I cried when I watched a performance in Night of the Proms. I think it was Feed the Birds from Mary Poppins. The voices of hundreds filled the Royal Albert Hall. A throng, shoulder-to-shoulder in Hyde Park. All voices lifted. Cares set aside for an evening. Everyone just singing together and having a marvellous time. United by a love for music. How beautiful, how moving to see a crowd gathered!
From time to time, I go down a rabbit hole and get lost in photographs taken a long time ago. A few weeks ago, I saw an image of our church. Full. People packed in. Chairs touching one another. It was strange to see. And I missed it. I missed people being together.
Having a year and a half of limited human interaction has caused me to ponder the need we have, the innate need we have, for one another. For community. For fellowship.
We were built to do life together. We are wired that way. Without one another we cannot cope. We need the camaraderie. To draw from shared life experience. Our tanks are filled with meals shared, cheery chats and laughter. We are upheld by hugs, encouraging words and mutual tears.
The Lord even says that it is not good for man to be alone. We are created for community.
For the last 20 months, human interaction has become unnatural in many forms. Things have become clinical and sterile. No body contact. Masked up functions. Small gatherings. So many restrictions. Many of which have been tossed to the wind because people simply cannot live like this anymore.
It’s also meant more screen time and less physical human connection. School from home. Work from home. And, to some degree, some things have become more convenient to do from home.
When lockdown was at it’s worst, online church attendance was at its best. People were lonely. Bored. Thirsting for hope in the chaos. Looking to the Only One who was in control. We got to “meet” people in our church who we wouldn’t usually talk to. We shared stories and kept each other going through lockdown.
And then the lockdowns eased. People began to gather again. Braai fires were lit once more. Restaurants opened and friends met together over a drink and pizza. Schools resumed. Playdates were made. Flea markets were opened.
And so was church.
But people did not return. Too nervous to meet in a building with social distanced chairs and mask.
But having dinner inside with friends at the table was fine.
Playdates with a couple of kids was fine.
Parties weren’t risky.
But church was.
Or maybe, a Sunday sleep-in was good. Maybe it was nice not to rush off to a sport’s match. Or canoeing with buddies. Maybe it was nice to be in PJ’s until 10am. Or not to fight with the teenagers to get out of bed.
Maybe, it was just to convenient to be able to sit in the comfort of one’s own home with a cup of coffee, camera off and listen to the service.
Does it matter that church attendance is dwindling? If people are still hearing God’s Word from home, then, surely, that means they are being fed?
But somehow, I can’t picture that this is what the Lord intended church to look like. While being at home may expose us to hundreds of thousands of different sermons online or while it may mean a “day of rest,” is this what it is supposed to be?
Church is not about the building. Church is not about the rituals. Church is about growing in the faith. Church is about community. Church is about service. Church is about family.
God did not create only people who are like-minded. While it’s lovely to have a group of cloth bum, breastfeeding mums or a running club, it’s not the community Christ called for.
Christ calls us one body. One family.
The body is not made up of the same body parts just as family is not made up of people who are the same as us. Or as our kids’ friends. Or people who are the same age. Family is collection of diversity. No one is the same age. No one does things exactly as we do. Nor do we all get along. In fact, sometimes, we don’t always like one another. We don’t get to choose family. And yet, we’re in it together. And we have to find a way to do life together.
That’s what “church” is. It’s doing life with fellow believers. By being part of a unit that is not just our biological family or our friends’ group, we learn to sharpen, to serve and to be challenged by other believers. While it’s great to be in a place where you are amongst people of similar ages, it is, by no means, the be all and end all of why we should seek to be a part of a church. After being the daughter of a minister, I have watched as people have left the church for the last 25 years. Many have left to find a place where their children have friends. Or a place where their children will be happy. Imagine if we could do that with family. Pick up and leave if we were tired of one another or didn’t have someone with similar interests. God has created us as a family not as a similar peer group. That’s what mom’s groups, school and playdates are for. Church is for the body of believers learning to “live together,” learn from each other, mentor one another and serve one another.
We learn that maybe, our understanding is not always biblical or correct – something that’s hard to learn when you’re “cherry-picking” sermons or doing church from home.
We learn that we can amicably disagree on the non-essentials but still love and serve alongside one another.
We learn to serve. It’s all good and well to go to church and be fed on a Sunday. But, we are called to be the hands and feet of Christ, not just in our family or community, but also in the lives of our church body. We learn to serve alongside people we wouldn’t normally associate with and thus, make friends in spite of ages, ethnicities, economic brackets and races. We learn that life is not just about receiving but that, as Christ came to serve, so we need to serve. It can be as simple as arranging the flowers or washing the cups or something like singing in the worship team or leading a Bible study. God has gifted us with unique gifts that are to be used to bring Him glory and to cause others to worship Him.
Being part of this complex body of believers is part of the design Christ has for community – Jews and Gentiles, slave and free. Singles and marrieds. Teenagers and grandparents. Widows, widowers, varsity students, retired, domestic workers and lawyers. Christ has come to save all. We all have access to Him. Equal access. We are all called to be part of His family. No one is more worthy and no one is less worthy. Likewise, we should treat each other as such. We should never assume that we have nothing to learn about faith from the matric student. Nor should we assume that a grandmother who parented 50 years ago has no wisdom to offer us. This is the beauty and complexity of the body. These are the people who will pray for us. No need to seek out a babysitter online. There are trustworthy teens in our midst. No need to seek the advice of books by secular authors. Why not ask the women who has raised 3 of her own and helps her daughter with her grandchildren every afternoon? Why seek out charities to donate to when there are refugees, widowers and the unemployed in the same prayer meeting as you? Why not use your gift to listen to counsel someone who others might find tiresome?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book Life Together, says “we’re bound together by faith, not experience.”
This is your community. And this is where you should seek community. This is where you should find community. Where the baseline is Christ, not shared experiences. These are the people who will pray for you. These are the people who will bring you meals. While you may have things in common with parents at your child’s school, your church family will be the people who sharpen your faith and uphold you when times get tough.
Emily Jensen, the co-author of Risen Motherhood has this to say about church community;
“God has given us many gracious outlets for relationship and community. These sometimes include like-minded peers, but His most comprehensive, beautiful, helpful and hopeful design is a living body of believers. It’s not just a group of arms (like-minded appendages that imitate the same things); it’s a complex, living organism where each person brings glory to God and love to others as they serve the head, who is Christ. Mama, enjoy your mom tribe, but find your flourishing, your primary community, in the local church.”
Photo Credit: iBelieveTags: body of believers. online, church, church online, community, congregation, covid, covid_19, family, fellowship, friends, God, Jesus, Sunday, virus, worship, Zoom