Urban mission is both urgent and longterm

As our time at Bearwood Chapel comes to a close, we wanted to take time to listen to others to find out where the need is and where we can best help in terms of urban Gospel mission. Over the past few weeks I’ve been having lots of conversations, some have been with people I’ve known for a long time or about places I’ve known about for a long time whilst others have been with people and about places that are new to me. There’s been a lot to encourage and a lot to challenge.

So, before I go any further, here is a little appeal.  When we get to January, Sarah and I will have to start to firm up on where it is that God is calling us to. We can’t go to all of those places. The need always seems greater than the available workers

“The harvest is plentiful  but the labourers are few!”[1]

At the end of this article, I will include a contact form. If you are being nudged to consider urban Gospel mission whether as the leader or a team member of an urban church plant, please get in touch!

The dominant theme in my mind over these past few weeks has been that we need to start seeing urban mission – getting into our inner cities and onto our estates – as urgent and long term.  It is urgent because we talk about England (and the rest of the UK) as a mission field and the importance of church planting but if that is so, then it seems to me that there are places where it feels a little like now or never.  If we don’t start prioritising gospel work in these areas now, then when will we.  There are parts of our cities and suburbs that are comparatively saturated in Gospel work and other areas that seem almost forgotten.

It was for this reason that we gave a lot of time and energy into getting help for West Smethwick Congregational Church.  Tom Martin has just started to lead the replanting work there and needs team members, finances, and prayer support.

It’s also this concern that drew my attention to this particular article by Steve Kneale.    In it, he particularly highlights the Gospel need in Burnley. I wonder what you knew about the town before you read Steve’s article? Maybe you knew that it has a football team supported by Alistair Campbell or that it also happens to have a bishop?  Maybe you knew that the Leeds -Liverpool Canal runs through the town. You might know that it has ten mosques. You probably did not know that it was recognised as “the most enterprising area in the UK” in 2013.[2]

I highlight these things because of my second point above. As well as being urgent, gospel work into these areas is long term. In our conversations over the past few weeks, some possibilities have crystalised and become firmer possibilities but, whilst we have aimed to rule nothing out, some have fallen by the wayside.  In one situation, the remaining members of a church decided that they do not want or need outside help.  People who know the area well observed that this probably reflects a wider cultural suspicion of “outsiders.” If we had found our way there, we would have been setting out on something long term. It might have taken many years before we were truly accepted, if at all.  Now, that is going to be true of many of the neediest areas and so ideally if possible Gospel work needs to be led by people from the area but that isn’t always possible.  We shouldn’t avoid such places because the work is going to be long term or because it may not appear to bear much fruit in human terms.

Gospel history is full of the stories of men and women who committed themselves to long term Gospel mission. Some are well known, others less so. I’m sure that a number of my readers will be familiar with the life story of Charles Marsh who spent a life-time serving in Algeria and saw little fruit.  If you haven’t, then look him up.[3]  You are less likely to have heard of my godfather, Lionel Fitzsimons who committed a lifetime to witness among Muslims in Bradford and went to be with the Lord this year.[4]

So, long term urban mission is going to need something of a culture and strategy shift for the UK church. We are going to need to see church planting and replanting in the same way that we approach (or should approach) global mission. We cannot assume that it means sending 10, 20,30 people somewhere with perhaps some money for a few years and then they will be standing on their own feet. We need to think of the pioneer planters going into these areas as long term missionaries who will have our support through prayer, giving and sending/joining.  AS a side note, that means please don’t invite them to come and preach in order to fill your pulpit in the holidays.  Invite them as missionary speakers at peak opportunity times and give them chance to share about the work.

However, the specific point I want to raise here is that this long term Gospel work for places like Burnley has got to start somewhere and that “somewhere” is in prayer.  I’d like to encourage individuals and churches to choose a needy place.  It could be Burnley, it could be somewhere else (The FIEC produced a set of prayer cards for 50 needy places a couple of years back).  Find out everything you can about the place. Discover if there are evangelical churches or workers there already and get in touch.  Drop by on holiday (yes you could take some time out on route to or from Keswick next year to visit and have a walk around Burnley).  Adopt the local football or Rugby League team as your second team and look out for their results each weekend. Then schedule in, not a one off prayer section but regular, deep and earnest prayer.

It is that type of prayerful interest in an area that is likely to cultivate a long term heart concern for the area. Prayer will lead to giving.  Giving will lead to going.  It may be that you go there or it may be that a passion for that area will be cultivated in the hearts of others, perhaps some of the young people in your church.  Yes, that means that when your son or daughter completes their studies at Manchester University and call you to say “I’ve worked out I could live in Burnley, Rochdale, Cleckheaton, Halifax or Bradford” and commute to Leeds or Manchester for work” don’t beg them to come home, don’t complain that they are setting their expectations low. Get excited, rejoice at the sign of prayers beginning to be answered. 

“pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”[5]


[1] Matthew 9:37.

[2] Burnley – Wikipedia

[3] Too Hard for God?: Amazon.co.uk: Marsh PhD., Charles: 9781850783626: Books

[4] LIONEL FITZSIMONS – Bradford Telegraph and Argus (thetelegraphandargus.co.uk)   Lionel served with ICF, later SIM.  Check out also With Flaming Zeal: A Look at the Lives of 8 Great Missionaries: Amazon.co.uk: Fitzsimons, Lionel: 9781840300192: Books

[5] Matthew 9:38

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