The problem with the perception of a 'middle class' Church

(Photo: Unsplash/Priscilla Du Preez)

I've written a couple of times recently about the problem that the much of the church in the UK has in reaching poorer communities (here and here). One of the reasons often cited for this is that when people become Christians, they automatically start to adopt habits and attitudes that move them into the middle class and away from their roots.

My observation, as a lad from a council house who became a believer over 45 years ago, is that there is a lot of truth in this – it certainly describes much of my experience. I'd also suggest that it shows that we are doing something very wrong!

The thing is, there is nothing inherently Christian about the British middle-class dream of having a professional job, owning your own home, having 2.4 children and eating hummus on toast. The notion of cosy suburban living has been sold to us by everything from TV sitcoms to the lifestyle pages of the newspapers and as Christians we've generally accepted this norm without ever challenging it.

We've assumed that Christians will be upwardly mobile but we've not unpacked how fundamentally unpleasant that term is. As a result, we've got a generation of Christians like me who would struggle to fit back into the communities that we emerged from, while large tracts of our towns and cities have no evangelical witness.

Being a Christian does not mean that we have to swallow British aspirational values for ourselves or for our kids. In fact, it means that we should reject those values (and any other social construct) in favour of the values of the Kingdom of God.

The problem is, we've allowed our society to shape our thinking so much that we don't really know what an authentic "council estate Christianity" would look like. In the jargon, we need to contextualise. It is perfectly possible to be a Christian – even a Christian with a posh job – and still be rooted in a council estate.

Following Jesus involves a radical call on our lives and we sell ourselves and our communities short when we swap that call for the middle-class dream of eating hummus in the suburbs.

Eddie Arthur has worked with Wycliffe Bible Translators since the mid 1980s. During that time, he was part of a translation team in Ivory Coast and served in a variety of training and leadership roles in Africa and Europe; including a stint as CEO of Wycliffe in the UK. He has a PhD in the theology and practices of Mission agencies and continues to study and write about mission. He blogs at Kouyanet where this article was first published. Printed with permission.