** Sorry that I haven’t written in a while, it’s been busy and I’m a little out of practice**
My parents never intended us to end up in the church we belong to now. We went to visit and were unwittingly spellbound by a depth of teaching we’d never known to be possible. Sure, there were things we struggled with but wow, the teaching!
We never went back to the church we had been in and as weeks turned into months no one came to find us and so we struck out from the shore. We stopped paddling and began to wade until one day a decade later, I look back and wonder at what point we began to swim. We are still in the stream, nowhere near the sea, not by a long shot. But neither are we dabbling by the riverbank any longer.
For too long a time I have been ungrateful and frustrated and let that get the better of me but over the past year I have come to understand a number of things that I was too young and pig-headed to see before.
Let me tell you about the church that raised me. These are the seven things that I love most about them.
I’d never really known anyone who took their faith so seriously before. Not even at church. Sure, my parents were serious but they were trying to learn as they went and they had little help.
I’ll be honest, I found the church dull and weird at first, The pre-service stillness made me fidget and the way people prayed in silence after it was over instead of turning round and blethering was awkward. And they often discussed the sermon over lunch. Aside from the fact that I wasn’t used to sitting through sermons, the pastor had done enough talking on the subject already, hadn’t he?
Well Melchizedek helped me understand that one.
The pastor was preaching through Hebrews and I don’t remember if I was disinterested or just didn’t get it. Chuck in a mystery man devoid of history and loaded with prophetic foreshadowing and boom, he had my undivided attention. But when I asked after the service, the pastor wouldn’t tell me who the guy was, I had to come back next week and find out.
So I did. I turned up armed with a notebook, pen, and Bible and hung onto every word. It raised more questions. It challenged me. I began to understand why these things would take up so much thought and conversation. I began to understand some of their attitudes.
I began to not only recognise godliness but to respect it for what it was. All of its dullness disappeared and was replaced with a quiet charm that drew me in.
They taught me about ‘quiet time’ and recommended books and things to help. We discovered the novel concept of ‘family worship’. The gospel didn’t just permeate these people’s lives, it was their lives and I love them for it.
Much like my mother, I have a spontaneous streak and a love of adventure. Like my father, the glint in my eye is often mischief. Ungrateful child that I was, the church’s predictability drove me nuts. There are tried and tested ways of doing things and I did not understand.
t has taken a lot of change and uncertainty to make me appreciate that pillars can look boring and they never go anywhere but that’s why they’re so valuable. They’re holding the building up, the last thing you want them to do is move.
There is much to be said for faithfulness. Commitment is a rare commodity these days and we’ve all been inconvenienced as a result. The church has taught my yeses to be yeses and my nos, nos.
If this church says that they will do something, they will do their utmost to carry through on that. The attitude of faithfulness is not only precious in its own right but has taught me to try and be the same, to stand against the fickle, empty-wordedness of my generation.
Alongside this, it gives us confidence in one another and because of their faithfulness to one another and to Christ, I know that when they say they will pray, they will pray.
There is something awe-inspiring about hearing people well and truly pray. And the only way to learn to pray is by praying with others.
Once more, it began as something strange and a little bit awkward but their attitude drew me in. Prayer was not an afterthought tacked on to the end of a sermon or sunday school lesson, it was so important that they had a special meeting specially devoted to prayer every single week and almost everyone would come.
I began to skip Girls’ Brigade and more to go to the prayer meetings at church until eventually I gave up GB altogether.
I still love to hear them pray. Though I can detect a subtle weariness in their words now we are growing older, the power remains.
They have taught me the importance of prayer and the centrality of it in the Christian life. These lessons have both deepened my relationship with God and equipped me to carry their burdens with them and uphold them when they feel weak, just as they help and uphold me in prayer, just as family should. I have never been to a meeting or a meal with this church where they did not pray.
Joy, sorrow, hope, and concern for one another in prayer is but one that this church shows love. We are like one big (sometimes dysfunctional but hey, we’re human) family.
Everyone shows their love differently, whether through books, food, little notes of encouragement, praying, sharing skills, giving time, giving financially, giving flowers, or giving car rides, everyone shows love somehow. It is a beautiful thing to see.
At first, I found it strange that the children called the adult members ‘aunty’ or ‘uncle’ whatever but as we settled into the church it seemed only natural that this should be the case if we were family.
On the other hand, I know for sure that this church is loving because they practice church discipline and it has grieved us all. They love one another so much that they are willing to warn and rebuke in order to keep one another right. It is not pleasant but it is healthy and I am glad of it.
Sometimes it can feel like we are inching along slowly while the rest of the world changes, grows, and crumbles around us at breakneck speed like in one of those time-lapse videos you can see on the discovery channel. Once more, willful and young as I am, that was difficult to accept. It comes back to the pillar image. You don’t want it to move.
The steadiness which drove me mad as a child has proved an anchor as I’ve grown. It all comes back to Christ. He doesn’t change, his message doesn’t change, his gospel doesn’t change and it is this gospel that we preach.
We live in a time when the Church of Scotland is shredding scripture, doing what it pleases and still insisting that it belongs to Christ. It (and many other churches) is teaching whatever it pleases and passing it off as truth.
Watching churches like that crumble, watching churches turn away from Christ, watching churches become nothing more than semi-spiritual social clubs, the pricelessness of the steadfastness of the church that raised me is brough sharply home. I love this church because ten years after we joined her, the message has not changed. We preach Christ crucified and we are not ashamed. This is our foundation.
It’s a firm foundation. This steadiness in preaching the gospel and working hard to be Christ-centred means that this church has developed solid doctrine. The members are well taught. It is a blessing to be a member of a well-grounded church, especially in the past few years, having been exposed to all sorts of nonsense while studying. Good doctrine provides a solid basis for life.
Finally, all of these things make this church a safe place to learn, to grow, and to serve. And I love them for it.
So there are seven reasons why I love the church that raised me. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had our share of tension and disagreement. There have been times where I have driven them to despair and their have times where they have sent me off to find a wall to bang my head on but that’s another reason why I love them: their humanness. We all know we are broken sinners but we also know that we are redeemed by the glorious grace of Christ.
I would like to encourage you whether you are feeling discouraged or whether you are bouncing off the walls with excitement about your local church (but especially if you are discouraged) to think of all the reasons that you love your local church. It will encourage you. Christ loves your church too, never forget that. It’s easy to focus on the negatives and we’re all guilty of doing so. I’ve had my fair share of struggles in the church that raised me but I’ve given them more than their fair share of grief. We’re still living in this broken world so that’s how it will be till Jesus comes back.
I am thankful to God for the imperfect church that he has used to shape me from a gawky ten-year old into a slightly less immature adult because that church is his bride. She’s not immaculate yet, but when you look past the tangled hair and the mud all over her face, you’ll see that she’s actually really rather pretty.
It’s true of every local church.