The Modern Pilgrim #28 Pilgrim notices another church the Good Shepherd passes by. He warns his flock that it’s a dangerous place. However, Pilgrim is tired from feeling out of sorts and left behind, thanks to all the new pilgrims. During a rest break, she backtracks and discovers the church is lovely. Inside are pews that sit like easy chairs. Delighted, Pilgrim curls up in one and decides this church is a much better resting place than the spot along the trail that the Good Shepherd chose.
The lovely building pictured above is my childhood church, Oreland Baptist, in Pennsylvania. A synagogue now, it is a beautiful building with a fascinating history. A mansion transformed to a church; its architectural detail captivated me. A home designed for the wealthy became a house of worship for the One who “had no place to lay his head.” For history buffs, I’ve put a link to the website of Or-Hadash, the current congregation who now owns the building, where they put a nice write up about its history and owners.
My grandfather, Charles Robins, pastored Oreland Baptist, the first church who did all the work of originally reworking a mansion into a worship center. In fact, OBC also turned the second and third floors of the mansion (formerly the private family quarters and domestic help dormitories) into a gorgeous parsonage for the Robins family. My parents and I lived in this wonderful place for five years, with my grandparents, while my parents saved up down payment money for their own house.
On the main floor of the mansion, the ballroom became the sanctuary, the dining room became our Fellowship Hall, the billiards room became the pastor’s study, and so on. The bones of the building were fine quality like Italian marble and Lebanese cedar. The church furnishings placed inside however, were pleasant and appropriate but far less grand. Metal folding chairs and pressed wood folding tables were surrounded by hand-carved wood paneling and trims. Plain oak pews on a mahogany and cherry parquet dance floor.
Our sanctuary became a hotbox during the summer months. The local funeral home supplied us yearly with handheld fans, with slogans like “Plan now, ease their pain later,” that waved continuously during the entire service. The sticky sound of sweaty skin disconnecting from wood could be heard every time we stood up. Except for the fact that we were shielded from the sun, there was little that felt comfortable in that sanctuary during the summer.
And yet, I remember people coming to Christ regularly even during the hot months. My grandfather’s impassioned sermons about Christ’s love struck a chord with many lost people. His own story of pool hustler and gambler turned pastor, captivated hearts. I can still picture him dabbing at the sweat on his face with a white handkerchief in his left hand while holding the hand of a repentant sinner, with his right. Why did the lost come to such an uncomfortable place? For that matter, why did the members? Because we were all hungry for God.
Back then, we accepted the fact that summer church was hot. We didn’t stop going to church simply because the heat index surpassed body temperatures just like we didn’t stop going anywhere else like grocery stores and jobs.
I love air conditioning as much as anyone, as I am heat challenged. I’m thankful our current church is climate controlled. The padded pews, our excellent sound system and everything else we’ve done to create welcoming environments for believers to worship and sinners to discover Christ are wonderful. So, why are so many God followers sitting at home on Sundays?
I’ve noticed a disturbing trend now that many churches offer online Sunday worship services. People who are not ill, laid up, or out of town are watching online instead of attending a live service. And it seems to have gotten worse since COVID. Of course, people who are high risk are probably better served watching online for a while yet, but there’s another reason folk are sitting home. I dubbed it the “Comfy Cozy Syndrome.”
During the worst days of the COVID crisis, many people were forced to do online church for the first time. They discovered that it’s pleasant to sit in jammies, with a cup of coffee and a Danish, and worship online. But now, their church is up and running and they’re still home, munching sweet rolls. Over the last few months, I’ve been amazed at people whom I consider passionate God-followers, tell me they decided to do online church simply because “it’s so nice and cozy at home.”
Every time someone says this to me, my inner response is not good. I won’t scold them or you because it wouldn’t accomplish much except make you defensive. What I am going to do is share the three points of a sermon on this topic, I heard recently.
The speaker was pastor Robert Morris who posed this question: “Why Go to Church?” He answered it three ways.
Check my Facebook page for the full sermon, but my very short summary is this: God shows up in unique ways when his people physically gather together, and he uses his assembled people to minister to one another in miraculous, life-changing ways.
Would the walls of Jericho have crumbled if the Israelites shouted from their tents instead of together, by the wall?
Would God have rained down fire on Mount Carmel if Elijah had merely prayed from his little house instead of the top of the mount with all of Israel gathered?
I don’t think the walls would have tumbled nor the fire fallen, because in both circumstances, and other similar ones, God commanded. his people to assemble.
And he still commands us to do the same.
“This is not the time to pull away and neglect meeting together, as some have formed the habit of doing, because we need each other! In fact, we should come together even more frequently, eager to encourage and urge each other onward as we anticipate that day dawning” Hebrews 10:25 TPT.
I’ve experienced the power of God’s people gathered in his presence many times for healing, deliverance, encouragement and so much more. Why do people willingly choose a condensed, computerized version of this instead of the live experience, if they don’t have to?
Virtual church is a wonderful thing for those who cannot be physically present in worship services. My husband and I loved staying connected online with our church family during his recovery from knee surgery this last winter.
But for those who could attend but choose not to, I’m challenging you to consider your “Why” on that decision. Do you go to the grocery store? Parks? Restaurants? Your job? Vacation spots? If so, why not church? Honestly, I’m not trying to motivate you with guilt. It’s a lousy motivator. I’m challenging you to consider why other activities are worthy of your energy but not church.
Is it possible that you are allowing so many other things to drain you during the week that it’s too easy to stay home on Sunday mornings, “comfy and cozy?” Or maybe it’s because someone offended you and it sounds like too much work to go be with church folk? I don’t know your reasons for choosing “comfy and cozy” over God’s presence, power, and people, but I think you’re missing out.
Based on everything that’s erupting in our culture right now, and Hebrews 10:25, should you be spending more time assembling with God’s people in his presence or less?