One Sunday in January, Joshua was sick so we stayed home and watched our church service on-line. The next Sunday it snowed, so I continued my pattern. Then next Sunday I had no excuse, yet the pull was so strong to stay home and “do” church on-line -to stay in my comfy clothes and get what I wanted without really putting anything in. I could have the benefit without giving anything.
But I went. Riding home, I was glad I forced myself to get dressed to leave the house. Why? It was not because I left feeling spiritually filled or that the message was particularly pertinent to what I am experiencing. However, I was able to sing praises to God with 200 other worshippers, greet someone who had not attended church before, offer encouraging words to a struggling young adult, and hug a woman who may not have been hugged all week.
I would like to say this ended my near-weekly struggle, but it did not. I was listening to Beth Moore (another instance where I can learn without being bothered by interacting with others), and she used the word “disembodied” to describe what is happening to us as we use virtual church (sermons, teachings, small group Bible studies) to replace participating in church.
I am not advocating having to be in church every Sunday or being in a small group or serving here and there and everywhere. However, I do see the tendency and danger in my own life to substitute convenience and be satisfied by a mere shadow rather than dealing with the undesirable or inconvenient aspects of community. What was most convicting to me (yikes – another virtual experience podcast) was when one pastor asked, “Are you planting seeds or merely picking the fruit?”
Even so, God continues to carry out His purposes in someone’s life whether she attends church or not. God is writing countless overlapping stories – many are taking place within the individual, but He is also writing a larger story through his body, the local church, the global church and across the generations – a great cloud of witnesses. I wonder, “Can I really flourish apart from His body?” Using the Biblical analogy, any part must be connected, not only to the head, but the other parts of the body to function best.
Yes, virtual forms of “church” can maintain my spiritual life, but I wondered who would chose dialysis over a well-functioning kidney? Dialysis sustains life, yet the life is hindered. While I exercise, I watch a trainer hike the Alps or run through Volcanoes National Park, yet I discovered even a real hike in my own community is preferable to staying in one place in my living room watching someone else have the adventure. On the surface, the woods of Virginia may not seem as exciting as those other places yet, I can breathe in the crisp air, discover a tiny flower or butterfly, and get my foot stuck in the mud. I am engaged in the action, not just observing. As much as learning what I want, when I want, from whom I want appeals to me, God has little flowers and butterflies for me to discover at church even if it means stepping in some mud.