These islands have a long history of immigration. Prior to the Roman invasion in AD 43 there were the Celts. Following the Romans from AD 400 there were the Angles, Saxons and Jutes and towards the end of the 8th century the Vikings came. Hard on their heels were the Normans, the Jews (at various times) and the Huguenots.
Africans began to come in small numbers from 1500 due to our involvement in the slave trade and in the 1700’s through to the 1800’s Chinese and Indians began to come encouraged by their interest in trade. It is worth noting that before the Reformation 60% of the world’sGDP(Gross Domestic Product) was in Asia After the Reformation that reversed and 60% was in Europe. This came about by the evolution of the ‘protestant work ethic’, something which most of Africans not, up to this point, experienced.
Then the Europeans began to trickle in – Germans and Italians and, for example, 19,000 wounded Belgian soldiers were received into the UK during WW1. In the Second World War we housed 300,000 German POW’s and you may or may not know that Anona Coates’ father was a German POW and she has written a book about her experiences – ‘I Wish I Was…’
Post war immigration
However, here we are more concerned with post war immigration and, as a result of the British National Act passed in 1948, 800 million people throughout the British Empire were given the right to come to the UK without the need to obtain a visa. And come they did in their thousands, primarily to find a new life by filling a gap in the unskilled sector of the labour market here. Most notably was the arrival in 1948 of the ship ‘The Empire Windrush’ which brought 492 workers from the Caribbean Islands to assist with the post war reconstruction. By 1956 over 40,000 had made the journey.
They came believing that they would be received with open arms having stood with us throughout the war. They came believing that they were coming to a Christian country and that they would be welcomed into our churches. At worst they met with hostility and suspicion, at best indifference. Many churches openly rejected them and where they were received, little or nothing was done to accommodate them. It is no surprise that these people, many of whom were sincere and strong Christians, retreated into churches which they planted themselves. These churches were primarily Pentecostal and they found themselves taking over church buildings or hiring rooms in some poorly attended denominations which had previously turned them away!
Some years ago, Roger Forster’s ‘Ichthus’ fellowship were unable to find a meeting hall for a new church plant they were undertaking. They searched the whole of the Borough of Lambeth and enquiries revealed that the vast majority of suitable buildings were already occupied by the scores of growing black and ethnic churches springing up in the area. Today we are told that in London on any given Sunday, there are more black Christians in church meetings than whites.
Apart from this Afro Caribbean post war migration, following India’s independence in 1948, more that 60,000 Indians arrived in the UK before 1955 to work in industry and also take over many of our corner shops and newsagents. Then came the Eastern Europeans, most notably Hungarians, who were escaping the revolution of 1956.
Quite naturally these people sought to live close together in communities where they could support one another. My wife Christine and I saw the Mile End and Whitechapel areas of East London change from being mainly Jewish, to house these different groups. As the Jews prospered and moved out into Golders Green and Ilford, the Hungarians moved in. After this the Asians came, mainly Hindus at first with scores of sari clothing and jewellery shops; then it was the turn of the Muslims and the synagogues had given way to temples and mosques. Christmas gave way to Hanukkah, Hanukkah to Duwali, and Duwali to Ramadan. Now the area seems to be a real mixture of many cultures and sub-cultures.
In 1962 ‘The Commonwealth Immigrant Act’ was passed requiring those seeking entry into this country to have a job to come to. However, still people came and there was a growing negative reaction culminating in Enoch Powell delivering his ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in 1968 which many people publicly supported. This polarized opinions and caused fear and resentment on both sides, pushing immigrant communities further into isolation.
Since that time asylum seekers, foreign students, skilled workers with jobs, illegal immigrants, expanding foreign businesses and the free flow of people across the EU has seen a massive rise in immigrants coming into the UK with both positive and negative effects. For example, some while ago the Catholic Church reported growth and an upturn in church attendance. When the statistics were examined it was discovered that an influx of Polish workers was the reason. Some areas saw Polish or Czech signs appearing around the towns in phone boxes and in shopping areas to accommodate these new-comers.
We Christians became more aware of what was happening and some made a concerted effort to reach out to serve these groups. In Notting Hill, the Kensington Temple Elim Church developed a strategy around food and language. For example, they used Chinese speaking Christians in their congregation to seek out new-comers to the area and then invite them for meals specially prepared to make them feel at home. As a direct result they saw between 15 and 20 new different ethnic church plants added to their network in quite a short space of time.
