A tender beating…

I spent most of yesterday at the Gospel Yorkshire Conference in Dewsbury. I’ve been going to this conference since it began in 2015 (feels like I should, being on the Committee and all!). You can find out more about Gospel Yorkshire’s mission to help churches plant churches in Yorkshire here. One of the churches that’s come out of that mission is ourselves in Spen, so we’re very appreciative of all that Gospel Yorkshire is about.

It was a good day, with lots of opportunities to catch up with mates, and others planting across this massive county. Yorkshire has the same population as Scotland, but is massively unreached with the gospel, especially outside of the major cities and university towns. As I say regularly, on here and elsewhere, we’re in desperate need of people to come and help us. Yesterday we heard from two blokes ministering in Yorkshire in different contexts, Tim Davies from Christ Church Central in Sheffield, and Ian Goodson of Grace Church Wakefield. The day was finished off with ministry from Richard Underwood, of Christ Church Market Harborough. All of the sessions were helpful, but I just want to pick up on a few of the things Ian brought to us as he led us through some of the lessons learnt in planting Grace over the last 8 years. As well as being so applicable to contexts like ours, I think there are massive lessons to learn for the evangelical church. I said to Ian afterwards that his session was so good that I tweeted 90% of it, and I just want to hang a few thoughts on some of those tweetable lines.

Ian encouraged us to think about the ‘average places’. The towns and villages of Yorkshire were there isn’t a city or a university. The places where 3.5m of the 5.5m population of Yorkshire live. He suggested that maybe instead of lionising the quick growing church plants of many cities we should be looking instead to the example set by those in average places. He reminded us that Dewsbury Evangelical Church, in whose building we were sat, had started off with just 4 young Christians who had covenanted together, called a pastor, and sought to consistently and faithfully love their town. Average people, in an average place, doing average ministry, trusting the Lord to give the growth. Getting on for 50 years later, they’re still here, still living for Jesus, and have had a huge impact on their town over the years, as well as planting two other churches in other average towns. Maybe, we need to hear those stories more. And plant those kind of churches, in those kind of places more as well.

Ian also challenged much of the consumer mentality that seems to be prevalent in much Uk evangelicalism. It’s certainly true in our experience, as well as others we’ve talked to, that few people want to sell up and move to get involved in a church plant in the North of England. Especially in an average town like Cleck or Wakefield. That few people would be willing to get stuck into a church on a council estate, deprived area, or place where there’s just not a lot going on. And that’s a discipleship issue. If our student ministry and numbers grow and grow, and yet average places are lacking churches where people might hear the gospel, are we really fulfilling the Great Commission? Or could we be guilty of hoarding our resources, our talents, so that our kingdom might be a bit more comfy. Send us some people. Send some to Wakey. Flipping heck, even send them to Middlesbrough, Doncaster, or Halifax if you have to! Why not move there yourself?! But at least ask the question of whether you’re discipling people properly if you’ve never challenged them to move and take risks for the sake of the gospel. And if you’ve never thought of it yourself….

But he didn’t just have challenges for wider evangelicalism. We’re praying Matthew 9 prayers for our church this year. And while that means we are praying for more workers to help us in this harvest field, it also means that we’re praying that the Lord would give us soft hearts like Jesus’ heart of compassion. That he would give us grace to just do it and get out and sacrificially serve each other and our valley by sharing Jesus with them. And Ian wanted us to see that that’s not going to happen overnight. That seeing gospel fruit in the average places will take time. But that doesn’t mean we can let up. Planting churches in average places like Cleck & Wakey is a long, slow, slog. A constant putting one foot in front of the other, trusting the Lord. That long, slow obedience in the same direction. Ian’s encouragement to us was to keep going, even when it’s knackering. Because Jesus has promised to go with us and before us.

And he had one last challenge for those ministering in university towns. Don’t forget your brothers and sisters in the average places. For those students who leave average places to go off to university towns: don’t forget your home. Come back. Sacrifice for Jesus. That his people here might know him. And in the midst of the average places, Jesus might be glorified.

As Richard Underwood said later in the day, ‘Thank you Ian. I’ve never been beaten up so gently and tenderly.’

If you’d like to help in an average place, why not check out Grace Church Wakefield . Or if you’re prefer your beatings a bit less tender and with Yorkshire vowels, do give us a shout. Yorkshire desperately needs more gospel workers in average places. Perhaps we need you. Why wouldn’t you want to check it out….?!

What did you say?!

I love a game of darts. The board on my study wall enables a quick break, or a laugh with mates. Occasionally my son will pester me for a game. The problem is neither of us are right good, as the state of the wall around the board testifies! I’m bad (but like to reckon I’m alright), and he’s worse (but then he is only 11). Which means that when we play I’m constantly giving him advice as to how to be as awesome as I think I am. Which, as you can imagine, he absolutely loves. Which, in turn, leads to some interesting conversations.

