This post is not intended for me to overvalue or undervalue certain parts of the physical gathering. This post simply expresses my current state of emotions regarding the things I miss most about going to church on Sunday.
* Background: this post was written during the COVID-19 pandemic. During this pandemic all social gatherings (not just religious) were asked to stop until the spread of the virus is slowed down. At this point in time, our church has not met for 3 consecutive weeks and services are still suspended until further notice.
The Commute to and from the Gathering with My Wife. On a normal Sunday my wife and I drive to church together. There are times, however, because of my responsibilities before or after church that we will drive separate, but the norm is us together. I really miss this aspect of the physical gathering because it is a good time for us to talk about our Sunday.
On our way to church, I normally play our church’s Spotify playlist of songs that we’ll sing during the service. I may also pick my wife’s brain on the sermon I will preach. I will ask her if my basic concept is clear, if some of my planned illustrations make sense, etc. We also discuss general topics related to church.
On our way home, I almost always ask my wife as we pull out the parking lot, “how was your Sunday?” and “learn anything interesting today?” Sometimes this discussion is short and sometimes it is long. We also spend our drive home talking about our Sunday.
Congregational Singing. How could I not love congregational singing? It is the combination of two of the things I highly value: God’s people and Christian music. While our church has provided music for us to sing at home during our live stream, nothing beats the gathered congregation’s collective voice. Even if the building is sparse with members, participating and hearing the voices of the congregation encourages my heart (cf. Eph 5:18–21; Col 3:16–17). In the midst of the collective voice I can sometimes hear individual voices of members I know, members I have counseled, or discipled. There are actual people behind the voices and it encourages me to hear them sing rich songs of the Christian faith.
(Real Life) Expository Preaching. Whether I am the preacher or someone else, I really miss real life expository preaching. Preaching to a camera lens does not feel like preaching the way God intended. Good preaching is often illustrated with home cooked meals. A home cooked meal is personal, intimate, delicious, and satisfying. Home cooks know their audience and prepare meals according to their dietary needs and preferences. In much the same way, local church pastors prepare sermons tailor fit from God’s Word for their congregation.
This does not mean expositors manipulate or change the message of Scripture. Rather, it highlights the personal nature of applying the timeless truth of Scripture to a given audience. It indicates that pastors know their people.
Live stream preaching is just not the same. It is like the difference between listening to an MP3 versus watching a live performance. It is like the difference between looking at a picture of Yosemite Falls and standing in front of Yosemite Falls. We would much prefer the live action, real time experience. The secondary mediums of pictures and recordings can only accomplish a fraction of the real thing.
The Prayers of God’s People. Our service has portions where members offer prayers of praise, thanksgiving, and confession of sin. The only prayer reserved for the pastors is the pastoral (or intercessory) prayer. It is refreshing and encouraging to hear church members thoughtfully offer these prayers. Prayer is a genuine act of Christian service that encourages my soul.
The Observance of the Lord’s Table. Our church observes the Lord’s Table every first of the month. It is our conviction that this is an ordinance observed in the physical gathering of the local church. For this reason, we have not practiced the Lord’s Table on our live stream. The Lord’s Table is a family meal provided for us to remember the work of Christ, reflect on present-day gospel implications, and anticipate the return of our Lord. At the table, we are not merely reminded of our reconciliation with God, but our reconciliation with one another as the household of God. It is a reminder that I live the Christian life alongside other saints who love and care for me through discipleship and accountability. For these reasons, I miss the observance of the Lord’s Table and anticipate the day when we can observe it again together.
The Fellowship of the Local Church. After we close our service in prayer, we often encourage church members to stick around and fellowship and encourage one another in the faith. While there are times people need to leave, there is an overwhelming majority of people who will stay for a good amount of time. This gives us time to catch up and hear from one another. Christians find strength in spending time with one another (see Heb 10:23–25; 1 Thess 3:1–2). As a pastor, I find these times of fellowship very encouraging. I love observing church members talking, laughing, praying, and serving one another.
Conclusion. These are just a few of the aspects I am currently missing about the physical gathering of the local church. I’m praying for God’s mercy for us to meet and gather again in a safe and healthy environment.
What do you miss most about your weekly church gathering?