Don’t Neglect Gathering Together

Don’t Neglect Gathering Together

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
Hebrews 10:23-25

Prior to 2020 our church had never considered livestreaming services, yet it proved to be a tremendous blessing for the duration of the pandemic. Livestream technology enabled us to continue to preach the Word, communicate with the congregation, and even have some sense of worshipping “together.” God still works mightily in the midst of livestream worship. But it’s not the same as going to church. Watching the livestream will never replace being with the Body of Christ. 

Many people spent months unable to safely attend in-person worship and struggled with isolation, loneliness, and a lack of community. Even now, those who are at high risk to COVID-19 and living in high spread areas are still unable to attend, and they are still struggling. A livestream worship service may give some nourishment to the soul, but it’s not the same as sitting at the table for family dinner. And if you feel there’s something missing from your livestream worship, that’s a good thing. Separation from the local church and the absence of Christian community shouldn’t feel healthy.

Following Christ is not meant to be done alone. Christianity has always been intended to be done in community. No pandemic and no technology can change the fact that we need each other; we need relationships. As Jonathan Leeman wrote in his blog, There’s No Such Thing as Virtual Church, “God made us physical and relational creatures. Christian life and church life cannot finally be downloaded. They must be observed, heard, stepped into, and followed.”

We need to be in the room together – getting bear hugs from people we haven’t seen all week. Feeling prompted by the Spirit to put your hand on a hurting person and pray for them. Helping the young family who can’t get their fidgety kids to sit still. Rejoicing with the guy who sings off key but still belts it out. Being uplifted by the saint who calls out “Amen.” Praying together, singing together, hearing the Word together, celebrating communion together. 

Regular attendance at a local church gathering is crucial. It’s hard to imagine thriving in the Christian life without it. Church life will, despite its hard and messy reality, always be vital. In response to the virtual church movement, Brett McCracken wrote in his blog Prioritize Your Church, “do not neglect the church. Prioritize it. Commit to it. Invest there. Serve there. Grow alongside real, flesh-and-blood people. Embrace its unavoidably uncomfortable aspects.” The Bride of Christ might not be perfect, but she is still beautiful! 

Of course life in the local church is a whole lot more than just attending a weekly worship service. We can’t just go to church, we need to be the church. Following Jesus in community means not just sitting in a worship center next to others; it means studying the Word and praying together in small group, calling a friend to keep them accountable, dropping off a meal for a family, watching someone’s kids when they are overwhelmed, asking for prayer when you are struggling, getting encouragement to share your faith with a coworker. 

There are legitimate reasons Christians might temporarily choose not to gather for corporate worship. In the spring of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, nearly all of us couldn’t go to church for a while. Even now, if COVID-19 is spreading in your area and you are high-risk, you may decide you cannot attend. Or maybe there is some other illness, medical issue, or circumstance that stands in your way. If you’re in a season of life where you just can’t go to church, I urge you to do any and everything you can to stay connected with believers at your church. Watch a livestream worship service, and then call a friend and talk about it. Get active in a mid-week small group. Invite friends over to pray. Be proactive, get creative…we all need fellowship! 

If you are not currently able to attend your local church on Sundays, I pray that the grace of God and the love of your brothers and sisters is made real to you. As you wait for the right time to return, trust the Lord and be attentive to his voice. One day the Spirit will call you to step out in faith – maybe even get uncomfortable or take a risk – and come back to church. 

But I also want to speak to another group of Christians who are no longer regularly attending weekly worship. Maybe you stopped attending because of health concerns, but then honestly, you just got out of the habit. Maybe you are an introvert or you struggle with social anxiety, and not going to church is just less stressful. Maybe all the arguing about COVID-19 and politics wore you down. Sometimes it’s easy to enjoy the convenience of sitting in your living room with a cup of coffee and watch church online. Maybe you feel like you can make better use of those couple hours on Sunday morning and just rely on your personal devotions for spiritual growth. 

Christian, if that describes you, please be careful. You are putting yourself in a dangerous place. You are risking malnutrition, even starvation. Living for Christ in a hostile world is hard enough, but it’s unbearable by yourself. Brothers and sisters, you need the church and the church needs you.

See, even if you think you’ve stayed spiritually healthy – even if you’re watching the livestream every Sunday, reading the Word every day, praying, growing in faith, sharing the Gospel with friends – think of how your absence impacts the rest of us. When you are not regularly active in Christian community, your unique gifts, encouragement, or perspective are not part of your local gathering. Watching the livestream may help you feel connected to the church, but it’s only a one-way connection: the church is still missing you. Like a big family dinner, when the church gathers together to feast and celebrate, we want all of our siblings to be there! And our Heavenly Father does too. 

Let’s all of us hear the Word of God: 

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
Hebrews 10:23-25

We are Christians because we have confessed Christ as our Savior. This is our only hope in this life and the next. And so, let’s hold tightly to this confession. In a world that is crumbling, let’s not waiver from this hope. And we actually can hold fast to our hope because God has promised to hold onto us. And he is faithful. 

One of the most profound ways we hold on to our hope is by not neglecting meeting together. It’s a delight to obey God and what he directs us to do – not just alone, but together as one body. So let’s consider all the ways we can stir up and provoke each other toward love and good works. Sadly, the Bible says that some have gotten out of this habit. Some have forsaken the necessity and joy of assembling together in the name of Jesus. 

Christian, hold fast by God’s grace. Encourage one another, exhort one another, carry one another. Stir up the faith of your brothers and sisters. Stay committed to meeting together to pray, worship, and receive from the Word. Today, tomorrow, and all the more as Christ’s return draws near. 

Christian, don’t neglect gathering together.