Having your comfortable cake and eating it

Yesterday, I appear to have touched a bit of a nerve. It’s not anything I haven’t said before and it’s also not anything that isn’t demonstrably true. I dared to suggest that the biggest problem facing Evangelicalism in Britain today was our own desire for comfort. You can read that article here.

In an ensuing discussion on Facebook, my dear friend, co-elder and fellow labourer in the gospel said this:

While what Steve talks [about] might sound like hell here on earth for middle class folks (like us) the reality is different once you’re there (here in our case). When we share news of the work in Oldham with other churches they applaud our sacrifice. Truth be told though it doesn’t feel sacricial. Sacrifice implies we should feel tortured every day. Not at all. The past 13 years have been absolute joy to Lynda Skinner and me as we’ve seen the Gospel impacting people’s lives – in repenting of ungodly lifestyles and coming to faith. In fact, the only times where we did feel “on the rack” were internally implemented by people who didn’t want their church changed.

This, my friends, is the important counterpoint to that which I said yesterday. And it bears drinking in.

For, on the one hand, the church at large is ignoring deprived communities because of their own comfort. Yet, on the other hand, those who have dared to come have neither regretted it nor found anything other than sheer joy in the work. These are, indeed, two sides of the same coin.

Wasn’t it Jesus who said, ‘whoever wants to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake shall find it’ (Matthew 16:25)? Didn’t he also say, ‘I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly’ (John 10:10)? If we lose our lives, dying to ourselves, for Christ’s sake we will receive life and have it abundantly. If I may apply it to the situation in the wider Evangelical church, if we die to our selfish desire for comfort – if we lose the life of affluent areas, large houses, middle-class friends – for the sake of Christ and his gospel, we will receive life and live it to the full. My friend hit the nail on the head when he said that moving to an area like Oldham may sometimes be portrayed as Hell on Earth for middle-class believers, but to those who love the Lord and treasure his gospel, it will be one of the best moves you could ever make. Let me explain how.

In areas like ours, we see people from all over the world coming together and having fellowship in Christ. We see African and Caribbeans, people from warring Middle East nations, both white and BME British citizens all worshipping the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. We have people from Penetecostal, Methodist, Anglican, Baptist and Charismatic backgrounds all worshipping together, sitting under the same Word and committing to being shaped by it. We sing songs and read scriptures in English and Farsi, we see people in clothes that are culturally specific to them, we eat food from around the world. And it is utterly thrilling to us.

We are seeing real fruit for the gospel. Over the last 12-13 years, we have seen in excess of 50 baptisms and even more conversions. In the last four years alone, we have seen around 15 baptisms. Most, though by no means all, have come amongst Iranian and Afghan asylum seekers. Without putting too fine a point on it, I have sat in predominantly white middle-class churches and waited years at a time to see somebody converted and a baptism take place. The Lord is clearly at work in our town and those who love the Lord and cherish his gospel find these things far more exciting and thrilling than the prospect of middle-class comforts.

We are making real in-roads into the local South Asian Muslim communities. We are seeing an imam bring dozens of Muslim people to our church every month so that we can share the gospel with them. They are engaging and asking awesome questions. We are simultaneously learning about their faith too and asking some robust questions of our own. We have had some of the most frank and fruitful discussions about our respective scriptures and understandings about God and salvation. It is hugely exciting work.

Our regular English Classes see c. 30 people from nations all over the world coming into the church and reading the Bible. We take Bible stories as reading texts and compare them with the stories in the Qur’an. It give sus opportunities to probe into the meaning of the stories and how they point to Christ. We also speak to our faith and how the Lord has been working in our lives both as we come together as a class and over tea and coffee. There are many other ways we are reaching out with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The point here is that if our mind is on worldly comfort, then Oldham may look like a dead loss. But if our mind is on the gospel, and we genuinely love the Lord, I can think of no more thrilling a place to be. The Lord has many people in this place – we know because he has been saving them in our midst – and that can only be a thoroughly exciting prospect to those who genuinely love Jesus and treasure his gospel.

And if all that isn’t good enough, surprise surprise, there are some nice bits of Oldham you can live in too. In fact, not only do we have award-winning Green Flag park – like Alexandra Park – we also have several country parks and beauty spots in Tandle Hill, Daisy Nook and Dovestones Reservoir. Would you believe it, we also have some nice cafes and restaurants here too. In fact, your money can go very far. Sell your house in a nice leafy suburb and you can surely get something approximating a mansion in Oldham. Our food and petrol is cheaper, our countryside is nice, we are very close to Manchester – the fastest growing city in the UK – and the people will even talk to you on the tram and bus (that’s right London – we’re friendly!)

It turns out you can have the thrill of gospel fruit and engaging in real, frontline evangelism that is exciting without giving up all your creature comforts. It seems it is possible to have your cake and eat it too.

If you would like to consider moving to Oldham, why not check out some of the exciting training opportunities available at Oldham Bethel Church. You can find out more on the training page of our website and you can look at advert on the FIEC job board and NW Partnership ministry opportunities page.