One byproduct of the pandemic has been the disruption of church attendance. In the middle of March 2020 churches all over the country shut down. While many churches soon offered online options, churches navigated the challenges of reopening in a variety of ways. Since June our church has split the congregation in half by letters of the alphabet and offered two socially distant services.
While most Christians have been supportive and encouraging to their leaders during the navigation of official mandates, guidelines, and practical wisdom on how and when to reopen, there have been extreme voices on both sides crying out against their church leaders. As a pastor, I have called upon our church to strive for graciousness. We must be gracious to other churches who are making different choices about reopening. We must be gracious to people in our congregations that wish us to be more cautious (and less cautious!). We must be gracious to people within our own homes with different opinions about what is right.
Another message I have repeated during these troubled months is that online church is not the way it is supposed to be. For that matter, splitting the church in half and eliminating children’s ministry and other training opportunities is also not the way it is supposed to be.
I know that many people have legitimate concerns that keep them from attending church. But I’m concerned that some Christians have become comfortable with the new causal church involvement. They kind of like watching online services in their pajamas while eating a bowl of cereal, with or without the rest of their family. In fact, why go back, even when Covid-19 is no longer a consideration?
The Bible’s vision of the church family is far more involved than what happens on a screen once a week. In fact, it is not an overstatement to say you were not designed to make it alone as a Christian. Christianity is a team sport, not a solo sport.
You might argue that watching a football game on the TV is almost as good as sitting in the stadium (which will hopefully happen again soon!). But that is not the right comparison. You aren’t the spectator––you are the player! If Matt Ryan decides to just watch the Falcons on TV Sunday instead of play quarterback, the Falcons are in trouble.
Consider this command to not forsake the gathering of the church: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb 10:4-25). Notice the action words surrounding the command. They give insights into every Christian’s responsibilities at those church gatherings.
You are supposed to be provoking others around you to love and good works. In this dark world we desperately need other Christians to poke us in these areas. We get dry and stale. God uses personal interactions of the church meetings to rekindle spiritual zeal. Encouragement is also mentioned. Notice that these are “one-another” commands. That means that you need to be personally encouraged by others in the church, but also that others in the church need to be personally encouraged by you. These things aren’t accomplished sitting at home watching the screen for an hour.
What about the sermon? Isn’t that a spectator thing? Actually, it is not. Paul wrote: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11-12). The Lord Jesus gives gifted men to churches not to perform for an audience, but to equip ministers. We are all ministers in this way of thinking––we all do “the work of ministry.” The sermon isn’t a feel-good, Ted Talk, it is biblical equipping so that you can better serve in church and build up the body of Christ.
Even the worship by songs has a horizontal component. Aren’t we supposed to be singing to the Lord? Yes, but we are also singing to benefit each other. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16). Seeing and hearing fellow church members singing the same glorious truths not only stirs your hearts more than going solo, it teaches you and admonishes you.
I am so thankful for technology. I am so thankful we have been able to have something of church online during the difficult days of the pandemic. But, it is not the way it is supposed to be. Christians are made by God to be active parts of a faithful church family.
As you are able to regather with your church, do it. Do not settle for the screen. The Christian life is a spiritual war. You need to be equipped for the battle. You need to be strengthened regularly. You need to strengthen others. All of these are best accomplished together.
Certainly, remember those in your church who cannot come back together yet. Pray for them. Visit them, if you are able. Call them if you can’t see them. Send them a note. These are difficult days. Help others fight back the darkness with the Lord’s light, until we can meet again.
By: John Crotts