We’ve all been appalled by the news footage of looting and theft in London and other cities in the UK.
We’ve seen cars burning, shops being broken into, buildings on fire, violence. We’ve seen who are doing these things – largely young people who clearly don’t have an internal restraint.
Groups of hundreds have been moving up and down local high streets, smashing windows and stealing whatever they can.
Obviously pastors and elders all across London will be evaluating both the measure of their impact amongst young people as well as what they could or should be doing in the future.
Many churches have worked hard to create respectful, relevant community engagement. Kings Church, Catford and Jubilee Church Enfield (both in boroughs where looting took place) are just two examples of vibrant, growing, multi-racial churches with strong youth groups. So this post is not intended to be a corrective to those churches who are making a difference. See here for a statement by Tope Koleoso, Pastor at Jubilee, Enfield.
Some may be questioning whether a concert-and-motivational-talk type of ministry is really penetrating London’s population – and whether a far more robust ministry both on Sundays and in the midst of the communities is now more obviously necessary. Time to serve.
And it seems that as the British media, and the culture generally, has pushed evangelical Christianity into a corner, and as the church has submitted to this marginal role in modern British life, something of a beast has been growing in its place – and we’re seeing something of the fruit of that in the behaviour of the young people involved in these looting sprees. Why would we expect a Christian ethic to be in place when we’ve repeatedly displaced the Christian message?
[Added later]: Former London Mayor, Ken Livingstone was interviewed on Sky News (evening, August 9th) and, comparing the mischief his contemporaries got up to as youngsters, said: ‘Something’s changed in the last thirty years. We’ve got to find out what it is, and then tackle it!’ (Sky News Live Broadcast)
No God – no authority
The logic seems to be: ‘If there’s no God, there’s no ultimate authority, there’s no real basis for any other form of authority – therefore, we can take the moment and go for it! Why not?’
So how has the church actually grappled with these issues in the past? One obvious example that comes to mind sprang up in London itself – through William and Catherine Booth and the movement of unashamed evangelism they created: The Salvation Army.
Your view of the Salvation Army today may be of something that is very tame – closer to the St John’s Ambulance volunteers than the SAS.
A Return to Unashamed Evangelism and Social Engagement
I want to suggest that church leaders and believers looking on at this problem today could do well to learn from the London-based Salvation Army of yesterday.
They were crystal clear on preaching the gospel, not just from ‘the pulpit’ but actually in the communities they were reaching, and their ranks were filled with self-sacrificing Christians who were determined to meet the needs of the disenfranchised and marginalised. Many of the early full time officers were younger than 23.
So, I hope you’ll excuse me by putting a link here to a pretty thorough overview of their early methods and successes. It is based on years of research and is a message I brought at a Newfrontiers conference in the UK, in 2010.
My hope is that as you hear what the Booths and others did, the Holy Spirit will strengthen your resolve to actually make a difference in our cities. If you want to skip past Booth’s formative years, jump in at around 20 minutes.
Here’s the message: The Salvation Army – lessons for us
Click on the image below to see a fascinating video about what led Gavin McKenna out of gang life and into helping troubled teenagers:
© 2011 Lex Loizides / Church History