Pioneer’s own affiliated church, Greenford Baptist, under the leadership of Pastor David Wise have gone through a lengthy learning process over some years. As a result they have a church of around 250 with, something like, 40 nationalities represented in membership and on the leadership team. I will come back to David’s experiences to identify some of the challenges they faced and the successes they have achieved.
My experience over the years
Having been brought up in the Salvation Army which had a strong and active international element running through the organisation, I was very used to meeting, hearing and worshipping with people from other nations. The Army was strong on issues of gender, generation and race and I made my first overseas trip in my early teens. My Father died when I was sixteen and I fell away but never lost my belief in God or Jesus. I found my way back shortly after I was married and Christine joined me. We were baptised in the Holy Spirit 1959/1960 (ish).
We began our Christian journey in the Acts of the Apostles where we saw a simple, dynamic and mobile apostolic church which lived and spread Kingdom life wherever it went. As a result of some supernatural deliverance in our lives I was invited to share our testimony in various churches while Christine was busy at home having kids. I soon built up a preaching ministry which challenged the status quo. I was welcomed in many places as long as I only talked about my vision and I quickly came to realise that most Christians, at that time, believed that agreeing with the truth was the same as acting upon it so very little changed.
On one occasion I stood in for a lady who was due to preach at an Elim church youth group in Becontree, the home of young Norman Barnes, founder of Links International. As usual I shared from Ephesians, the Church Epistle. During the meeting a mini-bus full of black young people turned up and when I made the appeal I thought revival had broken out. Norman and the whole black contingent came forward weeping and crying out to God. It reminded me of my Grandmother’s stories of the revival under William Booth and I thought this is it, Billy Graham stand aside!
Following this I was invited into some of the Afro Caribbean Churches which had sprung up in the East London area. I arrived at the church of Pastor Tuitquite concerned as it was a little after the start time of 11 AM only to find there was no one there. I asked if I had got the wrong date or time but pastor assured me that they would turn up. Sure enough by twelve there was a good crowd and we had a great time. I was amused and encouraged when the offering plate went round and was frequently stopped while someone rummaged around in the pile of cash for change. That could not have happened in the white denominational churches where I spoke.
During this time I met Philip Mohabir a Guyanaian missionary to the UK married to Muriel, his Jamaican wife. Philip was a powerful and committed preacher; I was sharing the platform with him when he suffered a heart attack while he was speaking. Typically he finished his message before confessing his need of help. He was also passionate about the unity of the church and worked tirelessly to bring black and white Christian leaders together in order to help them appreciate, support and affirm one another. In his quest to connect the many streams emerging in the church here in the UK, he founded the ‘African and Caribbean Evangelical Alliance’ of which I later became a council member.
It must have been 2008 when I attended a meeting of the Council at High Leigh conference centre. As I remember, it was the year we celebrated the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. As we shared together I pointed out that Philip would be extremely disappointed at the progress we had made in fulfilling his vision to bring black and white leaders together.
One senior Afro-Caribbean pastor stood up and said, “How can we expect to see black and white leaders coming together when we Caribbeans don’t relate to one another?” He went on to confess that, apart from competing across the different churches and denominations, there was also a sprit of superiority from one island to another which needed to be dealt with. Immediately a senior pastor of a large Nigerian church in the UK agreed and confessed that there was similar competition between Christians from the different tribes of his country. It was a God moment as tears of repentance flowed and we came together to pray for one another.
There followed an excited discussion as to how we needed to take this spirit and message of reconciliation to our people and we agreed that we needed a ‘make it happen’ person to work for us to plan and organise our response. Obviously this would not get underway without finance and so we all committed £1000 to find a salary to release a gifted administrator for the job.
I struggled to reach my £1000 as I didn’t want to touch our charity funds for this, but I made it and sent my donation. Two years on I was at another meeting where we were discussing the future of ACEA which was then in doubt and I asked what had happened to our pot for the administrator? The secretary replied, “Oh, only one person made their contribution into that fund and it never got off the ground!” Sadly, what was so obviously a special Holy Spirit moment was never translated into action which might have resulted in hundreds, if not thousands, of saints finding a new level of relationship and commitment to one another.
Reasons for the development of mono-cultural church
This is, of course, a huge subject and I am not equipped to understand the many and varied ways in which ethnic churches and groups have grown and developed over the years here in the UK. However, I do think the reasons why, in the main, they are mono-cultural (including our own indigenous white churches) is fairly straight forward.
