As you know, I recently wrote a post about the reasons why I have stopped attending and being a part of my local church. It has recently come to my attention that there are some members of that church who strongly disapprove of me having written that piece. They accuse me of having written it in condemnation of others and with a judgemental attitude. Ironically, by claiming such things they in turn sit in judgement of me, who I am and what I believe, but I guess it is easier to disguise that same judgemental attitude when one is the loyal member of a church and automatically feels that just by belonging to it they are spiritually more qualified, apt or anointed for such a task. It takes guts to denounce another person’s perceived errors when we know we have an institution or body cushioning the blows that we may receive as a result. It takes a different kind of courage to expose to others what one believes to be wrong, if you are standing alone. It is no wonder or surprise that the prophets spoken about in the Bible who were revolutionary, radical, “out of the box”, odd individuals claiming to have heard from God were ostracised from society, persecuted and disliked for their ability to challenge authority and those in power with crazy claims and warnings of impending judgement from God himself. Their intent in sharing such claims and warnings however was sorely misunderstood, for it was never to bring condemnation or discouragement to others, but simply a final attempt to extend the hand of God to a people who were losing their way. Often the sense of condemnation erupting from deep within them came, because though they disliked what they heard from the prophets, in their heart they already knew the truth, but it was easier to shoot the messenger than to look deep within and discover the ugliness lurking beneath in the dark places away from the limelight and the rewards of performing on demand, of public approval and recognition.
I would like to continue by saying that I am sorry if anyone who read that post felt hurt or personally attacked. Indeed, I made it my job to not refer to any individual in particular but to my local church as a whole, because my experience and observations are not about specific individuals but about a local church, a body of believers who represent Christ in a particular community. Inflicting pain on others was never my intention and if you have known me for a while, you will also know that exposing others’ shortcomings and hurting them in the process is not what drives me, makes me tick or gets me out of bed in the morning. It is simply not who I am. It is a much deeper force within me that leads me to write in such a passionate manner and with such conviction. The writing of that particular post stemmed from an introspective, self-searching and explanatory longing. People have been commenting and drawing conclusions behind my back about my absence from church, and I felt it was my right to set the record straight and put all rumours to sleep. The purpose of that message was not to fill others with condemnation, but to expose myself to scrutiny by admitting that it is ME who for all these years has been part of something which falls way too short of the impact a local church should have in and outside its community. I am one of those people for whom authenticity and consistency are the bench mark. If I am part of something which claims to be acting as the hands and feet of Jesus in the world today, and instead at its core are selfish motives, self-preservation, private agendas, my own gratification and promotion and loving and caring for those who love and care for me, there comes a point when I look in the mirror and I feel sick at what I see and at the gap between the claims I am making and the reality I am living. I may have been fooling others with my spiritual and prayerful demeanour, but I still have to get up every morning look in that mirror, look up to the Heavens and admit that Jesus has a clear calling and purpose for His Church, and whatever it is that I have been doing whilst being part of my local church is not it. Writing that post for me was like looking in the mirror for one final time before true change could begin. For many our local church is very much where they feel called to be and I respect that. After all, we are only responsible for our own decisions and choices. There are also a few members of my local church who have been used by God in wonderful and inspiring ways to bring the love of Jesus to the orphans, the lost, the broken-hearted, and I am in awe of such individuals and their ability to keep their focus on the one thing which is important. But there are also many who choose to live in denial, to continue as they are, to try and patch up the wounds incessantly, cover up the deficiencies in whichever manner, shape or form, in order to avoid applying a change which is radical enough to bring new life into such a Body. They may be happy to continue re-inventing the wheel by creating new names, titles, ministries and vision, but in the end transformation by the Spirit of the Lord will not be conducive, until we are prepared to sacrifice everything that has been built in our own strength; until we strip it all away and we get back to basics; until we find the answer to some fundamental questions: What is the Church? What is its purpose in the world? As a Christian am I having a lasting impact in the place where God has placed me as an integral part of my local church or do I get away with just being and doing enough to be perceived as being a change agent, a miniscule but nonetheless powerful reflection of God’s glory? What is the purpose of my local church: is it to make its own presence felt in the community to draw more people in or is it to make God’s presence felt in that community for the single purpose of glorifying God? What does your local church add to your Christian life and faith? Is being part of your local church encouraging your sanctification and spiritual growth, and please note I do not refer to in-depth Bible knowledge and praying publicly when I speak of growth, but reaching out, being pro-active in finding ways to impact your community with the love of Jesus. If your church was not made up primarily of individuals like yourself but of those whom Christ referred to as “the least of these”, and the need was such that the Sunday teaching and worship would have to be transferred to people’s homes so that any public gathering was solely for the purpose of prayer and practical acts of mercy, serving and compassion to people whom you have never met, would you then still be as excited and committed to it as you are? And if persecution came knocking on your church’s door one Sunday morning, are the reasons why you are there real and powerful enough to keep you praising the name of the Lord at the prospect of unthinkable suffering?
I have done a lot of soul-searching in these last few years, and the answers to some of these questions have hit me really hard. I cannot continue going with the motions just because there is nothing better on offer. If there isn’t a way, I am called to make one; I am called to be a pioneer, a visionary, to dream big. The calling of a Christian is not to settle down for second best, but to be able to undertake great God-honouring endeavours through Christ who strengthens us. No, I have not got it all figured out, far from it, but nobody drives into a dead-end and decides to sit there hoping that the road will miraculously open up. You turn the car around and you find your way back to the road that leads to your destination, to your calling, to that place on the road where once again you can hear the still small voice saying: “There you are! Are you ready for the next stage in the race? Are your heart and mind and spirit rid of all the clatter that clouds your judgement? Do you now fully know what it takes to face all the new challenges that will come your way? Just remember: not in your strength, but in mine. With me by your side, anything and more is always possible. Just do everything as onto the Lord and let ME direct your steps”.