I have had the privilege of spending time with some faith communities around Australia. I spent 4 days across 2 churches in South Australia. I didn’t realise at the time, but God knew. On the outside they couldn’t have been two more different church communities. One that met in the middle-class suburbs with members who are all either doctors, lawyers or training to be. The other was based right in the inner city with a main mission to helping and serving the homeless. One that met in a traditional church building with comfortable chairs, life groups, children’s and young adults ministry and good audio-visual. The other met in the park, bring your own camp chair and share a piece of paper with some words on it. Some of this community would have spent the morning feeding the homeless, offering showers, toilets and laundry. They had been a part of the South Australian fringe festival with the arts … sharing their gifts and being a light in the mainstream community as the fringe festival is going on all over the city.
If you were to draw conclusions based on what you see on the outside, I can guarantee what you assume would be wrong. There may be one of those communities I just described that you may feel more comfortable in, but we must not judge and assume the heart of each person and space.
It would be a bit like going to a wedding ceremony. Everyone looks their best, there is a certain amount of ceremony that is required for a wedding service to be complete. Some can look formal, some Informal. But there is a joining together, a commitment to each other, words spoken out by some or all, a certain amount of sitting and listening and sharing.
But if all you thought ‘marriage’ was about was a ceremony, I can guarantee it would not last or be very healthy. No, it is in the ‘day in and day out’ that you see the heart, what really makes a community. It is in the way we love each other outside of the public ceremony that really counts.
Love starts in the heart, but then life must overflow out of that. Life starts in the heart, but then life must overflow out of that. Faith and community starts in the heart and then life must overflow out of that. It goes beyond what the outside structure looks like.
So, when you get the privilege to sit with people in both of these faith communities you see a heart, where life overflows out of love for each other and for God and for those who do not know Him yet.
From one lady, who, when things closed down from COVID, said, “That is not right, those on the streets need love now more than ever. You can’t stop me. I will put a chair and table on the street and be there to pray for those who need it.” So she did. She had no idea how and what was going to happen but for 8 months while COVID shut down the city and many ministries, she sat in the laneway of the inner city and took prayer requests and prayed for people. She said in all that time, she never heard a bad word or a rebuke toward her, but rather many homeless people said, “This is what the church should be doing”. Others fell to their knees and wanted to pray with her right there and then.
To the young man in his 20s, who shared about how he would not be who he is today without this family of God. When he described church camp, a special event when they get together, he said, “It is the closest thing we get to heaven. Everything is so purposed towards God. You give yourself a 2-3 day window to see what humanity is capable of. To bond together and to actually build that community and be a representation of what God intended."
To the 60+ lady who couldn’t help share her passion about all age worshipping together. She said, “It is about focusing on the Lord. Age shouldn’t matter, if we focus on God we should be able to work through all the generations.”
“The Lord your God will change your heart and the hearts of all your descendants, so that you will love him with all your heart and soul and so you may live.” Deut 30:6 (NLT)
To a 50+ single woman. What bubbled out of her when asked about her favourite memory of life together, was, “Curry nights, (she says with a warm tone), everyone mucks around, eats together and talks. It feels like family, fun. Feels like there is a lot of joy. It feels like we use the church space differently. Worshipping in just being ourselves. There’s often some creativity. All are welcome.”
These were people whose love starts in the heart and then life overflows out of that. So maybe it doesn’t matter what the ceremony looks like.
“And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh”. (Ez 11:19 ESV)
I do believe that there are things we can do to help create environments to see generations do life together, but the key for me was that each person I spoke to wanted to see that more and more.
In my last conversations with the pastors and leaders of both these churches they said, “Please tell us what are some key things we can do to connect the generations more”. With hearts like that, God can do anything, change is possible and connections across the ages will happen and will make a difference in everyone’s heart.