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A Call to be Spiritual Homemakers

Thursday, 27 October 2022  | Eugene Wong


Home is a shelter from storms – all sorts of storms.
(William J. Bennett)

I don’t know about you, but I am tired. And my many conversations with a myriad of people over the last six months in particular have confirmed I am not the only one.

Weary travellers

Two years of lockdowns and unsettling concerns over health, finances and loved ones can take their toll. These have been set against a backdrop of worldwide political instability, compromised supply chains, climate change, questionable political and corporate leadership, the growing gap between rich and poor, and the seeming deterioration in our ability to hold civil conversations about contentious issues. Most people seem emotionally spent – and unable to find true rest.

Where do we go when we are feeling down, or vulnerable, or simply exhausted? What do we crave when we are heart-broken, or grieving, or lonely?

I seek out safe places. Restful places. Places that allow me to simply be me – to eat and sleep, if that is all I am able to do at that time. I look for places where I know I can find empathy – not just arm’s-length sympathy, but places where my story won’t be dismissed or invalidated. I look for a listening ear that seeks to understand and identify with, not necessarily fix, me.

There is a shortage of places like this in the world right now. But the demand for them is higher than ever. While some people withdraw to their own safe places, those of us who have the energy to reach out go to community groups for connection: sports clubs, support groups, exercise studios, men’s sheds, book clubs, school communities, churches, advocacy groups, upskilling groups or volunteer opportunities. We seek connection, and sometimes solace, in these ‘third spaces’ or ‘home away from home’ (which is not the workplace). Many of these have grown in popularity over the last decade.

The ache for home

The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned. (Maya Angelou)

I’ve been reflecting recently on what makes a place feel like home. There are few things I enjoy more than returning to my house at the end of a long day, kicking off my shoes and leaving the rest of the world behind. It’s where I go to rest and regenerate, to be creative and to plan my next steps for making a difference in the world.

The dictionary (Oxford Languages) will tell you that ‘home’ is ‘the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household’. That feels a bit sterile to me, and not entirely reflective of its common usage. So, I surveyed some people I know about what it means to them. My favourite response was:

Home is the place you go when the rest of the world feels unwelcoming. It is where we are most safe in being our true self. Most people have addresses and spend the rest of their lives searching for the place that feels like home.

What I learned was that most people think a home is: a safe place; a place of emotional/relational connection; a place of identity; a place without judgment; a place of autonomy; and a place where you can grow.

So in a spiritually fatigued society, how does this approach to home fit with our experiences of church?

A house for God, or our spiritual home?

Every Sunday I have to psych myself up to go to my church’s weekly gathering. Don’t get me wrong: the people there are good, faithful and lovely. But I go knowing that I will return feeling slightly deflated, having received good teaching but without having experienced much of that embodied in the community expression or in individual relationships.

There are few places in my world where I feel less seen and known than in church. It is easily the loneliest hour of my week. And so, each week I question yet again whether my being there is a noble attempt to hold space and shift the culture, or a sign of faithfulness and commitment, or simply religiosity, enabling the continuation of an unhealthy culture.

I have seen loved ones progress up the ranks of leadership, and the higher they go, the less relational they become. Ironically, the less Christlike my experience of them also becomes. This doesn’t mean they are becoming bad people. I still love them dearly and believe in them. I’m just aware that I’ve been increasingly shut out of their lives and deprioritised in favour of meeting with church staff and running impersonal church programs.

It is in times like these that I wonder what is being built: a dwelling place where we can abide with God, or just a house for God? Here are some thoughts on what it means to be a home and what this might mean for the church.

Home is somewhere that feels safe. It’s where you can let your guard down and be relational. What are we doing to make our churches safe for our congregations, staff and neighbours, and to make ourselves safe for others to be around?

Home is where identity is nurtured. Allowing you to truly live and grow must trump aesthetics. To what degree are our churches focused on encouraging living, and to what degree on maintaining aesthetics? What are we willing to sacrifice to allow for true expressions of people’s personalities in our churches? How can we strike a wise balance between freedom and healthy boundaries?

