Editors commentary: Stay-at-home mothers

Ann was half-watching the BBC evening news recently while working on the Telegraph crossword. Suddenly one of our church mums appeared on the screen. Ann sat up. Then a text beeped in from a daughter-in-law: ‘Was that Jo I just saw on the news?’
The item concerned the government’s new scheme giving families up to £1,200 a year to help with child care, but only for working single parents or where both parents are at work. A study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development had also revealed that traditional families where one partner stays at home to look after the children pay proportionately more tax than other people.
How had Jo turned up on the BBC news? Having read about the government’s child care proposal, her husband Steve had sent a comment to the BBC website to the effect that surely a child’s own parents make the best carers for their children. The BBC phoned him. Could they talk to his wife? Hence the cameras arrived.

Fair reporting?
The crew took shots of Jo with her youngest child, the reporter then asked her many questions. The interview went on for about seven or eight minutes. Jo said a lot about why she had decided it was best not to be in work but to be at home for the children. But it was obvious that the reporter was not really interested. They were fishing for something. ‘I had the feeling that there was an agenda that had been planned at the BBC in London before they ever came down to see me’, said Jo later. And, lo and behold, the short clip which appeared on the TV news was an edited half of a sentence which gave the incorrect impression that Jo’s issue was that the government was not helping her financially. There was nothing about why parents might make the best child carers.

Best for children?
The matter of child care is a difficult area. Because of the way the economics of family life is in broke-bank Britain these days, many mothers have to go to work even though they would rather not. Let’s not rush to judge each other.
However, we need to take Steve and Jo’s point. Though the government likes to give the impression that child care is fine, some experts think otherwise. In his book Affluenza1, the clinical child psychologist Oliver James has written: ‘The most reliable review (of the evidence) concluded that 41% of babies or toddlers cared for by someone other than their mother (or father) for more than 20 hours a week are insecure, whereas this is true of 26% of children cared for exclusively by mothers. Further evidence has consistently revealed higher levels of aggression and hyper-activity in day-cared children, still evident at the age of seven’. When the sister of Moses was asked by Pharaoh’s daughter to find a nurse for the baby she thought it best to run straight to mum to do the job (Exodus 2.8).
The bottom line is that our government is simply playing financial percentages. The Chancellor knows he gets nothing for the Treasury from stay-at-home mums, and that he is likely to get far more than £1,200 annually from what a working mother plus her working child carer will pay in taxes.
Meanwhile, from her brief 30 seconds of fame, Jo has had lots of opportunities as people have wanted to chat to her. But she has banned Steve from the BBC website!

1. Affluenza by Oliver James, Vermillion, 2007.

John Benton

This article was first published in the May 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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What’s coming up in the May issue of EN

May2013 highlightsA few highlights to look forward to in the May issue of EN! It’s scheduled to arrive from the printers on Friday April 26). Of course you can always e-mail subs@e-n.org.uk as well if you’d like a complimentary copy or if you’d like to subscribe!

Who are all these people?

Who are all the peopleAs Britain’s population is changing, what are the implications for the ministry of our churches?

According to the 2011 census, published in December, the population of England and Wales was 56.1 million, the UK total being around 63 million.

Other sources expect that roughly two million will be added to the population of England each five years up to 2031. But who are these people? Who will make up our congregations in coming years? Who will be the people we are to evangelise for Christ?

Elderly people

The number of people aged 65 and over in the population has increased by 14.4% since 2001. One in six people are of retirement age. Numbers of elderly people are set to grow even more because the post-war baby boomers are about to enter retirement age. Other sources say, the numbers aged 85 plus will grow as well, almost entirely due to reductions in mortality.

This provides us with a number of pastoral challenges. We will need to grow ministry to older people. With more families caring for elderly relatives, we will need to care for the carers. With the breakdown of family life in society generally, will churches be involved in providing care to the elderly in the neighbourhood? Churches may need to look to have ‘age workers’ as well as ‘youth workers’.

Alongside this, we may well see an increase in the numbers of active, healthy and able people in the church who have retired. Yes, many will be involved in looking after grandchildren and aging parents, but others may wish to be useful to the church. How can we train and release these folk into some kind of ministry (Titus 2.14; 3.8)?

Immigrant people

International migration has been much higher in the last ten years than in the previous decade. The 2011 census found that seven and a half million people living in England and Wales were born outside Britain, an increase from 4.6 million a decade earlier. White British people are now a minority in London. Migrant inflow is dominated, currently, by those coming to study. Some migrants have a Christian background. Many other migrants are from other faiths. Often people from overseas seem far more open to the gospel than indigenous Anglo-Saxons. Pastorally, this means that there are increased opportunities for friendship and evangelism towards internationals.

Three million people live in households where no adult speaks English as their first language. We need to recognise and use the folk in our congregations who are able to speak foreign languages — often Spanish, French, Arabic or Polish are very helpful. Migrants can be helped by the church running an ‘English conversation’ group which aids their knowledge of English and perhaps can help them more generally with filling in forms and being alongside them in the ups and downs of immigrant life — dealing with landlords, employers, etc. Can we use Christianity Explored in its simpler English format?

