Contextualisation is vital. Missionaries spend time learning a language and a culture so that they can share the gospel effectively and plant God honouring churches that disciple people well given their particular context. I wonder sometimes whether we tend to forget that lesson in the UK. Simply assuming because something worked somewhere else it will work here in just the same way. But such an approach is dangerous and flawed because our regions have distinct flavours, histories and influences.
In fact it is one of my concerns as I look at the church in Yorkshire, the county with the lowest church attendance in the country, a church attendance on a par with Japan. We simply haven’t spent enough time thinking about how we reach Yorkshire people with the gospel. We have tended to just do what everyone else is doing. Partly that is skewed by church planting in university towns where the majority of students and a significant chunk of the general populace are not from Yorkshire. Sheffield, Leeds, and York are not the norm in Yorkshire, though I wonder if even there churches are reaching the indigenous Yorkshire men and women or just the interlopers?
So what would it look like to contextualise? Yorkshire is not the South of England. Yorkshire people don’t think like people from the home counties. So how do we reach them with the gospel? What would it look like to contextualise? To do Church in Yorkshire Places? Here are a few thoughts:
A Passion for Jesus
Middle Class (Southern) Evangelicalism tends to prize rational argument over passion. Yet spend time with Yorkshire people and you realise they are passionate and driven. A raised voice in conversation is not a sign of anger or loss of control or rationality but of concern and love and commitment. Our passion for Jesus must match that of the fan for his club, or the Yorkshire man for his county. Preach and proclaim the gospel with passion.
Working class mentality
If you ask a Yorkshire man what class he is he will look at you like you’ve gone mad. What class would you want to be, ‘Of course I’m working class I’m from Yorkshire.’ Being a Yorkshire man or woman defines your class not your occupation and it is historical not changeable. Many have been to uni and have traditionally middle class jobs but still define themselves as being working class, in fact many will resent the implication that they are middle class. They have working class values and virtues and we need to address those and think through how they have been shaped by gospel values, and how sin has warped them not simply value, assume, address and preach to middle class issues.
Local not national
Yorkshire people are passionate about being from Yorkshire, what other county devised it’s own medal table for the Olympics. They care passionately about local issues. It is not that national or international issues don’t matter but that local comes first. How do we in our engagement, evangelism, preparation, and preaching reflect that?
A suspicion of interlopers
There is an ingrained suspicion of outsiders, especially if you speak with a posh accent (unless you are from Harrogate). We have to work hard to overcome this, how? By accepting, loving and engaging with Yorkshire and it’s quirks and eccentricities. And we must commit to long term listening engagement and friendship with our communities if we are an interloper. Listening matters, otherwise we reinforce the idea that we arrogantly presume to come in with all the answers. We don’t. We have loads to learn and value and we will be richer for it.
Defined by hardship
Many communities in Yorkshire have had it hard. Do your research? Read local history about the miners strike and the loss of other traditional industries and understand how this has shaped, and is still shaping, communities. Read local history and talk to and listen to local people about the church in that area. People tend to define themselves by struggle and hardship. Which in turn can produce a can’t do attitude and or a resentment of others who have ‘had it easy’. In some cases we will find church has added to this hardship. We need to wrestle with how the gospel addresses and reshapes this? How do we plant and pastor churches that reshape this with gospel realism and thankfulness?
Mistrust of big project/society/organisations
Many have been let down by big promises made by big organisations or left disenchanted by unfulfilled promises and visions. This leads to a sense of mistrust of the big and of grandiose visions and plans. We need to plant and pastor churches that overcome this by being realistic, only promising what we can do and by being quick to admit mistakes if and when we have let people down. Working hard to win back trust through sheer love and commitment.
This is only scratching the surface of what is a very complex issue but one we need to face and think more deeply about as we pray and plan to evangelise Yorkshire for the glory of God by planting churches across this great county.