A word of introduction
God loves His church, His bride, and so do I! I have grown up in the church and work with an evangelistic Christian youth organisation that works across denominations, so I have spent probably thousands of hours in Christian gatherings. For most of my adult life, I have been championing unity in the church, echoing the prayer of Jesus in John 17 that we may be one (vv20-23). Yes, we have our theological differences and preferences for how we gather and do worship, yet we were all purchased by the same blood, redeemed to be one with the Father, and going to the same heaven. After all, there will be no denominational divisions in heaven!
I think sometimes in our pursuit of truth we have forgotten that ultimately our life is about relationship - first and foremost our relationship with God and then with others; ‘a new command I give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you’ (John 13:34). Don’t get me wrong, Jesus loves truth, after all He IS truth (John 14:6), and it is right to pursue truth - the person of Jesus as a very living being and the truths we find in scripture (2 Tim 3:16-17; Acts 17:11). However, at times we hold so tightly to our theological doctrines that we can even end up hating our brothers and sisters - God forbid! Without going into it, church history is replete with Christians warring with each other - just think Anabaptists being burned at the stake during the 16th century!
Now I believe nearly every Christian has their ideal of church, yet no church is going to be perfect this side of heaven. I too have my preferences of how I love to gather and what we should do as we gather and I’m dreaming of the day when that can be fully realised. In the meantime, I live in the tension of ‘the ideal and the real’. At a time when I was really struggling with this, a godly old saint, without even knowing of my struggle, sent me these two quotes:
“Be realistic in your expectations. Once you discover what God intends real fellowship to be, it is easy to become discouraged by the gap between the ideal and the real in your church. Yet we must passionately love the church in spite of its imperfections. Longing for the ideal while criticising the real is evidence of immaturity. On the other hand, settling for the real without striving for the ideal is complacency. Maturity is living with the tension.”
Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Church
“There are two things, the actual and the ideal. To be mature is to see the ideal and live with the actual. To fail is to accept the actual and reject the ideal, but to accept only that which is ideal and refuse the actual is to be immature. Do not criticise the actual because you have seen the ideal. Do not reject the ideal because you see the actual. Maturity is to live with the actual but hold to the ideal.”
Derek Prince (unknown source)
These quotes were life changing for me! It gave me permission to dream of the ideal with God yet live at peace with the reality of the actual. So as you read this series, please read it as from someone who does not intend to criticise or pass judgement on the church, but as one who calls the church higher, to be closer to the ideal of what God intends the church to be. Read it as one of God’s kids, in a certain time, space and place, in a specific season of her life, having a subjective experience of different church gatherings. And like all experiences, not everything can be included, and not everything should be included. And like all experiences, the perspective on that experience can change with distance from that event. Had it been a different moment in time, my perspective could be very different to what is shared. In addition, I wrote these reflections the day of my attendance at the gatherings, therefore there is little to no editing of the content, as I want you to read the immediate response of my heart.
Like you, I can’t wait for the day when we, all together - from every tribe, nation and language - stand before the throne as one to worship the Lamb (Rev 7:9-17). What a glorious day it will be when absolutely no divisions separate us.
In conclusion, I’d love to hear your feedback on this series! Please get in touch if anything resonates, anything you don’t like, anything that challenges you to view things a little differently. I’d love to have an ongoing conversation with you in regards to how you view church right now, in your own unique season.
Having said all that, let’s get into it!
(Please note, all photos used in this series are stock photos, unless otherwise credited, and not pictures from actual gatherings attended)
Week 1 – The Theatre Church
So I had this little prompting to visit every church in the CBD of Brisbane. I thought I’d record my experiences and what I learn along the way as well as what God might be saying to ‘the church’.
It’s a Sunday morning and I can give or take going to church on a Sunday (I’m not a rebel, don’t worry) but this prompting from the day before drove me to step out and begin this adventure. Or maybe it’s more like an expedition! Except there’s no group – unless you count Jesus with me!
Now I’ve just moved from a great community in Darwin, people I’ve known and loved for a long time, and I’m craving to be with God’s family, to worship corporately and to have fellowship – to share the life of Christ together.
I was tossing up whether to ride my bike or not, since it is only a 15 minute bike ride away from where I’m staying. With rain overnight and still relatively overcast, I decided not to risk it…after all, I didn’t want to arrive either drenched from rain or sweat!
This church had a deal with a nearby car park for the bargain basement price of $4, so I decided to go the driving option – only 9 minutes according to Google. If you’ve ever driven in Brisbane city, you have to have sympathy for me! A must know: which lane do I need to be in at what time to take the correct turn. While Google maps sometimes tells you, it is often too late or not clear enough. It took me three attempts to navigate correctly to the car park!
