There is no doubt that meeting together as Christians just got more difficult in 2020 with large gatherings off the menu and booking a socially distanced pew online ahead of Sunday. The creative adaption to online church by everyone should be applauded but it comes with some more concerning side effects.
Just as people initially baulked at working from home, many Australians would now like to stay there for at least two out of five workdays.1 Similarly, some of us are rather happy with consumer church at a distance. We don’t have to dress up, we can multi-task and enjoy our breakfast at the same time and if the message doesn’t float our boat, we can channel surf to another congregation.
As a ministry, Engage Work Faith have a statement of faith and one of those tenets is that we believe the Lord Jesus Christ established the church to carry out his ministry on earth. This is not a motherhood and apple pie statement. The church, whether gathered locally or en masse, is God’s instrument and invention to expand His Kingdom in our world and to show His glory. It will outlast everything else on the globe.
There is no such thing as a lone ranger Christian, as many of us have been taught as new believers. Isolated Christians are like a firebrand pulled from a roaring fire. Left on their own they can go out instead of burning brightly. A robust understanding of church is essential for Christians in a pandemic climate of online preaching, isolation, and COVID safe hospitality. Habits are good for us and being out of the habit of meeting together can make it hard to resume. But also, if we’re not convinced church is critical, we can hardly persuade our God-curious friends to give it a test drive.
"The same force that knits Christians to Christ equally knits us to one another"
The same force that knits Christians to Christ equally knits us to one another. We have one Father and are one family to each other. In the course of supporting workers, our team comes across people who ‘used to’ go to church but no longer attend. There are new Christians who have come to believe in Jesus but see no value in clogging up their weekends with services. I have a lot of empathy for this - church can be a struggle. Sometimes we see the worst of human nature in a church and have been impacted negatively by it. But tragically, we begin to think we can worship God alone, and we don’t need a face to face Christian community. Yet Jesus confides to his disciple, Peter, “I tell you, you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The rock there means a rock face or platform - it’s a solid immovable foundation upon which to build something permanent. When you think about it, Christ is the ultimate start-up entrepreneur, creating an enterprise that still is growing 2,000 years on.
Early Christians faced the prospect of being hunted down and arrested. The easiest way for authorities to do this was to wait till they gathered together. Logic would say: the best strategy was to stay low and let the dust settle. In fact, the Bible says the opposite: that their strategy for survival was continued access to each other. (Hebrews 10)
"It will take more than a stick to persuade some back to church"
It will take more than a stick to persuade some back to church so it must start with our drive and motivation. This is where the Bible speaks practically and pastorally.
If you find yourself in a conversation with someone who has stopped meeting with Christians, try and ask questions to help them think rather than tackle them head on. Maybe the questions are also good for yourself.
- What expectations, if any, do I have for church?
- Do I meet with any Christians regularly in a small group and what happens when we meet?
- What could I possibly offer other Christians that might be a blessing and support to them?
- What are the benefits of being with people who I haven’t chosen as my friends?
- Where does fostering friendship fit into Christian community for me?
- What are the distinct advantages of opening up the Bible with others rather than studying it on my own?
- What might be the dangers of neglecting to meet in face to face church?
- Is it possible to have a coffee with my pastor or small group leader to discuss my reticence to come back to church?
- If I am feeling vulnerable and nervous about returning to church due to being a high-risk category, what alternative strategies can I put in place to enjoy Christian fellowship?
What does the Bible say about church?
“Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have made a habit, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:25
Benefits of mutual equipping
"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, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians 4:11-13
“But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.“ 1 Corinthians 12:24-27
“...Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her...that He might present to her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless." Ephesians 5:25, 27
The dangers of self guidance
“The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9
God's grand plan for church
“ And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18