This book is a must-read for pastors, church planters and those trying to reach people in schemes (council estates) with the gospel. I was sent a pre-published pdf of the book and man, I devoured it! This book is over 400 pages, but it’s super readable and challenging.
I would say that whilst this book will be most interesting for those in church leadership positions, it is a necessary read for every Christian who wants to understand how best to reach the poor.
If we’re honest with ourselves, most of our churches are quite uniform. People enjoy similar jobs, family lives, backgrounds and culture. But is that what God intended for church to be like? Often I’ll hear church leaders speak about their desire to reach those who are not necessarily ‘like them’ or their church, but who often lack the knowledge and cultural savvy to reach beyond their own cultural context. How can church membership represent accurately the community it is in? How can it welcome the marginalised, those who speak differently, act differently and experience church very differently? This book addresses these questions and will help you rethink ministry. Mez draws together over 1,000 hours’ worth of research and over 21 years of ministry experience with the poor and/or marginalised in this great book. In addition to the book, there is a website that outlines all the key statistics and research that is the background of the book. It is fascinating to go through.
Mez begins by challenging the reader to think about the number of people from schemes in our churches in general but also those who are being trained for ministry, etc. and man it packs a punch…
“Change is required. But we cannot change a system with which we are happy and comfortable. Therefore, we are going to have to think seriously, from the ground up, if we want to make a difference in the lives of millions of people in our country who will be born, live, love, work and die without any access to the gospel. Their only crime? They’re not middle class and university educated. They live in our council estates and housing schemes. They live in the high-rise flats most of us pass on our way to work every day. They live in our picture-perfect country towns and villages. They empty our dustbins. They deliver our mail. They clean our office blocks. They mop the toilets of our favourite supermarkets. They cut our hair. They deliver our shopping and our takeaways. They cut our grass and paint our fences. They wash our windows and clean our gutters. They sweep our roads and labour on our building sites. They’re everywhere we look, and yet they are hardly anywhere to be seen in our churches.”
There are a number of aims in this book but some of the things I think Mez gets spot on are;
- Proving a tool for churches to understand the landscape of the schemes on their doorsteps.
- Helping the reader understand the cultural and social make-up of a scheme community.
- Helping churches and Christians think through how to engage evangelistically in scheme communities.
- To get Christians thinking about how they can best reach, disciple, train and equip people from schemes to serve the Lord with the gifts and skills they have.
Throughout the book you also hear voices of others through little ‘spotlight’ stories. These stories are relevant to the particular chapter and are written by different people, from different cultures, backgrounds and different social classes. The stories help you get a fuller picture of what scheme-life and scheme-ministry looks like.
The book is split into four parts;
1. Poverty, Class and Culture in the UK
This is a fascinating section that focuses on the different cultures within a scheme community and the differences between those in and outside of a scheme. It touches on topics like difference in language used, work, mental health, general health, different approaches to authorities and politicians, social gatherings, relationships and much more. Each chapter is jammed with insights that will help you understand the scheme culture. Despite growing up in a scheme myself, I learned a lot from this section! Mez also does a great job at tackling some of the prejudices and negative preconceived ideas about those who come from schemes. This section will help you understand people better and see the history of schemes which is a massive contributing factor to know how to minister in those contexts.
2. The Bible, Poverty and Helping the Poor
Mez takes the reader to the Bible and teaches you what the Bible says about poverty and how the Lord’s people should respond to poverty and to the poor. You cannot walk away from the Bible and think that God doesn’t love and care for the poor. You need to be blind, or foolish, to think that Christians can walk through life without caring for the poor well. We reflect God’s love by extending that love to ALL people, including those who are different to us.
3. Exposing the Fault Lines of UK Evangelicalism
This section focuses on some of the issues that exist in the evangelical church in the UK and its approach to those from more deprived areas and backgrounds. Mez goes double barrel on the role of food banks in many middle-class churches, and how so often they are geared for crisis and initial help, but not for the long-term support and discipleship of people. He also speaks about how Bible Colleges and theological institutes are geared towards the academic with little interaction for those who maybe didn’t finish school. Mez helpfully points out the dangers of theological training institutes no longer serving the local church and instead trying to fit people into a very specific mould. Some of the things in these chapter might be hard to read for some people, but they need to be said. No church should have ‘holy cows’ that we are more precious about than the gospel and reaching the lost of all backgrounds and social classes.
4. Rethinking Everything in Light of the Local Church
Reading this book you cannot miss the fact that Mez loves Jesus, that he loves people and that he loves the local church. In this final section Mez looks at different elements of the local church and the importance of approaching them in a biblical and sensible way. Mez touches on our giving, the hiring of women, discipleship, mercy ministry, theological training, preaching and more. This section not only gives you an insight into Mez’s ministry but it will also help you be more equipped and able to serve the poorer communities on your doorstep.
If you’re a pastor, buy this book and read it with your elders. If you’re a Christian buy a few copies and give them out in church. If you’re looking for a Christmas gift, get this now. Whilst this probably isn’t the typical gift you’d see under the tree this year, it is probably going to be the most helpful one for Christians to think about their care for others, particularly those from schemes. I can genuinely say this was the most challenging and insightful books that I’ve read in 2021. If you buy a copy it could very well be the best book you read in 2022. You will be challenged, you may even be offended at points, but most importantly you’ll be better equipped to know how to share the gospel with, disciple and train people from schemes.