We’re just into the second month of 2023. The Church consumes my thinking, prayers, and time. And as I continue reflecting upon 2022, I find myself also looking further back, over the period of the last 3 years. They were extremely difficult years for God’s Church, as well as her members, officers, and pastors.
Regarding Trinity Church and how we bore up under the hardship of the last 3 years, we lost several members and friends to death. That was, and continues to be, very tough. We also had many families or individuals move away from the local area, and thus Trinity Church. I miss them and what they contributed to the church. And, it is also sadly true that we have some church members and friends who no longer participate in the church, whether in person or online, even though they still live in our immediate area. That concerns me. Those holding membership with Trinity Church made a series of five declarations when they joined; one of those declarations was to ‘support the work and worship of the church to the best of my ability.’
Can withholding from the church one’s presence, gifts, and time be ‘the best of one’s ability?’
From the perspective of the church, not everything about the last 3 years was negative. Adversity tends to separate the strong from the weak; truth from error and wheat from tares. That could mean we will no longer see some of our members back for the in-person worship and fellowship of the church (this obviously doesn’t count those who are housebound, living in nursing homes, suffering with long-term illness, or experiencing compromised health).
It’s time we rediscover the treasure that is church. Rediscover Church is the title of a recent book by Collin Hansen and Jonathan Leeman (see me for a free copy of it). Hansen and Leeman observe, “A Christian without a church is a Christian in trouble. The number who identify as Christians is far larger than the number who attend a weekly meeting. Even then, the bulk of the serving and giving in our churches tends to be done by only a few.” (page 11) That is evident as we adapt to life in a COVID world – most churches now have fewer members, and some of them struggle to remain open they’ve become so small.
Someone said to me a year or more ago that God was pruning His Church through the pandemic. That would mean those who were participating on the periphery of the church, attending worship a handful of times each year, and contributing very little to the overall mission. That seems like it could be the case.
But a plausible explanation doesn’t scratch the itch for me.
One thing that I keep coming back to is that God promised to be our God and we would be His people, and that He would dwell among us. The church is where heaven and earth meet. It is a community of believers in Jesus Christ; we are together – much like the eyes, ears, noses, arms, legs, hands, and feet of the human body belonging together as a person. To reduce the church to what can be experienced on a computer or television screen is to reduce the Christian life to “information transfer.” And it is so much more than merely that.
God has always meant for His people to be physically gathered with Him. That’s why He created Adam and Eve with physical bodies and walked with them in the garden of Eden. He cast them out from His presence only when they sinned. God then gathered the people of Israel in the promised land and told them to assemble regularly at the temple where He dwelled. Again they sinned, and again He cast them out of the land.
Perhaps the clearest proof of God’s desire to gather with His people is the incarnation. The Son of God took on a body. The one who was with God and was God put on flesh so that He could be with us. Who could resist such love?
One more thing – what goes missing when your church experience is nothing more than a weekly livestream? For starters, you think less about your fellow members, You don’t bump into them and have the quick conversations that lead to longer conversations over coffee or dinner. Beyond that, you remove yourself from the path of encouragement, accountability, and love. “Out of sight” too often means “out of mind.”
Christ’s church is absolutely essential for this present life as well as the one to come. She is the “apple of God’s eye.” No one gets the church they want. But everyone gets the church they need. Trinity Church is our part of God’s Church. Let’s love her and each other like Jesus has loved us, and gave His life for us (Ephesians 5:25). And let’s do it together.
See you Sunday? Pastor Daren