Mark Batterson recently tweeted: One of my driving motivations as a pastor is this – do people actually MISS church when they MISS church?
A couple of weeks ago on Sunday I was away from home. We knew there was going to be an opening worship service for the conference we were at so no morning worship was planned. But then some folks got together and said, “There’s just something about the Body gathered for Sunday morning worship that seems…holy…honoring…right. Like we’re missing something without it.”
They weren’t being legalistic, but they decided to put together a Sunday morning time of worship for anyone who wanted to come. Lazily I almost didn’t go, but at the last minute slipped into the back and was treated to voices from every continent raised together in praise, a corporate exercise in adoration using the Psalms, and a simple Bible message. Reminders all of the love of Jesus and the power of the Body joined in community.
This discipline of gathering as the church, weekly, has been something I’ve been pondering a lot recently.
Sure, Hebrews 10:24 says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deed, not giving up meeting tougher, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another…”
But there are great podcasts to listen to. Great small groups to be a part of. Missional experiences. And the delight of sleeping in and taking a walk in the wide world of God’s creation.
It’s not like the early believers went to a big red brick building with a steeple at 11:00 am every Sunday morning.
I went through a season when I was so wounded that even walking through the doors of my church felt so painful and unsafe that I didn’t. In other minor seasons I’ve felt cynical or burned-out or just tired.
This Sunday I was back at our home church after several weeks out of town. There were hugs from friends, and joy and energy and good worship. Bags of Thanksgiving meals were being gathered and loaded into trucks.
But there was also an awkward conversation and someone whose name I couldn’t remember and I didn’t find the message particularly compelling. It got me to thinking again why gathering for church in the same time and place over time is important.
I don’t think it looks the same for everyone, and I certainly resist at times, but here’s some of what I came up with:
1. Church is a major tool God uses in my life because it isn’t always easy. It’s filled with broken people and hypocrites just like me. There is some mystical way that I believe God forms us over time when we put ourselves in an environment that’s not always comfortable. We don’t like everyone or every song, but we learn grace by being there.
2. Church reminds me I’m part of something bigger than myself. It brings an awareness that my tiny story is part of God’s larger story. I’m invisibly connected to believers gathered around the world on the Sabbath, and gathered throughout the ages, seeking, stumbling, experiencing God’s faithfulness as One Body.
3. Church is a weekly re-orientation. After the push-pull-tug-squash of the world for 6 days, I need to hear “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth.” It is a time of re-aligning to what’s important. True North.
4. Church is made up of broken people just like me. When church is a place to truly know and be known, it becomes a thin place where the presence of God breaks through in glorious grace. One of John and my favorite things to do is to serve communion in the faith community where we have walked alongside folks for almost 25 years. As people walk forward we know their stories of fracture and failure, loss, and longing. They, like we, come with outstretched hands. And God shows up. The Bread of new life, forgiving us, feeding us, preparing us to return to a hungry world.