"I'd rather be surfing thinking about God than sitting in church thinking about surfing."
A bold statement to start off my first article, but isn't there some truth to this quote? It might not be surfing in your quote. You might be sitting in church thinking you would rather be fishing, riding or maybe even reading a book in the lovely sun â so many people that I have talked to have expressed frustration with their Sunday church experiences.
Is this an article to bag the relevancy of the Church and meeting on Sunday? Well the answer is no, but it is a walk down the path of understanding our relationship with God in a world where every minute of every day the creator God, the one who holds the universe in his hand is sending his love through every sunset, act of kindness, piece of art or dare I say it through the burdened thing we call work. So walk with me guys...
In search of a spiritual experience
As a surfer I often find myself out in the waves with blokes who wouldn't step foot in a church but find surfing a spiritual experience. I guess that's why I am out there as a missionary to the surfers on my coast. I love sharing God with people in the waves because hey, we are already in awe of creation as we surf, even if they don't know the waves come from God.
We surfers wake at extraordinarily early hours to find that perfect wave and if the surf is good on a Sunday I often paddle out early to get some waves before church. However, I often drive away thinking about the crew out there who I had met and been talking to, and wonder if I'm forgoing an opportunity that might come out there of sharing Jesus, just to go and do the 'church thing' â you know, sing a few songs, listen to a message and have coffee after.
I have had many conversations with surfers and a lot of them would say that the ocean is their church. As a Christian I would have my old pastor in my head saying "but you need to go to church because God is there." Of course he is right, God is there because as it says in the word when their are two or three gathering in God's name, God is in the midst, but isn't God there in the perfect peeling waves, majestic scenery and fun loving dolphins that often join us for a surf? I leave you to ponder that one...
A return to Kingdom values
All I can do is share my experience and the journey and opportunities I have had as I have begun to answer this question for myself. I remember being in bible college in 2005 and discovering that the Church was decreasing in growth in Australia. At first I was kind of surprised because I would often see big mega churches around the place and it seems there is a church on every corner. But as I dug deeper I realised that it was decreasing at a rapid rate and if it were a business there would be alarm bells ringing about its future.
My question was why? At the heart of it, the Church is useful and attractive â a family of people that encourages and challenges you to be the best person you could be while on this earth. After all, it says in Ephesians chapter 4 that the Church is for the building up and equipping of the saints. However, more and more people I meet, both Christian and not, don't view the Church this way. There are two reasons that I believe as to why this is the case.
First, the Church is full of people who all fall short from time to time. We make mistakes and can end up hurting people. Second, we've lost that fact the Church is built on the values of the Kingdom of the most famous person that ever walked the earth. A person who showed us a kind of life that was good and full to the brim of the power of love. His name is Jesus.
If the last 2000 years of the Church is based on this incredible person why is it decreasing? A while ago I tried a bit of an experiment to understand this and it involved removing some of the Christian words in my vocabulary when I would share about Jesus. I would just keep the conversations on the values of the Kingdom of God, you know the ones about love, restoration, freedom and forgiveness. I would refrain to pull out the big one â Church. Because even though I loved church it wasn't the same for most of the people I spoke to. I discovered that many people had negative church experiences, which contrasts with their (usually) positive response to Jesus.
Personally, this fact has shaped how I approach ministry. I try point people to Jesus instead of the Church and for the most part people ask me lots of genuine questions about why I follow the values of this Jesus guy.
I have had so many conversations filled with Kingdom values over the ten years I have been sharing Jesus with people and I believe God has planted many good seeds, and maybe even some trees have sprouted along the way. After all, I stand on God's word as the ultimate authority in my life and it says "that his word never returns void." I hold on to that hope and I believe that with all of my heart.
Meeting Jesus in the surf
I believe that the greatest test of whether this is a good approach to ministry with Jesus is in the testimonies. So I finish this article with a story that came from my local surf break just last week.
I recently begun a bit a prayer group with a few surfers and the focus for us was to get to the beach at dawn and to begin the day in a good way. A way which was about starting in thankfulness and praise and being there for one another and to pray for each other, even before we looked at the waves. It had been something on my heart and came from the basis of the verse Matthew chapter 6, verse 33 "seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness and all shall be added unto you."
Just a few days earlier I had started chatting to this young guy who was a keen surfer and definitely a searcher for deeper meaning in his life. I invited him along to our prayer and surf session. The next day, in the early hours of morning, we met up and began to dedicate the day to the Lord.
As we started this young guy turned up and joined us in a powerful time of prayer, an awesome time of digging into the word of God and incredibly blessed surf with a pod of dolphins joining us. For this young guy it was the closest he had come to experiencing the Church, but it was not in four walls, it was in the presence of a few brothers who were unashamed of their faith at the beach.
Where is God?
Sometimes it really is worth asking ourselves how God is part of our day to day lives. Is he hidden in the confines of our church experience or do we shine God's light wherever we go? He is with us in every moment of every day. I believe that when we do realise God is with us we release a way of life that is going to change our very world.
The world's image of going to church as a duty is not what Jesus was about when he was here, he was actually about being the Church, a body of radical, loving believers who, like that of the early Acts Church, were practical and unashamed Kingdom people who were passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus.
Justin Monaghan is heavily involved in his local surfing community of South Australia as a surf coach, a judge of surf contests and a member of Christian Surfers. Justin also works in team building, is currently launching as a professional prophetic artist and runs a creative home fellowship with his wife Liana.
Justin Monaghan's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/justin-monaghan.html