When I was a child I considered church normal. It wasn’t always fun, but it was normal. Most of my school friends went to church, although this changed gradually, especially when the transition to teens hit. In my late teens while undertaking block release studies at South Shields Marine College I found a church (to be honest it found me) that excited me, but to most of the other cadets on my course the whole church experience there would have been as weird (as in very strange or bizarre) as the baptisms that were carried out in the sea.
Now I struggle with weird. I don’t consider Jesus’ behaviour to be weird so why should the church be weird? Jesus was radical, as was the early church. Jesus challenged and changed people and things, but I would not describe Jesus as weird. So why on earth does the modern church seem to specialise in weird? Does weird build or win disciples? Or does our kind of weird exist merely to satisfy what we want from church? If so, we have created a consumer church to match our consumer society. The problem is that a consumer church has no connection with our consumer society because being a consumer is all about us and what we want.
When I read about the early church I see an active living growing body in which each member considered other members above themselves. These people shared and they cared in a way that was different, but not weird. The witness of the lives of those first followers of Jesus became life-changing for folk around them. I don’t see too much of that in the modern church and it troubles me.
I don’t have any easy answers, but I have been reading about the revival in the Hebrides that took place between 1949 and 1952. Picture if you can two elderly sisters prostrate on the floor of their simple cottage several nights a week pleading the words of Isaiah 44:3 with God because of their burden for the youth of their islands. These were nights rather than moments of prayer. I can imagine that for the most part words were not necessary because of the burden the sisters carried in their hearts. Then some weeks later as others prayed in a barn into the early hours of the morning a young man simply asked God if he had clean hands and a pure heart. That young man sunk to the floor as the presence of God entered into that place. In the weeks and months that followed whole communities were transformed not because of the church, which had ceased to be relevant particularly to the young of the Hebrides, but because of the transforming power of God evident in the lives of those God had already touched.
Could it be that when we meet behind the closed doors of our churches on a Sunday morning we are shutting God outside as we get on with doing church the way that we want to? It doesn’t matter whether it is traditional church or what is often described as charismatic church or any form of church between the two extremes. If God were to be found inside the building then surely people would be drawn there as they were in the Hebrides?
Perhaps the weirdest things about church in general are the lack of interest in revival and our inability to understand that prayer should not be about our needs as consumers but driven by a burden for the lost that is so great that we find ourselves spending hours on our knees before God. Surely a burden like that would change us too?
For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. (Isaiah 44:3 NIV)