I admit it. I used to be a self-proclaimed church rat. When I became a Christian in my early 20s, I used to spend every waking moment of my life at some type of church function. Whether I was at some church meeting, church rehearsal, church gathering, church concert–whatever–I was always at church. And I loved it. I would have slept there if I could because there was no place I would rather spend my time.
But over the years, there’s been a change…
Part of the reason for that change has simply been that the churches I’ve been going to for the past 7 years don’t have church events. There is no Women’s Ministry or Mass Choir rehearsal or Teen Church or Recovery Ministry because the expectation is that we, the body of Christ, should not be cooped up within the walls of the church, but rather we should be out in our everyday environment, engaging culture in a way that they see the light of Christ.
I love this model of doing church, but I have noticed that sometimes and in some ways it has caused me to devalue the importance of going church. Let’s face it. Some days when it comes to going to service, I just want to get in and get out. Some days I don’t even want to be bothered with it at all…
I have to be honest, today was one of those days. I woke up this morning and watched two different church services online, so by the end of the last sermon I felt like I had already gotten my church fill for the day. All I really wanted to do was lay on the couch and take a nice long nap. But today we had a members meeting at church, plus it was Baptism Sunday and I was asked to videotape it, so if for no other reason but to fulfill those duties, I figured I’d better muster up some wherewithall to get my behind off the couch, into my car and over to church. As I was getting myself ready, I thought to myself “Isn’t going to church online good enough? I mean, God still loves me if I just go to church online. I got what I need. Why do we have to make such a big deal out of physically being there?”
When I got to church today, I experienced one of many answers to those questions. It’s one thing to watch people sing on a screen, it’s quite another to engage in corporate worship with a group of people who share your faith. It’s one thing to see someone get baptized, it’s quite another to experience the joy and emotion of a person as they profess their newfound faith in Christ. And to see their loved ones rejoicing in front of you is a beautiful sight to see as well, which you often don’t get to see on the screen. (SN: I love hearing people’s personal testimonies and seeing how emotional they get during this time. It always makes me not only praise God for them, but brings me back to that wonderful moment when the scales were removed from my own eyes and I saw Christ for who he is.) It’s one thing to passively listen to a message while you’re laying on a couch or cooking dinner in the background. It’s quite another to sit in a chair in the same room with other people around you and actively listen to a message that is so penetrating that you can do nothing but focus your attention straight ahead. And there is nothing like hearing and seeing that the other people in the room are listening with you, and that together you are hearing God speak.
I often hear people say things like “I don’t need to go to church because me and God have an understanding.” I don’t think we really understand how ridiculous that is in reality. That’s like one of my students saying “Professor Speaks, I don’t need to come to your class because we’ve got an understanding.” You know the result of that? A big fat ZERO, because they can’t learn the material if they never come to class. That’s like dating someone and saying, “We’re only going to talk to each other online, we’re never going to hang out together in person because we have an understanding.” The likelihood of you actually getting to know that person is slim to none.
I know some of you smart allecks out there might be saying, “Well what about online classes and online dating? People can still do those things and get something out of it.” And you’re absolutely right. SOME classes work just fine being online. But my class is not one of them. And some relationships work out just fine online. As a matter of fact, I just read an article about a couple who just got married after meeting on eHarmony. She lived in Scotland, he lived in New Hampshire and they had “online dates” where they would Skype each other and watch DVDs together. That’s great. That works for some people. But our relationship with God is not an online relationship. I just don’t believe that God has signed off on that type of agreement. Christianity is a community of believers who help carry one another–face to face, day by day. Church is necessary because it’s where we come and physically join hands together on one accord and declare that Jesus is Lord. If that doesn’t help get you through the week I don’t know what will.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying online church is wrong, or that you can’t get anything out of it. There are some people for whom this may be their only option for getting any type of church at all. And I do believe that some online communities work very well in terms of encouragement and building friendships. After all, technically church is not defined by a building anyway. But don’t let online church replace face to face contact with fellow believers. Ultimately, church is about getting to know God better. And the best way to learn more about anyone is to physically do life with them. Why would God be any different? We learn more about Him by being around people who know Him, are trying to live like Him, and want to share Him with you. That’s the beauty of Christian community.
“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” – Psalm 133:1 (ESV)
“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:25 (NIV)