If you look closely enough, the scars of our incompetence are clear to see…

He hits a triple one. ‘Nice one! You just need to aim a bit left, love.’

‘But Dad, you told me I’m supposed to aim for triple twenty. Why would I aim for the left?!’

‘No son, I’m not saying that. You just need to aim a bit left…’

‘But I don’t want to hit triple eleven! I want to hit triple twenty!’

‘No love. Hear what I’m actually saying…’

Recently it’s struck me that lots of the conversations that are ongoing in the evangelical world sound a bit like that. In fact, a lot of the conversations I’ve had lately have, to my ears at least, sounded a lot like that. Whether it’s some of the Twitter reaction to last week’s post, or people’s reaction to the growing emphasis on reaching the working classes with the gospel, or the circular conversations I end up in whenever I mention that it might be a good thing if there were more Yorkshire pastors in Yorkshire pulpits, there seems to be a pattern.

Maybe it’s just because I don’t communicate my thoughts very well. It’s the West Riding accent, or the old fashioned Yorkshire idiom, or my sometimes aggressive tone. Or maybe I am just a rubbish communicator after all. I’m quite happy to accept that I can be a massive barrier to people understanding my point. But I want to suggest that maybe in lots of our conversations we can be often just like my son. Stood there, with dart in hand, wondering why we’ve had the misfortune to be instructed by such a complete muppet. Because we’ve heard correction as overcorrection, or criticism, or just plain bigotry.

And if my point is in any way valid, I reckon we need two things when we talk about corrections we think the church might possible need. Firstly, we need clarity in what we say. And secondly, we need to work hard to make sure that we hear what people are actually saying. To not jump on corrections as complete overreactions, because they drag us out of our comfort zones. To perhaps admit that we’re dragging too far to one side and therefore need to be corrected slightly. To be a bit less Pavlovian in our response. And to listen and read carefully and with grace.

And so I want to do my bit for clarity. One of the main points of this blog is to raise a flag (blue, with a White Rose on it, admittedly) for some areas where I humbly reckon ministry and evangelicalism might need a bit of correction. Which means that over the coming months I might just say the odd controversial thing, just like I do in real life. And I want regular readers (all three of them!), and listeners, to hear what I’m actually saying and what I’m not, else the whole thing’s pointless. So here are five themes I reckon might crop up regular here, along with what I’m not saying when I say them…

When I say that Yorkshire is desperately gospel needy… I’m not saying other areas aren’t. Of course there’s great gospel need right around the country, and the world. Literally all I’m saying is that there’s massive gospel need here, and that we need help. I’d be delighted if people wanted to bang the drum for their needy area as well. I’m just doing it for the place I love, for my home, for my people. Please hear what I’m actually saying.

When I say that we need to reach, and be accessible to, the working classes in our town and around the country… I’m not saying we don’t need to reach all people of every class. It’s just that, as a general rule, we (and probably you) are not reaching the working classes. So if we really want to reach all people of every class then we need to work hard to reach the working class as well, and not just those who fit into the mould of what most Uk evangelicals look like. My friend Al Gooderham wrote a great little post about this last year. Please hear what I’m actually saying.

When I say that we need to raise up more Yorkshire leaders in Yorkshire pulpits… I’m not saying that we don’t need pastors from elsewhere, or that non-Yorkshire folk can’t reach Yorkshire people with the gospel. Of course they can! Of course I’m grateful for gospel workers from elsewhere, how else do you think I heard the gospel myself?! Even my Dad’s Scouse! It’s just that, if there are barely any indigenous pastors in a county of 5.5 million people, perhaps we might need to ask ourselves some questions about whether we’re reaching, and discipling, Yorkshire people as we ought to be. Please hear what I’m actually saying.

When I say that people need to contextualise their life and ministry to reach Yorkshire people… I’m not saying that Yorkshire is a unique case. If world missions have taught us anything it’s that every culture needs gospel workers to contextualise, right?! But there can be a tendency to think that because we’re in the same country we don’t have to change our methods or lifestyles to reach Yorkshire folk. Which surely is just plain wrong. Yorkshire is different to other parts of the country, and bits of Yorkshire are different to other parts of Yorkshire. You could say the same, I’m sure, about Cornwall, Liverpool, Norfolk, Wales, Scotland, or Middlesbrough. I’m just saying it about Yorkshire. Hopefully, I’ll say stuff about our context which will apply in different ways to contexts right around the country, and even the world. Please hear what I’m actually saying.

