Mission and the working class

From the start of Mission through Business, we wanted to include working class vocations and backgrounds in the opportunities for mission. [Mission here is defined as crossing barriers telling the good news of Christ and loving and serving communities in His name.]

But it seems this is far easier said than done. This post explores three barriers we see to more trades and labourers getting involved in mission… and proposes some initial solutions.

Barrier 1: absence of scoped opportunities

How many opportunities do you know for working class vocations to be sent by their church on mission?

Anecdotally, our 2016 consultation found that approximately 5% of those sent by the evangelical church in the UK would self-identify as business or trades people (the rest primarily being theologians, church planters, teachers and medics). Of these 5%, the majority appear to be degree-holding professionals or entrepreneurs.

The evangelical church in the UK is majoratively middle-class, so it stands to reason that those it sends also represent that group - degree educated, usually a theological or social (including teaching and medical) background.

Mission agencies focus on opportunities which fit this population; perhaps the right questions are not being asked in the places we’re seeking to reach and serve?

But there is the potential for more trades-people, labourers, factory workers, hospitality staff, etc - those who love Jesus and are so gifted at sharing who he is and what he’s done for them - to cross barriers. There’s some good examples… but not enough.

We’ll need to work together to understand the possibilities in different contexts:

  • could we set up apprenticeship schemes in other countries, training in a specific trade and discipling at the same time?

  • how about teams of people aiming to plant churches amongst different cultures, where one of the leads/elders is a tradesperson who is able to support themselves and build relationships into a different community in the new location?

  • what about micro-enterprise? Credit unions, rotating credit and microfinance have long been part of the scene in poorer communities. Could we look at how they could be run wisely in conjunction with churches?

Barrier 2: confidence and motivation

At one of our roadshows, someone from a working class background said that the barrier may not be opportunity or pathways, but confidence and motivation.

The recent Christianity Today cover story picked up some of this theme, recognising that when you’re striving to put food on the table and working double shifts, the current faith and work discussion on motivations feels a bit irrelevant. You’re interested in providing, having enough money to pay for the kids clothes, keeping your family safe. Talk of self-actualisation, of an identity from the career, is a nonsense (and middle class folks could learn a lot from the relational identity which lies at the heart of many poorer communities’ motivations).

On top of this, many may have a lack of confidence. When the environment seems set up to knock you down rather than build you up; when you’ve been turned away from opportunities in the past; when the culture appears to support those who talk the same or look the same or have the same degree - there’s no wonder it’s hard.

Barrier 3: equipping

The UK should have accessible training for the working class which is delivered flexibly, priced in a way to maintain sustainability whilst not pricing people out, and taught in a way which encourages and affirms working class folks, instead of making them feel one foot tall becaues they don’t communicate the same.

Does the available training or discipling mean that the working class person needs to cross cultural barriers to take part in learning about crossing cultures or mission?

Some thoughts on solutions

This is obviously a complex issue. Empirically, there seems to be an issue, but it isn’t always easy to discern true causes. But here’s one or two things that could be done in the UK:

  • Let’s not overlook those from working class backgrounds. Disciple and equip them for works of service. Encourage and affirm them as equal children of God in His family.

  • Set up new pathways for working class people to be better equipped for gospel mission. Is the model local, priced affordably and culturally contextualised? National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) colleges also have some good models to offer; could we take the best bits, and adjust to fit our missional and Christ-centred purposes?

  • Tell the story of those being used by God. Trades, labourers, and cleaners - there’s some incredible work going on by those whose primary identity is in Christ, and who use their job for their King, reaching across barriers to share and show Jesus.

If you know some good examples or courses, let us know - we’d love to share them. And pray with us - that God would raise up many more working class people in His mission, and the church would recognise and equip them for works of service in cross cultural mission.