My experience of church is unique and rather varied. I grew up in Africa and my very first memories are the sound of the drums calling us to come, the choirs singing as we came entered the mud brick / white washed building and the sound of joy that only African voices can produce that makes your soul awaken to praise. I remember the hard wooden pews, the window of the mud brick building with no glass filled with African faces and smiling white teeth. I remember the smells of African skin in a hot humid building needing fresh air. The communion was sweet tea shared in plastic cups because grape juice and wine don’t reach the heart of Africa that well. I remember that the offering collection didn’t pass by in velvet bags and plastic buckets but came in the form of home grown veggies and squawking chickens and bleating goats and manioc bunches piled high up against the wooden pulpit. I remember the message preached loud and strong but not understanding the words of a language I had not learnt but feeling the passion of a preacher who loved Jesus. I remember a numb bottom and a growling belly while sifting through my dad’s bible filled with photos of his family back home in Australia, because toys and books were not for church.
Move on to boarding school and I went to a brethren boarding school and meetings for the boarding kids up to year 4 were held in the hall with the teachers and students and some of the local residents. We wore head coverings and meetings were solemn and quiet and the non – brethren kids hat to sit segregated from the real community if Christians. I was one of these. We were not allowed to make a sound. I don’t remember ever feeling board or constrained and it was at this school that I gave my life to Jesus. i remember that day..in the school library. I became aware of God’s presence in a context of a church where form was very different to what I knew church to be. Why do people give themselves permission to criticise a church because they prefer silence or matins or liturgy or hymns and another church has a preference for loud and exuberant. Preferences can simply be preferences or they can be the cause of divisive criticism. I found Jessu in a brethren hall that segregated their people and where my preference of music was at the time, vastly different to what was being sung.
When we moved back to Australia, I was nearly 10 and we went to a church in the heart of Brisbane . It was a large church and my memories were Sunday school where the kids left the church family and were taken into a dungeon underneath the church and I remember the culture shock of songs I had never heard, people I had never met and children who had so much they were able to wear different shoes each Sundays and a different outfit every time I saw them. For the first time in my life, I felt different. I longed for the sound of drums and choirs but I was to get used to the ‘this way ‘ of church cummunity. That was the first church where I didn’t feel like church was home and I would need to choose what attitude I wore, or Sundays were destined to be miserable. This was the church where I experienced my first funeral..my grandmother who I had only spent a few weeks of my life as she came to the end of hers. That experience of church was hard and lonely, but it didn’t last long.
My family moved to Toowoomba, in 1983, a country city where I spent the next 10 years of my life, where my dad became the assistant Pastor. This is where I experienced some if the best and some of more negative aspects of being part of a church community. I became a Pastor’s kid and was a given a front row seat to the good, the bad and the not so pretty .
I have experienced being part of church community in the country and in the city, in a large church, in a church plant and everything in between. Every church is messy and has it’s own degree of imperfections.
I have been in 11 very different church communities. Which means I have left church communities and had to join church communities. I have a wide experience of different ways of doing church. This has not been easy and my heart has not always responded well to the process or to leadership. I have not always loved the church, even though I have always loved Jesus. I have not always resolved my complaints and offences well nor have I left with my heart unoffended. I have not always considered the interests of others as I have given vent to complaint and fault finding.
I have just had the incredible. experience of attending a Colour Conference with 16 000 women in Sydney. I am not about to share the entire weekend with those reading this but I must admit one stand out for me is how much it made me love the church more. This conference in particular, always leaves me more in love with Jesus and his bride. Ps Bobbie Houston has this incredible passionate and simple ability to draw you closer to Christ and want to be a part of what God is doing across the earth. When you sit amongst that many women representing hundreds of local churches, you can help feel that you are a part of something significant and relevant. That is the first of four conferences gathering women from all over the world, equipping them, and mobilising them to shine brighter. As I ponder the things that God has done in my heart and what he will do through just my church, through Hills Church, Ferntree Gully, I am well aware that Hillsong Church cops the most flack and criticism of any church in Australia and much if this comes from the church and other Christians. You would think after 30 years that some of the, questioning , fault finding and criticism would wane but it is ever present and ugly.
‘Do all things without grumbling and faultfinding and complaining and questioning and doubting [among yourselves], That you may show yourselves to be blameless and guileless, innocent and uncontaminated, children of God without blemish (faultless, unrebukable) in the midst of a crooked and wicked generation [spiritually perverted and perverse], among whom you are seen as bright lights (stars or beacons shining out clearly) in the [dark] world,’ (Philippians 2:14, 15 AMP)
Our church, Hills church, has a purpose..to SHINE as bright lights in in the dark world. When you put each of us TOGETHER, the brightness should be a magnificent consolation of stars, uncontaminated, pure light. Paul links the most obscure reason for our light not shining as brightly as it should…..How often do we see complaining, questioning, doubting and faultfinding as the reason behind why the shine is not so shiney. Everyone of us has a responsibility to shine. When we give ourselves permission to question authority and criticise decisions, complain and grumble and find fault …we give ourselves permission to not only dim our own light but those around us.
The church has a purpose…to bring light to the darkness. If the enemy can get us focussed on grievances and annoyance with each other, with the church, if he can get us bickering! Complaining! Fault finding, hurting and offended he stops us making impact on darkness. I never want to be the cause of someone’s light dimming, creating doubt, diminishing faith and using my light to shine in the church itself instead of dispersing darkness.
