EQUIPPING THE SAINTS
The heart of London City Mission’s work and vision has always been for people – especially those on the margins – to turn to the Lord Jesus.
One hundred or so missionaries working on their own cannot meet the urgent need of a city of millions of people who haven’t heard the gospel says London City Mission Chief Executive Graham Miller. Over three million people in London say they have no Christian friend to tell them about Jesus or invite them to church,
That’s why London City Mission is now concentrating on working with churches, equipping ordinary Christians to share with confidence the good news of Jesus with the least reached in their own communities.
‘The impact of our new approach will be flourishing and growing churches on council estates and among minority ethnic communities, with diverse membership and leadership that is committed to evangelism to the least reached, and equipped to do it,’ says Graham. ‘My vision is to bring more multicultural churches together to reach people such as London’s homeless population and those living in poverty, addressing those needs in the midst of loads of people hearing the good news of Jesus.’
There is a growing number of small congregations of believers embedded in least-reached communities in London, which, with the right support and encouragement, has the potential to reach out with the good news of Jesus to those around them.
Graham Miller came to London City Mission in 2013 from working as a missionary in China, with an eye to the lost and to those who are on the edge of society. ‘I want us to live up to our forefathers’ goals and get Jesus proclaimed to more people. Because I’d been a missionary in China it was easier for me to come in with a zeal for the Lord, thinking what more can we do to reach these people rather than how to look after this wonderful institution to pass on to a new generation?’
Part of Graham’s preparation to lead London City Mission was to read the letters and memoirs of the founding fathers. He was struck to the core by reading a very influential letter sent in 1835 from Baptist Wriothesley Noel to the Bishop of London, which was published just as David Nasmith arrived in London. The letter decried with horror that church attendance among the 1.5 million Londoners was only about 65 per cent: ‘In the metropolis of Great Britain, 518,000 persons are living without a public acknowledgment of God, and in contempt of all the means of grace.’
In 2012, regular church attendance in London was about seven per cent. Graham says that as he read, he felt his own soul rising: London still desperately, desperately needs Jesus, now more than ever. ‘The slums have been cleaned up, and we don’t have cholera anymore, but we’ve lulled ourselves into this sense of kind of comfort that feels like we no longer need to worry,’ says Graham. ‘Reading the heartbreak of these godly men over the people who lived and died and never got to hear this message made me think, ‘Are there people still living and dying and never actually hearing about Jesus?’
Filled with the same kind of urgency that drove LCM’s founder David Nasmith in 1835, London City Mission reviewed everything it was doing and made some tough decisions in favour of the work that most clearly focused on sharing the gospel with the least reached in partnership with churches. Work such as the chaplaincies on the railway were handed on to other organisations that specialised in this ministry ‘It was good work, and it has flourished since we handed it over,’ Graham says. ‘But we just hadn’t got time to do everything in the face of such urgent need to get the gospel out.’ Of all the opportunities to do good, LCM centres on sharing the gospel, and the focus will always be on those who are least likely to otherwise hear that message of good news: those in deprived communities, from other faiths, or who remain on the edge of society. ‘We read in the Bible that Jesus always looked to people on the margins’, says Graham. ‘He keeps turning to the lepers and the Samaritans and the tax collectors, the people that were somehow beyond the bounds and then sends them to show themselves to a priest so that they are included again in God’s people.’
Going forward we want to see all our missionaries do working alongside churches Rather than each missionary doing their own work, every team of missionaries will focus on building up teams of believers in local churches to go with them: drawing others into the work of personal evangelism, supporting, giving on-the-job training and releasing people to carry on the work without continuous support. When churches lead in evangelism, people who turn to Jesus are saved into a community and family where they can be nurtured and discipled in their faith. The challenge is to support the maximum number of churches so that they have confidence to look beyond missionaries as the answer to the ministry needs.
For a quick short-term impact, it’s easier and more effective to go it alone – there’s less time and energy spent on sharing a vision, building partnerships, negotiating priorities, and training. But a solo effort of individual evangelists does not bring about radical long-term change; sustainable impact on a city-wide scale requires the commitment of the whole church. We know there are many churches who would love to see the gospel go out to the least reached people around them, they just need help in figuring out how. That’s why from now, all missionaries’ work is to be grounded in the mission of local churches, in all cases working in partnership with congregations to share the gospel with people who are least likely to come into contact with church, Graham says. We are now position wh ere we could be ready to support the London-wide move to reach out to even more people.
‘The key to this will be our relationship with the churches of London, Graham says. ‘We want to be able to join with churches of London on a journey to greater effectiveness in evangelism. We’re stepping out in faith that the Lord has not only spoken to us, but that he has spoken to his church at the same time.’ And that takes us back to the simple practices of discipleship – doing the things that Jesus did, giving up time to serve people who are living on the edge of society, or being prepared to invest in friendships with people. We can also see the value in churches working together on projects that would be too large for any one of them to achieve alone. We are already working in partnership with several churches as part of our ministry to homeless people. Collaboration makes gospel work like this possible, and we know that the more partnerships we have,