How Kevin Bridges and Peter Kay can teach us to preach to the working class!
By Ian Williamson, 12 Jul 2017
When I started my theological training with the Yorkshire School of Christian Ministry, I felt like a fish out of water and after the first day I was ready to give up and go home. I come from an unchurched background and the majority of students there had been raised in the church and where already involved in ministry and preaching. I’m not academic yet the other students where all degree educated and some where from Oxford and Cambridge. All had a good grasp of reformed theology and my only previous theological training was reading Everyday with Jesus. Everyone there seemed to be wearing a fleece and corduroys I was wearing my gym gear from the local MMA gym.
I stood out like a sore thumb, socially, physically and intellectually, I was a cultural outsider and I was out of my comfort zone. Fortunately I persevered with it (as they did with me) and I learnt a lot and made many friends. A couple of years into the course after I had preached for an exam, I remember my tutor warning me not to lose my personality amongst my new found knowledge. He said we can teach good theology but what we cant teach is passion. I didn't really understand what he meant until a year or two later.
One night after preaching what I thought was a banging sermon, I asked my wife what she had thought and she just looked at me and said:
“I didn't have a clue what you where going on about, I didn't understand a word you said, you spoke like a boffin and you've also started dressing like one too!
Now I understood what Stephen had meant when he warned me about losing my personality, I had not only learnt good theology but I had learned how to be middle class. Over time I had assimilated to and aspired to be like the middle class men I was learning from and with. This meant that I had stopped looking like and communicating like the people I was trying to reach, I had swapped my missionary power so that I could be like the people I was learning from rather than the person I am, working class.
The working class love a good story, wether they are listening to one or telling one, men sat in the pub sharing about some drama that happened the week before, the women in the hairdressers or the school gate. The best stories are the ones told by people like us, by people that can relate to us. The best stories also feature people like us, doing things that we do in places that we recognise. Thats why comedians like Kevin Bridges and Peter Kay go down a storm, their audience relate to them and trust them because they talk about what the audience understand, because their act is based on their lives and the world that they share with the audience.
The thing is, as preachers we don't just have a good story to share, we have the best story and we need to be teaching our preachers more than how to exegete that story, we need to be teaching them how to communicate it in a way that has the audience knowing that the message is meant for them and for the world that they are living in. If we continue to teach preachers how to preach in the generic white, middle class, academic style we will continue to produce preachers and churches ill equiped at reaching out to any culture but their own, whilst aiding the removal of the missionary power of the indigenous preacher.
We need to be teaching the indigenous preacher how to exegete the text well and then transfer that biblical knowledge into a preaching/story telling style with contextualised illustrations and applications, that are natural to him and his audience. This will help open up the bible in a way that can not only be understood by the hearer but be also applied to the world that they are living.
This doesn't mean that cultural outsiders can't preach well in a different context, but what it does mean is that they may have to unlearn some of what they have been taught and they will definitely have to start to live in the world that they are trying to reach.
When Kevin bridges talks about getting a Chinese take away with Hoose Rice or how he didnt realise there was a financial crisis until the makers of Space Raider crisps put the price up by 5p his audience erupts with laughter. The reason it gets such a laugh is because the audience get it, it applies to their life, they can relate to it and Kevin Bridges knows that. How does he know that? Because he is one of them, he knows them and understands them and if we want to reach a people group who are different to us we need to understand their world and culture. The best way to do that is by living amongst and learning from the culture you want to reach.
If you are a cultural insider or outsider and are interested in developing your preaching, especially with the working class there are a number of training opportuinites within urban churches such as: