The last couple of years has created a whole set of experiences that were new to most of us. Lockdowns, social distancing, virus testing, online church, and so much more. Whatever we may think of the measures that have been taken by our governments, it is always good to evaluate the impact of circumstances on the health of the church congregation.
Last week I listened to a discussion between two scientists and a clinical psychologist. One of them raised the issue of churches and “faith communities.” In a society marked by social isolation, a widespread lack of meaning, lots of anxiety, increasing aggression and polarized society, he noted the potential benefit that participation in a church might have for the thinking of the congregation.
Without getting “too psychological” – here are seven ways that church participation can help people to think well and live life in a healthy way:
1. Preaching: The Anchor – Preaching is not merely an educational exercise, although good preaching will help people learn, of course. Regular Biblical preaching also functions as an anchor in the storms of life. People are bombarded with intense messaging all week, but when the Word of God is preached, they are reminded of ultimate realities. Everything else may seem upside-down, but that only reinforces the value of preaching as reminding. God is still God. God is still good.
2. Singing: The Crowd – After the disruption to congregations meeting, or being able to sing together, I hope that we have all recognized just how significant corporate worship is in the life of a healthy believer. Whether the “crowd” is twenty people or a thousand people, it does us good to stand together and sing out our worshipful response to God’s goodness. When that is taken away, believers suffer in numerous ways.
3. Fellowship: The Family – So many in society suffer from having no meaningful relationships. The statistics are staggering. Being part of a local church family is incredibly significant with respect to our sense of sanity. The regular interactions, the sense of belonging, the familiarity of weekly connections, even the warmth of a handshake or hug . . . it all makes a difference. During the first half of 2021, churches here were allowed to meet. While others chose not to do so, our church continued to meet. I am sure this made the negative impact of lockdown far less significant for our church family, even if there were numerous inconveniences along the way. Who can measure the negative impact of isolation psychologically, relationally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually?
4. Service: The Role – Healthy thinking does not simply flow from good teaching input. Serving refreshments every third Sunday, greeting people on the welcome team, participating in church set up, hosting a homegroup, teaching the 3–6-year-olds, etc., all these specific roles in the life of the church make a difference in the life of those serving too. When that is taken away for a season, some will struggle with a reduction in their sense of meaning. It is personally healthy to be contributing to the life of the community.
5. Unity: The Conversation – When people are forced apart, they will tend to lose a sense of conversation and perspective. Some may lose touch with anything outside their family unit. Others will keep the TV news on for constant company. Still, others will select a small set of voices to hear, or distractions to enjoy. But the church is not a social club uniting like-minded people. God has a way of bringing different races, different interests, different political views, etc., into one gathering of people. We need to be engaging with and hearing from each other to help us have a healthy perspective. Solitude is not God’s design for the primary context in which we should think.
6. Pastors: The Shepherds – Christians need each other’s gifts to stay healthy and to grow spiritually. And churches also need the feeding, leading, caring, protecting and mentoring of the shepherds too. The example, the teaching, the perspective, the courage, the gentleness, and the faith of the pastors all have a tangible impact on the members of the flock. Sometimes this may be felt in a direct and personal challenge, but week by week exposure and encounter is also highly beneficial.
7. Weekly: The Rhythm – How many churches are struggling because the normal schedule was disrupted for too long? Maybe for some people, the rhythm of life has shifted and they now need to reconsider how healthy it is to try and do life without meaningful church involvement. Maybe for others, the fear of Covid is still keeping them away from the many healthy benefits of church participation. After significant disruption, it might take some deliberate effort to re-establish healthy habits as far as the priority of church involvement.
I am making no comment here on what churches should do regarding safety in these Covid-sensitive times – that is another discussion for another day. I am making a big comment that the church itself is incredibly important for believers to be healthy in every regard.
The discussion I was listening to was focused on human thinking. I hope that as we take stock after two years of Covid-19 disruption, we will see how local church involvement is critical for all aspects of a healthy life: mental, psychological, emotional, social, relational, even physical, and of course, spiritual.
What have the last two years taught you about the value of the local church?
Join me for a journey through the Psalms! One detail to help us read the Psalms Today, and one detail to help us apply the Psalms Today. Hopefully, you will want to then read the Psalm and share your highlights with someone else!