One conversation during a recent Messy Church visit set me thinking; this person was from a church family and was there with her young girl. She confessed to me that she doesn’t really enjoy coming to Messy Church. In fact she’s only there because she recognizes that on Sunday morning there just aren’t enough children around of the same age as her daughter. She just didn’t find Messy Church challenging or helpful to her with her faith and in her eyes it was merely an extension of the Toddler Group that she had hoped she had left behind.
The trouble is that most Christian people just can’t believe they can be nurtured in their faith in an all-age church setting, without a sermon, with children significantly present and in the company of those who are not yet Christians. But I believe they’re wrong. We need the insights of children as much as they need ours; also the experience of difference, the experience of hands on creativity and the stimulation of conversations together every bit as much, if not more than just words from the front or the book, as in traditional teaching and learning. Until we learn that spiritual maturity is largely about growing in love and wisdom and that this love and wisdom is acquired through experience, encounter and the unexpected epiphanies of God in our everyday lives, then we constantly remain victims of the academicisation of our faith, or perhaps worse, the arrogance around an exclusive hierarchy of learning.
What we have in Messy Church is the lively sacrament of story, service and a shared meal. It is operating on a wholly different paradigm of Christian discipleship and evangelism. Messy Church is creating a church that is built on the blessing of others before self… and yet this is the great secret! Why? Because the more we seek the kingdom of God for those around us, the more we find grace upon grace for ourselves!
Messy Church is reminding us that Christian nurture in the faith is not primarily about the liturgy or the lectionary, nor about the sacrament or the sermon, nor even solely about personal Bible reading and private prayer, but rather about being and becoming Christians together: putting the communion back into the Eucharist; the conversation back into our worship; the community back into our conversion; the serving back into our services; and putting the shared experience of our friendship with Jesus and each other into true discipleship. Did not Jesus nurture his disciples in community, in the everyday, in partnerships, in service, in conversation and in dialogue arising from story? This really does mess everything up of course and challenges centuries of the traditional ways of doing things. We need to be rescued from i-church and discover we-church, where we can discover ‘corporate Christianity’ again because the kingdom of God is found among us not simply in a coming together of individuals with spiritual experiences. This is being deliberately controversial, I know, but maybe we may need to go to this extreme, if such it is, in order to get things right again and Messy Church is helping us do just that!