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Hard Places

If you were planning to be an overseas missionary you would spend time learning about the culture you were going to. But what about reaching “hard places” in Great Britain? Phil Topham’s been finding out about a conference in Middlesbrough designed to equip workers who want to minister on tough housing estates.

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New Life in Middlesbrough is an FIEC church reaching a tough part of north-east England with the gospel.

Their passion is to see more churches established in “hard places” like theirs; on urban estates and amongst the poorest communities in Britain where the social need is greatest.

Ian Williamson pastors New Life Church and they are hosting a two-day conference called Church in Hard Places in May. It will give workers a taste of this ministry and offer training and wisdom to those ministering in hard places or those who feel called to reach these areas.

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It will include a variety of topics as well as a question and answer session with experienced workers who are involved in this ministry. Ian said:

“We’ll begin by explaining a bit about how we set up New Life Church and some of the struggles we experienced as well as outlining the advantage of being part of the Church in Hard Places network for help and support.

Then we will spend some time thinking about the gospel, the church and evangelism, as well as diversity and things like reaching men on housing estates. We’ll look at how we apply the gospel in hard places and how we make sure we’re not judgmental when we present the message.”

A wider network

The conference will take time to consider the culture on housing estates before some of the members of 20schemes in Scotland join Ian for a question and answer session.

20schemes exists to build gospel-centred churches for Scotland’s poorest communities. Director Mez McConnell will be leading the conference along with other 20schemes workers Andy Constable and Andy Prime. The Church in Hard Places network offers similar help and support to those ministering amongst the poor in other parts of the world.

Mez, Andy & Andy

For Ian, this support has been vital – especially as planting a church in a hard place like Middlesbrough felt so isolating. He says the conference will show the benefit of belonging to a wider network of churches working in a similar context, as well as helping delegates to understand some of the complexities of ministering in a hard place. He added:

“Some people fail to realise how difficult it is; the time and effort that it takes to build a ministry in hard places. I’m from Middlesbrough but it took me three or four years to build trust with this community.

We also need to be prepared to fail. Failure in the traditional sense is not failure on a housing estate. We see numbers rise and numbers fall, but all this builds a foundation in our community. So the weekender is designed to highlight the support and training available to those looking to lead churches in hard places. If you were going to minister to Columbia you would first need to learn Spanish and get to know the Columbian culture. It’s the same with ministry in hard places.

The best way to reach a culture is by learning from and working with people from that culture; this conference is the first step in doing that.”

The Church in Hard Places conference takes place on 19-20 May at New Life Church, Middlesbrough and costs just £15.00 – plus your accommodation. You also have the option to stay on the Saturday evening to join the team for worship at New Life on Sunday morning. Find out more.

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Phil Topham - FIEC Head of Communication

Phil looks after FIEC's internal and external communication. He is married to Kath and they live near Market Harborough and attend Christ Church in the town.