The Covid-19 pandemic wrecked all our lives. It caused heartache, strife, and conflict. It birthed tragedy, turmoil, and death—and a lot of it. And though there is an ever-so-dim light at the end of this dark tunnel, we must remind ourselves too how the pandemic has affected the church.
Covid has caused horrific physical damage. ICU scares, long-term side effects, and hundreds of thousands of deaths. It was, and still is, a threat. But I fear we have glanced over the spiritual damage that has been left in its wake.
Unfortunately, Covid has revealed a lot of people don’t care to stay in church.
There are a few church members who still want to exercise extreme caution before they step back into the pews. But there is a much larger number of previous church attenders who have used the pandemic as an excuse not to ever step foot in a church again.
And with that I fear there is a bigger problem. The problem is that the church—or, at the very least, those who profess to be a part of it—is neglecting the spiritual benefits of the locally gathered body.
Grow in Knowledge
The primary function of the local church is the shepherding of God’s people. One of the most important ways God’s people are led is by the preaching and teaching of his Word. Simply put, if you neglect the local church, you in turn neglect the opportunity to grow “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).
Many Christians don’t fully understand the necessity of the local church. Because of this, they are neglecting to get back into church and are therefore fumbling the opportunity to grow more in Christ. Can a Christian grow in knowledge outside of the local church? Of course, but we lose a vital instrument of our growth when we neglect the body of believers God intends to place around us.
Part of this may reveal we never truly appreciated the local church in the first place. But it also shows we don’t think we need the church.
I can listen to sermons online, some may say. Why do I need to go to a church building when I can pull up my favorite preacher on YouTube?
I’m glad you asked.
Sanctification is a Community Project
Friends, we will not grow into the Christians God intends us to be if we neglect the means he intends to use, that is, if we neglect vibrant participation in a local church. Period. Our sanctification does not happen in a vacuum. Our sanctification is a community project.
This is part of the reason the author of Hebrews exhorts us to “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). When we are faithful members of our local church, we will be benefactors of and givers of “love and good works.” This, in turn, will help us move forward in holiness.
I know Covid has shielded our eyes from the beauty of the local church. We had to be away for a while for obvious reasons. That’s understandable. But there should come a point in every Christian’s heart where they say, “I need to get back to the place where God’s people meet.”
Being around other believers helps us both flourish in our own walk and push others forward in their own. We aren’t mere consumers; rather we play an active role in the life of the church. Even more, getting back to church means we get back to tasting a little bit of Heaven each week.
A Taste of Heaven
I don’t know about you, but I get goosebumps almost every time the congregation sings during worship. Whether it’s “Behold our God” or “It is Well,” hearing a room full of Christians raise their voices in unison is one of the most beautiful things in the world.
Or consider the rich fellowship. I can’t begin to express how much I missed simply talking to other believers in my local church when we were shut down for almost three months. It was lonely, frustrating, and caused despair at times.
We get a little taste of Heaven when we’re around fellow Christians—even the ones who annoy us.
The church is by no means perfect. There are vindictive hypocrites, petty criticizers, and too many political puppets. Every single church—regardless of denomination affiliation—has its fair share of issues. And why is that? Because all churches are made up of sinners.
But these sinners have been bought by the blood of the Lamb. We sin, yes, but we have the righteousness of Christ. We are what Martin Luther called simul justus et peccator—at the same time both saint and sinner. We are imperfect saints, righteous sinners. And because of this, we have to deal with sin in the church.
But we also get to experience the bliss of the church working like the church!
The Church is Irreplacable
At my job we have been doing Zoom meetings for the past year, as so many others have. Zoom is a wonderful technology that increases communication even across distance. But among all its benefits there still lies one nagging issue: de-personalization.
Zoom meetings simply aren’t the same as in-person meetings. It’s more difficult to have conversations, read each other’s tones, and interpret body language.
The same is true in church. As Matt Smethurst said in an article at Desiring God, “Zoom is wonderful, but it is not the second mediator between God and men.” We simply cannot experience all of what God intended for us through online worship services.
Don’t get me wrong: online church has its place. There may be times when you are sick and need to stay home. Or a pandemic swarms in and causes everything to shut down.
But that is not permanent—nor can it be! It’s simply not the same as being under the same roof with your brothers and sisters.
For the church to function as the church—God’s blood-bought bride—it must be in person. Different people with different backgrounds unifying around the same belief is what makes the church so special. If we resort to online church, we miss all of this. We lose the richness God has for us.
Friends, the local church is irreplaceable. I know Covid has made us think about church in a different way, but I promise you this: nothing is better for you than being in person with your local church. Spend time with them. Fellowship with them. Enter into their lives. Experience heartache with them. Celebrate triumphantly for them. That is the beauty of the church.
I know Covid did many things, but let’s not ever forget: we need the church.