- I have mentioned the awful attitudes of Christians towards immigrants coming into the UK which has played a massive part in turning, even those who would want to integrate, away from existing churches.
- Birds of a feather…The simple reality is that people coming into a new country, or even those coming from a sub-culture into the church such as youth, quite naturally want to be with their own people who speak the same language and share the same understanding and history.
- The need for ‘strategic introversion’, as my friend Gerald Coates calls it, at the birth of a new church or fellowship group is important in the process of establishing security and identity. Jesus spent quality time with his disciples while he was preparing them to lead the church after his departure. However this can easily turn into ‘non-strategic introversion’ or just plain old introversion.
- Laying foundations can easily evolve into maintenance and loss of the vision of the bigger picture of the church being the only society which exists, not for itself, but solely those who are not yet members.
- Insecure leaders, whose personal identity is wrapped up in the size of their church and the following they achieve, will tend to encourage their people to give all their attention and energy to their own local church or the stream of which they are a part.
- Strong leaders who gather the church around their individual gift usually fail to produce a creative church and do not release their people into their personal gifts and callings. For example, a great teacher is likely to build a teaching centre and may well encourage and inspire other teachers to do the same.
- Finance can play a part in locking up a church when leaders fear the loss of personal income or the sums required to maintain the status quo should they lead the church out into mission. A miniscule percentage of our finance is made available to bless other Christians and for mission.
- Lack of true apostolic input into churches and leadership teams is, in my opinion, the major reason why there is little understanding of the need for a wider vision of the unity and diversity of the Body of Christ. The main work of apostles should mirror the primary work of Jesus, the Chief Apostle. Above all else he was concerned for reconciliation, not simply producing a bigger and better church. True apostolic leadership will hold together the necessary extremes which produce balance, unifying people of differing gifts, backgrounds and races without destroying the glorious diversity in every group of believers.
I am sure that there are other reasons why we tend to produce mono- cultural churches and I would be interested to hear the views of others, but before we move on I would like to ask a question, how much does our understanding of the nature of church affect the kind of churches we produce?
Steve Chalk, Christian TV presenter and director of Oasis Trust, once said that the trouble with the church today is that our ecclesiology shapes our missiology which shapes our Christology. He went on to point out that this was all the wrong way round and our Christology should shape our missiology which in turn should shape our ecclesiology. In other words we should start with Jesus and not our understanding of church.
Here is a familiar picture which the Apostle John saw and recorded in the Book of Revelation Chapter 7 and verse 9:
‘After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.’
Over the years, as I have meditated on this picture, I have been excited and have found it has given me great confidence when talking, particularly to poor and disposed people. Identity and land have long been, and still are, the two main causes of conflict around the world. For example, in the Middle East,Northern Ireland, the former Yugoslavia, the old Russian states and now Iraq and Afghanistan, as one people group seek to impose themselves on another. Buried deep in the human psyche is the sure knowledge that every individual, family and people is unique and that there is an actual piece of land which each one can call their own.
The unregenerate soul, motivated by greed and feelings of superiority is never satisfied and is driven to possess more and more. The dispossessed, fuelled by bitterness and resentment, rise up to overcome their oppressors and the scene is set for a cycle of eternal conflict and aggression. What is even sadder is that Christians, who have not brought their inbuilt knowledge that they are unique and that, in Christ, they have an inheritance, to the cross, continue to be governed by soulish desires for affirmation and possessions. They then operate in a worldly manner through control and manipulation.
The glorious reality is that, in Christ, all things are ours and the meek will inherit the earth. That Revelation picture underlines the amazing truth that every individual, family and people group is fully received into the presence of God and is welcome to stand, in their uniqueness, before the throne of the Lamb and God the Father of all! Every family derives its name from the Father (Eph.3:14); every family name is recorded on the palms of Jesus’ hands (Is. 49:15-16); every individual language, tongue and dialect is represented before the throne! We are a gloriously diverse people but the mystery is we are one nation under God.
What thrills me is, that when we minister to the poor and dispossessed we can give them the full assurance that their identity is intact in Christ and that in him they will have a piece of land that they can call their own when we come into his Kingdom! So, as with a jig-saw puzzle, we keep the big picture in focus at the same time as we look to see where each piece fits.
Now, this brings me to the need for us to examine our understanding of the nature of the church. Protestants tend to emphasise the autonomy of the individual and of the local church, while Catholics major on the importance of the universality of the church.
