This weekend I had the privilege of attending a local event called the IF Gathering. Presenters and speakers included Jenny Allen (founder and organizer), Lysa Terkeurst, Jackie Hill Perry, Francis Chan, and David Platt, just to name a few of my favorites! It was truly a wonderful weekend that challenged me spiritually, encouraged my heart, and provided some much-needed connection to women in a group setting, with a focus on the word of God. I’d go again next weekend if I could!
It was a refreshing time after such a long, dry, desert year of isolation, disconnect, distancing, and struggle. Let’s be honest, 2020 took more from us than we realize. And for me, a few of the things that I lost are only becoming clear now that some things are returning to normal. Connecting corporately with my sisters in Christ is one of them. There was power and encouragement this weekend in the large group setting, as we sang worship to God, we prayed together, and we all sat under the same teaching and were inspired toward spiritual growth.
Because I was able to experience that kind of setting again, I realized then how much I had missed it! And it got me to thinking about how much all of us have missed it too.
Except for a brief time when my church stopped meeting in person, I didn’t stop going to church weekly during the pandemic. But I know some of you did, and let me say, I understand. I get it. There was a lot of uncertainty about the safety of gathering, and there were procedures put into place that made church attendance a less positive experience. But it was difficult not being together. Thankfully, there was the convenience of being able to have church at home through, online streaming. Online church is surely better than no church at all!
But can I dig deep, go low, and be super honest with you? It’s not the same.
It is a temporary fix to a short-term problem. Church at home was never intended to be the “norm” for the long term. I want to encourage you right now, to go back to church! Staying only online is staying disconnected in many ways. Maybe for you, it’s just time to go back for the first time in a long time. Maybe the reason you’re not in church has nothing to do with Covid or 2020. But perhaps you have felt the call of God on your heart during the pandemic, to dig into His word again. If you’ve done that, you are probably feeling closer to God and ready for more. God has always been about relationship and He will use His word to draw us to Himself in that way. He will also draw us to other believers in that same way. There is strength in numbers, we need to be together.
What does scripture have to say about church attendance and fellowship with believers? A great deal actually.
In the book of Acts, we see the Gentile believers gathering for teaching and encouragement. There is a clear example for us there of the believer’s strength in being together with one focus and intent. They gathered to support each other in tough times, and they gathered to hear the word taught to them. In Hebrews 10:25, Paul gives us some instructions. He says, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” What God is telling us through the Apostle Paul, is that we need to be together as followers of Jesus. He’s telling us that it is important!
Now I can read your thoughts already….” Shelli, I still read my bible!” or “I watch church online…” or even “I worship when I’m in nature.” But I want to tell you that as good as those things are (and they are good things), they simply aren’t enough. I know, I know. I’m up in your business now……hang in there with me!
Several things happen when we gather for worship and teaching.
The first thing is that we are able to encourage each other. Hebrews 10:24 says, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.” This verse immediately proceeds verse 25 which talks about about continuing to meet together. I think the reason is because being together is encouraging. When we are together, it is natural that we will encourage each other toward love and good works. And when we are not together, that becomes harder. I don’t know about you, but left alone, I am selfish. I become “me focused” instead of “others focused”. I typically can’t see past my own issues, and I begin to feel like I am alone in my struggles. When I am active in church (which is a family) I realize that others struggle too, that I am not alone in my brokenness. And that I have a support system around me when things get tough. They encourage me!
Another thing that happens when we gather is that the Holy Spirit shows up. We see this in the early days of the church. Jesus gives some important teaching in Matthew chapter 18. In that teaching He reminds us in verse 20, that, “where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” He is referring to the Holy Spirit! Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would come after He was crucified. The Holy Spirit shows up when we are together! I have been in church during a time of powerful worship and truly felt the Spirit in the room. I treasure those times. Knowing that He is with you and me now, 2000 years later, is tremendously encouraging!
When we gather, we build community. Together we can accomplish more for His kingdom. Together we are unified and empowered. When we grow together, we become the Body of Christ. Romans 12:4-8 says this, “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” The idea here is that we need each other, living in community, to be complete. You and I have a purpose in church, and it isn’t only to sit and take notes. It is to connect and encourage. It is to be a part of The Body and to be there for each other. When you aren’t there, something is missing. It’s missing from your life, and it is missing from the life of the person you are not connecting with, in your absence.
We are less vulnerable to the enemy when we gather. 1 Peter 5:8 is a powerful image. It Reminds us that the enemy is real and determined. “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” When we gather to connect, worship, and learn, we are harder for the enemy to harass, because we are not on our own.
I imagine that you’ve seen enough nature shows in your life to understand this next concept. Try to envision a pack of Hyena’s scavenging along, searching for food. Those ugly, vicious, scraggly looking predators! Now insert a herd of zebras. Those hyena’s, like the enemy, are surveying that herd, looking for the one zebra that will be easy prey. Typically, that’s the one at the back of the group, traveling slower, and alone. The hyenas will swoop in and attack when that lone zebra is far from the group, when the group is unable to come to its rescue. He becomes easy prey.
Sister, you and I are more easily overtaken by the enemy when we are not connected.
Many of us have gotten away from our habit of going to church in the last year. Many of us have “wandered from the herd” in 2020. Now it’s 2021, and we’re still wandering. Sister, I understand, and I see the valid reasons why it happened. I don’t fault you for those decisions. But my plea to you is this.
It’s time for the church to rise up. It’s time for us to be united in our faith. It’s time for us to be connected again, and to grow together. It’s time for us to sing together, to pray together, to study the word together. It’s time for us to rejoin the body and encourage one another in the faith, and it’s time to gather again. Let’s be together in church, in God’s house, as a group.
I felt it this weekend, I felt that connection I was missing. I hadn’t realized just how badly I was missing it until I had it again. So, if you’re reading this now and you’re thinking “Yeah, but I’m ok. I haven’t been to church in a while, but I feel ok. I still read my bible, I still pray, I still sing…” my encouragement to you is, to just do it. Just go. Make a commitment right now to get in your car next Sunday morning and go back to church! Your soul needs it, and the body of believers in your home church need you there!
Do what you need to do to get there but get there! You will be both encouraged AND an encouragement to others!