Like most churches in our area, we at Capitol City were forced to cancel our services last weekend due to the snowstorm that unleashed its fury upon us. Instead of gathering to sing with, pray with, and encourage one another, we were left to shovel our driveways and pine for warmer weather. The whole experience led me to think about what we missed by not gathering. The answers might seem obvious, but in a day when more and more people are attending “church” only online (or even via app), those answers are still necessary to consider.
So let’s do that. What do we miss when we don’t gather together as the people of God on the Lord’s day?
This list is not exhaustive, and some of these ideas overlap with one another:
1. We miss the encouragement that comes through one another’s presence. When we are together, there is an edification and encouragement that happens as we rub shoulders with one another. We remember that we are not alone in our walk with Christ. We encounter many others – of different walks of life, generations, and backgrounds – who love and serve the same God that we do. All of this is like wind in the sails of a weary or struggling believer, and one reason why it is critical for us to gather even if we are not weary and struggling (so that we can be that wind in the sails of others).
When Paul opens his letter to the Romans, he tells the Roman church of his desire to see them – to gather with them and be with them. He says: “I long to see you…that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Rom 1:11-12). Paul longed to gather with the Romans, to be edified and encouraged by them If that’s true for the apostle, then it should be true for us as well. We receive encouragement from gathering with one another, and we miss that when we don’t gather.
Paul longed to gather with the Romans, to be edified and encouraged by them If that’s true for the apostle, then it should be true for us as well.
2. We miss the way congregational worship forms us in light of the gospel. The primary aim of any true, Christian worship gathering is to glorify God. As his praises are sung, as his people depend upon him in prayer, and as his Word is preached, the supreme worth and value of God is put on display. God is glorified. This is the primary aim of every worship gathering.
But every true worship gathering’s secondary aim is the transformation of the people who gather. Such transformation happens a number of ways – through singing, preaching, etc. But it also happens through the progression of the various elements of the worship gathering. At Capitol City, we structure our services around a “liturgy” that mirrors the story of the gospel. We begin by praising the God who is unlike us and worthy of our praise. We move to moments of, songs of, and prayers of confession, recognizing our sin and our need for reconciliation. Then we sing, preach, and pray the truth of God’s saving work in Christ. Finally, we consider our response to that saving work – in song, prayer, and in the ordinances (the Lord’s Supper and baptism). Finally, we are sent out with a benediction – the church gathered becomes the church scattered.
There is an intentional rhythm to all of these elements that, over time, shapes us and forms the Word of Christ more richly in us (Col 3:16). I can listen to a worship album in my car. I can watch a sermon online. I can pray – on my own, or with others. But the formation that occurs through these elements, ordered as they are in a worship gathering, doesn’t occur when we don’t gather.
There is an intentional rhythm to the elements of worship that, over time, shapes us and forms the Word of Christ more richly in us.
3. We miss the transformative power of the ordinances. Speaking of the ordinances, we (obviously) miss the Lord’s Supper and baptism when we don’t gather. Each of these institutions (called ordinances because they were ordained by Jesus himself) imparts grace to us when we experience them.
In our church, when we witness a baptism – a public profession of an individual’s faith in Christ – our own faith is encouraged, as we see God moving in the world and through the ministry of our church. But we are not merely spectators here, either, for in any public profession of faith the public is key. We are affirming the testimony of the believer being baptized, agreeing that her profession is credible.
At Capitol City, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper every week. Every week, we take this as an opportunity for us to freshly and tangibly consider the work of Christ in our lives, as well as our continued need for his grace. Every week, when we take the elements of communion, we declare publicly again our allegiance to Christ and our rejection of the false gods of this world.
Jesus intended for these ordinances to be public affairs. Baptism shouldn’t happen in private. The Lord’s Supper is different than a meal eaten around my family’s dinner table. These are institutions given to the church for the sake of the church. When we participate in them, we experience their transforming power. We miss this when we don’t gather.
4. We don’t practice or profit from the “one anothers.” The New Testament is full of “one another” commands for the people of God. Pray with one another. Love one another. Bear one another’s burdens. Encourage one another. The list goes on and on.
When we don’t gather, we don’t have the opportunity to obey these commands to the same degree that we can when we are together. Also, we don’t have the opportunity to receive the grace that others will impart to us as they seek to obey these commands for our sake.
The writer of Hebrews saw the regular gathering of God’s people as key to their perseverance in the faith for these reasons: Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Heb 10:24-25).The connection is strong – and critical: Meeting together means encouraging one another. By principle, meeting together is the opportunity for the one anothers to flourish. When we don’t meet together, those one anothers can’t flourish among us.