Some years ago, after developing a friendship with Father Tom Forrest, a Catholic priest who was committed to encouraging all Christians to work together to see the world fully evangelised, I felt confident to question him about the authority of the Pope. His reply left me with something to mull over. He spoke with a kindly voice and a wry smile, “Every hundred or so years the Pope makes an infallible statement which we Catholics have to come to terms with, but you Protestants are all making infallible statements all the time and most are equally difficult swallow.”
In his death on the cross Jesus reconciled the irreconcilable. For example, grace and truth are totally incompatible apart from a relationship with Jesus. In the same way, it is difficult, if not impossible, to harmonise the need for every individual and group to take responsibility for their own lives and actions, with the need for us to mutually respect and submit to one another.
However, the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is the key, for he gives us access to the mind of Christ which enables us to walk in the Spirit. Here we find that Jesus can show us how to value the uniqueness of every individual human being while, at the same time, seeing them as a vital part of the Body of Christ which, in it’s fullness, is the true Holy Catholic Church. The smallest expression of church is ‘two or three gathered in Jesus’ name’, while the greatest expression is every born again believer, from the first convert to the last soul gathered in at the end of the age. It is all church! It is this understanding which must drive our mission and determine the kind of churches we plant.
The focus of many protestant groups on the autonomy local church often means that we do not really see ourselves as part of that great company gathered from every tribe and nation which makes up the universal church which stands before God’s throne. We are too concerned for ourselves and the group to which we belong. My friend, Dave Matthews, founder of The Belfast Christian Family which brought Catholics and Protestants together during the troubles, used to say that most Protestants would rather be the head of a mouse than the tail of a lion.
On the other hand, history shows us that, at its worst, unthinking submission to Rome, or indeed any authoritarian individual or group, can lead to us into all kinds of bondage as we yield our right and responsibility to know God for ourselves.
Jesus did not plant a local church, nor did he establish an institution with authority, and that is not to say that there is no place for these. What he did do was to nurture and disciple a mobile apostolic company which was to be the foundation for all that was to come. Furthermore, it is clear that our Chief Apostle began an apostolic movement through which the same apostolic Spirit which rested on him would flow down through his whole Body to the end of the age. So, what we need today is an apostolic ministry which raises up apostolic churches to disciple our towns and cities and even nations!
Homogenous verses Integrated
In a discussion like this it would be very easy for us to degenerate into an either or situation – on the one side those supporting the concept of mono-cultural churches, on the other multi-cultural. And it is perfectly possible to put an excellent case for both and also point to thriving, successful communities of both expressions. The important question for me is, how does God express himself through his people the church?
The answer is clear, his ‘manifold’, or multicoloured wisdom is revealed in many and diverse ways among his people, and he takes account of their different situations. God is both understanding and creative and works with people where they are. We see this in the incarnation as he sent Jesus to come to us on our ground, rather than expecting us to achieve the impossible and climb up to him.
Paul, the apostle sent to preach the gospel to the gentiles, reflected this aspect of God’s character. In 1 Corinthians 9 verse 22 he makes that clear:
‘Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.’
So Paul, just like Jesus, left his place of comfort to reach out to those to whom he was sent. Unlike many, so called, mature Christian who expect those outside the church to come to them and adapt to their ways, he was prepared to adjust and make himself vulnerable. I visited a white church in South Africa during the time of apartheid. They proudly introduced me to the row of black people seated at the back of the church which at least showed they had made some kind of effort. They had probably come for a hand out. However, the service was conducted entirely in English (not the first language of these people), the worship was by white folk for white folks and no attempt was made to include these dear souls in any way.
Whilst visiting friends living in Arusha in Kenya they took me to an ex-pat church where, to my horror, the many missionaries working in the area went for their weekly dose of ’church’. They explained that the pastor had a difficult time and had to be careful to accommodate missionaries from different Western countries by representing their perspectives and theology in the preaching and worship schedules. Few ever attended local churches or supported local pastors in their efforts to reach out into the communities where they had been sent to work! I was amazed!
Why is it that older mature Christians most of whom are deaf anyway, want the PA turned down, when the young people they are wanting to reach, mostly with acute hearing, want it turned up? I was in a large charismatic church in Florida(someone has to go) and scores of young people came forward to the front praying and crying out for revival. It was an incredible scene and I was moved. Afterwards some parents approached me with their concerns. Why do they wear torn jeans and why not suits? Why do they die their hair and pierce their bodies? I could see I was in for a rocky ride.
