One of the most remarkable changes that I’ve seen, over my lifetime (I’m starting to sound a little old, aren’t I?), is the changing expectation people have around Sunday church services. When I was a kid, people were just there on a Sunday. I’m sure for some it was just religious duty, but for most of the people I knew it flowed from knowing the importance of belonging and being part of what God was doing in and amongst the church community. Over the last 10 years or so I’ve noticed a massive shift. We have a general rule of thumb at Life Church that, on any given Sunday, approximately a third of the church family will be away. Why is that? Now for some it’s work commitments and for others it’s illness. But I think there has also been a subtle but dangerous shift in people’s thinking. I think that our Sunday service gets added into the whirl of the weekend’s schedule and, if the meeting doesn’t conflict with anything else that’s happening then, well I guess they go to church. But if, for example, the kids have a sports club or a competition, or perhaps the wider family are visiting? Well, they just don’t go.
I want to suggest to you that this is a less than healthy way of looking at Sundays. Why? Because gathering as the church family is vital! It’s not just vital for you, but for each other too. You see, gathering as a church is much more than coming and consuming your weekly dose of (hopefully) good teaching to top you up for the coming week. When the church gathers so much more happens. As David Mathis writes in this excellent blog:
“Worshiping Jesus together may be the single most important thing we do. It plays an indispensable role in rekindling our spiritual fire, and keeping it burning. Corporate worship brings together God’s word, prayer and fellowship, and so makes for the greatest means of God’s ongoing grace in the Christian life.”
Wow! Mathis then goes on to list five benefits of gathering together as a church family for worship:
- Awakening – “Often we come into corporate worship feeling a sense of spiritual fog”. Sundays are a place to allow the word and the Spirit to blow the fog away, put fresh wind in the sails of our lives and to ensure we’re navigating in the right direction.
- Assurance – So much of scripture (take many of the Psalms as an example) are filled with singing to one another. What is that all about? Part of it is about reminding one another of the wonderful truths of who our God is and what he has done in our lives. There is something really powerful (and humbling) about hearing those who you have walked with over the past few years, singing and declaring the truths of who God is to you. A YouTube channel or podcast just can’t do that for you.
- Advance – 1 Corinthians 14:3 shows us that corporate worship plays an indispensable part in our growth and development in the faith.
- Accepting another’s leading – “One important distinction between public worship and private worship is the place of our initiative. Corporate worship reminds us that our faith is fundamentally reception, not our own initiation. In private devotions, we lead ourselves in some sense. In corporate worship, we’re made to receive the leading of others.” Ouch! Corporate worship fights against the me, myself and I culture that drips from anything and everything around us. It shows us that we’re in an interdependent community of worshippers.
- Accentuated joy – Last, but not least, is the heightened experience of worship in the corporate context. Our own awe is accentuated, our own adoration increased, our own joy doubled when we worship Jesus together.
Here’s my final challenge of this series: Why don’t you go through the next six weeks and mark church in your diary on every Sunday morning.