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When I Struggled to Fit into My New Church

Written By Chanel Georgopoulos, South Africa

I looked around at the unfamiliar faces in the congregation, and then back to the front of the church, where the pastor had been preaching for 25 minutes already. I had grown up in a church where a sermon was called a homily, and it was 15 minutes at most.

There were other differences as well. Here I have been emotionally moved in ways I never experienced at my old church. There were tears during worship, and warmth filled my chest as I watched the members interact with each other.

But something still nagged at me. Though I have been coming to this new church with my boyfriend for four months already, I still felt like a fish out of water.

Before this, I had been at the same church for my entire life. And I would probably have stayed there for the rest of it as well. But then I met and fell in love with someone from a different church.

We tried out each other’s churches, and I decided that moving was probably good for me. For the past eight years, I had been sitting in the same choir seat and moving in the same little circle of fellow members at church. Perhaps it was time for me to be off to new pastures.

There was just one problem: I felt like the new kid on the block. Every Sunday, I huddled at my boyfriend’s side for protection from the overwhelming number of friendly faces.

Some people encouraged me to get involved by serving. My first thought was the music ministry, where I had been involved in my old church. But the one here was a lot different. And if I had to admit it, my voice is simply not made for solos. With that option off the list, I was faced with tea duty (and dishes) or powerpoint (not my strongest suit)—neither of which I was particularly keen to try, if I’m honest.

I knew from experience that being involved changes how you feel about coming to church every Sunday, so it was something I wanted to do. I just didn’t know how to get started. I knew the Lord didn’t merely want me sitting in the pew every Sunday in my introverted little bubble. I had to get out of my shell.

I’m still trying to figure out what I can do. But I started attending a small group with my boyfriend—bless his heart, extrovert that he is—and found that the youth at this church are very welcoming. Since joining the small group, I have quickly started feeling more at ease and more a part of the church body.

At my old church, I didn’t really socialize with other youths outside of choir practice. But here there was an after-service tea which provided a great opportunity for hanging out. And it was nice to be invited to a ladies’ breakfast or a beach day, or have someone ask you at Thursday group how the rest of your week has been.

If you’ve just moved to a new church, or are having trouble fitting into your church, perhaps you could also try serving in a ministry or joining a small group. Here are some other quick ideas on figuring out where you need to be and feeling more at home:

  • Say hi to the person sitting next to you (how often do we actually do this?)
  • Ask someone who knows you well what they think you would be good at
  • Find out who is in charge of which ministry, and talk to them about serving opportunities that are available
  • Pray about it (this may seem obvious, but often we use this as a last resort)
  • Stay for after-service coffee and tea instead of dashing out the door

I still have the number of the ministries leader sitting unused in my phone, so perhaps I should take my own advice. But for now, the after-service tea has been a great way to get chatting with people I find myself in a small group with. It was actually how we found out about the group in the first place—the power of oat cookie-induced conversation!

The church body is a safe space, and if we feel that the new church we’ve joined is the right place, then we owe it to ourselves to step out boldly (or timidly, whatever works for you) and listen to the Lord’s nudging.

Paul says that each member of the body has a role to play, whether it be prophesy, service, teaching, encouraging, or even showing mercy (Romans 12:3-8). You may need to try a few things out before settling on something you like, but you might find yourself doing something you never thought you would or were capable of doing. Not everyone is meant to stand on stage and sing, but working in the background doesn’t make what we do any less valuable, and perhaps even the simple conversations we have with people can be impactful. What’s important is that we keep our hearts open to the leading of the Spirit, and find ways to engage with and build up the church we’re planted at.

Though I am settling in, it still feels like something of a transition. But maybe I’ll try out serving tea and oat cookies, or maybe there’s a meaningful conversation to be had that will point me in the way I should go. What I know for sure is that my small group has been a blessing, and changing churches has allowed God to move in deeper parts of my heart. For this, I am grateful.

My Fight Against FOMO

Written by Michelle Lai, Singapore

Do you have FOMO?

