Spurring Each Other On

A Letter to Pittsburgh Presbytery from
Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge
General Minister
Thursday, May 12, 2022

Spurring Each Other On

“…not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another…” (Hebrews 10:25)

As our congregations resume normal Sunday morning gatherings following previous pandemic restrictions, nearly all of our congregations are finding that some of their former attendees are choosing to stay at home rather than return to Sunday worship. For those unable to gather in person, whatever the reason, streaming worship online is a wonderful gift. It also is a terrific way to provide a first point of access for visitors.

As much as online worship streaming is beneficial to the church’s life and mission, it also has some pitfalls that we need to beware. Two of the chief pitfalls are convenience and complacency.

First, convenience. Following Jesus is a matter of laying down our lives for the sake of the Gospel. That involves both doing things we’d rather not and denying ourselves some things that we’d love to indulge.

Let’s be honest – it is often more convenient to follow worship online than to go to the trouble of attending worship in person. Notice I said, “to follow worship online,” not “to worship online.” It is very rare that one can enter fully into the spirit and substance of worship remotely. When viewing a worship service remotely, we are more spectators than participants.

Participation in Christian worship shapes our lives as followers of Jesus. It resets our perspective, from self-centered to God-centered living. In worship we are reminded of who God is, who we are, what God has done for us, and what God requires of us. Failure to engage in worship makes us literally eccentric. Watching worship and worshiping are two very different things.

Second, complacency. We get lulled into thinking that our lives as Jesus’ disciples are fine just as they are, without the infusion of spiritual energy that the worship gathering affords. The text from Hebrews quoted above reminds us that one of the primary benefits of meeting together is mutual encouragement. We need all the assistance we can muster to help us live faithfully as Christ’s disciples.

Jesus always traveled with companions during his ministry. When he sent them out to carry his message to places and people he couldn’t reach, he sent them out in pairs. When the apostles went out with the message of Jesus, they did so in groups. One of their primary purposes in being together was that they might encourage each other to keep pressing forward in the face of opposition.

“Solo ministry” is an oxymoron for those who minister in Jesus’ name. Ministry gets untracked way too easily when left up to individuals to carry on by themselves. The same is true for “solo Christianity” – Jesus’ followers need each other for mutual encouragement in the daunting task of following Jesus.

Last week I was privileged to gather with more than fifty new presbytery leaders for a week of learning, worshiping, and enjoying fellowship together. It has been my great privilege to be one of the teachers in this program for the past ten years. This annual week of Presbytery Leader Formation has been on hiatus for the past three years due to the pandemic, and when it convened again last week it was like floodgates were opened. Presbytery leadership is often lonely work, and the opportunity to worship together, learn together, and open our hearts to each other felt long overdue.

Being together inspired us to reach higher, to be stronger, to enjoy more fully our calling. And this is precisely what happens when the congregation gathers for worship. We come to worship as people whose lives have been full, sometimes spent to the point of exhaustion. Gathering together recharges our batteries for the next leg of the journey.

Christians gather to worship in order to be energized for going beyond its walls to continue Jesus’ work of repairing the world in the power of the Spirit. Gathered around the Word, we hear anew our commission as Christ’s ambassadors. Lifting hearts and voices in prayer, we see anew the Holy One who invites us to share in his holiness as God’s beloved. Seated at the Lord’s Table, we receive again the nourishment of God’s grace. At his Table, hierarchies are leveled; there is only one Lord. We are summoned to a place where everyone belongs, Judas and Peter as well as Mary and John.

I am grateful for access to online worship services when physical gathering is impossible. But let’s be clear – watching worship online offers only a poor substitute for the joy and strength we get when we meet together in worship. Let us declare together with the psalmist, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’”

Yours in mutual encouragement,

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