Why I GO to Church: Relational Discipleship
After months and months of doing virtual school, my kids’ school had an online town hall meeting for parents. In that meeting the principal said something that has stuck with me ever since: Learning is better in person. He said virtual instruction had caused negative emotional and psychological impacts on students, and this had lead to significant learning loss. And so that school, along with others around the country, decided that the benefits of in-person education outweigh the risks of becoming ill with COVID. And so, with safety measures in place, the school returned to in-person learning.
We are meant to be in physical space with one another. This is simply a true statement for all people. God made us that way. In the beginning Adam’s loneliness was the first thing God declared “not good” (Gen 2:18). Isolation is not good for us. It makes us miserable. We were designed to be in community with one another. That’s why being alone, whether on lock down or in solitary confinement or just without friends, hurts us.
It’s no different with our Christian faith. Think about Jesus. Jesus didn’t come to simply tell us about God (information), but to bring us into fellowship with God (a relationship). The message of the Gospel is information, but it came in relational packaging. Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us. He didn’t create a YouTube playlist called “Sermon on the Mount,” but he came and spoke that sermon face-to-face to the people he lived with. He occupied physical space with the people he came to save, and it was powerful.
Not only that, but he commissioned the church to be a community. Not a loose conglomeration of individuals, but a people. The word church in the New Testament literally means “the gathering,“ which tells us something about what he intended it to look like. And while a virtual service was the best we could do during lock down, it’s not what is best for us.
At Rooted, we believe in the principle of relational discipleship, and relational discipleship is at its best when we meet together. When I go to church, I get to hear the Word preached by my pastor, a man who has invested in me personally. A man who knows my name, who knows my struggles. Hearing from him is a different thing from downloading a podcast because when he prepares a sermon, he has prayed for and lived with a church body that he knows. When he speaks he has all of us in mind. God uses the church to speak to us in a way that cannot be replaced.
I go to church because when I walk through the halls, I am able to stop and talk to people who are farther along in the faith. I can ask them questions, gain wisdom from them, and be prayed for. There is one man in our church I particularly love to talk with because he will put his hand on my shoulder and start praying for me mid-sentence. That’s what I get when I go to church.
As a youth pastor, I can attest to the challenges of trying to do ministry via zoom and livestream. That time was a low-point in my ministry, because you can’t know the needs of a student who has their camera off. You can’t know the needs of students who don’t log on. You can’t see the non-verbal communication students give off when you only see their face (if they have their camera on). When we see each other through screens, we are less engaged and less likely to be vulnerable. Relational discipleship requires those things.
When people are disconnected from their community, drift happens. When we are not tethered to a community of faith that puts God’s Word before us, when we are no longer known by people because we are simply live streaming a service, we downgrade the people of God to a video to be consumed rather than a community to be experienced. When we take on a consumer mindset, we fail to be ministry-driven. We become selfish, petty, and impatient. This distracts us from our purpose, and divorces us from the very means of grace God has given us to grow in our faith.
If we engage in our community, we are encouraged by people who know our needs, who pray for us, who urge us forward towards faith in Christ. If we show up, we get the opportunity to be ministered to, and when we show up we have the opportunity to minister to others as well. So go to church and be discipled!