I pointed to a dear old lady at the back of the church and said, “maybe they got the idea to die their hair from her,” – she had an amazing purple rinse. Then I pointed out that most of the Israelites had pierced ears and they actually built the Tabernacle from the proceeds from unwanted jewellery. I also made it clear that quite a number of the prophets had torn clothes too, but they were not convinced. Why do we always major on minors? I would have given my eye teeth to have had those young folk in my church – that is providing they left their parents at home!
I am all for nurturing new Christians in groupings where they feel comfortable and at home. I would go out of my way to defend the right of immigrants to meet with their own kind while they adjust to their new surroundings. I wouldn’t expect elderly people in their twilight years to have to be subjected to a Christian punk band blasting out worship each week in the care home. However, I would expect leaders to faithfully challenge their people along the way to affirm the rest of the Body of Christ and to be prepared to go out of their way to build relationships with other Christians and not yet believers. I do not believe that leaders can ask their flock to do things that they are not prepared to do themselves.
The prayer of Jesus
A friend of mine once made the comment that he had spent seventeen years of his Christian life taking what he thought were short cuts but after all that time he was, sadly, no nearer his destination. Like Christian in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress he had kept being side-tracked into By-Pass Meadow. I am sorry to say thirty years on, from my perspective, he is now living in By-Pass Meadow having built a bungalow there!
Why do we not make the main thing the main thing? Why do we think that there is a quicker way to do this Kingdom stuff than the Jesus way? I don’t think it is rocket science otherwise there is little hope for simple souls like me.
Do you believe God answers prayer? And whose prayer do you believe God will answer above all others? Of course God answers prayer and the greatest prayer request ever made came from the lips of our Master and Saviour, Jesus Christ – you know it well – John 17: 1 – 23, I won’t read it all but just let me remind you of his passion for his followers and the key he gave us to reaching the world:
“…I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of] your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one…
“… My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
‘Then the world will know that you have sent me…’ We have to learn God’s simple equations – more love equals more power; more unity equals more visibility. Why do we reckon that we can achieve our God-given goals or reach our intended destination (destination? that sounds like destiny) when we ignore God’s plan and his Son’s prayer? Arthur Wallis, one of my spiritual fathers and author of that classic work on revival ‘In the Day of Thy Power’, used to say, “if you want to succeed in the Christian life, find out what God is doing and do it with him.” He was right!
We may struggle at times to know the details of God’s will for our lives but in the meantime a good starting point is to align ourselves with his heart and, in that connection two things, at least, are clear – God loves the world and his Son loves the church! How can we do less? Another thing, they say that there is a ‘biblical law of the first mention’.
That is the first reference to an event or a truth contains within it the fullness in microcosm. So for me the birth of the baby church contains within the event vital pointers as to how the church should look when it comes to fullness. Here we could profitably pause for an hour or two, but for the sake of time I will refer to just three elements which I would expect to emerge and develop in the church as she moves towards her final destiny.
First, the baby church was mobile and remained so though it’s early years. Second, it was local and mightily impacted the town where it came into being and, again, this continued to be the case wherever the believers travelled. Thirdly, it was international and right from the start engaged immigrants and in the first generation it encompassed the then known world.
Now, I realise that churches are at different stages in their growth and development and we can’t do everything all at once. But you don’t need to be a brain surgeon to realise that any true reflection of the first church, apart from love and devotion to God, should contain in its foundation these simple basic elements – love for the whole church, love for the whole world (that means our locality and the ends of the earth) and an ability to move as the Spirit directs.
It is said that if we truly believe a thing it affects the way that we behave. Most Christians would give nodding assent to what we are saying here about the unity of the church and the evangelisation of the world, but that doesn’t necessarily change what they do. Well, actually, I do see signs of change in the years since we started praying for revival in the early sixties. We Christians are far more open to one another and the leading of the Holy Spirit than ever we were. Some one said to Ern Baxter, a North American revivalist, “We haven’t come very far!” Ern’s reply was classic, “No,” he said, “but thank God we left!”
In short, I believe that each one of us has an obligation to endeavour to be a part of the answer to Jesus’ prayer. The world is waiting with anticipation, straining on tip toe, looking for the appearance of the ‘Sons of God’. That is a mature company of women and men who are more concerned for the Lord’s agenda than their own. Their love and respect for one another and the way they support one another will become a sign and evidence to the world, confirming the truth that Jesus is alive and well in his church. This is not the unity of conformity but the unity of the Spirit which embraces diversity.
