Our routines have been totally disrupted and for the vast majority of us the online church experience has been all that has been available for over a year. We have found ourselves isolated, restricted in what we can do, inundated with a variety of versions of advice, news, and with uncertainty all around us.
And now as we begin to see some ‘normal’ return and can return to church, we have the associated frustrations of mask wearing, registering for services, limitations on singing, the lack of physical touch and the laying on of hands.
Why should we go back?
At first glance for some not returning could appear to be a desirable option as we may have even grown comfortable with some of the benefits?
Watch now or later…
Watch in your pyjamas…
Coffee while you watch…
Chat on line…
Pick and choose how long you watch for…
Sundays feel less rushed and more flexible…
Some of what we need is fairly obvious. The two things we cannot experience in online church, the corporate experience of the presence of God and the face to face relationship with our family are desperately needed and obviously lacking, we are I am sure very aware of these.
…..but is there more that we have been missing that might be less obvious?
“Do not forsake/abandon/neglect meeting together,” Hebrews 10:25.
Is this merely a ‘religious’ instruction?
The call to righteousness can easily feel like an expectation to keep rules, comply, even avoid ‘punishment’. Whereas it is in fact a call to live a way of life which is good for us, to be in right standing with the one who knows how we were created and therefore what is best for us.
As I have reflected on these past months of online church, isolation, and all that entails I have begun to consider that there are things which we might not immediately see or have consciously missed which we need in our lives.
The presence of God and the community experience is a tangible and often visible benefit, and I for one cannot wait to return to it, but I also believe that attending church keeps our souls and spirits healthy in other ways.
Consecration: there is something about being in worship, prayer, instruction, community, liturgy and declarations which sets us apart, which is the meaning of consecration. Consecration removes us from the systems of the world. As Joshua instructed: “Consecrate yourselves and see what great wonders the Lord will do among us.” Consecration means make yourselves holy, which therefore means set yourselves apart. We have been saturated with the mindsets and value systems of a fallen world, returning to church consecrates us, and we need it.
Confession: Whether confessing our faith or our sins, corporate gatherings give us opportunity to do this. Liturgy, the Lord’s prayer, or songs of confession and dedication must of course not become form without power, but there is a need for our souls to be cleaned up by confession of faith, forgiveness of others and repentance from our own ways. While we are able to do this on our own, the corporate gathering creates an environment where we do this together, under covering, and in a way which develops habits within us.
Covering: Something happens when we gather under leaders and come into submission to their teaching and anointing especially in challenging seasons such as this. By covering I am not talking about control but the submission of our hearts to men and women who are called and anointed to lead the flock. That covering leads us to safety, health, protection, and nourishment.
Consistency: There is a rhythm which comes from gathering together. While not all of us will manage a full sabbath day, the setting apart of our Sunday’s to attend church meets a need established in the creative origins of our bodies, souls, and spirits. The pandemic has caused havoc to our internal body clocks, they need resetting, especially to a sense of sabbath gatherings.
Common Union & Communion! We need to experience fellowship with those of like mindedness: “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” Phil 2:2. Communion with those that we have a common union with is vital. In our world of contention and disagreement we need to rest our souls in places and relationships of deep agreement. The diversity in the body of Christ is essential, but so too is the agreement within our diverse denominations and streams.
Celebrating. The act of celebrating God and each other is an essential part of our lives. Worship in the bible has numerous powerful examples of the corporate celebration. The picture in Ezra of joy and sadness at the same moment is a powerful picture and practically creates a venue where we can rejoice and weep in the same place at the same time.
enCouraged. Our souls need to be encouraged. The isolation of this past year has left many emotionally drained and tired. Our usual experiences of being encouraged and giving encouragement have been lacking. So too empathy has been less obvious as we have all been in a storm together. As we return to the corporate church we will again be able to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those that weep. We will also be able to give courage to each others as we press in to the uncertainties of our future.
Challenged. We need to be challenged, to be called higher in our walk with God. Left on our own, even with great digital content we can easily lose our fire and passion. Something happens when we are present in the flesh. For me it is similar to the difference between a book made of paper and a digital version. I need the paper version, especially when it comes to my bibles, and I need the in person version when it comes to being challenged by a preacher.
Calibrated. Our souls and spirits need all of these things. If we neglect our spirits, our souls will take over and if our souls are not aligned then we will be allowing the world to squeeze us into it’s mould as the JB Phillips translation of Romans 12:2 so brilliantly puts it. Calibration aligns me. It aligns me with my family, with the unique expression of that family, the way we are called to express ourselves and live out our faith in the world.
I know many who when facing a health crisis will cleanse their bodies and change their diets. This is a great plan but I believe that it is necessary for the spirit and soul to be cleansed and to check our diet. That process of calibrating our souls with heaven, in our place of common unity, and covering is the vital ingredient which needs to be put back in our lives.
Culture. Summed up we need to be immersed in heavens culture. My favourite definitions of culture are, the way we do things around here and stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. Our church families provide this for us, or should. We need to be reset to the way that heaven does things and remind ourselves of heavens greatest stories and testimonies.
Go back to church, you need it more than you know.