I grew up believing ‘the Church was broken’. The Church couldn’t do this right, handled that badly, messed up the other. My parents and peers said so. I, myself, tried very hard to walk away from church as soon as I got the chance.
God had other plans, however. I found myself at a church during my years as a student that defied every negative perception I carried.
This church owned an impressive building, a warm one at that. In the heart of a former red-light district their base was used to impact every aspect of community life. From feeding and clothing the poor to welcoming in the most professional of conference attendees.
Jesus used this place to shape new perceptions of what ‘the Church’ could achieve. I was profoundly impacted. Ten years later I’ve had the privilege to be part of a team that started another church in the same vein. Having had the chance to build from the ground up, this current church is beginning to rapidly eclipse the height of my former high expectations.
Here are five things I flippin’ love about it:
1. The vision
Based on a description of the work Jesus himself came to do, the words of Isaiah 61: “I am anointed to preach good news to the poor,” give the church its foundation. Its desire is to reach not just the typical white middle-classes that are in short supply in this particular city. It’s heart is for the marginalised, the unlovely, the unspoken for and the not-quite-acceptables.
2. Everyone is welcome
In the early days of the church I cried over two people I spotted sat next to each other one Sunday morning. One from a rough council estate, born and bred and the other was CEO of an international company. When would these two people ever normally meet? The Church should be, and can be, a place where those from all walks of life gather and work out how to be in relationship together. No matter their background, this church genuinely welcomes all, regardless of stage, or state of life and remarkably it manages to keep them.
3. Love for the poor
I’ve heard my church described as ‘chaotic’ and ‘messy’. We have found ourselves having to handle drug taking in the toilets on Sundays and regularly clear the car park of human ‘waste’. This is just par for the course when you work with broken people with no home to go to.
4. It pushes me out of my comfort zone weekly
Having gathered such a diverse crowd, the church works hard to engage everyone, including those from other nations. We worship in other languages, Swahili being a personal favourite. Picking up these songs is a challenge. Greeting refugees from war-torn countries with no common language is a little awkward. Sitting next to those whose lives appear to my Western eyes to be in ‘tatters’ pushes me out of my comfort zone. They prioritise coming to church, still smiling and worshipping; thanking God fervently for what they do have. These people have shown me what it really means to put their trust in God. I have never learnt so much about myself or grown so quickly, both in my faith and character, as I have since I joined this church.
5. Servant leaders
A lady new to the church remarked recently: “If you want to know who the leaders are in this church you just have to look at who those emptying the bins and cleaning the loos!” What an utter privilege it has been to grow a church under the guidance of humble, loving, approachable leaders.
It’s not true that all of my generation is disengaged from church. Perhaps we just haven’t connected to the right ones yet. Keep going. They’re out there.