So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. - Ephesians 2:19
I have been a part of five church communities in my nearly 40 years of being a Christian: Glad Tidings Assembly (in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia), St John’s – St Margaret’s Church (SJSM), St James’ Church, St Andrew’s Cathedral and now, MPCC. As you can see, each move was caused by factors outside my control.
The only time I had the option to choose was when I first came to Singapore in 1984. As a first year Uni student, I was a “church hopper.” Typically, we visited the “mega churches.” They often come with very good music, comfortable seats and inspiring speakers. In fact, some of the seats were so comfortable that they caused a certain measure of dis-attention.
One day, a fellow student suggested that we visit a small nearby Anglican Church called SJSM. She was a little church on top of a hill. I can still remember that Sunday morning. It was a small congregation of less than a hundred. The worship started and the music band was, well, far from polished. The pastor dramatically jogged in a track suit before he preached a sermon about running the race. We thought we were in a Sunday School class.
You can guess what was going on in some of our minds. We were not returning. After the Service was over – unlike the other huge churches – you get shake the pastor’s hands and have a chat with him as well. When they found out that I was an experienced guitarist, they asked me to return next Sunday and play in the worship band. I won’t recommend this policy for our Zimrah ministry!
And so we stayed, at least for a while more, we thought then. The sermons were still strange, including seed-throwing as the preacher continued to ensure his sermon was a “4D” experience. (I should hasten to add that it was actually quite creative!) We were longing for better spiritual food, whatever that may mean. Sometimes we will attend another church service in the afternoon for a more complete meal. We told one of her leaders that we were feeling the need to move on. He challenged us to stay and make a difference.
Gradually, things started to change. The pastor visited us during our exam time. He would come right into our rooms and on one occasion, knelt next to us and laid his hands to pray for us one by one. Some of us joined their short-term mission trips to Batam. We got a chance to visit homes and savor good ham (my first) during Christmas.
SJSM was slowly becoming a family and community for us. We felt loved, welcomed, known and needed. There was room for us to serve and give. We stayed. I stayed. I sometimes wonder what my life here will be like if I have moved on. SJSM became the loci for my family, friends, ministry and career. Though a Malaysian for many years still, I never felt discriminated against. The church played a huge role in orientating and preparing me to adjust to life as a Singaporean.
I am a great believer in the local church as a community. I don’t go to church. I belong to one. It is more than a service, sermon, building or programs. It is about being a part of the Lord’s people. The local church is the best expression of that. I want to do my little part to build her up.
I won’t run away when she goes through difficult times. Yes, not even when the pastor turns up in a track suit!