You need to come to church.
Who would have thought that would be such a provocative thing for a pastor to say? But here we are.
First, I need to do my best to explain my heart in that statement and my tone. This is not me trying to do my best impersonation of an angry, mean, pulpit-pounder. On my internship (I’ve shared this story before), the previous pastor was notorious for his eidetic memory and his ability to know where his parishioners always sat, in a congregation that averaged 600 weekly attenders. When Sunday attendance wasn’t to his liking, he sat down on Monday and diagrammed the sanctuary and pews and marked each empty seat and sent copies of his diagram to his parishioners with a note that said something like, “I know who wasn’t here last Sunday, and I expect you to be here this week.” That is NOT what this is.
As your pastor, and as your brother in Christ, I care deeply for you. Sometimes I get funny looks when I tell the congregation that I love them, but it’s true! Christians have a unique bond of love in Christ. I love you, and I’m telling you that you need to come to church. It’s healthy for your soul.
Part of my motivation for writing this now is simply because in the myriad of voices and opinions we have been listening to over the last five months regarding this COVID-19 pandemic, I haven’t heard this simple fact said out loud very much. Church is healthy for one’s soul, and we need that. If you’re anything like me, you’ve listened to doctors, educators, politicians, and a host of other city, state, and national leaders. Their words inform the decisions we have been making as individuals, families, and as a congregation, and that’s wise. But part of my job is to encourage you, as you make these decisions, to remember that church is valuable and healthy, and that needs to be weighed in the decisions you make.
Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that this is a complex issue for many people. That is part of why I want to be very clear that I am not angry with you if you haven’t been attending church since we opened our doors in May. For many of you, this pandemic has made life very difficult. Please know that I am praying for you! I know that many of you feel like you are stuck between a rock and a hard place, because you know how valuable church is, and you also know that it might not be safe for you or a loved one to attend. And I promise to do the best I can to encourage you in the decisions you make. But I also want to start pursuing alternative and creative options for you, because the status quo is not sufficient for the health of your soul. The livestream option of attending our service was never intended to be a long-term replacement for in-person attendance.
Here’s why. One of the common arguments that Christians make in defense of staying home is that “Church is not a building.” That’s true. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve said it myself a number of times in these last months. However, here’s one thing the Church is: it’s a gathering. It’s an assembly. Now, first and foremost, we believe this assembly is a spiritual one. By faith, we are assembled, or gathered, as the body of Christ. That’s why we believe that Christians all over the world constitute the Church, even though we don’t physically assemble with every Christian in the world. I can’t wait until that happens in heaven! And sometimes it’s not just geography that prevents the Church from gathering, even within a community. Our shut-ins know this very personally, because they haven’t been able to gather with us for years, in some cases. But we don’t just leave them in their isolation either. We find alternative ways for them to “gather” in person with other Christians, because they need that.
We all do.
And that is one of the great benefits of the local congregation. When we physically gather with other Christians, we get a taste of what heaven will be like. That encourages us, and fills us with hope. That is why the author of Hebrews exhorted Christians to “not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25). In other words, we need each other. That is why the Church, ever since it was born on that day of Pentecost, has gathered.
We gather around the Word. We don’t have to gather in a church building. We can gather in parks, in homes, or in secret places like the underground Church. And when we assemble, we do so around the Word. Because it is there that we receive the good gifts that God has so graciously given us. We can, and do, receive those gifts in personal study too, by faith. But we also need others and are blessed by the community of the gathering of saints. We must not forget that separation and isolation is a crafty tool of the devil who uses it to discourage us and attack our faith. This virus has caused much separation, which has been necessary. But that doesn’t mean it is a good thing, or that we should be content with it. A few months ago, Pastor Ward and I started offering “back-yard visits” for those who were comfortable with us coming to sit in their yard with them. Since then, many people have commented that they thought it was a great idea and wanted us to come, but they never called, because they assumed that we were overrun with requests. The truth? Almost nobody called. If you would like some fellowship, please call! We would love to see you! Our intern would love to meet you! If you haven’t had communion, we would love to bring that most blessed gift to you. We can find safe ways to enjoy the fellowship that our souls need to combat the isolation that makes us prone to attacks on our faith.
I read somewhere recently about the beautiful imagery that is found in Christians rising on Sunday morning to go to church. The Bible calls Christians collectively, the Bride of Christ. For brides, their wedding day is such a special and exciting and joyous day. They wake up, prepare themselves, and finally walk down the aisle to meet their bridegroom, where they are joined as one. There is great meaning for Christians, as the Bride of Christ, to wake up, prepare themselves, and go to meet their Bridegroom, Jesus Christ where, by faith, we are joined to Him in His Word.
We are Christ’s bride. What a joy! Come to church and meet Him here. If you can’t gather here in our building, let’s find another safe way to gather somewhere and meet Christ in His Word.
In Christ’s Love,