Different social classes manage their social & moral disfunctions in quite unique and different ways. The middle classes tend to carefully regulate how public their social/moral disfunctions become. This allows for at least the appearance of stable and predictable church life, discipleship & ministry patterns. However, the open and unvarnished manner in which moral/social disfunction is often displayed in communities of social disadvantage, can easily hijack the focus of churches in unhelpful ways.
Tim Chester recounts how…
Andy Mason, church planting in World’s End, London, says that the first things many middle class Christians see on council estates are the social problems. These capture our attention, so we think our role is to fix them. Of course, it is right that we address them. But, he asks, what does God see? He sees people for whom he sent his Son. Their fundamental problem is not social policy, but sin. And the solution is not gentrification, but Jesus. (“Unreached” p17)
Yes, the Church must be a community who love those around them. Yet, “love” does not primarily aim at “lifting” people in their social respectability, or class standing. As individuals we are called to never ignore the physical needs of fellow believers (James 2:15-16), but this does not mean that we need to bring others in-line with some "middle-class morality" before we can effectively witness to them.
Tim Chester again...
One of the dangers for middle class outreach in deprived areas is that the (Christian)workers become advice-givers. But advice does not save anyone. Of course, sometimes giving advice is an appropriate act of love. But it can all too easily become patronizing. Worse still, it can communicate a message of morality about how you clean up your life. (“Unreached” p108)
The middle-classes are perhaps more eloquent at justifying and hiding their disfunctions: the social and moral messiness of middle-class life is regulated in such a way that perhaps allows us to even forget it is there! The middle classes certainly don’t feel the need to first expose and "tame" each other's social disfunctions, before they minister the gospel. Yet this is so often precisely what happens when churches start discipling those outside the middle classes.
Christian discipleship is distorted (not assisted) when churches aim to first "tame" the social disfunctions that most unsettle their preferred middle class patterns of life and ministry. We need a pattern of church life and ministry in which the gospel (rather than some assumed class-specific moral code) forms the basis of communal life.
Next post here - SOCIAL LIFT: ministry beyond the "middle"
Find Tim Chester’s book that I’m quoting/reflecting on here:
I'm Steve. Anglican Presbyter, Practical Theology Enthusiast, and Graphic Design Hobbyist in Sydney, Australia