This is a guest post by Rachel Kneale. Views and opinions are the author’s.
If I described the Medhurst Ministries Weekender as a Christian conference, it might give something of a false impression. Christians conferences abound, and many are great. But they often share some of these characteristics –
- Well known speakers “headlining”, often from large wealthy churches
- Most people on the stage (leading or speaking) either from the South East of England or flown in from the US
- Very slick worship led by a professional standard band
- Attractive venues with excellent acoustics and facilities
- Hugely expensive to attend (props to Keswick for being free…let’s not mention the main offender…*cough* Word Alive *cough*)
- Almost exclusively white delegates
Instead, the conference I’ve just returned from was different. The venue was an ordinary church located in a deprived area of Middlesbrough. The speakers were ordinary pastors. The worship was led by musicians from ordinary local churches. The cost was low. The delegates were a diverse mix of black, white and Asian people. If you were looking for a slick, professional conference, then you would have been disappointed. And yet, what was wonderful was the warmth of the fellowship, the genuine desire of the organisers to welcome newcomers and the love for Christ that was evident. The preaching was from faithful men who have spent time working in obscure places with little fanfare or kudos. The work of women reaching other women in these places was platformed and highlighted.
We’ve all had the experience of talking to a person who is looking over our shoulder trying to find someone else better to speak to (perhaps that’s just me!) Sadly, many have experienced this in churches and at Christian conferences – and notably from some pastors. The sense is that some Christians are at conferences to network, to climb the greasy pole, to hobnob with the big names. At the Weekender, there was an amazing lack of ego in the room. People just wanted to share, hear about other’s experiences of knowing Christ and trying to make him known. Everyone wanted to talk to everyone else and to encourage each other. At least that was my experience.
The things I particularly appreciated about the Weekender:
- Messages that all pointed clearly back to Christ as well as love for him and others
- A warm and welcoming atmosphere
- An informality and genuineness that made getting to know people easy
- No one taking themselves seriously, but everyone taking Jesus and his Great Commission seriously
Medhurst Ministries exists to make Jesus know in the forgotten places of the UK. It seems to me a travesty that in the Christian world in the UK, this is almost seen as a niche pursuit for a special few – akin to reaching Mormons or the Seafarers Mission. Great that you’re doing that guys, good for you, those people need to be reached, but let’s not get distracted from the core mission of planting another church to appeal to students and young professionals in Oxford or Cambridge.
But Jesus grew up in a forgotten place. He preached to everyone, but the gospels clearly highlight his heart for the marginalised, poor, downtrodden and forgotten. The Christian faith is one where the first will be last and last first. Where God delights to lift up the humble. The statistics about the lack of gospel preaching churches in vast swathes of the north and midlands, particularly in deprived communities, tells its own story. Surely outreach and church planting in these places should be a central priority for the church? It was wonderful to be at a conference with fellow believers who see this as important and want to support reaching these communities with the gospel.