One of my favorite verses about our weekly worship gatherings is found in the Psalms:
Come, let us shout joyfully to the Lord, shout triumphantly to the rock of our salvation! Let us enter his presence with thanksgiving; let us shout triumphantly to him in song. For the Lord is a great God, a great King above all gods. (Psalm 95:1-3)
In the passage we see community – “us” coming together. We see intensity “shout triumphantly” and we see intentionality – as people are invited to come together and to “enter His presence.” In other words, gathering together should not be passive. And it should not be something we take for granted or something we mindlessly approach as if we are “just going through the motions.”
There have been, for many years, debates on the merit of “church online.” Admittedly, I fall in the middle of the two sides – of those who view “church online” as fully church and those who do not stream their services out of a theological conviction. I believe we should use all the tools at our disposal, including technology, to spread the gospel. Which practically means we stream our services at the church I serve as pastor. And at the same time, I believe people miss a lot when they do not gather physically. We don’t hear each other sing. We don’t get to interact with multiple generations and cultures. We don’t get to serve the body as a whole. Which practically means I don’t refer to our online gatherings as one of our campuses or as the totality of a person’s church experience.
Online church is a shadow of a shadow. Our regular gatherings are a shadow of the eternal gathering, where we will one day worship with people from every tribe tongue and nation in glorious bodies set free from the presence of sin. And our online gatherings are a shadow of our physical gatherings, where we will one day gather together again and hear our brothers and sisters sing. Just as our physical gatherings should help us long for the eternal gathering, I pray our online gatherings will cause us to long for physical gatherings.
We are in a moment where the shadow of the shadow is the best we have. And we should make the most of it. As we are gathering online for worship in the coming weeks, I want to encourage us to approach the worship services actively – not passively. It will take you willfully choosing to be active because the television screen has trained us to be passive.
1. Be ready, where you will watch, before the service begins.
Don’t have the service passively playing in the background. Set the room and make the time of worship the focus of the hour. If you can’t make it on time to online church, you will likely never make it to church when it begins. Which means you miss so much!
2. Put away other electronic devices.
If you are multi-tasking, you won’t be able to fully engage.
3. Pray that the Lord will teach you and encourage you.
Take time before the service begins to ask the Lord to speak to you.
4. Sing aloud. Yes, it feels awkward at first. But go for it!
Some people don’t sing in church because they feel embarrassed by their singing. It is just you or you and people who love you. Go for it!
5. Follow along in your Bible. Take notes.
Don’t be lazy in hearing the message (Hebrews 4:11). Press in.
6. If you normally give in the giving boxes or offering plate, give online.
Your church will not be able to function as she is functioning without God’s people being generous.
7. Reflect on the message or discuss the message with others.
I believe God will use this season to develop in us a healthy longing for our weekly worship gatherings, a longing to participate with one another, to encourage one another. Perhaps God will use this time to develop some of our worship gathering muscles. Perhaps we will grow more comfortable in singing. Perhaps we will get in the habit of being present for the whole service. Perhaps our weekly gatherings will be sweeter on the other side of this chaos.