Pastoral Perspectives

8.30 AM or 11 AM Service?

Before Covid-19, we had a choice between participating in worship either at the 8.30 am or 11 am service. We saw more of the elderly attending the earlier service. Those who needed to serve in the latter part of the morning would be there too. It was also encouraging to see more and more youths coming for the 8.30 am service before heading for YZ. As for the second service, we’d find more families there because we had Sunday School (U12) that ran concurrently. However, worshippers did have a choice between the two services. Those who regularly attended a particular service could turn up for the other service.

Since Covid-19 started, worship service has been moved online and is held at 11 am. On the one hand, there seems to be only one choice. On the other hand, choices are aplenty because if one cannot wake up at 11 am, one can still tune into the service as the video recording is accessible throughout the day. Moreover, many churches are also offering online services. Thanks to the Internet, there is no limit as to where and when one chooses to worship God. People make comparisons between the services that different churches offer, and may even find themselves losing interest in their own church’s worship service because the grass on the other side looks much greener.

Is that what church is about? When we become a member of a local church, we make a commitment to the body of Christ there that we will worship together regularly, we will care for and build up each other so that we grow in our faith, and we will serve alongside each other for the sake of the kingdom of God. Covid or no Covid, how can this commitment continue to be lived out? I just want to focus on corporate worship, a spiritual discipline that is important for our growth, and definitely serves as a platform for us to glorify God.

Meeting together online for the 11 am service is meant to simulate the gathering of God’s people, albeit virtually, to worship him.  If we tune in as and when we like, then there is no longer a gathering of his saints. If we only tune in to the sermon and skip the rest, then we are not worshipping together corporately. It’s more like doing our own thing at our own time. But worship on the Lord’s Day is not meant to be like that!

I know it will take some effort. Not too long ago, in one of my sermons, I asked whether we are committed to being disciples of Jesus or is our discipleship merely driven by convenience, comfort and a consumerist mindset? Making an effort to gather with the rest of the church family for worship may be a small step in the right direction on the path of costly discipleship.

By God’s grace, in July, we were able to re-start our 8.30 am service in church – hallelujah! But we noticed over the last two months that people who have turned up are those who keep turning up. We praise God for each of them because our hearts are encouraged that they see the importance of the physical gathering of God’s people. Yet there are still many who have not turned up and would prefer to worship online.

Some say that it’s just too early for them – they are not early risers. Others say that since they cannot sing, they would rather worship at home where they can sing as loud as they want. Parents feel that bringing their young children to church is a hassle. Then there are those who are concerned about the risk of becoming infected if they do come.

We really need to understand that virtual gatherings are never a perfect substitute for physical gatherings. There is something important about the physical gathering of the church for worship, fellowship and service. The church is described as the body of Christ where each member constitutes the different parts of the body, with Christ being the Head.

The church is the temple of the Holy Spirit, where we are the living stones and Christ is the Cornerstone. The church is also depicted as the family of God where we are brothers and sisters, with Christ being our eldest brother. In all these depictions of the church, it is necessary that we are physically present with each other.

Take the case of the family. We know that we can communicate with each other virtually. For example, when Gaius was studying overseas, that was what we did. But nothing beats having him physically back in Singapore where we can see him and interact with him in the flesh.

I suppose the word is “incarnation” – the Word made flesh and dwelt among us. The omnipresent God is always with us yet he chose to be with us physically when he sent his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, into our world to walk among us. Jesus has since returned to heaven, but he has established his church on earth to be his representative. So when the world looks at the church, they ought to see the Saviour. But how is the world going to look at the church if we are all doing church behind laptops and phones? There is an important place for physical gatherings.

I am therefore appealing to you, especially to those who have not managed to attend 8.30 am service yet, to make the effort to come. Between you and the Lord, decide how frequently you would like to attend, and make the commitment to stick to that rhythm. It could be once a month, once in 6 weeks or once in two months.

For those who lament that they cannot sing at the 8.30 am service, John Piper wrote that there are two parts to true worship: “It is not just seeing God, but also savouring God. It is not just the response of the mind, but also of the heart.”

Yes, songs can help us see or understand who God is, especially if the lyrics are theologically sound. Songs can enable us to savour God, as we express from our hearts his beauty and majesty through our singing. But what if we cannot sing aloud? We can still respond with our mind and heart as we sing quietly; we can still see and savour God as we meditate on the lyrics.

The same two parts apply when we listen to sermons. We see God being revealed in his preached Word and we savour God as we stand in awe of who he is and what he has done for us. We also see God being revealed in his re-enacted Word – the Sacraments of communion and baptism. We savour him and his goodness as we participate in them with all our senses. Take communion, for example – we see the bread and wine, we hear the liturgy, we touch the elements and smell them and of course we internalise them when we eat and drink. In the process, it gives us the opportunity to savour the body of Christ broken for us and the blood of Christ shed for us.

John Calvin spoke on the two marks of the church as being Word and Sacraments. Whenever the Word if preached and the Sacraments are conducted for a body of believers, there the church exists. That is another reason why we ought to come for the 8.30 am service because every Sunday, communion is conducted for those who have been baptised – something we cannot participate in if we are attending the online service.

As for those who are concerned about their health, I am not asking you to do anything rash. We take all the precautions needed and step out in faith. Yes, there will still be an element of risk. But if we have been going out running our errands and meeting people for meals, if we have not been a hermit, then why should we behave as one when it comes to gathering together for worship?

“Let’s not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let’s encourage one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:25

Rev Lee Kien Seng

September 6, 2020