perhaps at its best when it brings people together. People who wouldn’t otherwise have very much to do with each other nor been in the same place as each other and wouldn’t necessarily have chatted even if they had been. This is ultimately how I first began to get to know some of the boys at the centre of Medhurst Ministries.
We began talking about ministry in forgotten places. We shared experiences of what church in our area was like. We found we had many of the same frustrations and difficulties. We even ended up having some of these discussions in public, on Twitter, and in a few other forums. We also began to meet offline, in real life, like real people. It was clear that many of us were feeling the same issues but were all, ultimately, working individually to address them. In the end, we decided that was neither the wisest nor most effective approach.
So why did our church decide to join Medhurst Ministries? Here are a few reasons:
What has been most refreshing about getting to know different churches that work in communities like ours is to spend time with people who really understand the issues we face. Working in a forgotten place can be lonely and difficult. There is a reason they have been forgotten, after all. And there just aren’t that many of us here. To be able to receive mutual support and encouragement from brothers and sisters working in different places, yet similar contexts, has been extremely beneficial. Being able to meet up and talk through the things we are finding hard, as well as the unique joys of working where we do, is really important and we wanted to continue mutually encouraging the friends we have made way back when on Twitter, just in real life.
One of the perpetual problems in deprived communities is the lack of resources. To put it bluntly, we consistently struggle for money and people. Of course, there are pots of money and individuals who want to give to be found, but they are scarce and – sadly – it can sometimes feel as though we are all competing over the same bits available. We sometimes lock ourselves into a zero-sum-game mentality that feels every bit of funding I get is to the detriment of another church, and every bit they get is to mine. When this concerns gospel churches that we desperately want to flourish, when it affects friends whose churches are also struggling, this is no way to think at all.
Medhurst Ministries provides us all with a united platform through which we can seek funding and people. It is run by pastors of local churches in deprived contexts for churches in deprived contexts. As we are friends together, we know the needs amongst ourselves and we are aware that the needs of each church are not identical. Some need people more than money, some need money more than people, some need other things altogether. But being able to work together, and determine where resources will go together, means that we are no longer competing for the same resources, but seeking to share it together.
Just as resources have been an ongoing issue, we are also in need of help. Some of that is hitting on particular pastoral situations that, let’s be honest, just don’t tend to crop up in your average middle class church. Having a group of pastors, in similar contexts, who can help us navigate difficult pastoral issues is a real blessing, something that many churches just couldn’t help us with because they neither understand the context nor face the kind of issues we are dealing with.
But there are also practical matters too. How do you go about getting a visa for a Pakistani couple who want to come to your church? How do you go about fundraising for an intern? What on earth is a CIO and do we even need to be one? Having others who understand these things and can help us through them is vital. Knowing that the people we’re asking are from similar contexts makes a difference too – not all these things are necessarily what we need or done in the same way as elsewhere. Having others who can help us with them is really important to us.
But the help isn’t all one way. We want to be able to bless others too. There is knowledge and experience that we will have, in our church, that some of the others won’t. We want to be able to help them when, for example, they have to start dealing with members joining their churches who have different languages and come from non-Christianised cultures. We can offer insights on that, having been doing it for a while, that other may not have yet.
Also, we want to be generous with the resources that we do have. We have a heart for seeing churches in forgotten places thrive. We support two partner churches, both in working class areas, one with almost identical demographics to us. We want to see them flourish and want to give what we have to support them. We have also been blessed by some really generous outside supporters and it has been great to be able to direct some of those to give to other churches in deprived places too. But we also know that what we can do on our own to some degree – long term partnerships and directing some of our supporters to help others – we can do better and more widely together through Medhurst Ministries.
Author: Stephen Kneale is the minister of Oldham Bethel Church and blogs at Building Jerusalem