Changing our church is something many of us find hard to do even when the church we regularly attend is no longer serving the purpose of nurturing our needs as Christians. Tamela Mann sings about being ‘all church’d out’ a line I interpret to mean being disillusioned with the church.
Church forms such an integral part of being a Christian. For many of us it’s the only thing keeping us rooted in our relationship with God. The privilege of coming from ‘Christian homes’ is what keeps us going back each Sunday and helping us maintain our practice. Praying regularly and reading the Bible requires a constancy that comes from focused practice. However, the wrong church can also kill our dedication to God. If we do not feel motivated by the Christians around us, then becoming a ‘Sunday Christian’ or a ‘Form Filling Christian’ is where we are definitely headed.
If we look at Paul’s letters to the Churches in the New Testament, the churches either thrived together in God or failed together in God. It’s hard to maintain the kind of godliness you aspire to if those around you cannot support it and staying out of loyalty to the people leads to you adopting more of their practice than standing in your truth.
Despite being very active in church, I had long ago checked out. This was due to my dissatisfaction with a community that spent more time talking at each other than practising the talk. My developed interests in inequality across the country/world meant that I was itching to do more. Sunday school had taught me about a religion formed out of action. Jesus ‘was sent down by God’, the disciples ‘left their boats’, the widow ‘shared her last oil and flour’. People made sacrifices in order to serve and whilst I saw many non-Christians working with the intention that ‘being good’ was the way forward, I was part of a church that seemed comfortable insulating itself.
Domestic violence, a problem very big in the Nigerian community was seen as a private matter and the victims were simply told to pray for God to change the assailant’s heart. There were no provisions made to ensure the victim was able to escape the situation and create space between themselves and the assailant. Divorce as sinful overshadowed the need to care for the physical bodies being hurt. The LGBTQX community was viewed as such an abomination that it stopped people from speaking about God to anyone deemed not heterosexual. This contradicted my understanding of our relationships with God as personal. Chances for individuals to know God on a personal level were taken away because of pre-judgements about who God was able to love. The ‘sin’ and ‘sinner’ were immediately linked as being one and the same. “Let ye who is without sin cast the first stone.”
This experience really hurt my connection with God. I took out my frustration with the establishment on God and slowly but surely pulled away till I was an undergraduate who spent her Sundays sleeping in and dropped prayer from her life. Coming towards the end of my degree and beginning to contemplate the future, the reality of a life without God and the church community didn’t sit well with me. Whilst I had my hang ups, there was still something about being part of Christ’s body that was magic. Over the last two years, God had been trying to get my attention – I’d fall to my knees in worship but being stubborn I resisted thinking about what this meant. My decision following acknowledgement of my discomfort is one I describe as rationale, fitting with my love for research but odds are God just used my interest to gain my attention. I rationed that it was wrong to dismiss God and church without exploring it personally – on my terms.
So I wrote down what I wanted from church, the things I wanted to be able to do with people of God. Then I prayed about it. And I kept praying as I prepared to move to a new city for my Master’s degree. I kid you not, the first church I walked into was IT. The message that evening hit on so many things that were on my heart. Imagine that: an offhand comment to a PhD student during my induction led to her raving about this church. Here I also found a mid-week group where I was able to share my frustrations and not be immediately censured. In this year, I slowly found God on a personal basis, I came to understand that I could speak to him like a friend not just in the set “prayer warrior”mode I’d seen. I flourished.