Gathering together

“Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here” were the words spoken over a radio transmission by Jack Swigert when Apollo 13 encountered a crippling explosion. Through the years, it’s become more familiarly known as “Houston, we have a problem.” I think we are encountering our own crippling problem in regard to worship and the gathering of the church.

“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” (Heb. 10:25).

It started before COVID-19 hit. It started a long time ago, since Hebrews 10:25 clearly speaks to that problem almost 2,000 years ago. So let’s talk briefly about the problem and where I think it may start for most people: Do you neglect the gathered church?

Do you neglect the gathered church?

This is a difficult topic these days since the church has made a max exodus online with COVID-19 and federal regulations. But I want to encourage you to not find online church as an acceptable norm going forward. The physical gathering of the church to worship weekly is a command. And while we can agree that wisdom allows the weekly gathering to be exiled to online services for a time, historically and biblically, the church is meant to be together.

Online services are a poor substitute for the physical presence, love shown and care given in the weekly gathering. Thankfully, we live in a time when it’s a possible substitute. Do you have any growing anticipation for the return of the physical gathering? The joy of joining together on this fallen earth is a foreshadowing of the eternity we will experience when in God’s presence. It’s a precursor to our eternity.

And online and digital experiences — such as via phone, text, instant message, Zoom, Facebook Live, YouTube, etc. — lack the connection of being together. In fact, there are alarming stats of churchgoers not even participating in their own church’s services online. They choose another church’s services to watch over the TV. Or they don’t even bother to join online at all. Maybe you fall into one of those slots.

Don’t allow the easy temptation to not join in online (if online is the only option for your church) to take over. That will rob you of the joy that is present in that substitute until you can meet again. If your church is meeting physically (I’m sure with quite a few changes), consider being a part in a wise and safe way. But either way, never neglect the gathered church.

Did you struggle before COVID-19?

It seems that COVID-19 has simply brought to light a struggle that was real for so many even before March 2020. Attendance at the local gathering of the church has been dwindling for a while. But it shouldn’t be. In my years as a pastor, I noticed a particular trend among both youth and college age that made it very difficult to make Sunday morning happen.

Saturday night…

Saturday night was often misused and abused, leaving a very tired and unenthusiastic worshipper on Sunday morning or a no-show altogether. You probably don’t think about it that way. Most people don’t. But I think we should. Saturday night is often filled with great times, and those times shouldn’t stop. But if we are mentally and spiritually neglecting the gathered church because our Saturday night fun isn’t responsible, we are most likely in danger of giving God our leftovers rather than our first fruit.

So take a minute and think. Is this something that you relate to? If so, take time to resolve within yourself what you need to do in order to make Sundays better suited for complete worship with your church. This may be especially true now. Online services are not the same, can result in increased difficulty in paying attention and, as a result, we miss out on meeting with God. Fight these temptations and long for gathered worship for the good of your soul and glory of God in your life!

Is this really that big of a deal?

In a world where the persecuted church (people who literally face death) still gives everything to meet together physically, I’m convinced that is a question born from a wrong heart. Yes, the gathering of the church is a big deal. The love of our brothers and sisters and encouragement we can give to them in that gathering (and elsewhere as well) is one of the main ways the world will know we are in Christ.

It’s the place where we weekly encounter the gospel for our own lives so we can take it to the lost and dying world. It’s where we are confronted with our sin and the grace of God in Christ Jesus. The church is the people on whom the Spirit of God rests and displays His power weekly. The gathered church and, for now, the substitute of the online service ought to be seen as essential to our week.

Do you see it as essential or just a nice add-on? Your answer to that question may very well reveal to you the place that God actually holds in your life. Find your joy in Him and His people. Don’t neglect the gathering. Rather, encourage one another in Christ.

James Hammack

James Hammack is a regular contributor to The Rope. He also is digital services manager for The Alabama Baptist/TAB Media. He also serves as worship pastor at HisWay Community Church, Prattville. He and his wife, Alicia, have three children.

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