(Picture of our church family in the mid-1990’s)
For the third week in a row, we had church online yesterday. For the third week in a row, I felt as if a part of my life had been taken from me. Twice yesterday, I stood in a room as familiar to me as my living room to preach the gospel into three cameras. The pews, normally filled with people whom I love, were completely empty. Although there was music, there was no congregational singing. There was no choir. There were no children running around. There were no “amens,” and there was no laughter. Yes, I was in a building that I love, and a building that some question whether or not I worship. Can I tell you what I felt? I felt nothing. As a matter of fact, being in that building without those people brought more emptiness than it did fulfillment.
I completely understand that the church is not a building. I get it. The church consists of the believers for whom Christ died, was buried, and rose again. I understand what it means when I read the cute little statement, “The church has left the building.” It is not just cute; it is accurate. The past few weeks have not been difficult because I cannot walk into a building. As a matter of fact, thanks to exemptions from various orders and my work as a pastor and a principal, I walk into that building several times each week. I cannot speak for everyone, but I can speak for myself; walking into that building does very little to help or encourage me.
What would help me? It would help me to be with the other believers that are a part of my church family. It would not matter whether we met at 515 Southerland Street, in a conference center, at the local mall, or in the middle of an abandoned field. Today, I do not need a building; I need the fellowship of God’s people!
What do I need today? I need to see the smiles on peoples’ faces as our choir sings. I need for a little one to come up and hug me around my legs. I need a brother to give me a warm handshake or a pat on the back. I need to watch the offering plates pass from row to row while our people invest in the Lord’s work through their local church. I need to walk through the choir ready room as I head into the auditorium, while exchanging greetings with those who are there ready to sing praises to their God. I need to watch scores of little ones running down the aisles when they are dismissed to their kids’ programs on Wednesday night. I need to yell down the hallway, “Let’s pray,” before several dozen folks make their way through the serving line at the Baptist Buffet. I need to be with the people in our adult Bible fellowship called GracePointe. It is not a large group of folks, but being with them provides me with much comfort and encouragement.
I walked through our auditorium earlier today. I saw the pews, the lights, the blue accent wall, and the relatively new carpet. I saw the hospitality desks where not one guest has registered in the past few weeks. I saw the banners, stating our theme, “Refreshed,” and admitted that I could use some of that refreshment right now. I saw the tract racks still well stocked because no one has been here to take any for distribution. I saw a stack of 2020 calendars and realized that many events on that calendar will never take place. I assured myself that it was okay because church calendars do not matter nearly as much as church people.
I do not worship any building, but I definitely crave Christian fellowship. Simply put, I miss my church family! While we do our best to stay connected, being separated by phone lines and airwaves stinks. We are going to work at it over the next few weeks, but we all know that it will not be the same. Thankfully, my greatest need for fellowship can still be fulfilled. That is my fellowship with my Saviour. He and I can still talk. As a matter of fact, He has clearly stated that if I draw nigh to Him, He will draw nigh to me. I am finding that my isolation from other people is producing intimacy between my God and me, and that is a good thing.
With time, this dilemma will pass. Our church family will be together again. We will unite our hearts and our lips in singing His praises. We will gather around His Word and glean from its pages. We will express our love to one another and exchange greetings. It is going to be a glorious day, and the very thought of it moves me to tears. Yes, it will most likely take place in a building with which we are all very familiar. Being in that building is not going to help me, but being in that building with those people is going to be indescribable.