Young people

The birth rate increased in 2008, but by 2011 had fallen back slightly. It seems that much of that increased birth rate is among people from overseas. Many migrants have tended to keep to the traditional structure of the family with husband working and wives at home with the children. They tend towards larger families. Of the population more generally, one in three children lives with a single parent or step-parent.

The white indigenous population has shied away from marriage and, if they are married, often both husband and wife work and have smaller numbers of children. How this will affect our traditional ‘youth works’ is yet to be seen. If, for example, the bulk of young people in future are from a Muslim background, how accessible will they be to the churches? The facts are that child populations are expected to grow fastest in cities (in particular, Nottingham, Leicester, Manchester and London).

Single people

In 2011, a quarter of people living in England and Wales were single (in some way — never married, divorced, widowed). This amounts to 11 million people and reflects the growing number choosing not to marry. In church the estimate is that there are three single women to every one single male.

This is a time bomb for the churches, because, whatever your take is on single folk, most single people feel at best awkward and at worst unwanted in church. Singles believe church is aimed at families and they don’t fit. Many leave the church due to this. But, if trends continue, the future is much more single than married.

In a recent survey on the dating site Christian Connection, 80% said that their church did not put on anything for single people, or did not recognise them or affirm them. 46% said that their church leaders’ advice was unhelpful, unrealistic, impersonal or simply lacking.

A friend who runs a singles group says candidly that singles are very sensitive and often over-react, as they feel marginalised. About two-thirds of single people would prefer to be in a relationship.

Let me lift the lid a little on the singles’ world. Those who have never been married tend to grieve or be angry that God has not answered their prayers and provided a spouse and children. This is not recognised in most churches. Many singles feel worthless because they are not in a relationship or have a family. They are rarely in church leadership. Singles may have personal issues, problems, which make them awkward and not ready for a relationship. Divorcees frequently carry guilt over the break-up of marriage. Single parents shoulder huge burdens of raising a family alone. Widowed people often idolise their deceased partner and find it hard to accept anyone else. Most singles feel isolated and lonely. Singleness is on the increase and is not something churches can afford to leave on the sidelines any more.

Poorer people

In future, we are likely to be less well off. The current recession and accompanying austerity will be very difficult to climb out of and is expected to continue until 2018. We are likely to see many more redundant people in our congregations who need our help. Without work people tend to feel worthless and can fall into depressive or dependent life styles.

With the economic uncertainties, there will be more couples where both work to fund housing and family life. The 2011 census indicated that the number of people in private, rented accommodation has almost doubled, while homeowners with mortgages fell significantly. This may also go along with greater mobility, as people move more frequently to get work. Will this mean it will be harder to retain younger and middle-aged people in a local church and give stability to the work? During the recession of the 1980s, one pastor said it was like preaching to a procession rather than a congregation.

Religious people

Between 2001 and 2011, the number of people identifying themselves as Christian fell from 71.7% to 59.3%. Meanwhile, those who say they have no religion increased from 14.8% to 25.1%. The number of Muslims increased from 3% to 4.8%.

Tweeters, bloggers, etc.

Our times have seen the dawn of the Information Technology age. With websites and emails and Twitter and podcasts and Facebook, there is lots more information available and the people of a church are and seemingly will be exposed to many more ‘voices’ and opinions than ever before.

One result is that our people have access to a lot more ‘Christian’ resources. To put it bluntly, they might listen to their pastor perhaps twice a week. But they may well be listening to five or six of John Piper’s sermons on podcast each week. Well, praise the Lord for that. But who is their pastor? If their pastor is not up to JP’s standard, how well do they listen to him?

And what happens when it’s not John Piper they are listening to, but some cowboy on ‘the God Channel’? How do church leaderships get to grips with this? There’s a lot of good teaching out there, but also a lot of false teaching. How do leaderships guard their people?

Many things remain the same in church life, but here are some changes to consider as we face the future at the beginning of a new year.

John Benton
Chertsey Street Baptist Church, Guildford, Surrey


(This article was first published in the January 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057)

Finding faithful elders and deacons (book review)


FINDING FAITHFUL ELDERS AND DEACONS Finding faithful elders and deacons
By Thabiti Anyabwile
Crossway. 173 pages. £6.99
ISBN 978 1 433 529 924

Many large troubles in denominations and individual churches find their origins in bad or inadequate leadership.

This book from the 9Marks stable is a manual based on Paul’s teaching to Titus and Timothy of what to look for in those we are considering for leadership.

Congregational government and that the only two offices in the New Testament local churches are those of elder and deacon are rightly assumed. The teaching is extremely practical. If you are thinking of appointing leaders, you must read this book. It gives you the questions to ask.

John Benton
Chertsey Street Baptist Church, Guildford


This article was first published in the January 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057


Churches and charitable status

The church and charitable statusMuch ink has been spilled recently over the decision by the Charity Commission to deny the Plymouth Brethren charitable status in respect of one of its gospel halls in Devon (the Preston Down Trust).

