Total Church 9

This is part 9 of our series Total Church by Steve Timmis and Tim Chester. Blame and credit for these posts must be shared by the Wednesday morning Total Church reading group:

How do we create a gospel community that enables us to bring the marginalised in?

a) It won’t happen by accident.

We have to have a strategy and a plan otherwise we will return to our default.  Which is a pleasant, comfortable middle-class existence.  Where we have failed in our churches and church traditions is to have a strategy.  And whilst we all think it is a good thing to do, if we expect it to just happen it seldom will.  Because there are often so many other good things to be done and demands upon our time and attention span, if we do not plan or priorize the marginalised they will be lost as we revert to default mode!

b) It is easier to go onto their turf, than have them come onto our turf. On our turf they will feel uncomfortable and “out”.

c) Bringing the marginalised into Christians community is a big issue in South Africa because of our history and current geography.

d) Perhaps, we the more middle class needs to go and live with them (the marginalised) – here is a taste of the great reversal that we should expect on the day of the Lord and which is prefigured in the Kingdom lives of his people in this world now! This is a big emphasis in The Crowded House movement, the context from which the book is written and within which the authors live and minister.

e) Kagiso told us that the Catholic priests (almost all white men) who live in the townships, speak the language and enter into the community with the marginalised put us Reformed Christians to shame.

f) But in SA the issues are more complex than in England. The poor housing estates of England are a vast cry from the violent gangster culture of many of our townships and the area known in Cape Town, as the Cape Flats (a traditionally mixed race area). We found ourselves caught between the tension of wanting to be radical for the gospel and yet admitting that in being married and having families we have a God-given responsibility to care for them and love them wisely.

Yes, we do need to throw off our middle class framework and assumptions, but knowing where middle class values end and gospel wisdom begins is a tough question.

g) We struggle to think with a gospel mindset – where everything is “upside down”.

h) What is becoming obvious is that many of our black brothers are struggling within a traditional Bible college/seminary set-up.

After three (or more) years removed from township life or rural settings , when they return, they struggle to relate to the people they are ministering to.  Most of our theological education is done from an assumed Western worldview.  For instance most Systematic Theology course that has only one lecture on Spirits, angels and demons is insufficient in Africa.  And the questions that are raised are often not the questions that an African worldview would bring to the discussion.

Or how about a preaching class that assumes you will have a microphone, you will be indoors and that there will be minimal distractions.  That is sadly often not the situation in South Africa.

We need to consider a different approach to learning – one that happens in the context of mission.  As Newbigin said, “We need not only a theology of mission but a missional theology.”  We have to rethink our approach to theological education. Porterbrook and the Northern Training Institute are examples that perhaps we ought to consider more fully here on the African continent.

i) We need to learn to listen to people – listen to the natural leaders among the poor and the marginalised.  They will be a great help in leading the way.

j) We also questioned the idea of self-supporting churches.  These are big buzzwords in our church circles. But the reality is that it immediately puts poorer churches at a disadvantage.  If this is your criteria for a church to be constituted as a functioning church, then churches in disadvantaged areas will never/seldom ever reach the standard.

k) Perhaps the biggest reason why we fail to reach the poor and marginalised is that we fail to understand grace.

~ by John on August 20, 2008.

7 Responses to “Total Church 9”

  1. With regards to points d, e & f – what about starting in places in the city where the world of the middle class comes together other worlds – like the center of Cape Town and the surrounding suburbs – areas like Sea Point, Green Point, Woodstock, Salt River, Brooklyn, Ysterplaat, Rugby, etc.

  2. Good spot Stephen, we actually discussed this quite a bit as the most logical starting point for many of us. But someone I missed that when reading the notes I had made. Bringing wealthy, middle class and marginalised together into one gospel community/church is a great witness to the great gospel reversal of the Kingdom.

    But I am sure we do need to get radical and encourage some to consider moving into these tougher areas (given also that the Cape Flats varies quite widely from very dangerous to quite safe areas.) Perhaps we ought to encourage single men to consider this, it is signfificantly easier for them, 1 Corinthians 7. Perhaps we ought to ask them to consider staying single and making it a gospel sacrifice and finding ways to fund and support them.

  3. Here’s how I would respond to (f), part 9 of the Total Church series where it says ”We found ourselves caught between the tension of wanting to be radical for the gospel and yet admitting that in being married and having families we have a God-given responsibility to care for them and love them wisely.”

    My concern is that Western Christians too often create a false dichotomy between wisdom and missions, which gives rise to this tension. I believe this kind of reasoning stems from an unbiblical, Western, faulty (might I add “worldly’) etymology of the word “wisdom”. As Christians seeking to be missional, we need to trace this word back to its Biblical usages and seek to apply it to life now. In doing so I believe we will find that “wisdom” and “missions” / “wanting to be radical for the gospel” are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

    In Scripture, “wisdom” for ancient Israel was always “practical skills required to live a God-fearing life” (check the wisdom literature, ie Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes).
    For 1st century Christians (like us) slightly more privileged than ancient Israelites because of the progressive revelation of the mystery of the gospel, Paul says wisdom is Christ (1 Cor 1:17-30), and thereby he combats, the modern-day, secular, Greek philosophical notions of the day concerning wisdom, which had crept into the church.

    So for us with the full and final written revelation of the Gospel recorded in the Scriptures, pursuing wisdom should be pursuing a relationship with CHRIST in a practical, skillful, God-fearing way. Knowing the times and knowing what to do.

