Anybody who knows me would call me a social butterfly. They might even joke that I go to church mainly for the coffee and fellowship. Well, they wouldn’t be far off. I so enjoy studying God’s word, singing rich worship songs, and hearing a gospel-centered sermon on Sunday morning. But I also enjoy gathering and talking with other believers, encouraging one another in the Lord. Isn’t that what draws most of us to a church—the people who welcome us and walk alongside us on the journey of faith?
Anything but Normal
Then came a pandemic, and as you know, things have changed drastically for churches and congregations across the country. COVID-19 hit, and we were left trying to figure out how to make Sundays normal when they are anything but normal.
When the pandemic first arrived, my church met virtually. It was novel and cool for the first couple of weeks, but before long the newness of the experience wore off. For the last few months, we have been worshipping together through a limited outdoor and indoor service. Most people wear masks and leave quickly. Between the wind, the heat, and tired kids, it is hard to stay present during the service. My mind wants to wander to my to-do list or to the problems in my life that I think I can solve (instead of listening to the sermon and hearing from the God who holds all things together). I struggled with these things before COVID, but they feel especially prevalent now.
Fellowship is the most difficult, because in order to hold services we must remain physically distant. Most people go home right away after the service. Conversation is hard. It is hard to know what to talk about except the “thing” that made fellowshipping hard in the first place. And no one actually wants to talk about the “thing” that is on our minds all the time. I am weary, and some Sundays I really don’t want to go. I would rather push against the hard than embrace it.
Encouragement When Church Feels Hard
The early church definitely knew something about hard. Between family divisions (Mark 10:29), disputes among church members (1 Cor. 6:5-6), and various forms of persecution and suffering(Acts 8:3, Heb.13:3), the believers of the early church definitely had reason to stop going. But this is exactly why Paul felt called and inspired by the Spirit to write and encourage the early churches in his letters.
The writer to the Hebrews wrote a letter encouraging them in their faith as they faced persecution. He cautioned them, “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” (Heb.10:24-25). In the face of potential loss of income and property, and even life itself, these Christians were tempted to stay away from the church. But the writer urged them to continue worshipping with their brothers and sisters in Christ, and more, to encourage one another forward in the faith.
For those of us today, what encouragement might we need when church feels too hard?
First, we need to remember that church is ultimately not about us. It is not about what we get out of it, but what we give to the Lord in worship (Ps. 95:67, Ps. 99:5, Ps. 132:7). We were created to worship the One who made us. Our Savior gave up his life for our sakes so that we could freely come into the presence of God. We come to worship each week out of gratitude and love for the One who rescued and redeemed us from sin and made us right with God.
Second, the church is the gathered Body of Christ, with Christ as our head and we make up the parts (1 Cor. 12:12). The church body is not whole or complete when some of her members are apart. We need each member, for the body cannot be without its ears, its arms, or its feet. In fact, as Paul taught us, God has given us the body of believers to encourage one another. And during these difficult times, we all likely need encouragement to continue forward. Some members may feel discouraged because of how different church feels these days; others are discouraged because they can’t attend due to health concerns. There is freedom in sharing these struggles with one another, with voicing our discouragements, sorrows, and uncertainties. In sharing with one another, we can help each other move forward in faith. We can urge one another on to obedience in the face of all that is hard.
Third, we have the power of the Holy Spirit working on our hearts before our emotions catch up (Jhn. 14:26, Jhn.16:13-14). The Spirit knows before we do what interactions we may have with another person at church. What if we miss out on our greatest friendships, our deepest conversations, and our building up the church by giving up on her? It might take a while for our emotions to catch up with our actions, but we can trust that God is producing good fruit in our lives, even when we can’t yet see the fruit (Col. 1:10, Heb. 12:11). Also, God does not leave us to struggle with our discouragement on our own. We can come to him confidently in prayer, asking him to comfort and change our hearts. He is more than able to carry us through this unusual time. And when we don’t know how to pray, the Spirit intercedes to the Father for us (Rom. 8:26). Sometimes all we can do is cry out, “Help me, God!” and the Spirit will do the rest.
Keep Showing Up
I do not want to look over the fact that some of us may not be going to church right now for health and safety reasons. You may be attending church online or meeting with a small group virtually. But these things still apply. Do not neglect being filled with the preaching of God’s Word and meeting with other believers to talk and encourage one another, even if it is online.
No matter what our feelings are on any given Sunday (especially during a pandemic!), we need to be with the body of Christ. Our hearts and souls need communion with God and others on a regular basis. When we neglect meeting together, it becomes a habit that is hard to break. The church, the gathered Body of Christ, is a picture of heaven. It is a foretaste of the fellowship we will have with God and our brothers and sisters in Christ forever. By going to church we bring a little bit of heaven to earth each week.
May we be like King David, calling out joyfully “Let us go up to the house of the Lord!”(Ps. 122:1). For there is no better place to be.
About the Author:
Sierra lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado with her husband, Josh, and their two children, Corra and Henry. They are members of Forestgate PCA, where Sierra currently sings in the worship ensemble and co-leads the women’s Bible study. She works part-time as a music director for Starz Children’s Theatre in Colorado Springs. Her favorite things are hand embroidery, hiking with her family, and Friday night movies with her hubby.