On vacation this summer, we had the opportunity to attend a few churches. The music was nice. The preaching was good. The Bible was prominent. God was central. But something was missing. Community was missing. Not their community, but our membership within that community.
We noticed visible signs of strong and active communities. Before and after the services, people were talking and expressing their care for one another. But we weren’t a part of their community. We aren’t together all year long with them. We aren’t involved in their lives. We are like distant cousins, not close brothers and sisters.
Without the blessing of the depth of relationship with those around us, the church services were mostly about us and God. Now, certainly, this isn’t bad, but it felt shallow. It felt like a mere ceremony, devoid of accountability and mutual encouragement.
This is not our regular experience at church. Usually, we worship the Lord in the presence of those we know and love. The experience is entirely different. It is deeper. It is more profound. It feels like family.
The writer to the Hebrews connects worship with community. He connects ceremony with life in the body. He writes, “Let us offer to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29). Certainly, this can (and must) be done through a ceremony of singing and Scripture reading and praying and preaching. There must be reverence and awe, for worship deals with the gravest realities of life: apart from Christ, we are consumed in the fiery wrath of God. But this cannot be void of community.
The author continues in the very next verse with this exhortation: “Let brotherly love continue” (Hebrews 13:1). This is what was missing from the churches we visited on vacation. It’s not at all to say that those at the churches weren’t loving. They were loving. We felt their love through their kindness and grace. Nor is it to say that they were uncommitted to serving Christ. They were committed. Our conversations were centered on Christ and ministry. But it is to say that we weren’t a member of their family. We weren’t engaged in brotherly love with them like we are at our home church. We felt the void. We are looking forward to worshiping with our church community this Sunday.