A recent Gallup study revealed that only 49% of Americans are members of a local church. Another recent study showed that 65% of Americans claim to be Christians. So, why the disconnect?
COVID-19 restrictions stopped us all in our tracks. Depending on a number of factors – location, risk of contraction, etc. – isolation, loneliness, and discouragement became a part of our existence. In varying degrees and lengths of time, we experienced the loss of fellowship with other believers. For some, it was weeks, months, even a year. For others, the shift brought an end to the habit altogether. It formed a new habit – not meeting with other believers at all.
The writer of Hebrews warned us about this:
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 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 10:23-25).
Notice that within this concept of gathering together, encouragement seems to be an expected outcome – and responsibility. The charge of spurring others on toward love and good deeds is not relegated solely to the man standing behind the pulpit.
But somewhere along the journey, our expectations for assembling with other believers have become distorted and selfish. And why not? That’s the American way of life.
In the words of AFA founder Don Wildmon, “I go to church, the minister preaches, and I go home. That’s what Christians do now.”
How often do we think about – and pray about – opportunities to serve and encourage others before getting in the car and driving to the building where we congregate? Or do we think about being served and encouraged by the message the pastor delivers? (I’m intentionally leaving out the praise and worship portion of service – that’s a blog in itself.)
In our Western mentality, we “go to church” as a form of entertainment. We expect to “feel good” while we’re there. It requires little of the church attender. So little, he or she could really just sit at home and watch it on a screen. That requires no giving, no serving, no loving, no risk…just receiving.
It’s a little like pornography use. Sorry about the shock factor, but let’s face it, the all-about-me mentality is the same. Within the context of natural marriage, God designed sex as a means to lovingly serve one another and grow in intimacy. But with pornography, the user becomes increasingly less concerned with meeting the needs of his or her spouse and more preoccupied with self-indulgent pleasure.
As a person becomes consumed by selfishness, ironically, he or she ultimately loses power, strength, and vigor. Relationships suffer as a result – with God and others.
To cultivate relationships requires us to serve others unselfishly, with humility. That means we open ourselves to risks. We welcome the input and correction of others. And, “[d]o nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).
The word “encouragement” has become misunderstood along the way. Encouragement is not flattery; it’s far more than a mechanism to help us “feel good.” It is intended to inspire hope and courage to rise above fear and doubt to accomplish a meaningful purpose – a God-glorifying purpose.
As we fellowship and encourage each other in the truth of God’s Word and character, we are equipped through the Holy Spirit for the daily battle – to do brave things...to do compassionate things...to do His will.
As things shift in America and persecution becomes a reality for us, we cannot afford selfishness in our lives. It is a destroyer. It always has been and always will be.
Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Galatians 6:8-10).
If at all possible, gather with other believers. Listen. Encourage. Serve. Love.