Attempt 1 – turn left – well turning left could take you on the correct street, but it looked like a bus lane that had ‘no entry’ so the other left I took landed me on a major roadway! Praise the Lord it wasn’t too far before I could exit and get back on track.
Attempt 2 – turn left – this time it took me on a street that ended up on a major roadway going in the opposite direction! It was a bit further before I was able to exit. Making sure I was in the correct lane to get to the street I needed to turn around and navigate back the way I came was a challenge in itself!
Attempt 3 – turn left – I managed to somehow find my way on to the road I could actually turn the left into the car park I needed. Except that it was also a hotel entry for taxis and one just decided to stop in the middle of the driveway, boot open with luggage waiting for someone to attend to it.
Good thing I left at 10.30am for the 9 min drive!
I finally managed to enter the correct car park slightly after 11am and figured out where I was allowed to park. Then it was a matter of navigating my way out of the car park by foot to the theatre that was right next to the local strip club!
Fortunately there were a couple of friendly, smiling faces of people wearing lanyards who were able to point me to the right door to enter, then some more friendly faces to usher me to that seat that’s suitable for a person on their own.
By this stage the service had already started and indeed, it could have been a concert in a theatre with music booming, a little too loudly from my perspective, from the grand speakers that channeled the soulful singing coming from the stage. I was able to finally catch my breath from the adventure it was to get there. I closed my eyes and soaked in the worship of unfamiliar songs and began to engage my spirit.
There was a moment to greet someone we didn’t know, so I said hello to the beautiful woman sitting next to me. The number of people I saw from other nations, including this lovely Zimbabwean right next to me, excited me. I love multi-cultural environments and had lived with a couple of different Zimbabweans in Melbourne and had not long ago been to Botswana where I had met some other amazing Zimbabweans. This was my new potential friend and I couldn’t wait to talk to her more after the service!
The female pastor took to the stage to bring the announcements, which continued for a good 10 minutes, and included a ‘big screen’ section which would rival any cinema advertising. It would be an awesome place to watch a feature film!
Next, the husband and male pastor was the one to bring the word. I liked it! He was an ultra fit (about to run a marathon in NZ fit) man, probably mid to late 30’s, who obviously loved God and desired to know Him more. He was able to share from life and his reflections from Ephesians 1:5-13 were encouraging and helpful.
The service ended with another worship song and a call for people to enter into relationship with Jesus. I was also pleased at one point to hear him say that church was the people, not the building or the songs or the service. Yes!
His wife then took the stage to send us on the way with last minute reminders and to pray a blessing over us. It was all over and I couldn’t wait to have a post service chat with my new potential friend! Alas, as soon as the service was over, people left their pews (or should I say, comfy theatre seats) as quickly as people jump up from their seats on a plane when the seatbelt sign turns to off after landing. Like the airplane, the aisles were packed with people waiting to get out so, instead of pushing through with everyone else, I decided to take my seat again and allow the rush to die down. Maybe I’d see my new potential friend in the lobby! I scanned the area, but no, she’d disappeared into thin air (or should I say the muggy overcast day of a Brisbane summer).
Next stop, ladies toilets! Maybe I’d meet someone there that I could talk to, who would go further than the courteous smile or hello! As soon as I entered, it was like any other ladies toilet on the planet after a theatre performance – about 20 women waiting in a polite queue for the next available cubicle. I was kind of hoping that a queue in the ladies at a church would be different – but I was left hopelessly disappointed. I helped turn on a tap for a Brazilian girl who had just moved to Brisbane and couldn’t figure out the art of Australian tap turning…the one who got a free CD for being new by the way (they obviously didn’t see my hand). My attempt at conversation by saying ‘everything is new and confusing in a new city’ got a perfunctory smile. Maybe she didn’t understand English…or my Australian accent?
So there was nothing left to do but to ask one of the ‘team’ – which was evident by the lanyard around his neck with a label saying ‘team’ – to ask where I could validate my ticket for the $4 parking! And thus I left, having enjoyed worshipping and hearing from God’s word, but left desperately wanting more from ‘the church’ – God’s people.
I find myself writing in a café in New Farm. I look up and notice a very elderly lady eating by herself so I decide to pick up my journal, go over and ask if I may join her! I was pleased she said, ‘If you’re offering, yes’ and she then proceeded to say she had noticed me writing and was wondering what I was writing about. So I told her! We went on to talk about her life and family and all manner of interesting things.
Thank you, my new 96-year-old friend, for the first meaningful conversation of the day. May God bless you!
But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
...and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.