When I suggest that we need to hear more northern (or even Yorkshire) accents at evangelical conferences and events… I’m not saying that there’s nothing to learn from people from elsewhere. I’m not (as I’ve been accused of when saying this) some kind of racist, or a Yorkshire separationist. It’s just I grew up thinking I couldn’t ever be a pastor. And one of the biggest reasons for that was because I thought my clothes, my accent, my mannerisms, and even some of my worldview didn’t fit with what a pastor looked like. As I’ve said before elsewhere, until I sat and listened to an aggressive Irishman with a Halifax accent preach for a weekend, I’d never even imagined I could be myself in the pulpit. I just didn’t think I was allowed to. No one had ever said that, it’s just every single pastor I ever heard or saw was from somewhere else, was very different to me. And the fact is that the vast majority of preachers we ever hear at evangelical conferences are southern or American, with the occasional Scot thrown in. All I’m saying is that maybe we need to take into account the effect that might have on young lads from northern England, and how they view what a pastor or ministry looks like. Please hear what I’m actually saying.

There are probably more areas where I have this conversation, and I’ll likely write in more detail about each of these areas over the coming months. There’s probably, hopefully even, huge overlap with your context. But for now my plea is this: let’s actually listen to one another, and give each other the benefit of getting past our initial, almost Pavlovian responses to correction. And let’s engage in real conversation about how we can help the gospel go forward together. You in your small corner, and me in mine. And all of us working together, that people in all of those corners might hear of Jesus, and come to know him…

There’s nowt as queer as (Yorkshire) folk!

I am middle class.

There, I said it. Cue rejoicing from my mate Ian, who’s been trying to get me to admit the fact for the last 8 years! You wouldn’t believe the pain it caused me to write it though.

What a real northern, working class man looks like! Or so he reckons…

But why should it? I grew up in a semi-detached house that my parents still own. They were both teachers. I, and both my brothers, went to university. I did a post-graduate course, and became a teacher. I married a teacher. I bought a house. So far, so middle class. But if you’d have asked me what class I was, there would only ever have been one answer. And it would have gone summat like this: ‘Not middle class!’

You see I grew up, and have lived all my life, in industrial (and then post-industrial) West Yorkshire. And my formative years were during the 1980’s and 90’s (when industry was becoming increasingly post-). And in those days round here, it was us against the world. We were Yorkshire, we were working class (even when we weren’t), and we were ‘oppressed’ by middle class southerners. Whatever the truth was; that situation, this place, was crucial to the identity of so many Yorkshire people of my generation.

Billy Casper: a Yorkshire stereotype with more than a grain of truth to him…

We knew who we were against. We knew who we weren’t. The chattering middle classes. The shandy-drinking inhabitants of middle England. The ‘South’: out to get us. Out to destroy our jobs, and then our heritage with their culture & customs, their weird vowels & cut glass accents. This mythical beast even had a name. It’s just hers wasn’t a name you said out loud round here back then. It’s still sometimes a risk. Whatever else we weren’t, we weren’t ‘privileged middle class southerners’. Even though, looking back, some of us were much more privileged, or middle class, than we’d like to have believed.

Now, I think that over the years I’ve seen a bit of a bigger world. I’ve actually met some southerners. I’ve seen southerners work their guts out for the sake of the gospel in Yorkshire. I’ve come to realise that whole swathes of Yorkshire, especially in the cities and bigger towns, now have plenty of Yorkshire folk in them who we would have written off as ‘southern’ growing up. People who would quite happily identity themselves as middle class. I’ve seen that Yorkshire folk are not some monocultural entity. More importantly, I’ve realised that the urgency of the gospel need in Yorkshire means we’re desperate for people from all over the Uk (and the world) to come and help us. The vast, vast majority of Yorkshire people, the people I see every day, are going to hell. And anybody who is willing to come, to commit to love Yorkshire folk, and share the gospel with them, will get a red carpet welcome from me. Even if you do drink shandy, and eat hummus.

And yet. And yet…

If you were off to share the gospel with folk in an unreached people group somewhere around the world, you might approach fitting in with a bit of trepidation. You might want to get to learn people’s cultural differences, and adapt your approach to ministry and life slightly. To learn a lesson from a bloke from Barnsley, that most Yorkshire of all Yorkshire places, who taught us all what contextualisation looks like.

Tha needs to do stuff different when you’re an incomer. I’ll tell thee that for nowt…

And vast swathes of Yorkshire are just like Cleck, and the Spen Valley. Post-industrial, almost unreached for the gospel, with their own unique view of the world and what life should look like. And in desperate need of sacrificial Christians to come and meet them where they are. People who are willing to get past the fact that they will be known as incomers all their life. People who are willing for ‘posh’ to become a prefix to their first name, simply because their vowels have too many ‘r’s in them. People who are willing to get out of their comfort zone to share Jesus with old school Yorkshire people. People who are willing to humbly learn from those of us who have lived here all our lives and whose own worldview has been shaped by growing up here. That we might, together, reach these people with the gospel.

After a visit in 2014, Kevin Deyoung wrote up 10 lessons he’d learnt about England. Number 10 said, ‘There’s England and then there’s Yorkshire, which everyone from Yorkshire and not from Yorkshire seem happy to acknowledge.’

We know we’re different, we even delight in it. And maybe, just maybe, that’s precisely why we need your help…