I certainly have learnt a lot from what I have seen and I am frequently unsure about what the Western church is portraying Christianity to be.
In Australia there is so much pressure on ministers and pastors to tick 'all' the boxes of 'all' members of the congregation. How can one person or church be everything to everyone? And if the church doesn't perform or meet expectations, then the pastor gets the blame and people move to the church down the road with their check list.
Running quickly through a slum area in South Asia to a little shack, I am escorted to a small doorway where we enter and try to find a vacant piece of floor. Under very dim lighting members read from the Word, pray together and share their journey. This is the only way these people can fellowship and encourage one another in safety from the law. Is this church?
In the Pacific Islands we arrive at an open wooden shelter, with bamboo mats covering the floor, and very few chairs. Tables are full of food and people are eating and chatting. This is followed by an hour or two of worship and dancing under the shelter, with just a few locally made instruments, if available. People share testimony of how God has healed them or miracles they have seen …others are prayed for….others weep before their Creator. The time of worship continues….the minister shares a message from the Bible…worship continues. Over three hours had passed, but it felt like 10 minutes. Is this church?
In another slum area, this time in South East Asia, the group meet on a roof top of a local building in the slum community. The children are dotted throughout the group and remain a part of proceedings. Much prayer is engaged in, mostly for other parts of the world. Everyone pairs up and prays for one another. The pastor speaks powerfully from the Word of God. People disperse to each other's homes to eat and to pray. Is this church?
What would happen if we turned up at these churches with our check list? Not many ticks would be given. But I am sure upon being amongst these churches the check list would be quickly screwed up and thrown in the bin as one gets lost in the power and presence of our Living God.
Lowell Sheppard, an author and minister, states that the church has bought into rationalism in a big way and seeks to structure and organise itself in a very industrial fashion. He feels that we, in the West, perhaps need to work harder at de-clothing ourselves of the Christian sub-culture baggage we carry and approach scripture from a point of view of exploration, seeking insights as to how we can live our lives in a world God made for his pleasure (www.emergingchurch.info).
We are prone to think we don't really need the power of God very much, because we have money and we have health insurance. But when you are impoverished, when you do not have enough food to survive, when you don't have enough money to pay a doctor, or there is no doctor or hospital, you need the power of God to intervene in everyday life.
And when you're living like that, your faith comes alive (themissionsociety.org).
How exciting it is to be in a church where faith is alive. I know many Australian churches are very much alive. But there are so many that are stuck in pleasing people's expectations to provide entertainment, comfort and happy thoughts.
The church doesn't exist to keep people comfortable on Sunday morning. It exists to make disciples of all nations, Australia included. Our nation is in desperate need.
Laura Veloso is wife to John and the mother of 3 young boys. She is trained in child welfare and primary school teaching and has experience in overseas missions and youth leadership.
Laura Veloso's archive of articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/laura-veloso.html