by Ryan Fullerton
We are now nine months into the COVID-19 pandemic and, for a number of Christians, that means that they have either not gathered at all, or very infrequently with their fellow brothers and sisters for these past nine months. At the church where I serve as a pastor, we are aware of about 10% of our membership who have not been gathering regularly or at all during this time. The first thing I would want to say to these dear saints is that their elders are regularly praying for them and thinking about them—in fact we set aside time to specifically pray for those we know who have not gathered regularly during this time at our most recent elders meeting—and we have a plan in place to personally reach out to these saints in the coming weeks with no agenda other than to just see how they are doing. We love them and we miss them!
The second thing I would like to say to them is this: If you are not in attendance because, before the Lord and with a good & clear conscience, you believe that attending services would put your health, your families health, or your communities health at risk, or because you believe it is best not only to follow the governor’s mandates but also his recommendations, I want you to know that as you are seeking to be true to your conscience, you are pleasing the Lord. Just like the saints in Romans 14 who differed over a matter but did so because of conscience, you are seeking to honor the Lord, to give thanks to him, and you are accepted by Jesus and he is pleased that you are seeking to honor Him. I just want you to hear that and know that. Obviously the fact that some saints from Immanuel Baptist Church are gathering and some are not shows that we do not all have the same convictions. But I also want to affirm in this time when we are apart that we are still united in one heart, a heart that seeks to honor and obey Jesus who loved us and died for us. I pray that as you honor him by presently staying away from these gatherings that you will pray earnestly to our Father to make it possible that we can all gather together again in good conscience very, very soon.
The third thing I would like to say to these saints is this: If you are staying away from gatherings right now because it’s hard—gathering up all the kids, no kids ministry at present, putting on masks, navigating social distancing, and maybe feeling like you would be distracting to others—if you are feeling like all of this is hard and the ease of live-streaming is tempting, that nice couch, and that time to sleep in a little later, in other words, if you are someone who does not have a conviction of conscience that it would be wrong for you to gather, but you have become a little too reliant on the convenience of livestream I want to encourage you to remember Hebrews 10:24-25 in which our God says,
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more you see the Day drawing near.”
I know it’s hard to gather right now, but hard is worth it to obey the Lord. I know your kids might squirm, but we have lots of tolerance for squirms and screams in this season and we will be encouraged by your labors to train the next generation for Christ. Training kids is hard, but it is worth it.
For years my wife (who almost never had any help from me on Sundays since I was preaching) trained our kids through the little years—through all the squirms, spills, scuffles, skirmishes, spanks, and silliness. Often I would ask her in those years, “what did you think of the sermon?” and she would reply, “I have no idea.” But the fruit of her labors is that we now have four kids who, when I ask them on Sunday afternoons “what did you think of the sermon?” can respond clearly, because they know how to sit still, they know how to follow an argument, they can know God because of her sacrificial work. I commend you to follow her good example. I know you might say, “I can focus more at home”—and sometimes that is true—but I have heard enough stories of people being distracted by the kids or the dog at home to know that home is not a perfect place to focus either. Besides, unless there truly is an issue of conscience, Jesus wants you to gather with your brothers and sisters, for your spiritual health and theirs.
Now, I know comments like this will provoke discussions. Often Husbands and wives are not even on the same page in this season. But it is good to have these discussions, wrestle with the Word, pray to the Lord, talk to brothers and sisters in Christ, and talk to a Pastor. And if your conscience keeps you from gathering with the saints in this season, honor the Lord in that. But if it is convenience more than conscience or really anything other than conscience that is keeping you at home, join us for the hard work, the good work of gathering to worship each and every Sunday so that we can encourage and be encouraged in this difficult season, pressing on for one more week until the Day comes.