I love to preach. Like Jeremiah, I feel a fire deep down in my bones (Jer. 20:9) that works its way out in the delivery of the sermon. I have to intentionally schedule time off for myself and so that others may fill the pulpit because I love preaching.
One Saturday night I went to bed with that fire in my bones only to awake early Sunday morning too sick to get out of bed. Flu A proceeded to work its way through our family. I made the call to Reid, our NextGen pastor, early Sunday morning, asking him to fill in. For as difficult as it is for a pastor to hand over the pulpit, it is equally as difficult for a staff member to learn they are preaching only hours before worship service. Reid accepted the challenge and preached a Christ-centered sermon.
Sick in bed, I had the opportunity to do what so many people have done over the last couple of years: watch a worship service online. Although I was (and am) thankful for livestream and the opportunity to stay connected to my church while sick, the experience was a poor substitute for corporate worship.
I made several observations that morning about online church.
Online Church is no substitute for being in the room
I’ve heard many pastors say this very thing, and I’ve even said it myself. When I’m in the room with other believers, I get to look people in the eye, shake a hand, give and receive a hug. It’s almost as if the Holy Spirit, who dwells in every believer, flows out of them and all around me, spilling into my life and bringing the encouragement and comradery my heart needs each week.
The first century church had to be reminded of this: “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 as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25).
The author of Hebrews emphasizes that encouragement occurs when we are physically together. The opposite is also true; when we neglect to meet together, we miss out on encouragement. This was my experience watching the livestream from home. The worship service included rich songs and rich preaching, but my heart lacked the spiritual encouragement that only comes from being face-to-face with other believers in corporate worship.
I wonder how many church members have had one week turn into two, then into six months, then into two years?
I was distracted
My first mistake was leaving the TV on while watching the livestream on my phone. Why, you ask? Why not? I was home, and no one would know. So what if I wanted to occasionally glance up and see the weekend’s sports highlights? Cut me some slack, I’m a sick pastor in need of a break! To make matters worse, my laptop was open, and it would only take a minute (or 10) to make sure my Fantasy Football lineup was set or to browse social media for comments on our worship service.
My justification was my illness, and church online would only be for one week. I wonder how many church members have had one week turn into two, then into six months, then into two years? You may be tempted to sneak a peak at your phone in corporate worship, but for me, there is a level of accountability that exists when I’m next to my brothers and sisters that keeps me engaged in worship and the sermon. I was simply unengaged and distracted watching a livestream service.
I found it hard to sing
This might be the biggest difference for me in comparing livestream vs. on-campus worship. There’s something about voices raised together in harmony and unison that captures my heart as I worship King Jesus. I sing loud (my wife says too loud) caught up in the moment of worship. Jesus is worth it. He’s worth my attention, my devotion, my heart, my song. Online church feels as if worship is canned and creates the biggest them-but-not-me experience. I found myself singing a few lines or sometimes humming along, but none of my efforts were worthy of the King of the Universe.
When all was said and done, I felt unengaged in song, unengaged in prayer, unengaged as I listened to preaching even though our pastors were excellent in their roles. They presented incredible leadership, delivery and content, but my heart was not full like it usually is at noon on any given Sunday. The morning ended with my heart half-full because God has designed for something spiritual, something supernatural, to take place when we gather together for corporate worship, and I missed out.
My experience was a timely reminder
When I logged off that Sunday morning, I remembered how much I love the church. The following Sunday I greeted a few more people than usual, smiled a little more, sang a little louder and was a lot more attentive to the Holy Spirit and the people around me. The corporate gathering filled me with joy and encouragement and made me appreciate on-campus worship even more. It was an experience that I’ve not quickly forgotten and one that has me all the more ready for Sunday.