To improve working class representation we must reach the working classes

There has been a lot of chat on Twitter following John Steven’s posting of this quote from Tim Keller:

In response to somebody suggesting that the increase in graduates in Evangelicalism was due to social mobility and wider trends in society, I said this:

John responded thus:

Which led to the following comments from Ian Williamson:

John responded this way:

Leading to Ian pointing out:

Somebody then noted:

Leading to the following:

It was this last point I wanted to pick up here.

Ian was (rightly) making the point that working class people are severely underrepresented within Evangelicalism, particularly the branch of it to which he and I belong. Even where working class people are invited to things, they are usually invited to something in which the parameters have already been planned and set by middle class blokes. As Duncan Forbes has said elsewhere, they may get a seat at the table but it tends to be a kiddie seat. The working class guys are invited to events that are planned and then controlled by middle class leaders. It can feel a bit like a government consultation – you are given the room to say what you think but within the tightly controlled parameters set by them and they will listen only if it chimes with what they’ve already decided to think. I am not saying this is what anybody intends to do, but it is how many of my working class friends feel about it. That they aren’t invited to the planning stages of these things makes them feel like an after-thought and as though their views and opinions are of secondary importance.

In response to some handwringing that sounded like middle class ‘woe is me’, I made the point that one way we can overcome this problem is by going to working class communities and seeking to serve them, make disciples and see them raised up to positions of leadership. Ian (again, rightly) noted that this was a different issue – he was speaking about working class representation while I was talking about middle class people being willing to go to working class communities. But these things are certainly linked.

We lack working class representation because Evangelicalism is itself overwhelmingly middle class. Why is Evangelicalism overwhelmingly middle class? Because like begets like and most middle class people are unwilling to go to deprived communities and make disciples in such places. The unwillingness of the middle classes to go to where they perceive it will be uncomfortable for them has led to an overemphasis on reaching middle class people just like them. Reach graduates and graduates will become the majority voice and take up positions of leadership. This means there are relatively few working class leaders to raise up to leadership positions. The fact that middle class people are unwilling to go to working class communities has led directly to a situation in which people from working class communities are not being reached at all which, in turn, led to a failure to represent working class people in our leadership because few are there to promote. The unwillingness to go is what led to the disproportionate figures and a lack of representation at leadership level. These issues are intricately entwined.

Now, we can bemoan all the reasons that we are in that situation, but we must deal with the situation as it is. If we lack representation among the working classes, what do we need to do now in order to improve this issue? If we are going to see indigenous workers raised up from working class communities, it will require middle class Christians to go to those communities and begin to make disciples where there are currently no gospel preaching churches. Mez McConnell has made this point in his book Church in Hard Places – the schemes of Scotland don’t have enough in place right now for indigenous leadership so it will rely upon others coming in so that indigenous workers can be raised up in the long-term. Once they have gone, it will require those believers to actively train working class men such that they can take up leadership positions in the church.

We cannot separate the unwillingness of middle class believers to go to hard places from the lack of representation of people from hard places. If we want to see people raised up to positions of influence, we first have to reach them with the gospel. To reach them with the gospel, somebody has to take the gospel to them. We then have to take a step back and permit those we reach to take up leadership positions within our churches and, then, in our local and national organisations. As it stands, Evangelicalism is an overwhelmingly white, middle class movement. These are, by and large, the people we have to send. So it follows, if we want working class representation in Evangelicalism, we’ve first got to send some middle class people to reach them.