By Dillon Schupp
“We’re playing it safe.”
And that’s been completely understandable for the last year or so. Even long time Christians who were faithful to gather with the church each and every Sunday before the pandemic hit decided to stay home and attend virtually due to the risk posed by COVID-19.
But the game is starting to change in significant ways, most notably with the effectiveness and availability of a vaccine to protect against COVID-19.
In North Carolina, if you want a vaccine you can get it. And if you get it, the most up-to-date guidance from the CDC says, generally, you no longer need a mask or need to take social distancing measures. North Carolina picked up on this guidance by lifting all capacity limitations, social distancing requirements, and the mask mandate on May 14.
The implication here is that it’s becoming safer to resume activities we all were a part of before the pandemic hit, including “large gatherings.”
And yet…for some Christians, the return to gathering with the church is still not a reality.
Before I go further here, please note that this post is directed solely to those who claim to follow Jesus. If that’s not you, this isn’t directed to you.
Back on topic…why is it that some Christians have yet to return to church gatherings?
For a slim minority, safety is still a valid and understandable concern.
But for those who have been vaccinated (or those who are choosing to not be vaccinated and have chosen to carry the risk), the question remains: why have they not yet returned?
I think there’s a couple of possible explanations, but I think for the majority, the reason is actually pretty straightforward.
It’s not that you love Jesus less. It’s not that you want to ditch church.
It’s just that you’ve developed the habit of not showing up.
I get it…a huge part of that is not your fault. It was practically forced on you when the entire country pretty much shut down for 2-3 months in the first half of 2021. It’s not like you made a conscious decision to stop going and not come back.
You didn’t mean to develop the habit…it just kind of…happened; and now you’re in a rut.
How do you know whether this might be you? Ask yourself this question: Have I resumed every other activity except gathering with the church? Does the rest of my life look basically the same as it was pre-pandemic…except for the fact I don’t gather on Sundays with the church?
If that’s the case, then you’re probably in a rut. You’ve developed a habit of not showing up- not through your own fault; it was circumstantial. But it has been developed nonetheless.
It’s time to break the habit for at least four reasons:
#1- The Church is the gathered people of God.
If I had a dollar for every time I heard “The Church is not the building- it’s the people” over the last year, I could retire now (and I’m only 33).
I can’t express how much I completely agree with that statement!
The Church is not a building. That’s why I try to stay away from the phrase “Go to church” in favor of “Gather with the church.” The Church is not brick, sheetrock, carpet and paint.
The Church is the people.
However…the Church is not individuals at home by themselves; the Church is the gathered family of God.
The Greek word for “church”, ekklesia, was the word used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) for the congregation of Israel. The word does not mean individuals on their own; it means people gathered together in community with each other.
Put another way: the Church isn’t the Church unless the people of the Church are together.
That doesn’t mean there has to be hundreds in the room. It can be a very small gathering.
But make no mistake: the Church has always gathered- physically gathered- and has never been individual Christians on their own.
And the pandemic didn’t change God’s plan.
#2- The Church is commanded to gather.
In our American culture, this flies in the face of our individualism. We tend towards being lone wolves and doing things on our own.
However, biblical Christianity doesn’t give us that option.
Hebrews 10:24-25 says this:
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Emphasis mine)
Gathering with the church is not optional for the follower of Jesus- it’s commanded.
#3- We won’t become all Jesus made us to be without gathering.
Look back to the verse above.
The primary emphasis there on gathering is not to sing, hear a message, or serve on a volunteer team.
It’s to spur each other on toward love and good deeds. It’s to encourage each other, build each other up, lean on each other; it’s for the purpose of others speaking into our lives as we speak into their lives so that we best reflect Jesus to the world.
We miss out on that tremendous aspect of Christianity when we do the lone-wolf-Christian thing. And the truth is none of us are strong enough to have the motivation to keep on going when the going gets tough. We need other people to spur us on, to challenge us, correct us, and bear our burdens.
Put simply, without other people up close and personal in our lives, who we are as people- as Christians- will be less than what Jesus intends us to be, because we can only become all He wants us to be when we have other people in our lives.
That only happens as we gather.
#4- We miss out on Jesus when we don’t gather with the church.
It’s impossible to experience the fullness of Jesus presence on your own. Jesus even said so:
“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”- Matthew 18:20
When we gather as the church, we don’t just come to a location.
We gather in the name of Jesus.
And when we gather in the name of Jesus, Jesus promises His presence in our midst.
Now, the theologically astute may argue Jesus’ presence is with us period due to the omnipresence of God or the indwelling of the believer by the Holy Spirit- and that’s true.
However: from what Jesus said here, there is a different level of God’s presence- what has been called his “manifest presence” that we can experience that can only be experienced when the church is gathered together.
I’m not saying you can’t follow Jesus on your own. I’m not saying you can’t gain understanding and even grow spiritually on your own. It’s likely that you can.
But that growth will be limited because you will be missing out on an aspect of who Jesus is, because there is an experience of Jesus and a closeness to Jesus that we experience as the gathered church that we don’t experience anywhere else.
I tend to think the reason for this is because when we gather together as the church- especially when we come together to sing- we paint a picture of heaven.
Look at the end of the story in Revelation. We aren’t sitting on our individual clouds with harps and halos.
We’re gathered together in front of the throne of God worshiping Jesus (see Revelation 7:9-12).
Our gathering here on earth paints the picture of that future reality. And we can’t paint that reality on our own.
So let’s break the habit of not going. Let’s get back in the habit of showing up. We’re commanded to do it. We limit ourselves without it.
So let’s get back to it.
Dillon Schupp is the Vision and Teaching Pastor at LifeSpring Church in Smithfield. You can read more of his thoughts at dillonschupp.com.