I first heard this acronym in my church last October, when a university student shared about her struggle to manage her time after entering university; she had to balance her studies, church activities, social activities, and quiet time with God.

FOMO stands for “fear of missing out”—in other words, it’s the fear of not being in the know of what is happening, or missing out on experiences which others seem to enjoy. You may experience FOMO in its various forms. For example, you may feel envious of what others have, so you say yes to every activity without much consideration.

When I heard the student’s sharing, I immediately recognized that I was struggling with the same thing. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, I had to take two semesters off university, which meant missing out on classes, Christian Fellowship (CF), social gatherings, and other important events.

I remember feeling a wave of sadness when I realized that I was physically and mentally unable to take part in CF. As part of the executive community, I was supposed to be in charge of the Bible study curriculum. Knowing that I would not be able to implement the ideas I had for the curriculum disappointed me.

Sometimes, I felt so tired that I could not even meet my friends for a meal. Missing out on a year of school also meant that I would not be able to celebrate milestones together with them. When they graduated and started work, I would still be in university. When I saw my peers moving ahead with their lives, I couldn’t help but feel left behind.

I thought about all the “what ifs” and “what-could-have-beens”. If I did not have to take this break, I would have been able to complete my final year in school; I would have been able to contribute to CF; and most importantly, I would have been able to experience life with my friends.

As I grappled with these thoughts, I realized that the main reason why I was sad was that I was not going to graduate together with my peers. Though my friends tried to encourage me by saying that the extra time would pass very quickly, my heart was still unhappy and bitter because I knew that I would not be able to catch up with them.

But by focusing on not being left out, I lost sight of God. I forgot that serving God and being part of a Christian community was never about me to begin with. Though I had started out wanting to serve God, along the way I had become preoccupied about being indispensable to those around me. I forgot that God does not need anybody to do anything for Him. However, He delights in us and chooses to partner us in His work.

Right after that service, I prayed that God would remove FOMO from me and that I would recognize my feelings of sadness for what they were and deal with them. I prayed that I would get my priorities right. And I prayed for my friends and also for the CF even though I could not participate.

For a few months, I kept praying to God about the sadness I was feeling. He then opened my eyes to see the situation from another perspective—that this was my season of rest. He showed me that honoring Him didn’t just mean serving those around me, but it also meant resting, slowing down, and taking care of my health so that He could continue to use me for His glory.

By God’s grace, my condition has improved, and I returned to school a few weeks ago.

For everyone who fears being left behind, I would like to encourage you that although you may not always be “relevant” to the people or activities around you, you will always be relevant to God no matter what season of life you are in. God will not miss any of us out.

Each of us has our own path to walk on earth. Let’s worry about whether we’re seeking God at every moment instead of worrying about whether we’re part of the “in” crowd or the latest happening.

 

 

When Serving Brought Out the Worst in Me

Written by Dominique Gonzaga, Philippines

Growing up in church, I was actively involved in church activities at a young age. As a youth, I served as a Sunday school teacher as well as a musician in the worship team. From a young age, I knew that God had blessed me with gifts so that I could bless others. But head knowledge proved to be insufficient in my case, and God had to teach me the hard way.

It all started when my best friend and I became song leaders simultaneously in our church’s music ministry. During practice sessions, we would both try to sing louder than the other person whenever it came to the high notes in the songs. Gradually, this unspoken competition manifested itself in the form of tension—both in the room and also in our friendship. I wanted to sing louder and better than her.

My pride and desire for praise continued to show up in ugly ways. I began to notice the mistakes and weaknesses of everyone in the band. During practices, I would get annoyed whenever someone sang off-key or played a wrong chord. I would sometimes even point out their mistakes in front of everyone else. But when others tried to give me feedback about my singing, I simply brushed their comments aside, thinking that they were either unsupportive or jealous.

One day, my best friend confronted me. She told me she had noticed how aloof and proud I had become. She said I had been focusing on my own strength and had failed to give my Creator credit for it.

My immediate reaction was to deny her allegations. I tried to justify myself, saying that God had given me these talents and gifts, and I deserved the recognition for using them well. But at the back of my mind, I knew that all she said was true.

