When we moved our worship services exclusively online early in the pandemic, I did not know what to do with myself during the weekend services. I had already preached the message to a camera, so I found Saturday nights and Sunday mornings a bit torturous – wondering if I should have said something differently, if I had been clear enough on certain points, etc. But mostly I missed being with the people.
The online platform we use to broadcast our services from our website provides a chat function. I mostly like it. The chat function has led to some amazing conversations with our hosts. People have received prayer and encouragement. Others have prayed to receive Christ. Amazing! What I don’t like is that it can reveal a consumption mentality in some at some time. I say “reveals” because I am not sure how much it creates the consumption mentality as much as it reveals what is already there. But watching the comments one weekend early in the pandemic was the last weekend I watched the comments. It was not good for my soul. “Oh, I love it when this person sings this song.” “Someone needs to tell that person to smile more.” “Why are we filming this here?” “I am so glad we are filming this here.” “That story is not effective.” Etc. Etc. Some of the comments during “church online” felt like the evaluation of a product, not the joyous participation with God’s people. During the months when we were not gathering physically, I thought a lot about church and gatherings as a church. Here are three thoughts about consuming, community, and the better way to view church.
1. Consuming His Word changes us.
I am not against church consumption. At times there has been too much talk from people like me challenging people to not be church consumers. There is such a thing as holy consumption. We must consume His Word, the teaching, reminders of His grace offered through worship, and communion to remember His death. Consuming His Truth changes us. If we are miserable, cruel, and apathetic at the end of a worship service, it is not His grace that we have consumed. Letting the Word of Christ dwell richly in us results in gratitude, joy, singing, and encouraging one another (Colossians 3:16-17)
2. Church is not a product to evaluate; it is a community to participate in.
Consuming His truth and grace with a hungry and humble posture is very different than consuming a religious service with the posture of a customer. Church is a family, the body of Christ, and a community of called out ones. It is much more glorious than any product; therefore, attending church services should not be like leaving product reviews on Amazon, but rather enjoying the grace and goodness of God with God’s people.
3. Participation is much greater than association.
When we read the Scripture, we see the vision of the church as not one of mere association with a church or a pastor, but glorious participation in the gospel. The word often translated “fellowship” is koinonia in the original language. The word carries the connotation of deep participation. In Acts 2:42, believers devoted themselves to the koinonia/participation. In Philippians 1:5, Paul thanked the believers at Philippi for their koinonia/partnership in the gospel. I know many are not comfortable with large gatherings at this time, and churches should do all they can to serve people where they are. But that also includes calling people to participate with the church, not merely associate with the church. It means helping people get into some type of community where they are nurtured and cared for by others.
May our consumption of His grace drive us to participate in community – not merely evaluate or associate with community.