Tired of church? Don’t go. Watch online, hang out with some Christian friends, watch a YouTube sermon. These three options have always been present to us as an alternative to in-person church attendance.
Coming out of 2020, people are understandably tired. Bogged down by the weight of life in the midst of a pandemic and untimely stresses, the last thing we sometimes feel like is church.
There is nothing wrong with feeling tired. There is value in all three above alternatives. Yet, one crucial moment we should not miss from 2020 is that none of these options comes close to the value of church. None of them meets the biblical exhortation to attend church, especially for the discouraged and tired.
Church in the midst of strife
Christianity was not simple in the first century. Perceived as a growing Jewish cult, it exploded in numbers following the supposed death of its leader (Jesus) with a governing empire that watched after the ascension of Christ, first with skeptical eyes, then persecutory hands.
Nonetheless, the church yearned for the return of Jesus. In the midst of this desire, the author of Hebrews exhorted the church all the more despite streams of uncertainty.
In Hebrews chapter 10, verses 23-25, it states,
“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 ang 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.”
Yet, this passage was not written in a vacuum. The church was not perfect. It needed the reminder to gather as the authors notes “as is the habit of some”. The habit of neglecting to gather is not new to the church, certainly not in 2020.
Rather the church is encouraged to gather, to stir one another up in love and good works because of the confession and hope we hold to.
Church is not a building, but it is a congregation
But, what of the quips: “Church is not a building” and “Where two or more are gathered, Jesus is present”? Whilst both of these are true in and of themselves, they have tragically been abused by Christians to justify an excuse for church non-attendance.
Church may not be a building, but it remains a congregation which pastors and elders oversee and shepherd. The picture of the New Testament is that of gathered community, not of scattered sheep.
Lockdown has scattered us. It has kept us locked in our houses, revelling in our technology for escapism in online church. Why, when we have the opportunity to gather physically, would we opt for anything less than gathering together again?
But what of two or three gathered together? Jesus said in Matthew chapter 18, verse 20, “For when two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
Yet, we know from the presence of the Spirit in our lives, that it does not take two or three Christians for Jesus to be amongst them. He is always with us (Matthew chapter 28, verse 20). Rather, Matthew chapter 18 is not a question of Jesus’ presence but of Christian discipline (verses 15-20) in the gathered presence of witnesses.
How ironic and tragic that the verse quoted to justify non-attendance at church comes from a passage about Christian discipline.
Have we forgotten that ‘the Day’ is drawing near? Have we lost the importance of gathering physically as we grow tired in a pandemic? Have we forgotten to stir one another up to love and good works?
After a year of such turmoil, let us pray and hope that we would not forget the importance of gathering, not just because a pandemic allows it, but because we desire it as the Day draws near.
Are you tired? So am I. Let us gather together.
Hailing from North Auckland, Blake Gardiner sounds American, looks Swedish, but grew up in Laos. As an introvert, Blake lives life on the edge by socialising. When he isn’t putting his life at such risk, he enjoys reading theology and debating whether Interstellar is truly the greatest movie of all time. Blake is married to fellow young writer Jessica Gardiner.