22 August, 2013 Andy Mason
Why do we need to think about contextualising preaching for council estates?
First, notice that ministry is always contextualised, whether to urban professionals or rural families. So, we preach in English (!), talk about cricket and dress in a certain way. More importantly, we apply Scripture in particular ways and assume a certain worldview in our hearers. We can’t avoid contextualisation.
Secondly, most ministry in conservative evangelical contexts is already contextualized to middle-class congregations. Because this is the majority subculture, it’s very easy for this particular way of doing ministry to be assumed and promoted as the way of doing ministry. So, we need to think hard about what we’re doing and why.
Thirdly, most preachers/ministers who love expository preaching tend to have been trained in middle-class contexts, so imbibe methods and approaches that are from a non-council estate context.
So, on a council estate, we can’t avoid contextualising – but we can avoid doing it badly. There’s a lot we could think about on this issue, but I just want to highlight two ways in which preaching on a council estate is distinctive.
First, we need to develop a clear, ‘concrete-realistic’ style. People on council estates are as sharp and bright as anywhere else, but are generally not conceptual thinkers. Density, abstractions and conceptual words will kill your sermon a lot more quickly on a council estate than in a city-centre professional congregation. A concrete-realistic style, however, uses word pictures, personal stories and life examples to convey truth. For example, think of the two different ways of talking about repentance in 2 Corinthians 7:8-11 and in Luke 15. Both are scriptural and inspired, and yet they are radically different ways of communicating. Preaching on a council estate works best, in my experience, if it’s influenced more by the style of Luke 15. On council estates, preaching needs to speak about specifics and daily life, and should not deal in generalities. Please note that I’m not talking about preaching narrative all the time. What I’m talking about here is a style that draws heavily on word pictures, analogies and everyday life – and that emphasises clarity. Further, please note that I’m not talking about de-emphasising concepts because people are too ‘thick’ to get big ideas. I’m referring to a culture and a learning style that it’s wise for us to take seriously.
Secondly, it’s very important to connect compassionately with suffering and life problems. There are obviously a lot of stereotypes surrounding council estates, but it is true to say that there’s a high level of exposure to difficult issues in our context. This is obviously not unique to council estates, but there’s definitely a higher level of rawness to people’s experiences. It’s therefore so important that people feel that our preaching connects with their life experiences. They need to feel that we care and understand their problems. We have to preach with compassion for the issues that they’re facing, whether it’s mental health, drugs, family problems or violence. You can’t survive just as a pulpit preacher on a council estate; you have to get close to people and get involved in their lives.
There’s much more that could be said, but these are key issues. The reality is that most of us who are working in council estate communities are growing all the time in this and are constantly being humbled by our failures. Thankfully, God is still at work in the worst of our sermons on our council estates!