Walking through the parking lot, I see two of my neighbors talking at the door. In the hallway, I pass a few familiar faces and a friend who says they’ll be sitting toward the back on the left, if I’m looking for a place to go. Inside, I see my friend Autumn –she and her husband immediately scoot in, make room.
Going to church alone can be, well, lonely. Recently, sitting by myself in a sea of unfamiliar faces was starting to feel like too much, and often left me wanting to stay in bed. It’s what prompted me to visit the church in my neighborhood, close enough that I can walk. I knew they preach the gospel faithfully, that a lot of people I love have made it their home, that at least three times in the recent past, I’d been asked if I go to church there. So I went. Mostly, I just didn’t want to be so alone.
I’ll be the first to admit that in seasons of sadness or singleness or stress, it’s easier to stay home. Sometimes the desire to skip the singing and sitting still and small talk is strong. Too many times, I’ve done it. But in my present season, the local church has cheered me in ways that I hadn’t expected –a reminder that the Church is God’s good design for our encouragement, for our sanctification, and for the making of disciples of all nations (Heb. 10:24-25, Eph. 4:11-13, Mt. 28:19). That God settles the solitary in a home, and that home is the Church –the house set on Christ the cornerstone, who’s designer and builder is God (Ps. 68:6, Heb. 11:10, Eph. 2:19-20).
In that season of Sunday mornings spent wishing I could just stay in bed, these words from David Gundersen in an article titled The Most Important Time to Go to Church encouraged and kindly exhorted me to get up, to gather with the family of God, to trust that it is obedience that often produces right affections:
“Go, because the church gathers every Sunday to remember the death of Jesus for our sins and the resurrection of Christ from the dead, and that’s precisely what we all need to remember and celebrate, regardless of what else is going on in our lives. Go, because the stone trapping you in the cave of depression can be rolled away in a night, and once God does it, no Roman soldier or Jewish priest can stop him. Go, because you’re gathering to anticipate a greater marriage than the one you hoped would happen later this year. Go, not because your trials aren’t real, but because that tabled bread and wine represents the crucifixion of the worst sins you could ever commit and the worst realities you’ve ever experienced. Go, and in your going, grow. Go, and in your going, serve. Go, and in your going, let God pick up the pieces of your heart and stitch together the kind of mosaic that only gets fully crafted when saints stay committed to God’s long-term building project, when they speak the truth to one another in love.”
If you’ve spent any amount of time with any group of people anywhere, you know it will get messy. Feelings will get hurt, personalities and preferences will clash, we’ll be tempted to make secondary things of first importance. We’re going to sometimes get it wrong. But we have this hope –Christ, who is the head of the body and is faithful over God’s house as a son, has built his church on a rock and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Col. 1:18, Heb. 3:6, Matt. 16:18). Submitting to God’s good design, we get to gather as the grateful bride, trusting Christ for our collective salvation and sanctification, turning each other’s eyes to the truth under the of care our faithful head.
As we show up to sing, study, break bread, and watch kids run wild through the lobby, there’s a sweetness that we miss when we stay home. If church is hard for you, I hear you –but I do hope you’ll try again. I hope you’ll be encouraged by the perseverance of the saints in your particular corner of the world, spurred on to see your unique gifting and wiring as indispensable functions of the larger body, reminded of the glory of the Gospel that unites us to Christ and to each other. And if church isn’t so hard for you, I hope you’ll scoot in and be quick to say “Sit with us.”
May we walk away from Sundays equipped with a deeper knowledge of God’s word, a greater sense of community and calling, and a renewed commitment to love our brothers and sisters and neighbors. As we look forward to the gathering of all the saints for all eternity, may our gathering lead us to consider anew–blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9).