I think the Alpha course is great – it’s a practical 10 week discussion course to enable people to think about life’s question and what Christianity can offer in a non-religious way. Millions of people have attended the course and many come to know the living reality of Jesus through it. The latest updated videos of the course are excellent.
So that’s clear – I’m a fan of Alpha. I’m making that point before sharing an observation from one of their recent ads.
In the ad, a roomful of people come together to do Alpha. They are all young, attractive and fashionable. This is not my experience of church. To add a final ‘I’m not here to bash Alpha’ caveat, I know the ad needs to be quick and snappy and it would be silly to expect it to somehow be fully representative of all types of people when it’s just there to show what the idea of the thing is.
The point is that church is in my experience is actually a pretty jumbled up mix of people and that’s the beauty of it.
I started going to church, having never been before when I was 8 or 9. Unbeknown to me, my mum had been having chats every week with a vicar who brought a friend for a flute lesson with my stepdad. Through these chats the dormant faith of her childhood had sprung to life. I had no frame of reference but church was fun, mostly because of a larger than life guy called Roger who ran the Sunday school, which he presided over with a booming voice and a loud hand-bell. I found a faith of my own but at the same time I found life pretty miserable. If my school had made a video to show off its wares, I certainly would not have been chosen. I was a little, studious kids with a succession of very bad haircuts and no street cred whatsoever.
I had few friends at school but ended up finding mates through a city wide Christian youth organisation. My confidence grew but I was still full of insecurities. My faith and the community of faith have been the way I have found myself and developed into someone who is mostly doing okay. I have no problem admitting that I need God and need others. When hard times and doubts have come I have faced them honestly while clinging on to faith.
The reality of church life is that it’s full of people who have their own, often difficult journey. You are thrown into community with people you wouldn’t be likely to meet otherwise. When it comes to small groups we all come with our own baggage and eccentricities which the author Adrian Plass is probably best known for capturing. Chuck a bunch of Christians in a room and there will people that never stop talking, people who never talk at all, people who only ever talk about the same thing over and over again etc. It can be hard work but it can also be the best thing going.
Why? Because none of us know it all. None of us have it all sorted. Put us together and we learn from each other. We learn from each other’s differences – not just to tolerate one another but to be blessed by the gifts and insights God has placed amongst us. My friend Tom, preached an excellent sermon recently (1) where he talked about the fact we all have blind spots. My observation was that God has chosen not to make us with 360° vision – we need others and God to get a true view of ourselves.
So if you haven’t done Alpha – do go. You don’t need to be cool, you just need to be you and it will be all the better for the ordinariness of a bunch of real people talking about things that matter together.
This article first appeared on www.christiantoday.com