God is a community (Father, Son, Spirit) and we humans, made in his image, are designed to know and be known by a loving community. The communities that we are part of shape us over time and are spaces that can grow us and enliven our hearts.
While Jesus does show us that there is wisdom in time alone for meditation, prayer and rest, he also shows us the powerful value of community.
The digital age has presented us with many alternatives to embodied gatherings. While these experiences are often more convenient, research tells us that they actually increase feelings of disconnectedness (Source) and can further isolate us, possibly causing harm to our overall well-being. As we see digital connection increase, we are also seeing the rise of suicide, anxiety and depression.
I invite you to prioritize consistent engagement with your church community.
My goal is not to force you out of your comfort zone, but to invite you into a practice that I believe will nourish your soul and increase your quality of life.
Church Means Gathering
In the New Testament, the Greek word translated as “Church” is Ekklesia, which means ‘assembly’ or ‘congregation.’ A community of gathered people.
The earliest Jesus followers prioritized meeting frequently for prayer, worship, service and the study of scripture (see Acts 2 and Acts 4).
I emphasize this togetherness to show that although culture has changed, our need for human connectedness has not.
In the age of global pandemics, civic unrest and political turmoil, gathering with a diverse group of people for weekly worship may seem like a burden instead of a blessing. But this sentiment is not unique to our day. The earliest followers of Jesus experienced much of these same difficulties, and many deprioritized connections with other disciples of Jesus. In fact, one Biblical author said:
“Let us consider one another in order to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.”
The gatherings were not designed to be mere tradition or ceremony, they were for the development, equipping and encouragement of the community.
While the format and style has varied in different times and traditions, we find four core values of worship gatherings that continue to bless and shape followers of Jesus today.
1. We Display the Gospel Together
This is so that God’s multi-faceted wisdom may now be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavens – Ephesians 3:10
Gathering with a Jesus-centered community of misfits puts on display the manifest (multicolored, multi-faceted) wisdom of God.
Affinity groups are nothing new. People who share common interests, classes, ethnicities, ages and preferences gather together all the time. But a group of people from all different walks of life, different socio-economic backgrounds and convictions that are bound together not by their commonalities, but by the love and grace of God made known to us through Jesus puts that love and grace on display for a world that so desperately needs it.
When we gather, we model the Kingdom of God in a tangible way and give our community a glimpse of the kingdom “on earth, as it is in heaven.”
When we neglect the gathering, we rob the community of this vision of the kingdom and the place that God has for us in it.
Questions for Reflection
- How does your church family put the multi-faceted wisdom of God on display?
- How is God calling you to gather with other Jesus followers to display the multi-faceted wisdom of God?
2. We Sing Truth to Each Other
‘Be filled by the Spirit: speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music with your heart to the Lord.’ – Ephesians 5:18b-19
When we sing together, we not only remind ourselves of the deep truths of scripture and in singing together, we proclaim these truths to each other. This is formative and encouraging and provides a means for those in our community that are experiencing difficulty hearing words of encouragement from their church family.
When we neglect the gathering, we fail to add our voice to the choir of blessing and encouragement, and we deny ourselves the blessing of hearing a community affirm and encourage us in song.
Questions for Reflection
- How do you engage in song during our worship gatherings?
- How do you use these opportunities to bless others?
3. We Are Shaped by Each Other
‘Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts.’ – Acts 2:46
Jesus frequently called his disciples to community with different types of people from all different walks of life. Gathering as a Jesus-centered community creates space to rub shoulders with people we don’t normally ‘run with.’ During Sunday gatherings, we are provided with 1,000s of opportunities for unplanned connections, spirit-guided encouragement and the many blessings that come from living as part of a diverse community. Whether it’s sharing a laugh over coffee, praying with the person sitting next to us after service or inviting others to join us for a meal, Sunday gatherings provide countless opportunities to bless and serve others and to be seen, welcomed and encouraged.
When we neglect the gathering, we further isolate and fail to receive the many gifts that God has for us in being seen and loved in a diverse Jesus-centered community.
Questions for Reflection
- How might God be leading you to connect with others during our worship gatherings?
- What are ways you can bless others in the lobby, in the seats or over coffee?
- Who can you invite to a meal after the service?
4. We Mature Spiritually With Each Other
‘Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.’ – Romans 12:2
Gathering with a diverse community of Jesus followers provides space for us to grow and learn from others. God has designed his local church to be a diverse group of people that bring their differences together in good-faith to grow and learn from each other as they follow him.
When we meet on Sundays, we have opportunities to converse about the teachings of scripture and share our real-world experiences with each other, we have the opportunity for our prejudices to be checked and our assumptions to be challenged as we, by the power of the Spirit, renew our minds and find deeper insight into the truths of God.
Difficult conversations are best had in person. When we engage in disembodied disagreements online, it often creates more hurt than help and can lead to resentment, misunderstanding, animosity and suspicion. Because we are disembodied, there is less urgency and motivation to mend the relationship, often leading the wound to get infected and grow into a hate or rage that slowly kills us.
Though difficult, Jesus-centered embodied disagreements often help us to grow and renew our minds. In a local community of Jesus-centered misfits, the world often feels closer, safer and more loving than we often see on the news.
Questions for Reflection
- What are some conversations God is calling you to have with members of your church family that are different than you?
A note about health, safety and ‘digital church’
It is crucial to recognize there are occasions when participation in larger gatherings is not healthy for us physically, emotionally or spiritually.
For those with health concerns, it may be both wise and loving to avoid large gatherings so as to protect your physical well-being. Engaging in online worship services can be a healthy substitute until you are able to join in person again.
What we miss when going totally online is being seen, encouraged and blessed “in the flesh.”
If you are not in a position to gather in person, I encourage you to find ways to connect with others in healthy ways, such as Zoom calls, or safe, small in-person gatherings for prayer and communion. Our pastoral team would consider it a great honor to visit with you and minister in this way.
For those who have experienced spiritual abuse or trauma related to the church, I know that sometimes church gatherings can feel unsafe. I encourage you to find ways to connect with other Jesus followers in healthy, safe spaces, perhaps for prayer, song, communion, Bible reading and reflection.
Our leaders are committed to engaging in trauma-informed training and trauma-informed care. If you would like to connect with a trauma-informed minister, or perhaps a leader of Mending the Soul, it would be our honor to connect you.
The goal is not to be in a big room or ‘modern worship service,’ the goal is to be involved in a healthy, diverse, Jesus-centered community for worship, prayer, service and growth so that we can be seen, known and loved.
Church family, I love y’all and more importantly, Jesus loves you so much! Let us be a people that shares that love in every gathering we are part of!
-Pastor Caleb Campbell