David Cook: ‘We never made it back to church’

A friend of mine, a physical therapist, was sitting in the living room of his new client asking what her goals were. Since he makes house calls, many of the people he cares for are elderly and have trouble leaving their homes.

Some of them would like to garden again or get on the floor with their great-grandchildren, so he tailors their routines to help them do the activities they enjoy. This new client said something that struck him: “I’d like to be able to get my coat on and drive so I can go to church again.”

She isn’t alone. Ever since the stay-at-home order during the pandemic, I’ve heard from many Christians who are thinking, “I need to get back into church.” Some are like my friend’s client, struggling to find the strength and health to get out. Others had children since then and wonder how anyone ever got the kids dressed and in the van. Others discovered pickleball and are torn over what to do on Sundays. And still others are grieving from scandals that hit the church and wondering who they can trust.

Whether the obstacle is health, kids, or disenchantment, the same question often comes to mind — “I know I need to go, but is it really worth it?” This can get especially murky when you can watch church on the internet and Sunday makes such a good camping day.

A lot has changed since the pandemic, but the Bible’s counsel is still the same. If you can make it, you should go (Heb 10:25). If you can’t, seek God’s presence where you are (Rev 1:10).

Getting your shoes on and going to church is important because gathering is what makes it “church.” Essentially, that’s what the word means, coming from a biblical Greek word that means “assembly” or “gathering.” At the core, church isn’t a program you can watch, but a gathering you can go to. In part, that’s because the Gospel doesn’t just give you good content to take in but a people to be with.

That’s why, even though we’re commanded to be there when we can, it’s more of a delight than a duty. Ancient Israel sang about this on the way to their annual Ingathering feast. Every male was commanded to go (and the ladies tended to go too). Along the way, they would sing Songs of Ascents like “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1). They had to go, but their songs showed they wanted to go. That’s because, as the Psalm says, it’s so good to be together.

If gathering is part of the worship, that means something encouraging for those of us who push through challenges to get there. It can feel overwhelming to help the kids find matching shoes, to suit back up for the first time after surgery, or even to take the psychological step of going again after being hurt in the church. But if gathering is worship, none of those efforts are meaningless. Jesus receives each one of them as an act of worship.

Once we’re there, many of us taste how refreshing it is and find Psalm 133 to be true. In 2021, Gallup found that people who attend church regularly had the best mental health in the nation. (People who make six figures came in a close second.) And we were the only group whose mental health improved through the pandemic.

It has become harder for some of us to go, but it’s still worth it. Christians are saved into a people. And those people are a joy to gather with, especially as he gathers with us on Sundays.

Sometimes it takes a little nudge, and maybe this article is what you needed. If you’re able, make this Sunday the day you find a Gospel preaching church in town (you’re always welcome with us), drive in, engage with God, and be refreshed.

David Cook is senior pastor at Calvary Baptist Church, which will be holding a Christmas Eve carol sing at 5 p.m. and Christmas Morning worship at 10:30 a.m. Send comments to [email protected]