The church trust, a member of the Exclusive Brethren, was refused charitable status on the basis that it failed to demonstrate that it provided a genuine public benefit.

A storm of opposition has swelled in some quarters in response to the decision reached by the Charity Commission. On November 13, a heated debate took place in Westminster, leading some MPs to call for an inquiry into the Charity Commission’s interpretation of the law and its handling of the much debated public benefit test.

Some Christians have also commented that the Commission’s decision to deny charitable status to a long established church organisation is a sign of the increasing secularisation of society and reflects how far the country has drifted from its Christian moorings.

But what are the ramifications of the Charity Commission’s recent decision for the wider church?

The law

From 1891, and even from as far back at 1601, particular types of charities, such as ones that advanced religion and education or relieved poverty, were presumed as being of public benefit.

The Charities Act 2006 brought about a paradigm shift in how public benefit is assessed. The presumption that certain charities satisfy the test by their very nature has now gone. The Charity Commission asserts that the new Act imposes a duty on all charities to demonstrate, explicitly, that their aims are for the public benefit. Churches, including the Exclusive Brethren, are no exception to this rule.

The public benefit test

The 2006 Act has led to greater scrutiny by the Charity Commission of charities seeking charitable status. In so doing it has been argued that the Commission is going beyond its role as a regulator by imposing an unnecessarily high public benefit threshold on charities seeking registration. Of even greater concern has been the dispute as to whether the Commission is, in fact, wrongly interpreting the law in relation to the new public benefit test.

The issue at the heart of the Commission’s decision in the Preston Down application was the extent to which organisations and, in particular, churches like the Preston Down Trust should be accessible to the public so that they meet the public benefit test. The Commission’s decision in this case was that the church’s restrictions on who could attend worship and the limited extent to which the church was open to the public meant that they were not providing a public benefit.


But is the Charity Commission correct in interpreting the public benefit test in this way and, if so, is this a problem for the wider church?

Many practitioners and commentators in the charity sector consider that the Commission has set the bar far too high when considering whether charities meet the public benefit test. The Commission appears to be seeking more evidence to satisfy the public benefit test than is required by the law.

However, it is important to note that the Commission has not just adopted this approach to applications by Christian groups and churches. Applications by non-religious charities, such as community centres and art galleries, are also finding their applications questioned for failing to meet the public benefit test.

While noting that the bar is currently being set too high, it is important that all charities, secular and Christian, applying for registration are subject to proper scrutiny. Charitable status carries the benefit of tax breaks and Gift Aid. If a charity is to receive such benefits from the public purse to aid its public service, it can only be right that the charity uses such privileges to give back to society.

One can understand the Commission’s stance that, to receive public benefits, a charity must provide a public benefit. The public benefit test (properly applied) should serve to screen applications from charities whose aims may not be for the good of society.

The current approach of the Commission and its demands that applicants demonstrate a high level of public benefit raise important questions for evangelical Christians.

The Charity Commission’s approach is a reminder of how important it is for the church to fulfil its mission in accordance with the principles of 1 Peter 2.12. The publicity sparked by the Preston Down case gives all churches and Christian organisations the opportunity to reflect on how they are practically living out their faith in worship and service.

Like many public bodies, the Charity Commission has not been immune to the government’s austerity programme. Figures suggest the Commission has had its annual budget slashed by up to a third. In years gone by the Commission registered charities with less scrutiny and then continued to monitor new charities to ensure they met the public benefit. While such an approach was beneficial, it was expensive and heavy in staff labour. A shift towards greater regulation at the time a charity applies for registration rather than providing continued input later on may simply be the only way the Commission can operate within its budget.

Practical solutions

What can a Christian group or church do to ensure it meets the raised public benefit hurdle in an application for charitable status?

1. Do not assume necessarily that the Charity Commission understands what a church or Christian group does. In my experience of helping Christian organisations apply for charitable status, it has been necessary to spell out what happens at services and activities which go on each week. This process demonstrates to the Commission how the church is meeting the public benefit test by acting in accordance with its objects.

2. Conduct an ‘audit’ of the church’s activities. Churches and Christian groups, like all charitable bodies, should be accountable. To be good stewards of the benefits received by obtaining charitable status, an ‘audit’ of what the church does in engaging the public can be useful. Considering the church’s activities enables it to assess how it is welcoming its visitors to its services and identifies where it can be serving them.

3. However, it is important that Christian groups avoid the danger of simply listing their practical activities to obtain the approval of the Charity Commission. I would advise Christian organisations to make clear in their application that the public genuinely benefits from Christian worship and teaching. While this is something that has always been recognised as a public benefit in law, it is now often met with misunderstanding or confusion by the Commission. In my experience, the approach of the Charity Commission can, sadly, reflect the secular view that the Christian faith is not inherently for the public benefit. This is all the more reason for Christians to stand firm and maintain the principle that the heart of the Christian faith is above all else for the lasting good of the public.

Ben Bourne helps Christian groups and churches obtain charitable status and is a charity and employment solicitor at Ellis-Fermor & Negus Solicitors (http://www.ellis-fermor.co.uk).

(This article was first published in the January 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057)