By Asst Ps Patrick Chan Yin
Many of you may be asking this critical question on why we need to come back to church. Or why bother coming back? As the number of Covid-19 community cases in Singapore has dropped considerably over the past few weeks (hovering around 0-5 community cases per day) and churches are slowly re-opening their worship services with now 100 people, worshippers may find it hard to come back to church. After more than 6 months of worshipping from home with church service on Facebook or YouTube, rhythms that used to be automatic are now no longer a given.
Even if churches are re-opening, many precautions still need to be put in place. Attending church has become more complicated these days. On top of wearing masks and sanitizing our hands, churches require pre-registration, temperature taking and sitting in 2 zones of 50 people. Worshippers are not allowed to mingle and fellowship. Chairs are spaced apart or pews blocked off to ensure safe distancing. Worshippers are not allowed to sing. Some churches are now trying out live music, but still no singing is allowed. Some churches have cancelled their children’s program. And frankly, with no singing and no fellowshipping in the lobby area, why bother coming back? What is the point of church anyway? If it can be done online as well as in person, then why come back at all?
I find the following four reasons very helpful (adapted from “Church after COVID – Why Bother Going Back?” by Carmen Joy Imes, published in Christianity Today, September 2020) and would like to share and encourage all of you to consider these reasons very prayerfully:
1. Weekly fellowship in a church body orients my loves.
Each week my heart is re-calibrated in tiny ways that keep me facing Jesus rather than drifting in another direction. This is true even if I do not feel particularly inspired or challenged on a given week. Church is not a vending machine, designed to meet my immediate needs. It is a field that, when cultivated year after year, will produce spiritual nourishment. The fact that I do not walk out every Saturday/Sunday with a full belly does not mean it is pointless to go. Little by little, week after week, I tend this field until it yields an abundant harvest.
2. Weekly fellowship in a church body reminds me that following Jesus means joining God's family.
When I ‘signed on’ as a Christian, it was not a transaction designed primarily to secure my eternal destiny. Becoming a Christian means becoming part of God's family and changing how I live here and now. Spending week after week with these people, sharing this experience, eventually adds up to a network of caring relationships. It does not happen overnight (remember, it’s a field, not a vending machine), but as we do life together, we lend support to each other on our faith journeys. Simply watching from home positions me as a solitary consumer rather than an active participant. While digital worship has been a gift to keep us connected during this strange season, it is not a sustainable way to cultivate the community of faith.
3. Weekly fellowship in a church body enables me to participate in God’s work of grace in others.
My effort to show up encourages my leaders, upholding their ministry. Any pastor who has tried preaching to a camera knows that it is not the same. My presence supports the work of my pastor and worship leader to study, plan, and prepare. It lends energy and solidarity to their message.
My presence also affirms the value of corporate worship for all those in attendance. My smile, my wave from 1-2 meters away, and my soft voice lifted in praise, behind my face mask, manifest the Holy Spirit’s presence to others who have come. This is what it means to be the image of God. Our identity as God’s image is expressed physically – an embodied reminder of the presence and rule of God. We represent the unseen God to one another. I am not my own. I am a member of something bigger than myself – Christ’s body on earth. For those who have been isolated at home and traumatized by the incessant trials of this difficult year, my physical presence may be a lifeline. Caring eye contact may lend strength for another week.
4. Weekly fellowship in a church body is a means of declaring allegiance to the kingdom of God.
On the outside, the church may not seem like much. It may seem weak. But the church is a visible witness to the unseen reality of God’s kingdom. Being present each week testifies to this. It acknowledges that God’s invisible kingdom is more substantial and more lasting than the other concrete institutions in my community. It will outlast the postal service, local businesses, schools, and politicians and their offices. It will outlast the pandemic, the natural calamities and the ugly inequalities in our world. My participation ensures this. It testifies to that greater and lasting kingdom.
So, for these and perhaps other reasons, I want to come back to church. I hope and pray that as soon as you are able, you will come back to our Holy Communion Services, Teenacity Youth Services or Chinese Services (see the schedules on our church website: https://www.biblechurch.sg/whats-on). Our circumstances may still be less than ideal, but the long-term benefits of ‘embodied’ worship far outweigh the ‘hassles’ of coming back to church. Whether I feel excited about it or not, the church is my family, and I cannot be who I am meant to be without it.
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.