One of the reasons that I enjoy sports so much is the mental aspect. In almost every sport there is a very pronounced strategic and tactical element to how the game is played. Coaches study hours of film, both of themselves and their opponent, in the weeks leading up to game day in order to build a game plan that they believe will be the most effective in achieving victory. At the same time the players also study film in an effort to identify the areas where they can most improve their skills in the coming days. This combined effort on the part of the players and coaches is essential in building a successful sports franchise. In the same way, in order to successfully reach our communities, Christians must make gathering on a regular basis a priority. To understand why this is so important we need to understand why we gather together in the first place.
1. We gather to worship.
Imagine the scene, it’s Passover and there’s a noticeable buzz in the air as the long-awaited Messiah enters Jerusalem. It’s the moment his followers have waiting for, Jesus is finally going to take his place as king and liberate the Jews. As the crowd heaps praise on him the Pharisees and other leaders become more and more indignant even going to the point of asking Jesus to help settle things down. His response is that “if they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!” (Luke 19:40, NLT) The people there realized something that we often forget, we were created to worship. The psalmist tells us that “no one should be left out; let every man and every beast – every creature that has the breath of the Lord – praise the Eternal! Praise the Eternal!” (Psalm 150:6, The Voice) We were made to worship and we are closest to God when we take the time to do it.
2. We gather to grow.
Paul knew the importance of being like Christ. He also knew that growth was best achieved through hearing the Word of God preached when the church was gathered together and he writes about it all throughout his letters (Ephesians 4:15-16, Colossians 3:16) echoing King Solomon who recognized that “the wise will pay attention to these words and will grow in learning” (Proverbs 1:5a, The Voice) and that “in the same way that iron sharpens iron, a person sharpens the character of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17, The Voice). Simply put, we need each other to hold up a mirror and push us to be closer to Jesus in a way that can’t do on our own.
3. We gather to serve.
One of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to the American church is the tendency for many who are in it to adopt a consumer mentality. They move from church to church getting their fill of what they want before moving on to the next one when their standards are no longer met. Scripture not only speaks against this tells us to be purposefully connected to the life of the church. We have been given certain gifts and abilities by the Holy Spirit “so we can help each other” (1 Corinthians 12:7, NLT) “especially those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10, ESV). Serving allows us to “carry each other’s burdens” and “fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2, NIV84) as we do life together.
4. We gather to fellowship.
The biggest marker of the early church was its commitment to fellowship. The book of Acts tells us that they “continued to devote themselves to what the apostles were teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to times of prayer” (2:42, ISV). The phrase “continued to devote” is the Greek word “proskartereo” which means “to give constant attention to something”. In other words, fellowship was an ongoing thing. It was the early church’s top priority and they made sure to do it on regular basis. As the new church grew God honored this commitment by continuing to make what he was doing among his people known throughout their community as he drew them closer to himself. Shouldn’t we want the same thing?
We were created as relational beings. The last thing God wants us to do is to try to do life alone and yet so many Christians are content to go at it alone. I understand that there are a variety of reasons (none of them really good ones) for taking this approach but Scripture is pretty clear that we are missing something by not being in community with other believers so friends “let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” Hebrews 10:25, NLT) because that day will be here before we know it.