Last August, I moved to Vancouver, Canada and began the process of finding a new church home here.
I was from a Charismatic church in Singapore, which meant that speaking in tongues was commonplace and church services were lively and full of pizzazz. Many of my Sundays spent in church were often full of back-to-back activities, from cell group to choir ministry to Bible study meetings.
But since coming here and visiting churches of different denominations and liturgical styles, I’ve had to unpack and reevaluate what it means to “do church”.
Does being a good or thriving church really require fancy worship sets and slick graphics? The obvious answer is “no”, but I realised that this was something I had come to expect subconsciously, especially when thoughts like “the band isn’t very tight” or “this church isn’t social media savvy” snaked across my mind.
And does being a good Christian really involve serving for an entire Sunday for weeks or months on end? I felt like I had been “programmed” to think that I had to devote a large chunk of my time to church as a mark of faithfulness.
And it seemed like how was I living my faith out on the weekdays wasn’t as important as what I was doing on Sundays.
LESS DOING, MORE BEING
I’m not saying that things like serving faithfully and having professionally trained worship leaders are bad in and of themselves. I’m saying that sometimes we focus so much on doing church that we forget that we should be the church.
One thing that strikes me about my experiences of church here is how welcoming they are of people from a wide variety of backgrounds. There’s less focus on your occupation and position, and a deeper focus on being open and engaging with whoever may cross your path, no matter what they look like and what socio-economic background they come from.
I’ve forgotten that the church is a place for people to be authentic and free, and not a place of constant striving and comparing.
It’s also been refreshing to see how affirming churches are in encouraging creative expression as a form of worship.
Whether it’s a child’s scribbly sermon illustrations or an original song composed by a church member, there is space for people who love expressing worship to God through the arts. Their artwork doesn’t have to be perfect to be displayed and enjoyed by the larger body of believers.
I came to question how I had become so caught up in the spectacle of production, and of doing things a certain way (or, worse, the “only” way). I’ve forgotten that the church is a place for people to be authentic and free, and not a place of constant striving and comparing.
A SIMPLE PRAYER
My prayer is that we focus less on doing church, and more on being the church.
What if we valued silent contemplation in our services as much as we revelled in boisterous worship? I pray that even as we busy ourselves in ministry on Sunday, we will not overlook the stranger sitting alone in the pews. I pray that we are open to showcasing art that’s less than perfect – but full of heart. And that we create space for people who are different from us physically, mentally or otherwise.
And even if things aren’t done a certain way or things don’t happen the way we expect them to happen in our churches, may we have the capacity to show grace, compassion and love.
Francis Chan sums it up best in Letters to the Church: “Just imagine if the Church was made up of people who would literally go to the cross for one another.
“How could people shrug their shoulders as they witnessed that kind of love?”
Isabel Ong is a Singaporean freelance writer based in Vancouver, Canada and shares about faith-related topics on her blog.