Dear church, peace and grace be with you in our Lord Jesus Christ.
I am writing to you to share with you a pastoral concern for you and our church family. As you are aware, we find ourselves in extraordinary times in our lifetime as the world is faced with the COVID-19 pandemic. For this reason, we closed our doors to ensure the safety of our church family and local neighbours.
We are blessed with brothers and sisters who responded quickly to move our service online. While we are still learning how best to use these digital resources, I want to acknowledge all their efforts to serve you. I trust this ministry is a blessing and encouragement to you in this time.
However, I am concerned about the dangers of this change. Let me explain:
The original Greek word for church means assembly—that is, the assembling of God’s people. At present, this is not something we are able to do, we are not able to assemble. There lies our first problem.
As we worship online, there are many aspects missing from the experience. You will remember the experience of the early church:
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.— Acts 2:42–47
Our worship, the experience of church, is a communal one. Even with all the advances of technology, there is a shortfall in our experience of corporate worship as a church. We cannot hear the voices of one another as we sing, we cannot hear the agreement of one another in prayer, we cannot share fellowship and food together, we cannot encourage and support one another face to face…but probably the most critical of all, we cannot be a light and proclaim the gospel to our world in quite the same way.
The second problem is a future one, the habit of church. Let me be clear, I am not saying attending church is a requirement or law to receive the grace of God, but there is practical wisdom in habits of grace. Just as our spiritual disciplines are not a requirement for the grace of God, going to church is not a requirement.
However, there is a real danger when we do not exercise habits of spiritual disciplines, especially when we neglect meeting together. The writer of Hebrews writes:
24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.— Hebrews 10:24–25
What is the danger? The danger is that we will develop a habit of doing “church” online that when the doors of the church are open once again, people will no longer seek to attend church. Watching church services online is no sin, but there is a danger that we forget what the church is meant to be. (I acknowledge there are people who are simply unable to attend church physically and so church online is their only option.)
Brothers and sisters, let us consider how we may encourage one another in this extraordinary time. Let us use every resource available to us—physical or digital—to point one another to Jesus, the great high priest who stands before God interceding for us always. Let us devote ourselves to the Word of God, to creative ways of fellowship, and praying for one another.
However, let us also remember that we are missing out temporarily on the full experience of church—the gathering of the people of God to worship him in truth and in Spirit. Let us lament this time, but also look forward with hope to the day we will gather together to praise God in one voice. On that day, we will celebrate once again his faithfulness and goodness.
May mercy and peace be with you all. Your pastor and brother-in-Christ,