If you’ve been following the news – or you happen to need to get a train – you will know the RMT have taken their members on strike. No prizes for guessing who I support. For the avoidance of any doubt, a still-below-inflation pay rise of 7%, off the back of several years of below inflation rises and freezes, for the lower paid rail workers (majority of drivers are in ASLEF, who are not striking) is truly not unreasonable. So much so, Merseyrail have already conceded to a 7.1% rise for its workers. Knowing that such strikes will be used as a benchmark for other sector’s pay as well, I am always surprised when people seem deeply offended by such industrial action on the grounds they are not paid so well, when it will necessarily help benchmark their own pay and is a great advert for joining a union themselves. Alas, ah well and all that.
If you are a pastor whose pay is linked to the teacher’s scale (as many are), just remember that if and when the NUT decide to go on strike. I assume you will turn down any pay rise your church offer that matches whatever pay increase the NUT might win on your behalf, on principle of course. And for those who want to argue that Solicitors get paid less (which I am confident isn’t true), you are proving the point about benchmarking by trying to benchmark salaries to comparable fields (as you judge it) and also ignoring the fact that the Criminal Law Solicitors Association (the solicitor’s union) are supporting the Criminal Bar Association (the barrister’s union) in their strike action over cuts to legal-aid work which is affecting pay and conditions.
But my purpose in writing this isn’t to do with the strike action per se. Make up your own mind on that. I want to home in particularly on Mick Lynch, current RMT General Secretary. Not so much Mick Lynch, the man, but rather his media appearances and interviews. A lot has been said about them. You can see some of his comments and approach here:
Below are some general comments on how he has done.
Well, you get the picture. I am minded to think that we might draw some lessons from this for the church. Specifically, what is Mick Lynch doing that gets him such positive reviews?
Collective not individualist
Controversial as some will find this, it is notable that Lynch has pushed away from any individualism. He has been accused of being a Marxist. He was accused of being a Baron. Not quite sure how you can be both, but there you go. But his answer was always the same: I am an elected official of the RMT elected to represent the interests of our members; a working-class bloke leading a trade dispute about jobs, pay and conditions of service. Much of the discussion surrounding the RMT has centred on Mick Lynch himself. But each time, he has pushed it away from a focus on him as an individual – whatever he may believe – and brought matters back to the collective interests of the RMT and its members. Much of our political life has become about individuals and personalities in recent decades and I suspect Lynch’s comments away from himself, onto RMT members as as whole, strike a chord with those who are tired of hyper-individualism and cults of personality.
In a similar way, Christian ministers of the gospel might want to take note. The only individual we should be focusing on is Jesus. It is not about us as pastors, planters or church leaders but about Jesus and the collective interests of his people, the church, as served by the gospel. What it most certainly ought not to be about is the cult of personality of any given church, denomination, organisation or individual. When we speak, we should we keen to point spotlights away from ourselves and towards Christ and his church.
It is notable just how clear the message is. Indeed, many have tried to side-track the man and he simply refuses to let them do it. He has been clear that the RMT have a good relationship with the companies involved and believes, if the government would let them negotiate, they would reach a settlement. They have some clear demands that are, in the face of current inflation and their recent history of cuts and freezes, not unreasonable. But whether you agree with that assessment or not, the message itself is clear.
Church leaders would do well to do the same. All too often, we are unclear. We get side-tracked onto issues that either don’t matter or aren’t relevant. We can sometimes lose people because we are not being at all straightforward or clear with them. Having a point, sticking to it and making it clear to people is really important when communicating any message. Many of us need to remember that in our sermons, bible studies and in pastoral conversations.
Along with his clear message, Lynch gives straight answers. When asked if he is a Marxist, he simply said ‘no’. When asked a stupid question about a profile picture on Facebook, he said it was a joke because he looked a bit like the character. He didn’t have anything to hide. He wasn’t trying to obfuscate. He answered direct questions directly.
All too often, Christians worry about offending people and saying the wrong thing. This tends to lead to straight questions getting some pretty ropey answers. Outside of ministry in deprived communities, I am yet to hear a single minister give a straight answer to the question of what happens to people to deny Jesus. A million and one caveats, endless claims that ‘it’s not simple’, when the truth of the matter is very straightforward, we just don’t like it and don’t think the people we’re talking to will like it either. On most issues today on which we are out of step with the culture, most Christians give woolly answers for fear of offence. I’m not saying we should be offensive for it’s own sake, but if someone asks you a straight question – even if you don’t think they’ll like the answer – we ought to answer it directly and honestly. You might be surprised by how many people respect your honesty more than your obfuscation.
Knows his subject
The reason Lynch is able to give straight, confident answers is because he knows his subject. You may not agree with him, but he clearly knows what he is talking about. It is notable how many people sent on media rounds by the government clearly do not know the issues at stake. As Lynch said pointedly in one interview, ‘I don’t want this disruption, I don’t want people to be inconvenienced and I want the settlement to this dispute, but I can’t do that with a backbench MP who has just learnt it off a script.’ That comment came in his interview in which Tory MP, Jonathan Gullis, insisted Lynch was anti-modernisation and technology to which the General Secretary of RMT responded with a long list of very specific modernisations and new technology he helped introduce in a deal brokered with Network Rail.
Similarly, in the church, it pays to know our subject. If we are about the gospel, fundamentally, then we should know the gospel and know it well. When we come up against those who would challenge us, we don’t need to know all about every group we disagree with. We just need to have a good, solid grasp of what we believe and what the Bible says. That doesn’t mean we have to know the intricacies of every abstruse point of theology going, but we do need to have a decent grasp on the theology and biblical data that stands behind the kind of questions people in our communities are likely to come up with. If you are doing any sort of evangelism at all, you will begin to hear some of the same things again and again. Get a good handle on them.
Many seem to be reacting positively to the sight and sound of a working class man speaking on the television. So rarely do you hear working class voices outside of soaps and dramas and almost never invited to talk about anything of any substance or seriousness. Many are finding it refreshing to hear a measured, working class voice speaking coherently and articulately on matters affecting working class people. It is so notable because it is so rare.
This is a lesson the church needs to learn. Working class and ethnic minority voices are woefully underrepresented in conservative evangelical circles. There are few pastors serving in those circles from such backgrounds and, those that do, are very rarely heard on wider platforms. But when people see themselves represented in such places, people sit up and pay attention. When other pastors from forgotten areas see pastors serving in those places represented, they sit up and listen. When middle class pastors see people from those places represented – even though it doesn’t necessarily represent them – they sit up and listen more because it is a voice, style and sight they don’t see too often. And they often listen well because they don’t get much chance to hear it otherwise. Representation is important and can lead to better listening all round.