Paul Hiley writes about his book, Small Church, Big God, available now.
Why bother with church? I have been leading and supporting local church now for nearly half a century and there has been pain and disappointment, frustration and stress throughout that time. Now, with Covid restrictions preventing us meeting together at all, I have been asking myself: “Am I really missing anything?”. There is no frantic rush on a Sunday morning; we can sit with a coffee in our pyjamas if we want and connect with some of the best preachers in the country and the most inspiring worship. We could even “attend” two or three services in a morning since everything seems to be shorter these days. We could come and go as we please with no one even noticing. The best thing is there is no commitment; I am not tied to midweek meetings or, if Sunday is sunny, I won’t feel guilty about going for a walk. Do I really want to go back to meeting as local church in our small town?
The answer has to be a resounding “Yes”. Of course there are frustrations. Church is a bunch of flawed human beings with all the same irritating habits, awkward hang ups, ungodly ambitions and attention seeking behaviours that I have. They don’t even share my interests, politics or preferences. They are quick to pull away if there is something they don’t like and slow to appreciate all the hard work put in by church leaders. It is tragic to see how many people all over the country have been hurt by church, misunderstood or rejected. Why should I want to go back?
Many years ago now, my wife and I were asking ourselves: “Surely there has to be more to church than this?” We had been struggling to get our young children to sit quietly in our local Anglican Church; later, when young people from our youth group were expressing interest, we couldn’t find anything locally that was relevant to them. We ended up starting to meet as a “house fellowship” ourselves. I suppose you could say we “planted” a church. Certainly, it grew very rapidly. We found a local free church which was willing to oversee us and before long there were forty adults and lots of children coming regularly on a Sunday. Eventually I left my teaching job and spent all my time leading and caring for this group of people. Was it worth it? It must certainly was. Of course, there has been frustration and stress, disappointment and pain but there has also been the most amazing joy at seeing dozens and dozens of people of all ages discovering the purpose of their lives. There has been the delight of seeing depressed people released, lonely people embraced, impossible prayers answered, amazing resources provided. There has been the delight of seeing local churches work together despite their differences to produce street dramas, holiday clubs and celebrations. Deep friendships have been formed, deep hurts have been healed and deep wells of talent unearthed as ordinary people discovered the joy of knowing an extraordinary God. Recently we handed over the leadership to a new team who have continued to develop the work. An old social club has been purchased and completely refurbished. Hundreds of food parcels have been handed out through the Food Bank to help local people through the Covid lockdown and we are now considered a valuable community asset.
So why bother with church? Because Church is God’s only plan to get the message of his love across to the world. It is his longing to bring every type of person into a relationship with himself and, through worship and the word, make them all ambassadors for his kingdom and his ways. It is his plan to have communities of believers in every neighbourhood demonstrating his love and living out his values.
Despite all the challenges, I can’t wait to get back to gathering together. I am longing to meet up again with my church family without masks and without social distancing. Will there still be irritations and frustrations? Probably, but I am learning to be forbearing with them as they are with me. I am learning to forgive as I hope to be forgiven and I am finding that I need my brothers and sisters as much as they need me. In short, there is no place I would rather be and I have even written a book about my journey. It is called “Small Church Big God” published by Zaccmedia and available on Amazon and Kindle for £7.99. I wrote it for anyone involved with a small church to encourage them to keep going. And if you have been thinking about giving up, I hope it will inspire and challenge you to believe it is all wonderfully worth it.