I love modern conveniences. Next-day delivery? Sign me up. Curbside pickup? Yes, please! Today’s conveniences enable us to pull ourselves up by our metaphorical bootstraps and beam like a proud toddler, “I did it myself!” Our independence seems to grow each year, but when it comes to our faith, this independence can introduce a dangerous idea.
When my husband and I followed his job out of state and away from our home church, we started listening to online sermons while we looked for a church in our new town. Then we became parents and the idea of getting out during morning naps on Sundays seemed increasingly less convenient. Slowly, our resolve to settle in a local church dwindled and we simply checked the box with sporadic online sermons.
One day, a friend invited me to her church. My husband and I agreed to go the next Sunday, but our expectations were low. Listening online was simply easier and we weren’t convinced of the need to attend local services.
When, after the service, my friend invited me to join their women’s Bible study, I was still skeptical. I didn’t think I’d learn anything useful, but my friend would be there and, let’s be honest, they were offering free coffee and childcare.
At the bible study, there was an elderly Scottish woman at my table. Her prayer was so sincere that I surprised myself by getting emotional. I rarely cry, much less while sitting in a folding chair, holding a styrofoam cup of mediocre coffee. But it had been a long time since I prayed with other Christians, and it encouraged me. I felt a dim flicker of recognition; something in this room felt familiar. What was it?
I didn’t have a chance to find out. Within two weeks, the pandemic canceled all in-person programming. I returned to my usual online sermons, but I wondered about that moment in the Bible study and the familiar feeling I had when the woman prayed.
After lockdowns lifted, I clung stubbornly to online sermons instead of returning to the church. The ongoing pandemic gave me a reasonable excuse, but it was convenience rather than germs that kept me away. When my third child was born the following year, the women of my friend’s church ignored my absence and organized my first-ever meal train. With my other kids, grocery pickup and delivery services had taught me and my husband to survive the sleepy blur of postpartum on our own. A meal train felt unnecessary but nice.
As I cuddled my newborn son and mused gratefully over the care these women had shown, I felt the same vaguely familiar feeling as in that Bible study. Suddenly, it clicked: this was the Church. Not the building, but the people. These women didn’t know me personally, but they didn’t need to. They were simply responding to God’s call of being the Church in community.
I had convinced myself that attending a local church was nice when it was convenient but ultimately unnecessary. Like the eye and head in Paul’s illustration to the Corinthians, I had turned to the other members of the body and thought, “I don’t need you!” But Paul reminds us the body is a collective – “not made up of one part but of many” (1 Corinthians 12:14 ESV).
When circumstances and society mold us into independent people, we start to believe the idea that we can DIY a private faith without being involved in the local body of Christ. But this largely misses the meaning of the Church.
God has not called us to independence; He has called His people to community. When I checked the box with online sermons, I thought I was still living in the Church, albeit individualistically. Online sermons are wonderful, and I still listen regularly, but church — the Church — is more than just sermons. We, God’s gathered people, are the Church.
From the very beginning, God looked at Adam in the garden and said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Adam and Eve were God’s first community and the beginning of the Church. Community between Himself and His gathered people was always God’s design. God’s Church is to encourage the believers and to be His hands and feet in caring for the community. Hebrews 10:24-25 reminds us:
“And let us 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.”
Through an encouraging prayer in a folding chair and good meals left at my door, God reminded me of His design for the Church. His design is not independent, and it is not DIY; it’s sometimes ordinary and not always convenient. His design is simply community.
“If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.”
1 Corinthians 12:19–20 (NIV)
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