You've arrived almost at the end of a month-long series. Check out the intro here.
Photo taken from Graystone EPC's Facebook page
If you have been around Life in the Valley long enough, you know that I put a high value on being and active part of a local congregation. I hesitate to say 'church' because people often think of a building and maybe passive participation. Rather than say that we're going to church on Sunday, I make a point to use the word worship. We are headed out the door to engage in something with our little branch of God's people on this earth. Gathering on Sunday morning is not about checking an activity off the to do list, like you would a workout or a Boy Scout meeting. Worship is meeting with God and His people, getting rightly oriented (focused on the Lord) as we start another week, confessing our sins and being assured of our forgiveness among the throng, hearing the word preached so we are prepared to go forth and love and serve the Lord, and so on. The Bible also has a lot to say about how each part [read: each person] is critical to the body of believers, having different gifts to offer. You are important! Sunday morning worship is critical to our spiritual health and life and to the strength and health of our congregation. My favorite days are communion Sundays, when all of those sinners walk their way to the front to take and eat in remembrance of our Savior. SO MUCH FORGIVENESS AND GRACE, folks! All over the world on a Sunday, people receive the elements. Jesus' love, power, forgiveness, and grace are so high, long, wide, and deep.
[Do] not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing...
Another "church thing" upon which I place a high value is Sunday School. Now, Sunday School is not a Biblical mandate or anything. No one is obligated to go to Sunday School. But boy, is it valuable. Gathering on Sunday morning to study the Word or a biblically-based book is good for us, especially given how little time most Christians devote to their spiritual formation. The church has something set up and ready for you to learn, to grow, to be stretched! Why not take advantage of it? I also love those blessed folks who prepare lessons for my children every week and faithfully teach them about God, His ways, and His story. The other gift of Sunday School is the relationships. Sunday morning worship is a terrible time to try to get to know people at a church. But Sunday School? Ah, yes: a smaller group, more interaction, a chance to ask questions, a place to get to know some of those fellow saved-by-grace sinners. I encourage you to give Sunday School a go, starting this Advent season!
What does this have to do with encouragement? you might ask. Good question.
Back to that Hebrews verse, with the rest of it:
[Do] not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:25
You've heard me say it before: It is very difficult to encourage one another without ever getting together! Your local congregation should be a place of flowing encouragement. It may not be that for you right now, and you cannot control whether other people are being encouraging, but YOU can make the move to encourage. Go! Be there. Engage and encourage. You cannot know your people wihtout gathering with them. Sermons and Sunday School topics will give you things to talk about beyond the weather and how things are going at work.
Crabb and Allender argue that the church should be a place of encouragement, where people are pushing one another to consider God, spurring one another on toward love and good deeds, and where lives are being transformed not by counselors, but by lay people who have learned the habit and skills of encouragement. Again, pick up their book. In fact, they have a study series you could do in a Sunday School class! <wink>
In all seriousness, though, I cannot encourage you enough to be an active part of your local congregation. Sure, being part of a church can be tough, because people go there (people not much different that you). But don't give up meeting together. Stick with your people, like family, and ask God to show you how you can encourage one another when you meet together. I assure you, the opportunities are endless. And if you are worried about being cared for yourself, I offer you Paul's words to the Philippians designed by this source: