This morning it felt like I was awake before the rest of the world. And as God and I were together, he reminded me that I wanted to write this post. Reminded me I had a story to tell. A journey to share. And all day he's been reminding me to write.
But now I sit here, mulling over how to write this post. It's not really that easy, when it comes to putting it all down. Partly because it's a long journey with many highs and many valleys. Partly because I know some of you folks reading this blog. I don't wish to offend you, and yet the reality is, some of what I write may very well offend you. So let me tie in with the Olympics and say, this is my lane. My race. It in no way means that there is a fault in your journey. Or that my journey should look like yours. Simply, we're each in our own lanes.
But it is my story.
Let's start there. The beginning of my story, my journey. For unless you know where I'm coming from, you may not fully understand why I am where I am.
I have been in many, many different churches since I became a Christian 18 years ago. As a zealous teenager (whose parents attended an Anglican church for Christmas and Easter), I attended youth groups run by a variety of churches, went on camps run by the S.U. and individual churches, and thrived under the patient teaching of the pastors and folks whose passion it was to love and teach young people.
Church was the norm. Braveheart and I even met after an evening church service when we were both in our teens, and when he left to study at the Natal Technikon, he became involved with a dynamic church there that God used to open his eyes (and then mine) to the possibilities in Christ. When I started studying at Rhodes University two years later, I remember trying out all the churches that were the most popular, looking for one like the one Braveheart had found, and praying that God would show me the one I should call home for the next four years.
After 7 months of searching and not quite feeling at home, I was close to giving up. One Sunday, I told God I would walk around Grahamstown until I found a church he wanted me at. I walked. A long way. And EVENTUALLY, right on the other side of Grahamstown (bear in mind I had no car!), I came across this tiny wee Full Gospel Church. And as I passed the doors I knew this was where God wanted me - which was surprising as it was a lot more traditional than churches I had been used to being a part of AND at that time, not one other Rhodes University student was part of the congregation!
Well, I stayed, and it was the richest few years of my life. It was an elderly congregation, with a few young families, and they quickly became like a family to me, exactly what I needed being so far from home. God clearly showed me in the first few months what he wanted of me there, and I'm sad to say, I acted like Moses and refused to do it alone. So he gave me an Aaron, and I learnt a hard lesson about saying no to God because of my own fear. Together we led the Young Adults and Youth, and it was so richly rewarding.
Braveheart finished studying before me and travelled with a church group to Malawi, as well as travelling overseas, and then when I returned to Zim, we wed and started attending a new church run by a familiar pastoral couple. Braveheart had been a part of it for a while before I returned home, and led the praise and worship team. It was then that I started asking God a lot of questions, as did many of the folk around us. And if I were to pinpoint a time, I would say it was then, that I was growing steadily disillusioned with church... dissatisfied...discontent. Why was every service the same? Why did so few people have anything to really share? How come people didn't shout out the good things God was doing? Why was every sermon seemingly based on how to be a perfect Christian? If I was an atheist who walked into this service, would my heart be blown away by the truth and tangible presence of God?
God then began a period in our lives where he stripped down every conceivable idol there was, whether we realized it or not. Family members whom we had placed on an unhealthy pedestal were humbled and God shined his light so clearly in how unhealthily we had worshiped mere people instead of him. Whilst in South Korea, God used our experiences there (the worst yet most life changing year for both Braveheart and I) to tear down an idol we had made of another couple close to us who walked with God in an amazing way. And furthermore, we were forced out of church by the very nature of there being no English speaking churches near us. And this was before we even owned a computer or had ready access to the Internet - how different it would be now if we were to go back! (I'm remembering even now how much I searched for an English speaking church to be in whilst we were there - believe me, I tried! Paul Yong YCho? I even went to his church!)
The third time God did it (removed idols from our life), was after we moved to Cape Town. We had chosen to live in a certain area to be close to a church. It was during our time there, that God stripped down the last idol we had between us and Him... worshiping a church instead of Him, relying on folk to feed us instead of Him, looking to elders to guide us instead of Him. For a long time, in spite of our experiences in church, we had placed this one group of churches above all others. We believed with all out hearts that they were doing exactly what God had called churches to do, and to some extent that they were "perfect".
Without needing to go into too much detail, our relationship with them was wrenched apart after we chose to be vulnerable and admit openly and honestly how imperfect we really were, and that we were in need of help. The message we were left with was to "shape up or ship out" - my own words. That was the final blow in my walk with churches. It was devastating to Braveheart and I, and sent us both reeling. Although to some degree I can understand an eldership's need to "protect" their flock, I cannot understand the judgement and lack of grace that was displayed to us.
And so life continued. We'd spent two years trying to make friends in this church and we were asked to sever contact with the folk in the church. We ended up going back to Korea, and I knew we needed time to heal. When we returned, we moved to another suburb, where many other Zimbabwean families had already moved and we tried a number of churches...but still the questions kept cropping up, and my disillusionment grew.
I believe in Church. I do. I see it throughout Scripture. I see how God wanted his people bound together at the heart level. Church in Scripture is beautiful.
But what I see in today's reality makes me want to weep.
I will not believe that what I see today on Sundays is the way God wants his church to be. I can not let my spirit settle for that. I long for something more.
This is what God is doing in out lives. He is calling Braveheart and I, challenging us, to find the other. He's done that with the way in which He wants us to school our kids. He does that in the way Braveheart manages our finances. And He's done it to the way we fellowship and the way we see church. It's only today that I see God started us on this quest for something different, some road less travelled so long ago, even before we started the schooling journey.
Why does Church sadden me? Because it's become a well oiled machine, institutions and organisations with managers, not organic bodies following the Spirit. I'm saddened by how prescriptive churches have become, and how little of the GRACE of God and who He is and His personality and character is preached. I firmly, and I mean so firmly that I hold to it unwaveringly, believe, that if those that preach would dare to preach only God's love and the radical message of grace, all else would come without any effort. ( Let me give you an example: I am pained to hear folk preaching on praise and worship and how one should raise one's hands, spin around, lay prostrate...in order to worship God properly...surely if God was preached and we knew him for who he is, this would be our natural response and not something we would need to be instructed in? Food for thought?) I've often entered a church and thought - would a prostitute be welcome here? If I arrived dirty and in rags, would I be welcome here? Are you telling the truth when you say all are welcome? See, I believe unconditional love always wins...
But, in the same way that school has become what it is because of the sheer numbers of children needing an education, there's a part of me that wonders how much of church looks the way it does because of the control that man feels he needs over large groups of people. And in the same way I think there are incredible talented teachers with hearts FOR children, I think there are pastors and elders who get God's idea and purpose of a body meeting together. To those of you who preach His love and shout out His grace...I honor and admire you for being his messengers.
And the funny thing is this: as we walk this road, we come along so many, many folk who are walking outside of formal Christian institutions. So many folk who are doing this "other" road. And it's been like that in our journey of homeschooling too. I'm not sure where God is taking us...but I know it's an "other" path. It gets really lonely - I miss the close knit community I imagine church can be...
I'm about to hit the publish button, but have to share, that this draft has been around for over a week. And yesterday? Yesterday I went to church for the first time in over 5 years. I cannot help wondering what God is up to. He gave me such beautiful gifts in the fun my children had, and the way he spoke to their hearts...but the service I was in? Questions dear friends, questions...