Up until a few years ago, I was a regular church-goer. It was rare that I didn’t turn up on Sundays. I’d served a term on the church council, been a leader in the music group, manned the sound desk and projector along with various other duties. After several years of church life, one day I just felt nothing. Absolutely nothing. Complete and total apathy with a sprinkling of “why am I even doing this?”. I was tired, fed up and completely unmotivated.
I was tired of leading the music group. It always seemed like I was playing the same songs constantly, and when we introduced new ones, they weren’t all that different from the old ones – they certainly didn’t say anything that hadn’t already been said in hundreds of other songs. They made Westlife sound lyrically-diverse. There seemed to be limited avenues for expression: I got the impression that, when I wasn’t leading, my role was just to stand at the back and keep the rhythm – solos were for flautists. I also grew to loathe the songs we took from Matt Redman’s 10,000 Reasons, purely because we were playing them so frequently.
I was tired of the cyclical nature of church life. Liturgy was the same month-in-month-out, sermons appeared to be recycled from last year, and the droning voice of the congregation always sounded pre-programmed. Why weren’t we moving forward? Why were we stuck in a seemingly-interminable loop?
I was frustrated by church politics too. One church, one people, one hierarchy. I recall one incident when, during my term on the council, it was suggested that we purchase a batch of Diamond Jubilee Bibles to give to primary school children within the Parish. It was stated that this would be a great opportunity for youth outreach, and almost everybody agreed. Everybody but me. I argued that, on those grounds, the money could be better-spent: giving a primary school child a Bible and saying “here’s everything you need to know about being a Christian” was like handing them a Haynes manual and saying “here’s everything you need to know about fixing a car”. It’s useless without guidance, context or explanation – so why don’t we invest in something more educational and aimed at a primary school level instead? The response I got was basically just “You have a valid point, but… FREE BIBLES!”. I then saw no further point in engaging in church politics.
I grew particularly weary of the “Big Church” mentality. I sensed a lot of admiration for huge contemporary churches like Holy Trinity Brompton and Soul Survivor, and it often appeared to me as if the church leadership sought to emulate their loud-and-modern approach as a way of encouraging growth. This approach was the one thing I liked the least about the two Spring Harvest events I attended – everything had to be sanitised in order to make it more suitable for a mass audience, rather than risk offending certain denominations. We were a rather small, local church with huge ambitions, but I felt we were trying to reach out without actually going out and doing something – instead, we hoped that the people outside would step inside of their own accord if they saw we weren’t stuffy or traditional.
After a lot of self-reflection, I noticed a recurring thread: whenever I was supposed to be experiencing all this spiritual activity, I was conscious that it was happening to other people and not me. That would imply that either (a) I was unworthy, (b) it was actually happening to me but I wasn’t aware of it, or (c) everybody else was merely having a psychosomatic reaction. Upon deeper reflection, I realised that I was never a true Christian, just an actor pretending to be one. I’d never actually given myself completely to Christ. I was enough of a head person to be a Christian philosophically, but was not enough of a heart person to be a Christian spiritually – I always tended to back away from doctrine rather than embrace it.
That was the old me, but would the new me ever go back to being a regular church-goer? I’d never say never, but a lot of water has since flowed under the bridge. I don’t think I could bring myself to sing worship songs when I feel absolutely no connection to them (truth be told, I saw a copy of Matt Redman’s 10,000 Reasons in a charity shop and felt like buying it just to destroy it for cathartic effect). I couldn’t bring myself to say the Creed when I don’t actually hold those beliefs. I also couldn’t bring myself to pray, believing that there might be any point in doing so.
After all… if there is a god, why would I lie to them?