Sacrifice and 21st Century Conservative Evangelicals

It has become almost a truism to note that conservative evangelical churches find their strongest homes in either leafy suburbs or vibrant city centres. I say almost, because, as with all stereotypes, it is note quite accurate. There remain many churches working in what might be described as more complex areas and some of the leaders of those churches are getting airtime at conferences and the like. However, it is probably accurate to say, in rather brutal terms, that the power and the money (not surprisingly)  reside in middle-class and higher contexts.

Is this a problem? In and of itself I would want to say no. Shouldn't we primarily be grateful that ministry has been effective in those areas? It does, however, lead to some questions, some of which might make us uncomfortable. Why have we not been effective in reaching tougher areas? Why is it hard to get trainees and ministers to come to jobs in those areas? Why are those working in these areas so short of money and resources? Why, despite the huge need for workers, do Christians so seldom move to struggling churches in these areas to help?

I would suggest a primary factor is that we've given up on sacrifice. Or at least we've attenuated its meaning so much that, while we find ourselves a little bit challenged now and again, we don't find ourselves challenged to make big changes to our status quo.

I would at least expect that most of us know some of the verses from Scripture that challenge us. Jesus, teaching us to follow his example, says:

"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?"

(Mark 8:34b-36 ESV)

And see what he says to Peter, when he talks of his self-sacrifice.

And Peter said, "See, we have left our homes and followed you." And he said to them, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life."

(Luke 18:28-30 ESV)

Paul writing from prison says:

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

(Phil 1:21)

and of course he goes on to give us the examples of Jesus, Timothy and Epaphroditus.

Apparently, when William Farrell was persuading John Calvin to go back to Geneva after being kicked out, he wrote back to Farrell making it clear that of himself he didn't want to come, that everyone would understand if he didn't and yet, because he was not his own, but God's, he would return. It is, of course, striking that Calvin starts his summary of the Christian Life in the Institutes with a chapter on self-denial!

I'm not sure that this attitude of self-sacrifice and self-denial is very prevalent in our circles and our teaching. For example, we mostly don't challenge people and ourselves on our lifestyles in terms of the level of their living (holidays, schooling, house, cars for example), although we'll challenge them on all sorts of other areas of their morality (rightly!).

We largely consider missionaries and even ministers as a slightly strange class of people who happen to be very godly and self-sacrificial, but thankfully that's not required of all of us. Except it is!

More controversially, at least in my mind, we tend to encourage and perpetuate the large middle class church. When I was in student work and students were leaving to start work in another town or city, I would almost always recommend the large well known conservative evangelical church if there was one. Now that's understandable. I wanted them to continue to be taught well. But I think I should have challenged them at least to think about going to find a faithful Bible teaching church which needed their help, even if it wasn't going to provide the best for them, because that servant-hearted sacrifice is at the heart of the gospel and discipleship.

Now I work in what might be considered a more complex place, I feel the pain of that. I watch all the well-paid and well-taught Christians go to the churches with other well-paid and well-taught people. I wonder how we're ever going to have the workers for the harvest field in places like Rochdale and the hundreds of other cities and towns with very little faithful witness.

Like I say, it's not the whole picture and I do see and have experienced in God's grace, some encouragements from bigger churches and Christians from those churches. But if we are really to reach the nation it needs to be more of a flood than a trickle.

The thing that is strange is that the sacrifices are not so very great. We still have electricity and even fibre-optic broadband! I have to admit that I don't know where the nearest Waitrose is, but Ocado do deliver. Of course there are issues to think about in terms of schooling, but they're hardly insurmountable! Probably the thing that is hardest is that there are so few Christians here with the energy and passion for the gospel, but that wouldn't be so hard to fix would it?


  1. Thanks for this, bro - lots of good thoughts. And challenging. I'll share this via the RTU Facebook page if you don't object...


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