When I see Christian leaders demanding their right to gather publicly as if it's a fundamental necessity, I'm a bit embarrassed.
I'm partly embarrassed to be associated with what I believe is a short-sighted view of worship. But more poignantly, I'm embarrassed for how it sounds to our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world where meeting publicly isn't even an option. I would venture that for them to meet at all is considerably more faithful than for us to exercise our rights by having an outdoor praise concert, or an open door sermon in our building.
This isn't to say I'm against meeting publicly, or opening our buildings. Not at all. I'm personally good with meeting. In fact, we're planning to have a night of worship coming up here shortly and I'm really looking forward to it.
But for a variety of reasons I haven't opened SCC to regular gatherings yet. And I must admit the awkwardness: while we are voluntarily doing church online in a state where we have permission to meet onsite, people in other states are willing to go to jail over not being allowed to meet onsite. Here we are, saying, "Let's just meet online for a time," and there they are, saying, "It is fundamentally necessary for us to meet onsite!"
I'm not picking a fight with anyone. And I understand the concern about losing our American rights. I get that. But that's not the conversation I'm having here. My concern is bigger than that.
I believe the increased emphasis on demanding our right to "do church" is reinforcing an already weakened view of what it means to "be Church."
Gathering publicly is about doing church. But no law can keep us from being Church.
We need to stop focusing on doing church and start focusing on being Church.
Again, I don't want to be misunderstood here. Gathering publicly is a wonderful privilege. I'm thankful for it. Let's meet publicly whenever we can. And, as American citizens, let's be good stewards of the voice democracy gives us in helping lead the country. I personally cast my own vote towards freedom whenever I can. But let's not hold up the Constitution and Bill of Rights as authoritative commentaries on scripture. It is not holy writ.
(I've taught about Kingdom allegiance recently, so I'll refrain from saying more here.)
But isn't it interesting that prior to Covid, we who are now willing to fight for our right to worship, increasingly exercised that as the right to not worship? Or the right to worship on our own, whenever we felt like it?
I was talking with a school teacher recently who said that people used to view education as a privilege and so they were willing to work very hard for it. But now they see it as a right, so they give up as soon as it gets hard.
When we see worship as a right, we stop seeing it as a privilege.
We give up on worship easily because we just want it to be easy. And apparently "easy" means "when I'm not tired" or "when I don't have something else to do" or "when I'm tired of being cooped up in my home during a government mandated shut-in."
For decades, worship attendance in the U.S. has been declining across the board. Many "regular church goers" go half of the time. Some would say monthly is all the connection they need. Some stopped going to church in person years ago and only watch online. And some don't even watch online.
For those of us (like myself) who are at church if the doors are open, it feels like they've left the faith, doesn't it? But the reality is, some still read their Bibles daily and have spiritual fellowship with others organically. Some have a very active prayer life and devote themselves to serving people in need, while being directed by portions of scripture they memorized a long time ago.
What do you think about that? Can you be a good Christian and not go to Church every week? No doubt you have an opinion. And now that we've all "skipped church" multiple weeks in a row, I wonder if your opinion has changed. Does going to church make us the Church?
Let's be clearheaded about this.
Gathering publicly is not fundamentally necessary to gathering in Jesus' name.
All throughout the world, Christians gather privately and faithfully in Jesus' name. And the power of God is there in their midst.
No gawking media.
No demonstration of rights.
No social media posts being shared.
No publicity of any kind.
No dividing up by preferred political solutions.
None of that.
Just people gathering as followers of Jesus to pray together, study the scriptures together (if they have them), sing some songs together (quietly), and break bread together. Just two or three plus Jesus, because they have gathered in his name. (Matthew 18:20)
Is two or three plus Jesus not enough?
The Western Church has fallen in love with "the worship service" as if a crowd amplifies the Lord's presence. It doesn't.
It intensifies our experience. Sure. It amplifies our voice. Sure. It proclaims the gospel and declares the praises of God's people. Yes.
But in no way does a crowd amplify the Lord's presence.
If we're not clearheaded about this, we will "throw our pearls to the swine." Gathering publicly is not essential to being church. It's just how we're used to doing church. And I believe the caffeinated energy of crowds and celebrity camouflages the fact that many who do church have never been converted from their worldliness. They are good at doing church but with all their being, they are still worldly. But man, they sure are good at doing church.
Like I keep saying, this is our opportunity to discover what it really means to be Church.
But it's going to take intentionality — the kind of intentionality that we don't need to exercise when the highlight of our faith is doing church. Because the reality is that for most people, doing church really means letting other people do the stuff, so we can just show up and enjoy it.
I don't mean to sound jaded. I am just calling out what I believe is prophetic impulse: It is time for us to stop doing church and start being the Church.
And, like I taught yesterday, this is all about becoming Followers of the Way.
Go watch it again. Consider it. Become an apprentice. And share the message with anyone else in your circle who is just waiting till "we can start doing church again." It's got to be about way more than just doing church again.
Lord willing, I plan to teach this week about the need to be in community with a few others who are devoted to the same things.
I dare you to invite a few people over to your house for worship this Sunday.
Invite two other households if you have the room, whether that's two people or four, or even more. Setup the TV ahead of time. (We just plug a laptop into our smart TV via HDMI cable.)
Enjoy their company. Watch the service together. Then, at the end, take the lead in discussing the questions. And ask the question: "How can we be praying for each other?" Then do that. And plan ahead to share a meal together. Eat in or go out, doesn't matter. But let it start right there in your own home where you are learning to be the Church!
Who would be the most natural for you to invite? Start with them.
Be the Church.
Pastor of Sarasota Community Church since 2009.