In this fourth and final session we look to the future to solutions to the issue of invisible divides. How can we develop a Church community where diversity is valued.
Thomas William Medhurst grew up on the mean streets of Bermondsey, south London, in the mid-nineteenth century. His schooling was rudimentary at best, but formal education wasn’t really relevant to his work as a rope-maker’s apprentice. Medhurst’s neighbours would have known his trade without having to ask him: rope-makers always carried with them the distinctive smell of the tar that they used to waterproof the heavy hemp ropes they made.
Medhurst’s lack of education didn’t stop him writing to Charles
Spurgeon after hearing him preach, anxiously asking, ‘How am I to
find Jesus? How am I to know that He died for me?’
In Spurgeon’s written response, he concluded by saying, ‘There is the cross, and a bleeding God-man upon it; look to Him and be saved!’
Medhurst did just that! He ‘looked to Christ’ and was soundly saved. Almost immediately he began preaching on the streets surrounding the New Street Chapel in Southwark. He was brimming with gospel passion, but some of the church members who heard him preach did not approve. They were outraged at what they called his ‘want of education’ and that his standard of spoken English left something to be desired. They complained to Mr Spurgeon himself. ‘Medhurst should be stopped!’ they raged.
When Spurgeon met with the young preacher to discuss their complaints against him, Medhurst’s response was definite and sharp: ‘I must preach . . . and I shall preach unless you cut off my ’ead!’ Spurgeon was suitably impressed, and it was agreed that decapitation wasn’t necessary!
Soon, people were being converted and joining the church through that young man’s street preaching. Spurgeon took notice and told Medhurst he believed God was calling him to be a preacher and a pastor. The logical next step would be for Medhurst to go to Bible college. However, just like many people today, Medhurst was not seen as suitable ministry material. And there were additional problems. Colleges were expensive, and they assumed that their students would already have achieved a good standard of formal education. On both counts the rough young street preacher would
struggle. Spurgeon, however, had faith in him. He would train him himself.
Tommy Medhurst didn’t stay preaching on the streets of Southwark. His ministry matured and he went on to pastor churches in London, Coleraine in Ireland, Glasgow and Portsmouth. During his ministry, the apprentice rope-maker from Bermondsey, whose standard of spoken English had so shocked the members of his first church, had personally baptized almost 1,000 converts.
To look to solutions and the future perhaps we should consider the style and format in which we conduct our Sunday meetings. Things to consider are the service, worship, communication, and the content. Are these elements inclusive for all who are participating? Do they encourage a diverse community to come together to be united? In the sermon, as an example, are we encouraging and including everyone with the anecdotes being used? Are they relevant to all the people in the room. Beyond illustrations there are aspects of communication that require some thinking and awareness. The goal is not a Church of clones but rather a Church where diversity is valued.
Jesus’ original disciples were a diverse group – there were fishermen, women, a tax collector, and a religious zealot but they were all united in their goals and in Christ. What unites us now as Christians is, that knowledge, that once we were lost, but now, we are found and there is a place around the table for us. We are one in Christ. Let’s be humble when it comes to our Church communities, thinking of others over ourselves. This is the radical discipleship Jesus himself modelled when he walked the earth.
In terms of leadership, social class, status, higher education qualifications are not pre-requisites for becoming a spiritual leader. Peter, the unschooled, ordinary man, would perhaps today not be considered a candidate for church leadership.
The Case Study, in the book, on Tommy Medhurst features an apprentice rope maker who contacted Spurgeon, after hearing him preach, to ask what he need do to be saved. Spurgeon urged Medhurst to surrender his life to Christ – which he did. Medhurst went on to preach the gospel on the streets, even with a rudimentary education. The members of his church were outraged and urged Spurgeon to stop him! Medhurst responded proposing that to stop him they would have to cut off his head – he did not stop; he was passionate about the cross and went on to preach the good news up and down the country. Would we let an apprentice rope maker become a leader in our churches today?