When Paul writes to this church in Philippi it is a letter of passionate love for a group of people he has given his all to. He had planted it and poured his heart out for it, he had stayed in thier homes and eaten at their table. he has baptised them and disciples them. Every letter he writes is the same. He loves the church. Every church he writes to has areas that are not perfect and this one is no different. Paul doesn’t just love Jesus. He loves the church and loves all that church represents about Jesus. It was Jesus who said ‘I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’ .
I feel that Paul is asking me to love the church. With all it’s faults is my love increasing, abounding, or has my take become cynical and critical. am I willing ing to listen to other complain and fault find or will I defend her. Will. Forgive her when she offends and will choose to protect her (not blindly) but in ways that help her shine brighter? Will I speak well of her, nurture her and represent Christ to her, to guard my mouth so that others will learn how to love her and shine better. if others are happy to whine about her, how can I help them see her good? how does my love for her help others love her better?
Church is my family, every bit as much as my aunts and uncles are. What I know is that the very best parts of who I am today were nurtured along by that incredible community—by Sunday school teachers and small group leaders, youth pastors who sold themselves out to see us grow and mentors and friends who walk with me still.
I know the church is a thing. I know people write about it, rage against it, have strong opinions about it. But I’m not talking about all that. I’m talking about who she is. She is a radiant bride… She is a family. So many of us have had our fair share of hurts by her and are completely justified in our accusations, complaints, fault finding and grumbling…but somehow God still chooses to use her to shine his glory and light through.
If I could reach through the computer and take you by the hand, I’d walk you through the hallways of my journey and show you where it was that I sat with my friends and giggled through sermons. I’d show you where I got baptised with 7 of my friends who are all still walking with Jesus. I’d show you where I told a boy that I wasn’t allowed to go out with him but in my heart I thought he was the cutest thing. I’d show you the wall where my Royal Ranger leader would line us up and make us spit out our gum in her hand EVERY Friday. I would show you where I met with my youth leaders and prayed over our youth ministry and planned the crazy stuff that made me love my youth Pastors to this day. Church is where I learnt to laugh to cry and to deal with criticism. I could tell you stories of confession and redemption. I’d show you where I learned to read God’s word, where I learned to listen for his Spirit, where I gave my life to him again and again and to his purposes here on earth. I’d show you where I sat with our growing youth group and felt the joy of a church that loved Jesus. I’d show you where we would line up for the bus that would take us to rallies where I saw hundreds get saved. I woułd take you to altars where I poured out my pain and God healed my heart.
I would take you to places where my doubts became real and my faith became fragile..it would be the places where I heard someone criticise the church and criticise the pastor, fault find and grumble, it was when someone chose it play judge and critique.
It was when I saw families leave, over preferences and people criticising other churches in our community or the pastor or even our family. I have a responsibility to protect the vulnerable and weak. There are enough critiques. Why do I choose to never allow my mouth to criticise other churches …because maybe that person needs their ability to trust restored and their faith renewed.
I watched many young people walk away from God in their teens and their 20s and many of them had parents who criticised the church and it’s leaders. These kids had listened to their parents complain, grumble and criticise, question and faultfind and wonder why their kids walked away from the church… They listened to the parents and family friends criticise the church and the Pastor and the leadership, I thank God for a family who have experienced the messy of church but I never doubted the passionate love of Jesus for his bride and our responsibility to love her like he does.
I have watched men and women all my life lay down their lives for the church. Serving, loving, giving, hoping, believing, caring,
‘My church isn’t perfect. Like a family member or a sister, of course, we know each other’s faults better than anyone else. But being a sister also means you get a front row seat to the good, the beautiful, the fiercely loving and thoroughly grace-soaked best parts of it all. The view from here is breathtaking.’ Quote: Shauna Niequest…Bill Hybells.
There are many things that have defined me and pastor’s daughter and pastor are only a couple of them but it has helped me see the guts of church with all the stuff that makes it messy yet I love her more than ever.
The church is significant part of my childhood but it is also the place where I pray, sing, confess, take communion now . It’s the community that shapes me, walks with me, instructs me, holds me now.
You learn all sorts of things growing up the way I did. And one of them is this: the labels never suffice. The articles and blogs and books and outside opinions never will capture the real thing. They’ll reduce it to policy, numbers, data. They fail to capture what a church actually is: real live actual humans, showing up day after day, year after year, building something durable and lovely over time, together, with prayer and forgiveness and love.
They forget that it isn’t an institution. It’s a family. I love the church. Yes some church communities, like many families, are completely dysfunctional. I have had some incredibly painful experiences within the church but I have learnt to forgive her and love her and do my best NOT to taint others experience of church by my experience. I have learnt to let go of the things that taint my view and to make it easy for others to love the church like I do. That is a choice. I have learnt to honour her and respect her and not play judge and jury when Christ is the one who died for her and rose for her. He is able to purify her and correct her and cleanse her. He doesn’t do this in my timing and his grace in dealing with the church always amazes me. My filter for the church is always the head of the church….Jesus. I have grown up in the church and spent enough time in this family to know that she belongs to Jesus and loving Jesus for me is to love the church and to lay down my life for her. I refuse to let my mouth and my heart be used to degrade, criticise and dishonour the church in a way that will cause others to question and doubt her role or reality. If I have difficulties with her I must find someone who has the grace to help me see it and to forgive her or the individuals in her that are making me feel this way. I must find someone with wisdom and a passion for the church to help me love her again.
I so understand why people don’t love the church but I also know what obedience looks like and for me that means not allowing bitterness and spiritual arrogance to define how how do life.
Jesus chose to use the church to build his kingdom and loving the church loving Jesus. Jesus loved the church. Paul loved the church, Jesus loves the church, Timothy loved the church! Epaphroditus loved the church …do I love the church ?
Jesus help me let love abound. Help me love your church.