My wife and I love to open our home to friends and neighbors. We know that our world can be isolating and lonely, so we want our hospitality to open the door for community and conversation. One of the results of our hospitality (and certainly being a pastor) is that friends will ask us for advice when they are going through a tough season.
We always start with one question: “are you involved with a church?” A few years ago, this would not have been as big of an issue. But the pandemic truly impacted the simple grace of being together in a church family. Christian friends who know that they are out of the habit of gathering at a church need the gentle nudge—and sometimes stern push—to gather with their church every week.
We begin our counsel with being a part of a church because Christians who are isolated are outside of God’s good design. And then they are left to face trials and troubles without the help that God ordained in his church. Truly, the first thing a Christian needs to do is show up in a church. And there are three reasons to trust in the grace of gathering with God’s people.
Hebrews 10:22–25 invites believers into the grace of being a part of God’s church. The phrase “let us” gives the blessings we encounter in community. The invitation also comes with a command to “not [neglect] to meet together.” Neglecting the gathering means that believers miss out on the good gifts that the community comes together to celebrate. When occasionally skipping the service becomes a habit, Christians become isolated from the teaching of our confession of hope, they miss out on encouragement, and they end up discipled by the world instead of the church. We gather because God has invited us into the goodness of the community of faith.
Showing up matters because God’s command has a purpose; we encourage and build one another up when we gather. Hebrews 10:24 says that we “stir one another up to love and good works.” The blessing of gathering with the church is far more than what we get out of it, and includes what we give to our brothers and sisters as well. When we meet, we stir one another up. When we pray together, we intercede for the needs in our community. And when we sing praises to God, we also sing to one another the truth about God. Ephesians 5:19 tells us that we are not singing to God alone, we sing to one another. When we sing “Great is thy Faithfulness” we are proclaiming the glory and faithfulness of God. But we are also reminding our brother, who did not think that God was all that faithful this week, that he can trust God despite changing circumstances .
Perhaps the strongest reason for showing up is the truth that the church is the body of Christ. And we know that Jesus came in the flesh. Jesus was born and grew up; he ate and drank; he met with and taught people. Jesus did these things because he is the Word made flesh (John 1:14). If Jesus came in a physical body, then the church, as the body of Christ, should come together physically, too. If a part of a human body is missing, it alters life significantly. Take out the wrong body part and it will end a life.
In the age of sermon podcasts and live-streamed worship, we can get some of the good that comes from a service but still miss out on all that God provided for us in the gathered church. It may seem like a small thing, but showing up is a way of living out the nature of the church as the body of Christ. He showed up more than 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem, and we show up each Lord’s Day to experience the grace of the gathered church.
So, when you feel strung out or tired, come to church. When your kids won’t listen and can’t get ready on time, come to church. When people are visiting from out of town, come to church. When you have been every week for years and feel burnt out, come to church. When your marriage is in a rough spot, come to church. When your career is going sideways, come to church.
You don’t need to have your life in order. You don’t need to wear your Sunday best. You don’t need the church bumper sticker on your car. You don’t have to feel in the mood. The simple gift of being present will bring you encouragement and community (while doing the same for your brothers and sisters) because that is how God designed his church to work.
Andy Shurson is a church planter and pastor of Desert Ridge Church in Phoenix. He is a graduate of Belmont University and Dallas Theological Seminary. Andy has served in the local church for years as a lead pastor, youth pastor, and in many other volunteer roles. He is also a writer who has written resources and curriculum for churches across the country.