I grew up in Church and I loved it. In fact, I loved it so much that I even played 'Church' with the neighbourhood kids and my toys - Mum had to put some rules in place though when I started taking up an offering!
As a pastor's kid, and later becoming a pastor myself, Church has always been an integral part of my life. I've never woken up on a Sunday and thought, "Should we go to Church today?" because we've usually been the first there and the last to go.
That is until recently.
Two years ago, I resigned from my pastoral role. A year later, we felt God calling us out of the Church family that had been home for some 18 years. Both these changes required a lot of letting go and a lot of grieving. They caused me to do a lot of reflection and wrestling over this beautifully messy thing we call 'Church.' And all this wrestling saw me pull back.
At first I pulled back to process. To rest. To heal. This was wisdom for my season.
But then I pulled back because I felt alone. I felt adrift and I didn't know where I fitted anymore
Dave would head off to services with the kids without me. I just need some time alone with Jesus I'd tell him.
And honestly, I welcomed the extra time a Sunday with no rushing around gave me!
Yet the more I pulled back, the more empty I felt. Because we are not just called to relationship with God, we're also called to relationship with His people. No matter how hard it is. No matter how messy and complicated it gets, we are called to belong to a family and you can't belong from a distance.
So I've been taking small yet deliberate steps back towards committed community. I'm rediscovering what it means to belong and all the blessings that go with that.
The writer of Hebrew tells us this:
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
We hold tight to Him, but we must also hold tight to one another. The Passion Translation renders this passage beautifully saying:
This is not the time to pull away and neglect meeting together, as some have formed the habit of doing, because we need each other! In fact, we should come together even more frequently, eager to encourage and urge each other onward as we anticipate that day dawning.
These verses, are not a denial of the mess that will inevitably come wherever people in all their human frailties gather together, but they are a promise that in the midst of that mess we will find beauty. We will find encouragement and hope. That we will be spurred on to keep doing the good things that God is calling us to do both individually and collectively.
Over the past two years, I have been reminded just how deeply we need one another. Just how much I need the encouragement of others and also how much I am renewed and transformed as I reach out to those around me. How coming together to worship recalibrates my heart and keeps me focused on the truth that it's not all about me, it's about Jesus. It's about establishing His Kingdom here on earth.
Yes, I can listen to podcasts and watch services online. I can open my Bible and create an atmosphere of worship in my home with the music I put on, and I am so grateful these mediums are there for when gathering with others is genuinely not possible. But they were never intended to replace community.
Community is where I am discipled and refined, It continually gives me opportunities to become more Christ-like as I learn to love and serve like He does. Community is also how we show the world what it means to belong and just how powerful the love of God is.
I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one - I in them and you in me - so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
If you, like me, have taken a step back from meeting with other believers, if a season has turned into a lifestyle, can I encourage you today to reconsider. To be brave and try again. You will not find perfection but in your obedience to God's command to meet together and to love one another, you will encounter blessing.
Please note that in writing this I am aware that Church is not a building but the body of Christ, and as such, has many varied expressions. Acts 2:42-47 gives us some of the practices that should characterise a healthy expression of Church and it is commitment to a group of believers that meets to fulfill these purposes that I strongly encourage you to pursue.
One of my favourite pass-times as a kid was writing. I used to make my own books and write poetry on our old type-writer. Thankfully both my writing and technology have come a long way!
It is my prayer that these posts from both myself and guest contributors encourage you to embrace the season that you are in and to live it with purpose for God's glory.
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