Sundays at 10:30am



“Gathered” Worship with a Scattered Church

“You’ll never forget this, guys.” That’s what I told the kids after worship on Sunday as we sat at the Mexican restaurant (remember the good ole days when we could eat at restaurants?). Indeed, the experience was unforgettable and utterly unique. Since then, I’ve had a number of folks ask me what it was like. If I could summarize, I would say that it was both special and sad.

It was pretty moving to be there with only my family, the staff, and one super-helpful volunteer. Knowing that the staff had worked so hard to pull that off over the weekend made me incredibly thankful for their friendship and partnership in the gospel. We spent Tuesday through Thursday processing information, Friday making preparations for an in-person gathering, and then Saturday getting ready for a livestream only service. When Nick prayed a prayer of disorientation, I was there already! But I was thankful to be oriented again by the Word and to be surrounded by brothers and sisters I love. I was thankful to have Cory Minton manning the video stream, Will Mitchell and Rachel Hagues leading us in song, Ryan leading us in prayer, and Elizabeth doing a hundred last minute things. Especially sweet was seeing them all participate as normal and worship the Lord with all their hearts.

And then there was my family. I knew that preaching to an empty room would be completely different, so I was looking (grasping?) for any sense of normalcy. That’s why I asked Leslie and the kids to come as well. I thought about asking them to sit together like they always do, but they beat me to the main room and had already staked out positions all over the place. That turned out to be best, especially when we found out that Isaac brought a pair of magnets, put them in his pocket, and ended up getting attracted to one of the metal poles during Ryan’s prayer of intercession. It’s amazing how loud magnets “click” in an empty room! But even that was “normal” (read: Isaac), and I’ll be forever grateful to them for going to a strange gathering but doing so cheerfully and happily.

But Sunday’s gathering was, without question, sad in lots of ways. I’m grateful for technology and all the many ways we can stay connected during this time, but none of that beats the real thing. The human experience is an embodied experience. Physical presence matters. Indeed, one needs only to look to the Incarnation to be reminded of the importance of presence. Jesus came among us. He lived among us. Real people heard his real voice, saw Him in the flesh, and touched Him as He walked by.

The church is meant to carry on that incarnational ministry. We find New Testament evidence of this in the repeated calls to gather with the church, with the exhortations to listen to one another and sing to one another, with the commands to physically greet one another in the Lord. I missed all of that on Sunday. I simply missed seeing all the people. The Lowes and Reins weren’t seated up front, the Collins’ were missing to my right, and the Jacobs and their many kids were not sitting by the middle entrance.

Likewise, I missed the handshakes and the hugs, the late arrivers subtly looking for seats, the groups of people talking afterwards. I missed the legion of volunteers gladly serving the Lord. I missed the sound of Bibles turning to the preaching passage, the lowly voiced amens, the nodding of heads and tracking of eyes. I missed Dave Nix smiling about some reminder of the gospel. And then there is the singing! We often say that the most important instrument in our service is the human voice. When you take out your best 300 instruments, the difference is noticeable, and not in a good way.

So that’s my reflection. We can thank God for the good, and we can lament the bad. And, then, even in the latter, we can thank God, for the bad shall not always be with us. There is coming a day when all the bad things are swallowed in the good of resurrection life. And to that we say, “Even so, come Lord Jesus!”