On the other hand, aesthetics do matter. The way a place looks impacts how you feel and act in it. How do the aesthetics and communication styles of our churches celebrate and honour the people in the community? How do they help people to feel understood and welcomed into the community?

Home is where you matter. It’s where you contribute meaningfully and feel valued. How do we empower people to contribute to churches in meaningful ways, according to their giftings and passions? How do we value their contributions? And how are we preventing people from contributing in meaningful ways?

What are churches making?

It takes great effort to turn a house into a home. It requires constant refining and personalisation. Similarly, it takes a lot of effort to make a church feel safe and welcoming. And so, the question I find myself asking is: If a church is not actively seeking to be a homemaker, then what exactly is it making? If we want to nurture the family of God, we must seriously consider how to turn our churches into a spiritual home for others.

Jesus’ ministry is a solid model for how we can prepare rooms for others in our Father’s house:

  • He was heavily relational, made time for individuals even when he had other places to be (Mark 5:21-34), and met and accepted people where they were without judgment or condemnation (John 4:7-30).
  • He wasn’t scared of mess and felt no need to exert control over others, even if it meant he had to clean up after them (John 13:18-27).
  • Much of his ministry (including miracles) was aimed at restoring lost dignity or social standing (John 2:1-10), helping people to feel seen and understood (Matt 8:1-4). He had compassion on people and changed plans to make room for them (Matt 14:13-21).
  • He actively created opportunities for people to use their resources to serve with him in meaningful ways that elevated their status rather than taking advantage of them (Luke 19:1-10). He still actively creates opportunities for us today.

We have much to learn from Jesus’ example. Unfortunately, the temptation is to run ahead and do things for Jesus, often without working with him.

Maybe they’re already home

I have heard many church leaders over the last couple of years talk with polite judgement and a whiff of condescension about people who have stopped coming to church, emphasising the importance of them ‘coming home’.

What I find peculiar in those statements is the assumption that church is home for everyone. Perhaps it is time for us to recognise that many people who left the church during lockdown and have not returned are not simply ‘backsliders’ who have lost their way home, but beloved children of God who never felt fully at home in well-oiled services, and who found the opportunity to explore new worlds and new ways of living out their faith.

Maybe they already have found places where they feel understood and accepted. And so they are not coming home to church, but they are staying ‘home’, in the places where they feel they belong, with people with whom they feel they belong.

We are all called to be homemakers

As I ask these questions, I find them constantly pointing back at me as well. It is easy to approach church as a consumer. But if I truly want to find a place I call home, I must actively invest into it and try to turn it into a home. The following questions come to mind as I think about this:

  • What am I spending my time, energy and finances on?
  • How am I helping my church to become more homely?
  • How am I helping my church to become more welcoming, safe and vulnerable, a place with warmth and kindness, where people can wear their Sunday worst and not feel like they will be judged?
  • How can I help people to step into their identity, empowered to be who they were made to be?
  • And how can I do this with openness and vulnerability, as an invitation for them to do the same with me?

In the wake of Covid lockdowns, church attendance has been massively depleted. But we are also faced with a once-in-a-generation opportunity as churched and unchurched alike, to openly talk about our society’s need for connection and community. If we as the church can be effective community for them, we will provide a much-needed service to the local community. In turn, pastors concerned about numbers dropping off at their churches will be encouraged to find that attendance figures rise. Perhaps it is we who need to return home to Jesus in our churches, and as we do, he – and others - will meet us there.


Eugene Wong is a community engagement strategist. He serves as Chief Story Shaper for A Stronger Narrative – Coaching for Life, Leadership and Legacy. He is also the Arts, Culture and Community Engagement Consultant for the Centre for Building Better Community. He remains confident that he will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.


Image credits:

Photo of people holding hands in church. By Pedro Lima.

Photo taken in Grundtvigs Church, På Bjerget, Nordvest, Danimarca. By Daniele Colucci.


This is an abridged version of an article first published in the Spring 2022 issue of Zadok on ‘Coming Home’. Subscribe here to receive your copy.

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