By Snr Ps Beh Soo Yeong
Recently, we are seeing more signs of opening up and returning to pre-COVID normalcy, thanks to the much lower severity and mortality rates of those who are COVID positive. Likewise. the church has also made significant progress in terms of our return to normalcy. We are at pre-COVID seating capacity and the worship segments of all our worship services have gone “live”. Even though we still cannot sing aloud, we have learnt to worship regardless. Fellowship has resumed, albeit in smaller groups over coffee and tea in the hawker centre or coffee shops around us.
While the majority have returned to worship together onsite, I have also noticed however, that many have not yet done so. Perhaps, many of you are in the at-risk groups; being socially responsible and/or waiting for the infection numbers to drop before resuming onsite services. These are understandable reasons, so we look forward to seeing you physically soon, when plausible. Meanwhile, I hope you are staying connected with others in the community in other ways.
Whether we choose to worship online or return onsite, it is a good time to review for ourselves the reasons we gather for worship collectively. Incidentally, in the first of three sermons in January 2020, just at the onset of the pandemic, I taught about the three desired outcomes through our common worship:
1. We encounter God
First, we gather as his people in worship to encounter God. We are reminded about who God is and what he has done. We experience God’s presence and transcendence and declare his glory with all of our being. We hear the voice of God and encounter him through song, Word, prayer and the Eucharist.
2. We are formed in Christ-like character
As we hear the voice of God, we are confronted with the character and commands of Christ. We encourage each other to respond to God, through which we are being transformed into his likeness. As we are convicted of our sins, we confess them, are assured of God’s forgiveness, heed the call to obey, surrender to the Lordship of Christ and are strengthened by God through the sacrament of Communion. Through our common worship, we exhort each other to be molded to be more like Jesus as his disciples.
3. We are forged into a Christian Community
In our weekly assembly (which is the meaning of “church”), we are welcomed by the Triune God into the fellowship with him, and we welcome one another likewise. We rejoice together, lament together, sing (albeit inaudibly) and pray on behalf of one another. We model and practice the ‘one another’s in Scriptures. In fact, character formation and Christian community go hand in hand.
Perhaps then, the pandemic serves as an exam of sorts for us to test what we truly believe and practise about worship and community. If so, how have you fared in this test? Which of the platforms—online or onsite—have you found more conducive for our common worship of God? Which platform has enabled you to adopt a posture of worship participation rather than mere viewership? Through which platforms can you remain attentive and involved throughout the entire worship service, without interruption and distraction? In a nutshell, which platform allows you to offer your best worship to the Lord?
One concern I have is that some have chosen to stay away from onsite services because of convenience. Unfortunately, this mindset runs contrary to the committed and costly discipleship that we espouse. It is a discipleship of convenience that is propagated by the consumeristic mindset that we imbibe from the world. While the internet can be a tool for worship, discipleship and outreach, it is an inadequate tool at best, and a counter-productive tool at worst.
Data analytics tells us that most people log onto our YouTube services only for the sermon segment, skipping the worship portion and the community matters. As a preacher, I am glad because at least you are still listening to the Word being preached. But as your pastor, I am sad because perhaps we have failed to learn what true common worship is! Of course, for a time, we had no choice but to pivot to online services. But now that onsite services are back in full swing, should we still choose to stay online?
I would like to appeal to you, brother or sister, if you are able to return but have yet to do so, to gather weekly with the rest of us, however inconvenient, to worship as a people of God. Let’s not be conformed to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds to worship the Lord together.