As your pastor, I feel the need to offer an encouragement to all of you. Yet my encouragement may feel like a rebuke. I realize that COVID has made church attendance and engagement difficult. It is uncomfortable to sing with masks on. It is awkward to worship at home. With restrictions in place when gathering on campus and distractions around us when gathering in homes, it may seem like the easiest route is to simply disengage. While neither option to gather is fully preferable or ideal, we can still gather. And we must.
Sometimes people will ask me or one of the church staff a question that has been covered in our services for several weeks, which is a clear indication they are neither present nor engaged in our Sunday worship gathering. Have we let social distance become spiritual apathy? There was a time when the day of worship was set aside and called the Sabbath or The Lord’s Day. These loftier terms eventually became known as simply “Sunday,” which has now given way to merely “the weekend.” In this season where one day blends blandly into the next, I know how easy it is to just sleep in, veg out, or binge-watch the latest Netflix series—but these are serious times that require more engagement, not less. This is not the time to put God on the backburner by becoming spiritually lax in gathering as the church.
We sometimes speak of church in terms of the “gathered church” (what the Scriptures refer to as the ekklesia, the gathering of “called out” localized Christ-followers) and the “scattered church” (believers beyond walls, on mission in their local communities and around the world). Both are important aspects of God’s design for the church, and these days we may be feeling more “scattered” than “gathered.” So here are a few reasons to not give up engaging regularly and faithfully with our local church, particularly in these difficult days. These apply both to gathering in our building for those who are able, and gathering at home for those who are not.
- Don’t disobey! The gathered church is commanded by God. The church is no mere human institution, but a God-ordained one. From tent to temple, house church to mega-church, jungle clearing to video venue, iterations of God’s gathered people are as varied as history and culture. But we must not forget—this is His idea. Regardless of our preferences and thoughts as to what it should look like, God still commands His people to gather. Because of the faithfulness of Jesus to His bride, we are told in Hebrews 10 to obediently “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.” One of the hallmarks that we are doing so is that we are “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.” Meeting together looks different these days than we’re used to, but let’s not kick the habit. The Word of the Lord still stands, and we are to follow and obey the One who “gave Himself up” for the sake of the church. God is clear that engaging together as the church is not optional, so don’t fall into the trap of disobedience. (Hebrews 10:23-25, Ephesians 5:22-32, Colossians 3:16, 1 Corinthians 5:4, John 14:15)
- Don’t disengage! The gathered church ties your gifts to God’s purpose. As I’ve said many times, church is who we are, not a place we go—we are the church, 24/7. That didn’t become any less true when COVID showed up. Facemasks and screen fatigue may make it more challenging to engage, but it doesn’t change the fundamental reality that “you yourselves, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house.” As part of this building process, God has given each and every one of us gifts and abilities to steward that are specifically “for the common good,” which is to say, for the good of His church. So if you disengage, it matters. “If one member suffers, all suffer together…” Not only do you miss out on how God created you, you deprive the body of something significant He means to share through you. There may be some obstacles in your way, but don’t let those keep you from being a good steward of what God has entrusted to you. Ask Him for creativity, perseverance and wisdom, but don’t disengage. (1 Corinthians 12; 1 Peter 2:5, 4:10, Romans 12:20)
- Don’t despair! The gathered church is a kingdom outpost. If you’ve ever been to a U.S. embassy while in another country, that embassy is considered U.S. territory, just as if it were on U.S. soil. It is under our country’s authority and protection, even though the space it occupies is in a foreign land. An embassy is an outpost, a “home away from home” that serves as a beacon of hope for any citizens of our nation who find themselves lost or in trouble in a foreign land. In a similar way, the gathering of God’s people serves as our spiritual “home away from home.” The church is our outpost as we navigate this earth as aliens, pilgrims and sojourners, yearning for “a better country, that is a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:6). Whether we are gathering for worship and the Word in our living rooms or in our sanctuary, we as the church are under the authority and protection of King Jesus. Let your faithful engagement in our kingdom outpost serve as a beacon of hope to your own soul and a light to those still stumbling lost through this dark, broken world. Our kingdom outpost gives us hope for today and also points us to the future fulfillment of God’s coming kingdom, when “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” will stand before our King and confess that Jesus is Lord of all. That day will be sweet, and it will come. In the meantime, stay tethered to the outpost so you don’t wander off in despair. (Hebrews 11:6, Philippians 3:20, 1 Peter 2:11, Psalm 119:54, 2 Corinthians 4:8, Revelation 7:9-12)
Gathering looks different these days, but this is no time to put our sovereign Lord on hold or put him on the backburner. Keep Him at the forefront. I am thankful to see so many continuing to faithfully engage each week despite the many challenges. As one watching over you who will give an account (Hebrews 13:7), it is a deep joy to watch many steadfastly holding to Christ and honoring His bride, the church. Yet our hearts remain burdened for those of you who are struggling to engage. So whether you are doing really well, struggling greatly, or somewhere in the middle, my plea is for all of us to be in prayer hourly, in the Word daily, and joining our services weekly. Let me encourage you to faithfully engage with God and God’s people, whether in person or online for a season. Don’t disobey, disengage, or despair. Don’t give up, tune out, or put God on the backburner. Hold fast. Dig in. Press on. Keep God at the forefront.
We’re all in this together.
Love all of you,
(with Pastor Jason)