I was in the park a while back talking to a Jamaican friend of mine as our children played. A friend of his walked up to say hello and I was introduced as a local pastor.
As we chatted a bit he asked me where my church was to which I responded, “I’ve been working in Southall, but we’re looking to church plant down Uxbridge Road in Acton/Shepherds Bush.”
“Why?”, he said. “We have so many churches here already. On every high street we have a C of E, a Methodist and a Catholic. What do we need more churches for.”
This conversation highlighted to me the difference in my understanding of the church and that of many on the street. Church buildings are not the church. The church is the gathered followers of Jesus who worship together, learn together, and serve together under a leadership structure.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:8, Paul writes, “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.”
Buildings can be useful. Buildings help us understand the story of the Christian faith in the UK. But buildings are only a tool to be used by the people of God, the church, for the glory of God.
Can a church be a church without a building? Of course. The church is where the people gather – in homes, in pubs, in schools – wherever there is space to gather.
Do we need more churches in London? Depends on your definition. Church buildings – probably not. Churches – definitely.
For the past year, I have been volunteering at the St. Stephen’s Film Club in Shepherd’s Bush. Each Thursday evening, with the help of Streetlytes, about 15 volunteers cook and serve a hot meal to homeless folks in the community and then, after dinner, we watch a movie together. Last week we served 48 meals to the guys (vast majority are men) and watched First Blood with Sylvester Stalone – not the greatest movie but entertaining.
This past Thursday I also witnessed two quick scuffles. No punches were thrown, but this was the first time that an incident resembling a fight had broken out during the times I have served there. The men were quickly separated and each time the primary instigator was asked to leave.
These little incidents were a good reminder for me that working with the homeless is not just cool, “sexy” or something that just makes me feel good. These men have dignity because they are made in the image of God therefore serving them is a worthy endeavor. That image is still there even though the life that God intended for them is broken because the brokenness of this world combines with their own sin and the sin of others against them to twist life into a tangled mess.
Each man has a different story, but combinations of mental illness, abuse of alcohol or drugs, and a community which doesn’t love the the outcast is a toxic mix. Movie nights are not the sole answer to these folks lives. But there is hope.
One of the encouraging part of my volunteering has been the friendships which have formed with the other volunteers. Several of the guys now showing up each week to set up, serve dinner and clean up have themselves spent time on the street. These guys are a living testimony to me that God does bring change to the lives of people.
This change doesn’t happen quickly. This change is not guaranteed through my efforts. But God is committed to bring change to lives that are broken. That is change that I can believe in. That is change I can work for. That is change I can share with others.
At New Life Masih Ghar we are preaching through the 10 commandments this winter. Throughout this sermon series we have been reminding folks over and over that the 10 commandments are not rules that we follow so that God will be pleased with us. They are guidelines for the good life.
I find it interesting that the 4th commandment is the only one which states that we should help others obey it. None of the other commandments say things like “make sure your son doesn’t commit adultery” or “don’t let your servants steal from your neighbors.”
But verse 10 of Exodus 20 reads: On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.
Does this mean I’m responsible my kids and the people who work for me?
Yes, because God cares about justice. He knows that if given a chance, most people in authority will work those under them as much as possible.
The God of the bible is a God of justice. Here He lets us know that if we are in a position of power, then we can’t use our authority to squeeze people as hard as we can. There is a limit to how hard we can push those under us, especially the poor and the immigrant.
This pattern of life that God sets of all people – work and rest – is good for you and it’s good for those around you.
Yesterday I helped move a friend, Oli, over to west London because he doesn’t own a car. On days like that, yes, I am glad that I’m able to drive around London but often I choose to ride the bus. Here’s the reasons why:
Cheaper in the short term: £1.35 per ride verses petrol and parking costs
Cheaper in the long term: £1.35 per ride verses £0.40 per mile (current UK rate)
Walking to and from the bus stop is healthy
Gives me a chance to randomly meet friends
Reading on the bus is better use of time than sitting in traffic while driving
Allows me to learn about the members of the community I would not normally connect with (Somali teens, older Pakistani women, etc.)
Often quicker and more flexible if multiple stops are needed
View of the community from the top deck is much more enjoyable than the view behind the wheel
It’s better for the environment to have 50 people riding on one bus then 50 cars driving.