Some people have asked me about the church I attend. They wonder how I can be so critical of the church, and yet claim to be a Christian. Therefore, the logical question to ask then is what church am I in, and how are we “practicing what I/we preach”? Like we used to do in primary school, instead of writing a “Myself”, I’ve decided to write a “My church”. In that direction, I’ll first talk about the ABCs of measuring a contemporary Christian ministry, and then we’ll pick it up from there.
My church is made up of about 10 people, so judging by mega church standards, we’d not be considered a church. However, being small allows us to be more focused on each other than most other churches will allow. It has enabled us to build relationships of open questioning, encouragement, criticism and in some circumstances, severe heartbreak. As someone said, “Everybody is fine until you get to know them”. One of the important lessons that such relationships force you to develop is trust. You have to begin to learn to trust your brother, even though he is very capable of hurting that trust that you have reposed in them. Being small can be very intensive, and if you are not ready to lay down your pride, your social and tribal prejudices and your own self interest, then I’ll suggest that such close relationships are not good for you. Unfortunately, that is exactly what Christ meant by “carrying our cross” and “laying down our lives” for each other.
The membership is quite varied, from a management consultant (my dad) to a software developer (me) to final year university student (my sis) to trotro & taxi drivers, to masons and the unemployed. Interestingly you will hear Ewe, Akan, Krobo and English being spoken freely with attempts to explain to each other what we are saying when we ever do get into our local languages. But we tend to stick with English & Twi.
We believe that God will through our lives and our interaction with people we meet, draw others who are willing to walk with us the walk of discovering Christ together, and we keep encouraging ourselves in this direction. However, we are mindful of the fact that we are not doing it FOR Christ, we are doing it WITH him. When we grow beyond our current number, I believe we’ll have to define some limit in which case another meeting will be started in a different location, probably the house of a member which will be suitable enough. The idea is to keep our gatherings small and people focused, and we believe this can be done.
Our church meets in my dad’s house. It has quite a big lot with plenty trees, and a lot of shade. Therefore we meet under one of the bigger trees, and in the case of rain or bad weather, we meet in our living room. I guess by the standard of a mega church, we do not exist if we do not have a church building of our own like the million and one that surround us. Well, my only answer to that is that it enables us to focus our little financial resources on the needs of the members of the church, and not on the hustles of buying land, getting a loan (or squeezing out the last drop of money from the church members) to build the church and dealing with the maintenance costs of running such a building, in the name of building a “temple” for the living God. The NT is abundantly clear that the people are the temple, and the money we have is better spent on them.
Obviously, we find ourselves in a community where there is a lot of unemployment (which is not surprising in a nation of endemic unemployment), and therefore our financial affairs are nothing to write home about by mega church standards. Although we have a bowl in which people may put in donations from what they have, very few of us do so, basically because very few of us can actually afford to do so without starving for the rest of the week. And actually no one is under compulsion to do so. When a member is in need of something, they let us know and we begin to plan together how we may be able to meet that need. Most times, those working amongst us have to actually dedicate some of their monthly salary to meeting some of these needs, and we try as much as possible to look for solutions to problems that involve getting these people a job so they can sustain themselves. However, demand is more than supply, so we have to be wise about what we spend our monies on (and in effect, it also affects how we as individuals also spend our own monies because we are to be people who work to sustain ourselves and others who are incapable of doing so at any given point in time. See Eph 4:28; 2 Th 3:6-10 for a better understanding of this.) In the same direction, those who receive such help have a responsibility enforced by the other members to make sure that they use it wisely. The end is always that they too should be a source of funding to meet someone else’s need in the future.
In the face of this, it is obvious then that nobody is a “paid” minister, although we are all actively engaged in what most people consider “full time ministry”. For us the principle of a priesthood of all believers is not mere talk, it’s a reality. Oh, and we do not have a headquarters on this earth, and neither are we ever going to have one. So we are free to focus on ourselves and in the future on the needs of other sister churches that may develop as we grow bigger, without feeling the breathing on our back that we have some higher human authority to appease.
