One of the hard parts of being a Youth Pastor is saying goodbye to those students who graduate out of your program. It’s especially hard when those students have been a part of the youth group for a long time. In a small way, you feel like a parent who’s sending off their child into the world, be it college or to begin their career, or just to move out on their own. You hope and pray that the lessons and values you’ve tried to instill in them will stick and that they will mature into healthy adults. Of course, I understand, and I have counseled many parents with this as well, that this is in the Lord’s hands. We can preach to and teach and counsel these students with godly wisdom but ultimately their walk with Christ is in His hands. We have to trust the Lord. But this doesn’t mean that we throw our children to the wolves and hope everything turns out ok.
In talking with one of our graduates recently who is going off to college, one of the pieces of advice I gave was to get involved with a local church. I also encouraged him to get involved with a campus ministry, but even those should not replace the role that the local church plays in our lives. As I think back over the students I’ve had the privilege to minister to, the ones who are closely walking with the Lord now are the ones who have remained faithful to being a part of a local church. In contrast, the ones who have turned their back on the church, and have seen the repercussions of those actions, grew up with an attitude that church is not essential.
That word, “essential,” has been thrown around a lot in recent days, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic as most businesses that were not deemed “essential” were made to close their doors to help stop the spread of the virus. Churches were also forced to find alternative ways to worship and “do church” in an attempt to comply with state and national guidelines and to be loving to our neighbor. I do believe that this was the right thing for the church to do, doing our part to “flatten the curve” and help keep everyone safe, but I think that through the weeks of holding our worship services online we have learned how essential the church really is.
As we are in our reopening phase at church, meaning that we have reopened but with restrictions (i.e. wearing masks, social distancing, some ministries still closed, etc.), the church leadership is praying that the people of the church would recognize the need to be physically present and worshipping alongside their church family. Long before the threat of COVID-19, was the church-killing mantra of “I don’t need to go to church, I can worship God anywhere.” While the latter part of that statement is true, the first part is a lie straight from Satan. As Christians, we need to go to church. Are there some who are unable, either bound by health restrictions or extenuating circumstances? Absolutely, there are, and I believe God extends grace in those situations. I also believe we can learn a great deal from those who are risking their freedom and their lives by attending underground churches. Why would someone risk their life to attend church, when many in our culture won’t sacrifice their comfort in order to attend church? Could it be that there are some who see church as essential while others see it only as a mere “nice to have” luxury?
If we have learned anything from the “shelter-in-place” orders and church services being cancelled, it is that God’s people will not be confined to a building. By God’s grace, we were able to continue our church services online, and even having a couple of “drive-in” worship services in our parking lot. People were still gathering for worship, albeit in their own homes gathered around computers, televisions and tablets. We are extremely thankful for technology and those who know how to use it. But we also learned that the church is much more than individuals who are able to have their private personal worship experience. We need each other. We need to worship together, encourage one another, lift each other up, mentor and be mentored, bear one another’s burdens, to suffer together, to rejoice together, and to better proclaim the excellencies of our heavenly Father. These are just some of the biblical reasons to go to church, and I haven’t even mentioned the fact that we should go because God tells us to.
In his book, One Assembly, Jonathan Leeman points out that the primary use of the word church in the New Testament is ekklēsia, which is best translated as “assembly.” Can a people be called an “assembly” if they never assemble? Can you be a part of church if you never gather with the church? The answer is a resounding “no!” You can’t be a part of the church if you never go to church any more than a group of people who never play a football game can call themselves a football team.
In an article for The Gospel Coalition, Brett McCracken writes, “I…hope this season shows us that privatized, consumeristic spirituality is not enough. Not for individuals and not for society. We need more than just “me and Jesus” faith that has little bearing on the world and gives us little incentive to leave the house. We need faith that is rooted in strong, serving, multiplying local church communities—the sort of faith that makes such a difference in its tangible presence that everyone notices, and laments, its absence.”
You need the church, and the church needs you.
Soli deo gloria,