“Who needs the church?” As pastors we heard that question often, albeit in various forms. And people had many reasons for quitting the church; a trend that seems to have grown during lockdowns. Even now as lockdowns are easing, I’ve read articles declaring in-person meetings unneccessary.
It always saddened me when people gave up on the church, or at best attended sporadically. Mostly because they often abandoned their spiritual walk altogether. Perhaps that wasn’t always caused by the “Who needs the church” attitude. But we definitely did see a correlation.
So do we need church meetings?
The trend now seems to be “we don’t need in-person meetings. They’re not essential.”
Well, what does the word of God say? Most of us know Hebrews 10:25 telling us to not neglect meeting together. But Proverbs 27:17 is another important verse.
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.Proverbs 27:17 NIV
The bulk of this proverb deals with the influence we have on each other. Just as rubbing tools against metal sharpens and makes them fit for use, rubbing shoulders with others exposes our character flaws, spurring us to grow and change.
The Pulpit commentary puts it this way: interaction with others influences our manner, appearance, deportment, and character, sharpens our wits, controls our conduct, and brightens our very face.
We need community
If lockdowns and social distancing have showed us anything, it’s that living separated from others is not normal or healthy. Lockdowns caused mental health difficulties plus increased suicides and broken homes. Direct, in-person contact has proven essential to our mental, emotional, and social well-being.
So why wouldn’t it also be essential to our spiritual life? True, we can meet with and worship God anywhere. And God can speak to us anywhere, through any means.
But church isn’t only about worship or meeting with God. It’s Christ’s body meeting together (whether in a church building, home, or whatever) to enhance their walk and learn together. It’s a community of like-minded people walking the same road. Church also means encouraging, supporting, and helping each other.
In-person meetings are essential to spiritual growth.
It’s mainly through being with others that we become more Christlike. It’s easy to act Christlike during brief conference calls or video meetings.
But the more we spend time together, the harder it becomes. That’s when we start saying or doing things that might irk, hurt, distress, or offend each other. Our true character comes out by doing life together. But that in and of itself creates opportunities for change. For it’s mostly in community that we:
- Learn to forgive
- Develop the fruit of the Spirit
- Learn to serve
- Cultivate self-denial and humility
- Live out the love of 1 Corinthians 13
Lockdowns showed our need of community and personal contact. Even though we were “meeting” more than ever before! They revealed our need for more than just online meetings, conference calls, and social media. They brought out our need of hugs, holding hands in prayer, shoulders to cry on, and the fun and laughter of sharing meals.
Online meetings can be great, but they will always be second best. So don’t give up on the church – one of God’s greatest gifts to his people. And one of our greatest sources of comfort and strength. Life can be hard and discouraging, but we find strength in walking the path with others.
My cry today is: “Lord, don’t let me drift from your life-giving presence. Keep my heart close to yours, and delighting in your presence. And also delighting in fellowship with my brethren. Help me to always say, “I was glad when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
Is that your prayer too?