Recently, I began attending a 5 a.m. weightlifting session with a group of men my age. No one is trying to outdo each other. No one is trying to break any records. It’s just a group of men, recognizing the need to prioritize health.
We sequester a small portion of the gym, where one of the guys plays gospel music on his portable speaker. For the most part, our time together is very jovial. We reminisce about what was as we try to cling to what is left.
There is a camaraderie and a fellowship that refreshes us. There is conversation that edifies us. But the collective encouragement of the group pushes everyone in their work out. We spot one another when weak, and we push one another when someone is tempted to give in. There is an accountability text thread for those who miss the workout, or for those who are tempted not to show up.
There are things I didn’t realize I was capable of doing apart from the encouragement and accountability of the group. On a few occasions, I’ve gone to the gym by myself, separate from the group. Though I am physically capable of replicating the workouts I do with the group, it’s hard to reach that same capacity individually. I realized that at times I need a spotter. At times I need encouragement. At times I need accountability. At times I need to see their intensity, and excellence, because it shows me what is attainable. Being a part of this community brings the best out of me.
In a post-pandemic church world, we have drifted into our spiritual silos. There are some who find some sense of community and belonging in the chat or comment section; but by and large we find ourselves on an island. Through the internet, we are able to participate in prayer, hear the sermon, and sing along with the praise team. But the one thing the internet cannot sufficiently supplement is the need for community.
God designed a church, not to be a performance we observe, but a community we share in. And what very few people will admit is that, even though they can pray individually and study individually, many of our spiritual routines have begun to sag because we no longer have the strength of our community.
In church communities, we need to be spotted when we are weak. We need to be encouraged when we are overwhelmed. We need to be sharpened by other sharp characters. And whether we admit it or not, we need the accountability of the group. We will never flourish individually in the way that we would in the community, which is why Christ set it up this way. Christ, referring to Himself, stated “Upon this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
I’m a media ministry leader. I’m not anti-technology. Millions of people digest the gospel content across the globe each week. However, what you observe needs to be supplemented through spiritual community. Online worship can be a spiritual supplement, but it should not be a substitute.
I want you to spend some time praying about how you engage with church. Whether you observe from your computer at home or whether you observe physically in the church pew. God has not called us to worship observation but being a part of a thriving spiritual community through relational participation.
This article is part of our 2023 November/December Issue