“Church is closed today,” I’ll sometimes hear. “Instead we’re going to serve the community. We’ll be back to our regular services next week.”
I hear variations of this. Some churches shut down their worship for community service. Others shut down to give their staff and volunteers a break.
I understand the impulse behind these moves. God is displeased with corporate worship that is detached from devotion and ethics (Amos 5:21-24). And God cares that we get rest.
But I plead with you: don’t cancel your worship services.
Don’t Devalue Corporate Worship
It’s common, and tragic, to devalue corporate worship. Never miss the importance of what happens when God’s people gather to worship.
When we gather to sing, we give God the glory that is rightfully his. When we open God’s Word, the Spirit goes to work. When we confess our sins, we find freedom in the grace of the gospel. When we eat the bread and wine, we remember Jesus’ sacrificial death in our place. None of these are optional. They are the means by which God has given us to grow in grace.
“Christians gather as the people of God to receive his word afresh, to be reconstituted and recommissioned as his,” writes Sam Allberry in Why Bother With Church? “One of the reasons church is vital is that the practice of meeting together is one of the key ways in which God encourages us in our faith. We have been designed to need other Christians to help us keep going in the faith, and to whom we can be an encouragement to do likewise.”
I can’t imagine why we would want to miss out on what God does as we gather together as the church. Corporate worship is not a distraction from obedience; it sets us up for obedience and the rest of the Christian life.
The real problem is that our ecclesiology — the doctrine of the church — has become weak. “We have primarily talked about the Christian life as an individual pursuit of God and therefore devalued the necessary role of the local church in the life of the believer,” observes Keith Collier. We need to start preaching to the church about the church.
Church is more glorious than we imagine. It’s how God makes his wisdom known to rulers and authorities in heavenly places (Ephesians 3:10). Jesus loves the church so much that he plans to marry it (Ephesians 5:22-23). I don’t know if anything possesses so much hidden glory as a local church. Church is central to God’s purposes, to our formation, and to the spread of the gospel in the community.
We don’t think biblically enough about the church. If we did, we’d be hesitant to cancel it.
Keep Service and Rest in Their Place
I once knew a youth group that cancelled its Bible studies and redirected its focus to organizing a garage sale for charity. The desire to serve is commendable, but service is a response to the gospel. When we jump to service, we miss out on the fuel we need to sustain our service.
What the youth needed was not more good works but hearts so shaped by the gospel that good works became possible. We often overestimate our ability to obey and underestimate our need for the gospel.
So don’t cancel your worship services. Keep doing your service projects, but schedule them another time. Keep giving your volunteers rest, but not by canceling worship. We can’t afford to elevate service opportunities and rest over what happens when God’s people gather together for worship.