Shelter in place. Practice social distancing. These are the recommendations rightly being passed down by our government’s leaders during an unprecedented time in our nation’s history. COVID-19 has caused many institutions, businesses, and churches to rethink the way they operate in order to relieve stress on the health care system and protect those most vulnerable to the virus. My post intends to discuss the latest trend with many churches moving to online only formatting in order to “equip the saints for ministry” in a time such as this (Eph 4:12; Est 4:14). My goal is to warn all believers to not let these online experiences become the new normal of our lives (even though it makes Sunday super easy), but rather to express the biblical importance of physically attending a local church when this pandemic ends.
To be completely honest, doing church online is weird. I’m a pastor who is posting worship services on the internet in order to protect the vulnerable and honor our leaders, and yes, I think this to be a strange method in an even stranger time. Is an online only worship format a necessity during this season? Yes. Is there any other way to do a corporate worship gathering and still practice social distancing? I’m sure there are, but online seems to be one of the best options available to a majority of people. However, this form of internet worship seems to be unnatural.
Why does worshiping online feel so abnormal? Here is one reason online worship feels odd, and some incentives on why I am looking forward to getting back into the church with brothers and sisters in Christ. I pray these reasons will be a sound caution for you to do likewise in the near future as these guidelines become lifted when our government officials think it is safe for us to carry about business as normal.
We should first start with a theological presupposition: people were made for community (Gen 2:18). I have seen many posts on Facebook that discuss how this virus has caused the church to “go be the church.” In some aspects, I understand what they are trying to convey, but let’s not throw the importance of a local gathering out by only focusing on the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20). Believers, we need to be active in both. We need a time to gather together as followers of Christ in order to be equipped to go be the church (Eph 4:12).
At the beginning of creation, God created man and woman in his own image (Gen 1:27). However, before he created woman, he created Adam–the first man (Gen 2:7). The only time in creation that God declared that an aspect of his creation was “not good” was when he looked and saw that the man was alone (Gen 2:18). Therefore, he brought the woman to the man, looked and saw all that he had done and declared, “It is very good” (Gen 2:21-22; Gen 1:31).
From the creation narrative, my reason for declaring online only gatherings as abnormal is that online communities are not ideal for biblical community. Yes, it allows us to see and speak with each other, but physical presence makes our relationships bud into authentic means for discipleship. Physical presence allows us to interact with one another in ways that the online format does not and cannot. Here are four incentives for going back to church when it is safe to do so.
First, we can physically bond with one another at the church. We can shake hands, give hugs (I’m a huger), and put an arm around someone struggling as a few examples. Gestures that acknowledge someone as a person and connects with their feelings, fears, concerns, and lives in a real tangible way. You can’t get that type of connection in an online only experience.
Second, physical presence at the local church allows us to sympathize and empathize with one another. Have you ever been in a situation where you could literally feel the emotions of another person pouring their heart out to you? Have you ever been in an environment where you could feel the tension? These emotions come when we are in close proximity with one another. These feelings cannot be replicated in an online only format because online is, by all intent and purposes, one way communication. Physical presences allows us to minister the presence of Christ to one another in our times of need.
Third, we can have social interaction during our worship gathering. I love to hear everyone singing. It doesn’t matter if the person behind me is off pitch, on key, or ten decibels too loud. As they are worshiping Jesus, they help me to get my heart and mind right to worship too. I love hearing a hearty “Amen” or watching light bulbs click on when a preacher (typically me) exegetes a biblical text and reveals a truth some have either never thought of before or are hearing for the first time. We were created for community, and the church is designed to worship in person as a family.
Fourth, corporate gatherings produce a sense of order for those in the congregation. Our God is a God of order. Look at creation. Everything functions in an orderly fashion (of course, our sinfulness creates chaos in Gods creation, but Christ is in the process of redeeming that). Worshiping at home can create a disordered environment because our homes are places of relaxation and comfort. I think many of us come to these online worship experiences at home with a different posture than if we were part of an ordered corporate gathering.
Therefore, I know we have to worship during this pandemic differently– for many of us that is online, but since we were created for community, I am longing for the day to worship in person with my brothers and sisters in Christ. My prayer is that after you read this post you will as well. Few things compare to the gathered community each week as we corporately praise Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior like we will for all eternity (Rev 5:11-12). So, when the doors of churches all across this land open again in the near future, I pray you and I will be there anticipating what God is going to do as we gather together as his redeemed bride (Eph 5:25-27).
What are some other incentives that you are looking forward to experiencing when it is safe to do so? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.
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