Monday, July 22, 2024

To gather together or not

by PASTOR BRUCE MACEK / Contributing Writer
| February 2, 2024 1:00 AM

Over the years I've been an active participant in all sorts of gatherings with fellow believers in Christ. They range from small mid-week groups, to campouts and picnics, to corporate fellowship in both large and small churches. I can honestly say I've been a part of some wonderful things and some very embarrassing things all in the name of church. At times I've rejoiced and at other times I've wanted to hide. 

Eugene Peterson addresses this tension well in the introduction to the letter of James in his version of The Message. 

"When Christian believers gather in churches, everything that can go wrong sooner or later does. Outsiders, on observing this, conclude that there is nothing to the religion business except, perhaps, business- and dishonest business at that. Insiders see it differently. Just as a hospital collects the sick under one roof and labels them as such, the church collects sinners. Many of the people outside the hospital are every bit as sick as the ones inside, but their illnesses are either undiagnosed or disguised. It's similar with sinners outside the church. 

"So Christian churches are not, as a rule, model communities of good behavior. They are, rather, places where human misbehavior is brought out in the open, faced, and dealt with."

With this seemingly not-so-perfect picture of church, one might ask, why would a good and perfect God want to involve us in His kingdom work here on earth? Wouldn't it be much easier and less complicated if, at birth, a chip was implanted that made us nothing more than dutiful robots?

Since He doesn't need our help or advice, one can conclude that church, be it corporate or informal gatherings, is one of the places God uses to grow us up because of all the different folks that show up there. Could it be that our all-knowing, creative, and trustworthy Father might be using that person who rubs us the wrong way to show us some flaw in our seemingly perfect character? As if He's saying, Hey, you've got egg on your shirt or there's something in your mustache. Maybe there's something to learn from those we avoid. Have we written off meeting with others as a whole because what's said hits too close to home or others have disappointed us by falling short of our expectations?

Yet, despite all this God tells us to not desert gathering with other believers because it's a time of growth, comfort, and encouragement. Hebrews 10:23-25. No one has said that this life of faith would be easy. Seldom is the right thing or best thing to do the easy thing to do. 

From a pastor's perspective, as well as an average Joe in the seats, please don't write the church off. There are so many satisfying ways to learn and mature in our walk with God when we gather together. So many dear saints to know and so many dear saints that want to know you. We need you as much as you need us.

If sitting at home in front of a screen is your answer to avoiding the gatherings of fellow believers, will the person you're watching be at your door to offer a word of encouragement or comfort? Will they be there to offer a listening ear or a helping hand? I'll be the first to tell you that being a part of a church is a risk. However, before we put church on our must-miss list, please think again, for the benefits far outweigh the risks. 

Trust in the Lord with all our heart and lean not on our own understandings.

In all our ways acknowledge Him and He will direct our paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

Bruce Macek is the pastor at Newman Community Bible Church in Sagle.