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Unreached: Growing Churches in Working Class & Deprived Areas

Author: Tim Chester
Published By: IVP (Nottingham)
Pages: 170
Price: £9.99
ISBN: 978 1 84474 603 3

Reviewed by Philip Joy.

This is not just another book on mission. This is a call to arms to a movement which for a hundred years has lost touch with its historical roots. The persistent, evangelical failure to reach out beyond its core middle-class demographic is carefully, biblically and witheringly lambasted by Chester, an experienced inner city minister and author of A Meal with Jesus, You can Change, and Everyday Church. As well as provocative challenge, there is penetrating insight and plenty of road-tested practical suggestions. This is an accessible book, with clear headings, real-life examples and Bible-based thinking. Its main focus is twofold: to encourage forms of mission which are adapted to working class and underclass culture (contextualized evangelism); and mission led by local people (indigenous evangelism).

Chester argues that many of us are in the position of Peter having his prejudices challenged by a dream of unclean animals. We are offered an analysis of the multifaceted culture and world-view of working class, benefit class and sink-estate people and encouraged to love the unlovely, as Jesus did for us. We are reminded that most evangelical missionary methods are trialled on university campuses; on the other hand the Fatherhood of God, the victim mentality and the sovereignty of God are gospel themes key to mission to this appallingly under-represented demographic group. A useful chapter provides practical suggestions or evangelism whilst warning us not to become advice-givers or to try answering questions people are not asking. We are warned against suspicion towards social action, and encouraged to see the church as the rebuilder of what is broken. We are called to leave aside complicated exegesis and engage with the Bible in its own hermeneutical categories – sing, gaze, meditate, wonder, taste. Growing new believers in this social context requires a rare kind of commitment and prayer. The Gospel itself is offered as the primary tool for discipleship, and we are warned to think outside the box teaching the word in a non-book culture. Do not expect many converts to become leaders. Do not expect results in traditional ways. Do not look at people’s moral boundaries so much as the quality of their love for Jesus.

I like this book, but I am challenged by it. I am challenged by Duncan Forbes’ quote on the back: “When I became a Christian, there was almost no-one who could show me what a council-estate Christian man looked like.” I am challenged by Chester’s key point at the end: do you want to make a name for yourself, or a name for Christ? I would make this mandatory reading for anyone in my church thinking of ministry. Disraeli’s phrase ‘two nations’ has resurfaced in British politics: it is time it resurfaced in British evangelicalism. Itching feet should be guided, not away to foreign parts, but at home to no-go areas, to inspire a new generation in a new form of cross-cultural mission.

Philip Joy

Specialist in Old Testament narrative and typology

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You are reading Issue 57 of Ministry Today, published in April 2013.

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