Once upon a time, I was indifferent to church

I have been listening to some messages from Bishop TD Jakes which he taught in one of his Pastors and Leaders Conference. One of the messages he preached on was titled ‘Instinct to shift’ and he talked about how the church seems to be disconnected with the world today. Essentially we are using old school methods to reach out to the unsaved when the world has moved on. You should get this message by the way. I have been listening to it over and over again. It will stir up your spirit.

Anyway, one of the things that came to my mind as he was teaching was “What is the first impression people get when they go to church?” Bishop Jakes said that many churches are too engrossed in ‘Christian-nese’ that they forget to accommodate outsiders and that is the reason why a lot of times, the church seems to be disconnected with the world.

All this got me thinking about my first experience with ‘church’. Permit me to take you down history lane for a bit. My first primary school was a school that catered for both Christian and Muslim students. Since my parents were Muslims, I was automatically signed up for Islamic Religious Studies and I had to go to the special assembly for muslim students. I absolutely hated it. The reciting of Arabic, covering my hair and so on just annoyed me as a child. I changed to a Christian school where I was more at ease with their kind of prayer. At this point I had never attended a church service except you want to count the weddings I took part in as a flower girl.

I basically had a vague idea of God; the man who we pray to when we want to bless our food. I remember how I used to religiously pray over my food. If I didn’t pray before eating I had the impression that something bad would happen to me. That’s by the way though. Going back to my story, my first experience of a church service was at the Redemption Camp. When my dad left, my mum did all she could to make sense of the whole thing. In an attempt to win my dad over, I believe, she ended up taking us for one of the all night prayer sessions at the Redemption Camp.

What was my first impression of church…vague. I can hardly remember that night. All I know is I kept wondering what in the world we were doing in such a crowded place. I hate crowded places. And the people seemed hysterical…praying and sweating profusely. Anyway I remember my mum going forward for one Altar calls. I cannot say precisely whether it was to give her life to Christ or in response to a specific prayer point (it’s most likely this) but she went forward and came back after a while. We went home the next morning and I simply moved on.

My next experience of ‘church’ came a few months later when I was in boarding house. We all had to attend service at Archbishop Vining Memorial Church. It was boring. Church for me was the time to interact with the boys from the boys hostel. I know I know….that’s not good but what was a young girl to do? I didn’t have any particular impression of church. I was actually indifferent. There was nothing life transforming about church. For me it was just a place where people went to to fulfil all righteousness.

Looking back, I really do believe that if it wasn’t because of God’s special call on my life and the teachers He blessed me with, maybe I won’t have been a Christian today. One thing I am sure of is that I would never have been a Muslim. Even though I didn’t know God personally, I loved the stories I read of Him in ‘My Book of Bible Stories’. In the times where I was confused, I used to say my prayer to the man up there who caused the sea to part. I had vivid imageries of the miracles God performed in the Bible thanks to that book. And then when some of my teachers started to talk to me about God, it was easier for me to yield because I felt like in a way, I already knew this God. I cannot explain how, but I have always felt God’s hand on me since I was a child. I used to call it a mysterious force.

So my early experience with church didn’t have much impact in my life. I took a different path but should it really be that way? Isn’t a church meant to reach out to everyone who walks into its doors? Are people allowed to be alienated in church? I’m not condemning any church but I believe we really need to rethink the way we have been doing things. Not everyone one will have my kind of story. Some people’s decision to give their lives to Christ will come as a result of their experience in church. In doing the same old things, are we allowing valuable souls to slip through the cracks?

Are we truly reaching out to people as God wants us to or we are stuck in our little clique of Christian friends? Do you see the duty of integrating first timers as something reserved for your pastor or do you take part in making sure that people that come to have their first experience of church are able to so with ease. This just a little food for thought for all of us. Think on it and act on it.

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