Peter Wright is a former student of Union (BD and MTh) and is currently Youth Worker at Hill Street Presbyterian Church, LurganView all articles
In 2009 I broke my leg playing football for Portadown. I was 19, had recently made my debut for the first team and was determined to do all I could to make a career in the Irish League. Alas, things didn’t work out as I had hoped. I ended up spending a year out with the injury and in truth never really got back to the same levels as before.
The year out was tough. At that point I basically lived for football. I went from large chunks of my week revolving around trips to Shamrock Park, to being housebound and unable to do much at all. That whole year was one of recovery and rehabilitation. It was slow and hard going at times. The days were long. Progress was incremental. Setbacks (and more surgery) made things challenging.
But eventually, 14 months after my leg break, I made my comeback as a substitute in a reserve game. I came on with 10 minutes left…and it was so disorienting. I had been training for months, taking a full part in the sessions and was physically ready to play.
But there is nothing like stepping over the white line and playing in a match.
I made it through those 10 minutes fairly incident (and mistake!) free. But I felt lost. Part of me had almost forgotten where to be on the pitch, what to do when I got the ball, where to run, when to step up or drop back. The change of pace was quite an adjustment for me.
As we get ready to return to church again soon after another period of lockdown, I do think we will have something of a ‘change of pace’ to adjust to. Our regular patterns of being in Church every week pre COVID-19 feel like a distant memory. We have gotten used to church in our pyjamas! Even when we did return briefly last Autumn, most of us were only able to attend services once or twice a month at best.
Our habits have changed - through no fault of our own - but they have changed for the worse.
And now you will find yourself getting invited back to church again. Perhaps this time round you will be invited to attend more regularly than what was possible before. And perhaps, if you are completely honest with yourself, you have mixed emotions about that. Perhaps on the one hand you are looking forward to getting back and seeing people again and being back in the building.
But perhaps another part of you has preferred the slower pace of Sundays at home and none of the histrionics of getting out the door for Church. Maybe you’re thinking to yourself - Yes I know it’ll be good to get back…but every week? That feels like a bit of a change of pace that I’m not quite ready for.
Here are 5 reasons why I think you should prioritise returning to church - particularly if you have kids - although really these reasons work for all members of our congregation(s):
We’ve been so thankful for technology over this past year. In His common grace, God has provided us with many mediums to continue ‘meeting’ online as best as possible. YouTube services and Zoom meetings have been a blessing to many. But we’re not just pixels and screennames. We are human beings. We are embodied souls, male and female, created in God’s image. We are designed for face to face relationships.
The online world has provided a life line for us in the past year; but we have also felt its limitations. Any meaningful sense of church family cannot be cultivated merely online. In the same way that a loving couple in a long distance relationship long to be together in the same place, so too a loving church family should long to be together to worship our great God.
‘We really need to see less of each other.’ That was the headline on a NHS campaign poster encouraging people to keep socially distanced in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. While I appreciate the sentiment, the language itself seems so severe and even a bit inhumane. Is that really what we need? Perhaps that is true for us in order to avoid contracting the virus but it certainly isn’t what we need in the Church.
No-one, and I mean no-one, can make it as a Christian without the Church. There is no such thing as churchless Christianity in the Bible. It just doesn’t exist. God has designed us to be interdependent and we simply cannot grow or change as Christians on our own. Watching services online when we could be gathering with God’s people encourages us to think of ourselves more as spiritual islands rather than as members of a body. We need each other - and our kids need to see that we really do believe that.
Much of the encouragement that we need in the Christian life comes from worshipping with brothers and sisters - from being present with others in the prayers of confession, saying the creed together, singing ‘great is thy faithfulness’ that little bit louder for the edification of the person sitting (2m) away from us!
This point is particularly pertinent for those with young families. Our eldest is two this weekend - and he is like a sponge! He is learning new words and phrases all the time without either of us knowing where he has learned them. He just picks them up. That’s how kids learn - as much through imitation as anything else. I am convinced that one of the most significant things we can do both for ourselves and for our children is to enfold them in a congregation that is committed to historic Christian worship and multigenerational gathering.
If your kids are anything like ours then they don’t need anymore screen time right now than what they are getting already. They don’t need to equate Church with Peppa, Blippi or Paw Patrol. They need to be with and around real people - to see them practice the faith.
Communal worship is the very heart of discipleship. We learn the language of the faith and the ways of Jesus as we immerse ourselves in the life of a local congregation. If you’re a parent, then nothing will be more significant for your child(ren) than what they learn about being a Christian from the ordinary habit of regularly being at corporate worship. As I look back on my own life nothing was more significant for me than this, and I am deeply thankful to my parents for making that such a big priority. It might be a struggle getting everyone out the door at 10:45 on a Sunday morning - but you won’t regret it in 30 years time.
I read a tweet recently that said ‘pre-recording talks is like pumping breast milk - both things involve additional set up while robbing you of the opportunity to connect with people (your baby or your congregation).‘
Listening to the preacher on TV has been great - unless of course you ARE the preacher - then its pretty excruciating. Not many preachers I know will miss the pain of pre-recording. Why? Well because preaching is intended to be done and heard in person.
It happens best when the Spirit of God uses an appointed man of God to preach the Word of God to the people of God in a sacred moment. And in that moment we are being fed and shepherded by our Pastor. In that moment we are impacted not only by the content of the message but by the significance of hearing it as part of the covenant community of God. In the same way that a feast is enjoyed more with other people (and we are all longing for those days to return!), so too preaching is best experienced when we are together with brothers and sisters.
Elton Trueblood in a book called The Incendiary Fellowship said, ‘Much of the uniqueness of Christianity, in its original emergence, consisted of the fact that simple people could be amazingly powerful when they were members of one another. As everyone knows it is almost impossible to create a fire with one log, even if it is a sound one, while several poor logs may make an excellent fire if they stay together as they burn.The miracle of the early church was that of poor sticks making a grand conflagration.’
That’s us isn’t it? Poor sticks and damp logs. On our own - pretty useless. But together, kindled by the Spirit of God, we can be a grand conflagration - an impressive fire that can help warm others to the good news about Jesus.
Our world is a mess. People are looking for meaning and they are also starving for community. One of the most significant aspects of our witness in these days may well be the quality of our relationships together, in spite of all the pain, challenges and hardships of the past year.
There is nothing else like the church in the world today - she is a new kind of community, created by God, called to make the gospel heard and visible in a world that believes anything but the gospel.
When I came back to play football after all that time out - it was a bit disorienting at first. I had to regain my match fitness. But the best thing I could do was play. There really was no substitute for stepping over the white line.
And so it is with us in our walk with the Lord Jesus. The very best thing you can do is get back to Church - every week if you can - soon you’ll adjust to the pace, you’ll regain your spiritual fitness and you certainly won’t regret it.
 Elton Truelbood, The Incendiary Fellowship (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), pp. 107-8