What to Expect in Church
written by Rev Gary Heard

A recent survey of over 100 homes by a suburban Melbourne church discovered that half of the respondents undertook some regular activity to “nurture their spiritual side,” which – aside from participation in a church – included such activities as attending a Buddhist temple, social service, yoga, tarot... and golf! Of the 60% of survey respondents who indicated no connection with the church, or perceived benefit in terms of spiritual nurture, the following reasons were obtained as to why people don’t attend:

These results offer food for contemplation, particularly as we celebrate Pentecost today - the moment when the church burst forth into existence with energy, power, and willingness to challenge the status quo through proclamation and transformed lives as a result of the coming of the Spirit. We do well to ask how that sort of church compares with the perception revealed in this survey.

What challenge emerges? The church has, from time to time, been a significant catalyst for change in the world, and consequently a significant factor in people’s formation. Whether at the forefront of moves to abolish slavery, in promotion of education and establishment of hospitals and hospice care, or in opposing human rights abuses, the church has – at its best – offered an alternate view of life and reality, which has been embodied in communities and families, and which has brought significant transformation. It has modelled a spirituality which results in people whose commitment to make a better world has been tangible and discernible.

While many of us can resonate with the notion of deep spiritual encounters through bush-walking, gardening, meditating, even a conversation with a friend, we do well to ask what makes such an encounter so valuable? Is it not the sense of connection with the numinous, with the transcendent? But is it not also the capacity of such encounters to change the way we view people and life, and to move us into new forms of action – in commitment to action, to compassion and justice?

Much of what passes for spirituality today reflects the feel-good consumerist approach to life, which is perhaps why golf might be seen as a spiritual activity. Does God want to bless us so that our golf handicap is lower, or that this world better reflects the values and character which are revealed to us in Jesus Christ?

Which brings us again to ask, why is it that so many in our community fail to see this in the church? We pray on Pentecost that the Spirit might be released again in power!

June 4, 2006
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