Cartoon by ASBO Jesus
I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between church now and church when I was a kid. From 84′ to 98’ish I attended a small rural town Baptist Church. It didn’t have a worship band, the sermons were often long and over my head, the prayers could go on for hours, the pews were devices formally used for torturing confessions out of POWs and the outdoor toilet block was more minging than a League Two football club’s. We didn’t have a paid youth worker, but there was something, something that looking back I can only describe as community. Most of my memories from that age are of church or home life, it’s not that I had a bad time at school, but more that it is insignificant compared to the time spent at home and church. Church is where I learnt to talk to adults as well as peers, where I got part time jobs on the local farms, where any adult was free to input in to my life and where they frequently did. It was the place that supported me financially to go on Christian camps and eventually my two year outs. People committed to the local church, youth and children’s work had plenty and varied volunteers, we had parties on the farms on bonfire night. Dad would almost always go to both services and, once we were of age, encourage us to do the same. I got baptised at the age of 12 with five other young people in a spate of around 18 baptisms over a few months. Aged 18 it was where I delivered my first preach. It was a place where literally everyone knew my name.
Church now feels different, we have great bands, engaging sermons, and clean loos, but we struggle for volunteers to run programs for our children and youth. I know the whole world has got busier, but it does seem there has been a cultural shift in mindset too. People seem to push the church into second place behind other priorities. Now I’m not saying these aren’t totally reasonable priorities, but I can’t deny that I don’t feel as much of a community now as I did then, that I don’t feel as much part of a family.
There’s a passage in Exodus where people are helping build the sanctuary, it ends with Moses having to turn people away because they are offering too much. Too much help, too much money, too much food, too many offerings. They have to ban people from giving this stuff! Can you imagine a church like that? I think I read about one once in a little book called Acts, but I don’t know that I have ever seen one. I do know I’d be knocking the door down if I did. A church where new ministries were set up because there were too many volunteers for the existing ones, where a bring and share lunch resulted in the left overs being used to benefit those who were hungry, where the treasurer came out of their counting room declaring that too much money had been put in the offering and we have to quickly decide who to bless with the excess. A church where prayers are answered by God, simply so he can get some peace from the sheer volume and noise of the requests!
Please understand I believe in the church, I’m not a church basher. But I do believe that the church could be better. My local church is starting to get to grip with these ideas and it’s an exciting time. Maybe it’s time we went to church asking what we can give not what we can get?