Interestingly, our word ‘university’, describing a place of learning where the many and varied disciplines are taught, is a marriage of the two words, ‘unity’ and ‘diversity’. Proper Christian discipleship should enable the tensions within diversity to be explored in an atmosphere of trust and harmony. As Paul argues in Ephesians chapter four, the ability to ‘maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (v40) will ultimately, lead us to ‘the unity in the faith’ and ‘the fullness of Christ’ (v13) with the help of God-appointed apostolic ministry.
Starting with the leaders
If we are to follow Jesus’ strategy of uniting together to reach the world, as with the early church so with us, we must start with the leaders. In Acts 1: 8 the gathered future leaders were given final instructions by the Master. Again, this was a crucial moment and vital for their understanding if they were to succeed in their mission. The key words here are ‘Holy Spirit’, ‘witnesses’, ‘Jerusalem’, ‘Judea’, ‘Samaria’ and ‘the ends of the earth’.
The starting point was a corporate Baptism of the Holy Spirit, binding them together with the promise of his continuing presence with them throughout their journey. They would not reach their objective without the Spirit’s ongoing input into everything they did. They would become witnesses (Greek word martyrs) which in our minds has been devalued to mean talking to people about Jesus and the Gospel, but it is so much more that this.
A witness is someone who has seen something that will condemn one person or group and vindicate another. It is someone who is prepared to give evidence to this effect in court. True witnesses are in danger of their lives as we see with so many of those who owned and spread the Message in the early church.
We don’t have time to follow up this theme of witnesses in depth in the scriptures, however, it starts with God’s legal requirement of a minimum of two witnesses in all matters pertaining to judgement and justice. This is demonstrated in the life of Jesus here on earth through the two witnesses of his character and his power. He was the ultimate expression of the two witnesses. Finally, it is manifest in the two witnesses of the church seen in Revelation chapter 11 where, in the spirit of Moses’ character and Elijah’s power, they mirror exactly the path Jesus followed into miracles, death and resurrection.
So we need leaders who will ensure that we saints are filled with the Holy Spirit and receive the boldness and courage to become true witnesses or martyrs in Jerusalem – our local situation; Judea – our extra local situation; Samaria – crossing the historic racial divides and to the ends of the earth – our international fields of calling. This follows the pattern of the early church fathers and was only forgotten when we became institutionalised and bogged down in maintenance.
So how to make a start
- Relationships – you must discover deep and lasting relationships but you can’t start with everyone, so you need to pray for divine connections where you can begin to build genuine friendships and trust. Eating and drinking together was an important part of Jesus’ strategy and was also in his instructions to his disciples when he sent them out, we would do well to follow suit.
- Affirmation – honour anything and everything you see as positive in the lives of those you are seeking to relate to, even when there may be things you may disagree with. It is said that every child needs seven moments of praise to each individual word of correction. We adults also function best in an atmosphere of appreciation.
- Tolerance – the British were once known for their tolerance That is the ability to disagree and yet respect differing views and remain in fellowship. Today tolerance has been subtly twisted by militant secularists, who insist that tolerance is keeping our opinions to ourselves. This is, in fact, intolerance as they are imposing their opinions on everyone else. I have long threatened that the title of my next book will be, ‘How to Agree to Disagree Agreeably’!
- Articulate – or testify by sharing the vision and the joys of your friendships. Many leaders are lonely and feel exposed and will want to join with you as you become secure and unthreatened in what God is doing with you. So the circle of love and commitment grows.
- Co-operate – as the friendships and trust deepen you will begin to find ways to co-operate and work together without imposing on one another. Gifts will begin to emerge which, as you learn to submit to one another, will enable structure to develop so that you can move forward and work together.
- Responsibility – begin to take responsibility for one another. We are ‘our brother’s keeper’ and the strong among us should help and encourage the weaker. There is nothing like a practical hand up when someone is down to help nurture trust. Weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice, is a sure way of nurturing friendship.
As our circle of committed and loving relationships widen, the strength of them begins to impact the church, our locality, the nation and beyond.
Apart from my experience in the ACEA council meeting I referred to earlier, I have also sat in many other mixed gatherings where the Holy Spirit has been clearly urging us to spend time developing networks of friendship and respect. Some years ago I was invited to a breakfast in a London hotel with around 40, mainly key black leaders, which was hosted by T D Jakes. During an inspirational talk he said that he was willing to come back to the UK to help us network and work together, but he would only come if it was to a cross section of leaders. To my knowledge that did not happen.