    In the wisdom literature (especially Proverbs 1-9), God’s wisdom is personified as a noisy woman crying out to young people in pursuit of life. She is located on the street corners, in market places, everywhere but inside the safe four walls of the temple or the home. (see Proverbs 1). The father instructs the son that she is looking for him there, because there is where she will be required. The son is instructed to passionately pursue her in seeking to fear God. (See Proverbs 2). She is the ultimate outcome of pursuing a reverential, personal relationship with the Creator.

    In the NT, Paul and other apostolic (ie missional) men passionately pursue Christ, the wisdom of God, following him wherever the Spirit led. This led to Paul and his apostolic team-mates being flogged, imprisoned, left for dead, left shipwrecked etc etc, and some of the key apostolic role-players were married and took their wives along with them!!! (1 Corinthians 9:5).

    I’m being overtly provocative here for a reason. The question we need to ask ourselves: are we willing to passionately follow Christ, our wisdom, onto the streets, into the market places, into the seedy areas, the red-light districts, the slums, the townships and the ghettos of our day, in an effort to represent Him, the WISDOM OF GOD to the nations and various cultures on the earth?
    And hey, I know some “white” Christians who moved into Ocean View (the “coloured” township where I live) and now they’re raising their kids here!!! (

    Let seek to follow Christ, our wisdom, wherever he leads.
    Let’s teach our families to be missional.
    Let us as husbands lovingly disciple our wives into missional thinking.
    Wisdom literature is often built on with “My son, listen to your fathers instruction, pay attention to your mother’s teaching”.
    Let’s raise the next generation to be missional leaders in their thinking and acting.
    Then our families would not want to miss out on the action.

  4. Thanks Jeremy, your thoughts on wisdom and mission are very helpful. We touched on some of this in our discussion but you bring a good biblical depth that must be considered. What would you make of 1 Timothy 3 where we are told that if a man cannot look after his own household then he is not fit to look after God’s? Where do we draw the line between radical and reckless? I struggle with this because my own tendency is reckless but I do not want to inflict this upon my family.

    Any thoughts?

  5. Again, I would wanna try and marry Pauline exhortation with wisdom literature and see how the “kids come out”. Here I’d appeal to Proverbs 31 and Titus 2 in addition to 1 Tim 3 (also Titus 1).

    All of these chapters include reference to the household of an elder (or the older, more mature men in the church – Titus 2). Interestingly, while the pastorals refer to the elder’s ability to manage his household as a prerequisite to managing God’s, Titus 2 speaks, (among other things) of the role of mature women as household managers and disciplers of younger women.

    Proverbs 31 goes further and shows a mature woman discipling her son (King Lemuel). If we are correct in ascribing the acrostic poem in Proverbs 31:10-31 to Lemuel as well, then we find the King’s mom to be a woman who was able to raise her son with the ability to teach his wife (or the wife of an elder) how to manage her household with wisdom, prudence and “independent thinking” – all in the context of submission to, and trust from her husband. The outcome? It releases her husband to sit in the gates of counsel with the elders of the land, the family is blessed, and she is praised.

    Obviously the husband is ultimately responsible for the well-being and blessing of his household, particularly as an elder, but can I as an elder not be more intentional about sharing Lemuel’s poem with my wife didactly? Surely then she would not only learn the values and actions of a mature Titus 2 woman (which I think an elder’s wife needs to be), but she’ll also learn to become passionate about “sharing with the poor”, and not “fearing snow” for her household. I believe a lot of this has to do with us encouraging our wives to engage their gifts, passions, talents etc and pursue them fervently as this woman in the acrostic did. I believe this could free them from being tied down to a restricted, middle-class, suburban existence and release them into an exciting journey of faith, supporting and releasing their husbands as elders in the gate/community leaders, wherever that community might be.

    They too could become powerful role-players in the same community. The P31 woman had maid-servants in her employ (presumably from the community?). How about my wife using her natural skills/abilities/gifts/talents to train and teach women in “other” communities some of those skills? Poverty alleviation programmes? Literacy and numeracy? Job creation? Small business development? My wife just started selling diapers in the informal trading sector and she’ll soon be needing some ladies to help her. That’s a job and a ministry opportunity. The possibilities are endless for us and our families…

    Hey listen. Middle-class suburbanites do have resources that the townships need. And I’m NOT talking about material things. They bring a different PERSPECTIVE on life. And this “objectivity” can be such a blessing to a disadvantaged community…

    Being reckless would be going out on a whim. Being faithful to the gospel would be going wherever God leads. And its not like we have a choice, is it?

  6. Jeremy your comments are great, perhaps I could clarify what we were specifically discussing in point (f) above was the issue of whether we should all consider moving into poorer areas, and that was the tension.

    Now your last reply discusses other ways of ministering to the poor and marginalised which I heartily support. I guess what I am really struggling with is that if I do not move my family into say Ocean View but I continue to find genuine ways to love, serve, and have community with the marginalised whilst never leaving my middle class area (assuming my reasons are not based on issues of racism, fear or comfort etc.)am I selling out?

  7. Of course you’re not selling out! Of course everybody’s not called to pursue Christ and and community by moving to the townships. Of course Christ requires representation in the middle class areas as well.

    I just can’t help thinking that a lot of middle classers don’t move to townships because of reasons such as the ones you mention (issues of racism, prejudice, fear or comfort etc…)

    I’m just thinking aloud here…

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