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A Church Without Chairs

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by Sydney Marie Lange Sydney is a member of the 3-Month South Africa IMMERSION team that launched in May of 2019. This reflection was written during her time living with host families, partnering with local ministries, and learning to live the local way.

I want to preface this by saying I wrote this out of love for people, love for the body of Christ, and ultimately my love for God.

The past couple of years, I have grown more and more displeased with what we call church in America. I’ve heard so many watered-down sermons and pastors who are more concerned with having a tweetable quote than they are about preaching the Gospel. If the church doesn’t act like the body of Christ then is it really the church? Would Jesus recognize us as His bride? We are so comfortable with living in our own bubbles that we don’t care about the hurting people living next door to us, and I hate to admit that I'm guilty of this. The Church is meant to go out to the people, but from what I see, it’s not really doing that. I've been very frustrated because there aren't a lot of people who see any issues with how church is done in America, and I don't know what the solution is.

Church services in South Africa really showed me a glimpse of what the Church is supposed to look like.

The ministry that we partnered with in Darling demonstrated such a love for the people in the community. The community is made up of a bunch of different farms, and these farms are much different than farms in America, there are a lot of houses and different families that live on the land.

The ministry we were with would drive to these different farms to have church service for those who lived there. Out of all the ones we had, one service really stuck out to me. It was a Wednesday evening, we rode down this long dirt road in the back of a covered pick up truck, known as a “bakkie", to a barn on a dairy farm. It was a small barn that only had one light inside, it was evening, so it was pretty dim. After our team arrived, people from the houses started walking over carrying their own chairs. This barn didn’t even have places to sit, but the people wanted to hear the Word so they brought their own. Church didn’t start until they were positive there was no one else that would be coming to ensure everyone had a chance to make it. Worship started with an acoustic guitar and singing in the small room. The Pastor opened up the evening, me and another team member shared testimonies, and another shared a sermon. I was standing behind the row of people in this barn, and I was so in awe of how great God is.

I’m pretty sure it was one of the first services I have ever been in that the Holy Spirit actually had room to move.

If someone else felt lead to speak, they could have, if someone else wanted to sing a song, there was space to. There was an outline as to how the evening would proceed, but if the Holy Spirit wanted to, He could have completely changed everything. We were flexible and ready for whatever the Holy Spirit had for us. We weren’t pressed for time, and we spoke as much as we felt lead to speak. No one was in a hurry to get anywhere, and I don’t know if I have been in a service where everyone was so present. There were no fancy lights, no loud music, no air conditioning, no headlining speakers, and there weren’t even seats, but the people showed up. The Word of God doesn’t need all this fluff to attract people in, because when the truth is spoken people will draw near. People are hungry to hear the truth, people are hungry for God.

By saying all of this, I’m not trying to put down churches in America. I’m saying that if the lights and special effects are what the focus is, there is a problem. If sharing the Gospel is the goal, if speaking truth is priority, and if tending to the needs of the sheep is the focus, then having all these extra things isn’t bad. It’s when all the extra things are elevated above the Gospel and the people that the church stops being the church. Our church services start with or without the people, and I thought the people is who we were supposed to reach? Yes, having schedules are good, but are we so controlled by time that we move on without people? I'm left with more questions than I am with solutions, but I'm seeking for them.

These are two very different cultures, I understand, but sometimes our culture is more concerned with being comfortable than being fed. People attend certain churches because of the status the church holds and the things they are offered, and not about what is taught. I don’t have a solution on how to fix the churches in America, but I’m going to start with myself. I’m going to challenge myself to look more like the body, if an outsider saw how I lived I want them to be able to tell I live for Christ.

I want to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly (Micah 6:8). It’s definitely going to be an ongoing process. I’m going to stumble and fail along the way, but the goal is to be more Christ-like every single day.

A question I want to leave you with is if everything was taken away, if there wasn't even a chair for you to sit in, would you still go to church?


More IMMERSION Stories

How to Approach Your First Mission Trip
EM staff member, Heather Reynolds, sat down with Sydney Lange after she returned from from 3-month South Africa IMMERSION.
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Is Missions about Social Justice or Evangelism?
When I look at the life of Jesus, his example seems clear. He didn't just care about people's spiritual condition, but he cared about their social and physical needs as well.
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