During meetings inMarsham Street, Gerald Coates and I were privileged to have a meal with Miles Munrow. He was excited to see the diversity of those attending the meetings and urged us to lay aside our differences to work together. He said to us privately that it was his conviction that the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, would fall over himself to meet a small, mixed, representative group of church leaders. He believed that such a group could begin to change the shape and destiny of the nation. Again, as far as I know there was no further action taken after he left.
However, I am glad to say it’s not all gloom and doom – we are here! Also Jonathan and Hugh are here, praise God! Of all the leaders I know they have laboured the hardest to bring different groups together. For years Hugh has worked in a multiplicity of ways to build bridges to, and within, the black churches. Since I first met Jonathan at Spring Harvest years ago, I have watched him reaching out, making it a priority to connect with other leaders across the streams. This has enabled him to nurture a prayer movement that will hopefully, fill Wembley Stadium in September, but more than that, we trust it will continue and become a tsunami, a spiritual outpouring that will wash all over these islands.
Of course, there are many others working in this way at local and national level and I am convinced that the tide is turning. Along with this army of saints that are rising up, the Holy Spirit is at work behind our backs and attitudes are changing among ordinary people who are becoming more and more open to spiritual matters. It is an irony to me that, as workers are forbidden to wear crosses as a symbol of their faith; doctors and nurses are sacked for offering to pray for their patients; guest house owners are fined for refusing gays a room and a loving Christian couple are refused permission to adopt, dozens of professional footballers and managers and thousands of fans are free to call for the nation to pray for their friend who collapsed on the field with a cardiac arrest!
Surely it’s the best of times and the worst of times, which actually means it’s our time! There has not been so much interest in things spiritual for decades if not centuries. What a tragedy if we miss the hour of our visitation because we are too busy doing our own thing. I’m reminded of Martin Smith’s great worship song, ‘Shout to the North’ and that final verse of encouragement to us all,
Rise up church with broken wings,
Fill this place with songs again
Of our God who reigns on high,
By his grace again we’ll fly.
You can do it!
I think I have made it clear that, while we are all called to walk in the Spirit and pursue unity and relationships across the Body of Christ, we are all at different stages in our journey. I mentioned my colleague Pastor David Wise and his Greenford Baptist Church, and said that I would return to look at their experience in developing a multi-cultural church. This could be helpful for those who feel called to move in this direction at this time.
When David joined the church as pastor in 1987 his superintendent warned him that it was a conservative church that was not going to change. He was probably trying to save him from a great deal of frustration and pain, but David is not one for backing away from a challenge. Today, not only are the majority of people who attend the church black, the church leaders, singers and musicians and every area of church life reflects their cultural diversity.
In his early days at the church he hosted one of the most painful leadership meetings he had ever presided over. He invited two Caribbean men who had come to the church to meet with the then, all white leadership team. They were brave and risked bearing their souls, sharing their experience of outright racial abuse from non-Christians and, well meaning, but hurtful comments from Christians like, “I don’t see you as black, just as my brother in Christ.” From their perspective this was a denial of their identity and left them feeling ignored and their culture excluded.
There followed a painful and tearful time of confession of racial prejudice, albeit unconscious, by the team. One leader realised with horror that they had never invited a black person into their home even though they always had people round after church. That was a turning point as they vowed to tackle racism in the church, first through bible teaching and testimony and then by challenging people’s attitudes on a one to one basis. All through this time they continued listening to their Caribbean members.
A further major step forward for the church came when an Asian family experienced a series of racially motivated physical attacks. These culminated in a serious assault in the middle of the night, with three family members in hospital with injuries that has scarred them for the rest of their lives. Neither the police, nor the local authority gave them any protection whatsoever.
The outrage they felt led the church to hold a public meeting in partnership with a local action group. Speakers included Neville Lawrence and Suhkdev Reel, The media coverage and appeals to the Police Complaints Authority led to a change of attitudes towards the family and propelled the church into the centre of the racist debate, giving them a new profile and a role in the heart of the community.
Alongside all this, David began to face some of his toughest challenges to build a genuinely diverse leadership team and ministry in the church. He did this by running a series of leadership training groups on such issues as Christian character and maturity, skill development and confidence building. This was not without setbacks and bitter disappointments. However, the presence of people of other cultures on the leadership team, prominently displayed in the foyer demonstrated that there was no glass ceiling in their expression of God’s Kingdom.
