A while ago, before leaving Stirling, I realised I would need to find a good church community in Northern Ireland because I knew I would be here for a while. To say I was apprehensive was putting it lightly; living in Stirling for four years has had me spoilt by the fact that, in most churches, the majority of the congregation really and truly want to be there. Scotland needs God and the few who realise this seem to run to Him with aching hearts, truly knowing He is what they’re looking for. I knew very few people who were on the fence, who weren’t really set in their beliefs and who didn’t want to be doing everything they could to get involved in a church community.
I’m not saying Scotland is some sort of perfect land of milk and honey, or that the church I was a part of had it all right, but I believe that what it did have was authenticity. I believe that the people I saw there on Sunday’s truly wanted to be there and had a fire burning within them that I just haven’t seen here yet.
This morning I went to a new church, and after a reasonable amount of people had filed in through the door and the minister had said good morning I felt quite underwhelmed. Firstly, the children weren’t included in any part of the service. I think it’s so important that they are a part of the body of the Church from the very start of their lives, and not just sent off to a hall before the service starts. After all, Jesus said “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 17:18) We need to learn from children and I think they should be made to feel a part of the body from as young as possible. Plus, it totally loosens up the congregation to get them all involved in silly action songs (which actually hold a lot of really important meaning). The worship band was great but as I looked around I saw very few people singing or even looking like they wanted to sing; music is an incredibly important part of worship for me and it’s hard to do that passionately when the people around you are apathetic. We’re meant to be a community, a family, and we need to be encouraging each other. The sermon was nice; yes, nice. The intentions were good but it was everything I’d already read by authors like Francis Chan and Philip Yancey, but not nearly as in-depth. I also felt that, after reading out the relevant passage, the speaker hardly ever referenced it again or made any other references to other areas of the Bible; how are you encouraging your congregation to read their Bibles more if you spend little time doing this from the pulpit?
It was comfortable; I’m not looking for comfortable.
I’m looking for a sermon that makes me question how I’m living, that makes me wonder more about God, that makes me realise that, as I learn more, He gets bigger and I get smaller and smaller. I think the problem in Northern Ireland is that people have become very comfortable. We call ourselves a “Christian country” (whatever that means) but what we really have are good values; that isn’t Christianity. We might give the most to charity out of all four countries in the UK but what is that when we’re not pushing ourselves in our faith, really delving deeper into the gospel of Jesus and challenging ourselves to learn more about Him, putting ourselves in situations that we don’t necessarily want to be in?
I think the sad fact is that we’ve lost our authenticity. The only reason I am where I am with God right now is because I got completely thrown out of my comfort zone and made a lot of bad choices because I was so afraid and lost; I was lifted out of this tiny country, where I was able to go to church with my parents and not really get to know anyone, and set into one where I had to put in all the effort I had to meet Christians. It was in that place where I fell head over heels in love with Jesus, where I realised my faith was not one of “pick ‘n’ mix”, but entirely one of “all or nothing”. I discovered that I simply couldn’t live without God, that it would be entirely impossible to make any sort of move without Him, without the support of His body. I’m not saying everyone in Northern Ireland has a useless, weak faith, because I have plenty of friends and family members who are truly in love with God who’ve lived here their whole lives and that’s brilliant. But there are so many churches here that it’s easy to just pick one and stick with it, whether or not you really see it doing anything in your life or aiding you in your walk with God, and this ends in churches full of inauthentic faith; it makes me really sad.
I doubt that everyone in the church was thinking the same as me, after all I was sitting beside a woman who’d been a member for fifteen years, and I’m not saying that I’m better than this church or that I’m too smart for their teaching, and I also doubt that the sermon was wasted on everyone (there were probably plenty who needed to hear it), but it just wasn’t the place for me. I want to go somewhere that I can truly see and feel the Holy Spirit moving, a church where people are truly passionate about the God they say they worship.
All prayers towards me finding a good church home would be appreciated.