During the pandemic of 2020 (and some of the resurgences in 2021), churches all over the world closed their doors to in-person worship. The surge of virtual services is a good thing, but a virtual service doesn’t work for me.
And I’m thinking the Lord Jesus would agree with my perspective.
Before you blast me or stop reading this post, I promise to share scripture that backs up my “opinion.” What I’m not saying is that watching church services online has no place in our spiritual lives.
Where Two or Three Gather
The Sunday after Christmas, the sky dumped snow on our region. Our pastor is conscientious about the safety of the members, so he decided canceling services was better than risking injury. Many of our members are older people who don’t need to take a fall in the slippery parking lot. Since we don’t get snow often, most people in our area don’t understand how to take it slow, meaning driving is unsafe for all of us—including people like my husband who spent years driving on wintry roads.
Before I go on, let me get a few definitions out of the way. Church is an assembly of called-out, scripturally baptized believers who covenant together to keep the Great Commission.
Church is not a building. Nor is it a service held at said building.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of themMatthew 18:20 KJV
During the weeks when our services weren’t held, my husband and I sat together on our couch and watched the Livestream of other churches. There were two of us gathered in the name of the Lord, but it didn’t “feel” like going to church.
We sang along with those broadcasts. Followed the pastor’s scripture references in our Bibles. We did the same things we would have done if we were meeting with our church family, but it still fell short for me.
Do I think Jesus was there? Yes. But I don’t think we were a “meeting of the church.”
I think Jesus is with me all the time, but that’s not the promise he gave to his disciples when he created his first “church.” This is a special promise for assembling with multiple like-minded believers committed to carrying out God’s kingdom work and for the express purpose of worshiping our Lord.
It didn’t “feel” like worship on my couch.
And maybe the problem was with me. I’m not discounting that possibility.
Jesus In the Midst
As I mentioned, Jesus is with me always. In fact, there might be places I go that I wish he wouldn’t come along. But, he dwells within by proxy of the Holy Ghost who sealed me at salvation and acts as guide and comforter and, yes, convincer of sin every day.
I am not the person who thinks you have to be at “church” to worship the Lord. God is everywhere, and I’ve felt close to him and in awe of him on a hike in nature.
But there’s POWER in assembling with the church. That’s the promise given in Matthew.
In verse eighteen of that chapter, Jesus confirms that the church has authority from him to bind things on earth. And he gives a special promise of answered prayer to a church that prays corporately (Matthew 18:19).
When I’m at worship service, I feel that extra special, powerful presence.
That’s the thing that was missing during the weeks our Sunday worship happened in our living room. It’s why I jumped at the chance to be part of the pastor’s filming crew when he began broadcasting before things were “opened” by our governor.
Even then, the small turnout of people didn’t offer the same sense of being in the Lord’s presence as meeting with the entire congregation brings. But being in that place where we assembled soothed away the emptiness I’d been feeling and fed some of the hunger my soul experienced at the absence of regular, community worship.
Reality Meets Preference
I’m grateful I can log on to Facebook when I’m out of town (and not near another church) and “join” the services. It still doesn’t feel the same as being there, though.
But I do believe the Lord blesses my effort to take part in the community worship he ordained to help us live for him (Hebrews 10:23-25).
If people are too sick to attend services, they can join online. That’s a fabulous boon for them and keeps them feeling part of the community.
When inclement weather strikes, even the virtual services get canceled. On those rare occasions, I’m thankful that many pastors I respect have services broadcast over the web so I can “attend” virtually.
Online church will never work for me as a replacement for in-person worship. Not as long as I’m physically able to get my body to the church building on Sunday.
What would you add to this conversation about virtual church services?