My mama used to make me go to church when I was a kid. It’s not that I didn’t want to go – I didn’t hate it – but I had other stuff I preferred. A few months ago my mother reminded me of that. She didn’t come out and say it – probably didn’t even intend to say it. But after several months of watching virtual Sunday service in my pajamas, I had grown to appreciate watching the recorded sermon on the big screen while sipping coffee. So when my mom – the woman who refused to let anyone in her house for months at the outset of the pandemic – said her church was opening back up and she was going, I was surprised. But I shouldn’t have been. She was reminding me, without trying, that we NEED to be in church.
A more direct reminder came recently from an article in a recent issue of Christianity Today magazine. The writers, Tyler J Vanderweele and Brendan Case, wrote that Americans giving up on church is “The Public Health Crisis No One is Talking About”1. They make the argument from various studies, as well as Scripture, that we suffer emotionally and mentally and spiritually, from not attending church. It is a very interesting and insightful piece. Without reciting details or commenting on their specific arguments (you can read the article at the link below), something about this seems very true to me. I have personally wrestled some year ago about whether associating with, attending, and serving in a local church was necessary or even worth it. On the heels of some difficult experiences with people – particularly other leaders – in church, I sat out a few weeks. When I started going back, my attendance was sporadic and my engagement was close to non-existent. I needed a reminder of why I had gotten so involved in church in the first place.
After weeks of prayerful consideration and study I was reminded by God that church was HIS IDEA. Therefore, neglecting it – or worse speaking against it – is a direct reflection of my relations with Him. And the Scriptures support this. In the book of Acts, when a young Jewish theologian began to persecute the fledgling early church, Christ met him on the road as he traveled to arrest some Christians. Christ blinded him on that road to Damascus and asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” A confused Saul asked back, “Who are you, Lord?”. And Jesus replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting!” Christ made it clear to Saul that the people he was going to arrest were His church. Jesus made it clear that how you treat those imperfect believers gathering together to worship, fellowship, and study was how you treat Him.
A while later I wrote about this in chapter 4 of my e-book, The Journey2:
“Like any family, God wants His children to love and support each other. Perhaps you can be a Christian apart from other Christians. But that would be like being an orphan. Technically, you would be related to some other people, and you may even bear some resemblance to them. But everyone can understand that being related to someone means little if you are never around them. You may be related but you don’t relate! You don’t give or receive support from them. You don’t share anything with them. That’s not God’s idea of a family. “
Like the writers of the article in Christianity Today, I too believe that we are all worse off because of the declining engagement with the Local Church. Sure, some of this is related to the pandemic and shutting down in-person services to avoid the spread of Covid-19. But I think this disengagement was well under way before 2020. And I also believe much of the anxiety and malaise that Christians are experiencing is due to our disconnection from the church. Don’t get me wrong, I know the church is not perfect and many of those who represent it are not doing a particularly good job. But the answer isn’t to abandon it and try to go it alone. The answer is not to merely maintain a loose connection to it – just attend occasionally to ensure your name is on the roll. The answer is given in the letter to the Hebrews 10:24-25: “…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another;”
- Vanderweele, Tyler J. and Case, Brendan. 2021. “The Public Health Crisis No One is Talking About”. Christianity Today, November 2021.
- Hunter, Ellery H. 2021. The Journey: Intentional Christianity. Bolingbrook, IL: ELLWord Publishing.