Harder still was the process of developing worship which reflected the different cultures. Helping, what were initially, white worship leaders to make room and encourage other groups to take part was equally difficult. Change began to come after arranging an international evening in which food, music and entertainment was provided from the different cultures represented in the church. Still, it was an uphill struggle to change the western view of what worship should be which left others feeling devalued and marginalised. Sadly, this was only resolved after some of the worship leaders resigned, something we all may have to be willing to accept if we are to make progress.
Cutting a very long story short, David, his team and the church have been through sharp learning curve and confess that they still have much ground to take. They have worked on differences of understanding which come through age, background, upbringing and language. They have experimented with the structure of their Sunday meetings and currently provide a format which gives people the freedom to opt in and out at different times and to dip in as they see fit. They have a break in the middle of their time with refreshments as people come and go.
David himself came to the conclusion that he would benefit from some formal study and chose to do a part time MA in Biblical Interpretation. His dissertation explored the multi-cultural interpretation of scripture from within a London local church context. This resulted in some major changes in the way they ministered and teaching became more of a dialogue than a monologue. Now different cultural groups lead worship in their own styles and there is a strong emphasis on testimony.
One final, but hugely important element which helped equip David during the struggles through all these changes was the deep, open and enduring friendships with people from other cultures. These friends were willing to share themselves to such an extent that he felt able to glimpse things from the inside of another cultural perspective. I must say that Christine and I have been hugely blessed and privileged to travel with them for, at least. a part of their incredible journey.
In conclusion, let me say that I believe it must be a priority for each one of us, as we stand secure in the knowledge of who we are as individuals in Christ, to reach out across the divides in church and society. These divides were carefully put in place over centuries by man’s old enemy, Satan, when he first deceived Adam and Eve in the garden separating them from God. There followed the eternal battle of the sexes as men and women throughout history have acted out the effects of the curse in their relationships, and brother has fought brother just as Cain struggled with jealousy towards his brother Abel.
However, Jesus broke that curse and tore the veil of separation in two opening up heaven again. He smashed down the dividing walls which had built up between men and women, slaves and freemen and Jews and Greeks. Now we are all one in Christ; we are one nation; we are one ‘new humanity’ represented by many tribes and families under God and are thus called to be priest and kings to intercede and fight together for all who remain outside the purposes of God. May the Spirit give us strength to rally to the call of Jesus to stand together so that the world will see and know that the way is open for all who would respond to join the great victory march into the land of promise!
John and Christine Noble
John and Christine celebrated 54 years of married life in March 2012. When they met in 1957 John was in military service and Christine was a student at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Having been brought up in the Salvation Army, John backslid and became involved in the occult, a subject with which Christine was very familiar. During their engagement they met a young Anglican priest, Michael Harper, who helped them in their journey to faith.
John began reading the Bible with fresh eyes and came alive to the work of the Holy Spirit and the simplicity of ‘church’ in the New Testament. After receiving the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and being delivered from evil spirits shortly after their marriage, John began to minister in Charismatic Renewal circles while Christine used the home to reach out to neighbours and young people John brought to the house from his Bible class. They planted their first church in East London in 1967 and, from that time, the Renewal in the UK moved in two directions – one within the denominations and the other in what was known as the ‘House’ or ‘New Churches’.
In the early seventies the ‘New Church’ streams multiplied and made a huge impact in the church at large in the UK and other parts of the world. There was anew freedom in worship and many songs, including ‘Bind Us Together’, came out of their church in Romford. During that time John and Christine serviced a network of churches known as ‘Team Spirit’ which, in 1993, merged with Gerald Coates’ ‘Pioneer’ network.
Pioneer was one of the smaller UK networks whose influence was far greater than its size with ministries like, author and speaker Jeff Lucas; worship leaders Noel Richard and Martin Smith of Delirious; Steve Clifford, director of the Evangelical Alliance; Patrick Dixon, lecturer on trends and Founder of ACET the international AIDS organisation; and many others sharing in the wider Renewal and through the secular media.
Their strong belief that there is only one church and a shared experience of the Holy Spirit, led some New Church streams to explore relationships with other Charismatic groups. As a result large praise and teaching gatherings were held in central London, mainly attended by ‘New Church’ and ‘Catholic Charismatics’. In 1984 John took on the Chairmanship of the ‘National Charismatic Leaders Conference’ from Michael Harper and continued in that role until 2006, encouraging leaders from all streams to fellowship and dialogue together.