Later on, I was looking through some old college photos. I was suddenly reminded about one of the tips of photography: focus on one thing in order to get a sharp image; everything else would be blurred out.

That’s when everything clicked. I had been doing exactly that—but I had chosen the wrong subject. Instead of focusing on God, I had put the focus on myself. I served in ministry only because I wanted the praises of men. It felt good to be noticed and to be praised by the people around me whenever I sang. But as a result, everything—other people, even God—had been relegated to the background.

I had made service all about myself, by striving to be noticed and known. I realized that I needed to change the way I served God. I had been so caught up with my pride and all that I could do that I had forgotten to glorify God for being the giver of these gifts. As a result, my relationship with Him and the people around me spiralled downhill.

I decided to make things right and asked God for a renewed and pure heart to serve Him again. It was hard at first to acknowledge my mistakes and sins (Psalm 32:5), and ask God for forgiveness (1 John 1:9). There were also many times that I wanted to take the easy way out by quitting service altogether. But I realized that would not please God.

So I pressed on, by the grace of God, working on my humility and refocusing my life and ministry on God. I learned to appreciate the talents others had and help others who were struggling with the same issue I faced. I learned to wholeheartedly declare that God alone deserves all the praise and glory whenever I receive praise or compliments.

Today, I am still struggling with humility but I know that God continues to work in me. If you, like me, are struggling with pride, I pray that God will grant you a heart that is willing to serve Him humbly and wholeheartedly. May our attitudes bring glory to God and point others to Him alone.

Are You “Unsuccessful” in Church?

Written By Leslie Koh, Singapore

You’re active in church. You’re there every Sunday morning, arriving early to arrange the chairs and set up the worship team’s equipment, or to help pick up disabled members from their homes and wheel them to their usual spots in the worship hall.

Or your personal ministry is counselling troubled teens or comforting lonely old folks, so every week or so, you meet them individually after service, over a cup of coffee, to listen to their woes and pray with them. And over the years, they’ve come up to you, one by one, to thank you and tell you how much you mean to them.

But nobody knows this. Your name doesn’t figure anywhere in thank-you lists or the Who’s Who in the church newsletter. When they announce appointments of deacons and leaders, you’re not one of them. When they name contenders for the Hall of Heroes, your name is missing. Few people greet you by name. Why, hardly anyone even knows who you are.

“It’s okay,” you tell yourself. “God knows. I don’t need to be known; it’s okay being low-profile.”

Except . . . it’s not. Not really. Because everyone needs a pat on the back now and then. Because sometimes, you’re tired of being taken for granted, and a little recognition and gratitude won’t hurt. You’re not jealous of the ones who get all the credit and the fame (really!), but you’re a little weary of doing all the back-end work without being appreciated.

Hey, we could all do with a little “success” in church (or at work, if this is true at your workplace too). But it’s not something you seem to be enjoying.

Remember the story of the man who goes down the beach picking up starfish stranded on the sand and throwing them back into sea? Someone asks him, “How you’re going to save all of them? There’re too many.” He answers, “Yes, but I’m making a difference to this starfish.” The usual lesson is, you might not be able to save everybody, but you can save some, one at a time.

Fine. But here’s the thing: Do you remember the man’s name?

Bet you didn’t. No one ever does. He wasn’t mentioned in his church bulletin or praised at his Sunday services. His pastor doesn’t even know his name. But to every single starfish he threw back into the sea, he’s a true savior. They all know exactly who he is. Who is he? He is the Starfish Picker.

And that’s who you are. Only those whom you help know you. The girl you counsel every time she breaks down. The old man you help up the steps every week. To them, you are their world, because you are the only one who cares. The crowds may not know your name, but they do. You are their starfish picker.

“But I’ve only helped five people,” you argue. Maybe it’s one. Maybe, you think, that’s why few in church notice what you do. But as far as these five people—or two, or one—are concerned, you are a Godsend. At night, they thank God for placing you into their lives. Why? Because you are God’s starfish picker.

 

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