Natalie Williams and Paul Brown – Invisible Divides: Class, culture and barriers to the church
ISBN 978 0 281 08520 0
When I spoke to Natalie and Paul about the book they described how it came into being. Natalie was talking to a publisher concerning the book: We Need to Talk about Race by Ben Lindsey, saying that we need a similar book about class. A conversation with Paul when he was a visiting preacher at her church led to him being a co-author of the book.
Why is the church in a muddle about class?
This book seeks to identify and expose out blind spots concerning class. Of course, the problem with blind spots, is that we can’t see them, unless someone points them out to us. Invisible Divides seeks to do that. It helpfully explores how approaches to money, time and planning can be very different for people in different social groups. Churches tend to talk a lot about money, run to a timetable and plan ahead. That is not the way that everybody does life.
Three areas that are addressed in the book are leadership, discipleship and preaching.
Natalie spoke about the danger of having a cookie cutter image of leadership.
On Leadership, the authors ask: “Maybe we should also ask ourselves: would I be as confident in my church leader if his background was as a factory worker or a bricklayer, not a banker or a schoolteacher?”
Paul spoke about how churches may need to change their expectations about who can become church leaders. He also suggested that the way that such leaders are developed may need to change by adopting an apprenticeship style of training.
“Take risks with people – people took risks with me. I had not been involved in secular leadership. We don’t use the usual metrics, which often include a high level of formal education, and give people the opportunity to do things and not feel a failure when they fail.”
On Discipleship: I was interested to read the following comment: “It is common to see people from poorer backgrounds – people like me – saved and baptized, but not ‘added’ (see Acts 2.47)” Natalie said that when she became a Christian, she struggled to fit in, and that this struggle has not entirely disappeared. She explains that: “It takes time to make disciples. In our quick-fix, instant-fame, microwave society we can so easily see sanctification as something that should happen overnight in those we are discipling, while forgetting that it’s an ongoing process of God’s work in us … We are all works in progress.”
On Preaching: Paul said that we need to be thinking about the illustrations that are used in preaching, so that they will land well for all types of people. Paul suggested that there is a lot to learn from stand-up comedians, who have an ability to connect with an audience by the use of universal language and observational storytelling.
“The key question is not whether or not it is important to speak about differences, but how we will do so in a way that equips and empowers our congregations to cross the invisible divides that they might otherwise have no idea about.”
Reading this book made me think, smile, laugh and cry. Natalie and Paul write with awareness, clarity and compassion. Read Invisible Divides praying to see the divides and do something to demolish them.
John Woods is a writer and Bible teacher based in West Sussex. He is Director of Training at the School of Preachers in Riga, Latvia.