Ours is not a service, nor a performance. It’s a meeting (because the “ecclesia” – the assembly, has met), and we strive to make it quite an open one. The chairs are arranged in a semi-circular shape, with a whiteboard if you want to write something (like teach a song). There’s no choir (not that we ever intend to have a standing one), so everybody brings up a song they want us to sing. As the Ewes say “If your corn flour is not in the bowl, then you don’t participate in eating the akple”, so our singing is only as good as we contribute to making it, and it can go in any direction that the Holy Spirit so leads us. There are some amongst us who do not have that good a musical voice or ear, and sometimes introduce a song out of beat or tune. But we correct the tune or beat and along we go. Whether your voice is the sweetest soprano or the croakiest tenor, no one stops you from singing. That is the beauty of being a part of Christ. Whoever you are, you are accepted.
And we also have people writing their own songs and teaching them to us, or teaching some songs that they feel are helpful to our meeting. We do have one person accompanying the singing with the guitar, but they are not the choir master or anything like that, so that no one is stifled from bringing in their song.
We have an open time of sharing, in which testimonies, songs, hymns, teaching, exhortation etc is allowed just like in 1 Cor 14:26. This is basically the center of our gathering. There is not going to be a sermon, so the focus is on allowing and encouraging everyone to share what they have to contribute to the brethren. And trust me, the stuff we talk about may be directly from scripture, or from someone’s experience of life as they went through the week, to discussions on how to help a brother fix his taxi to go back to work, to some business ventures that some of us want to engage in to bring employment to others, to querying and if applicable rebuking a brother for some behaviour someone has noticed over time and so on. So far as it helps bring build each other up in our spiritual and physical lives as we live together for Christ, it is encouraged. Your contribution can be disrupted with a question, correction or additional perspective, and yet there is absolute order. Like I said, there’s no sermon, neither is there an abundance of announcements, so we have all the time to spend engaging each other in these.
We typically pray together over certain topics that we ourselves feel are important to pray together for, and we also chip in our individual needs if you feel like you need help. We end up having a meal, and then taking the Lord’s supper as it should be taken – like supper. Not in some sombre religious attitude, but in one of even further engagement and discussion with one another. In fact, I wonder why I didn’t realize all this while that it was “supper” we were supposed to be taking. When taking lunch or supper with your friends, you don’t keep mute – you have a conversation, right? It’s interesting why to most evangelicals, the Lord’s supper is some supernatural event which cannot be taken in an informal, non-religious manner. Oh, and anyone is chosen on the spur of the moment to share the bread and wine, so it’s not some particular person’s duty to do so – the idea is to put more of the priesthood of all believers into practice.
I guess the final point that most people reading this will have a bated breath waiting for me to talk about is the name of our church. Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but there’s no name. Or better still, it’s such a long one that I prefer not to talk of it. The reason you ask for a name is because you see churches with names all around, but let me draw an analogy, and you’ll understand where I’m coming from.
I threw this challenge the last time that we in Africa can easily understand the idea of extended families, because we still practice it. In fact, I drew and will draw again similarities between these two for us to understand the perspective from which to approach it. When you have an extended family meeting, what do you call yourselves? Probably by your surname i.e. maybe the surname of your great-grandfather, in my case the Morny family meeting. In the same way, we are named after our ancestor, God. Our family head is Jesus Christ, a position which he will not share with anyone else. And it is by his permission that we belong to this family. Therefore, we could possibly also be named after the one who has given us to belong to this family – Christ. The only other thing is that maybe some of our family members meet in Ashongman, whiles others meet in Godenu, and others still in Agbogba. So we say then that we are the “ecclesia” (assembly) or family of God/Christ which meets regularly in Mr Morny’s house in Agbogba. Does that make sense to you? Do you see why Paul addressed his letters to the “ecclesia” of Christ in Colosse, Corinth, etc?
Paul didn’t build bureaucratic organizations with high hierarchies interested in dominating the world. Paul went to homes, and picked people from disparate families to form a totally different family that loved each other with the same love that Christ loved them. So try thinking from this perspective. In the meantime, if you are interested in carrying your cross for the sake of a brother (and by extension, Christ) you are always welcome to my church. I’ll encourage you to ask as many questions as you can of my description so far.
We are not perfect, but our focus is on showing Christ to the world through our lives lived together – to display the manifold wisdom of God through Christ’s body, his church. It’s a most challenging, exciting, difficult, maturing and fun road, with very little religiousness and yet very deep characters being formed. You are welcome to join us.