By Sherri Alden

It was a Sunday morning, two weeks after I had inexplicably miscarried for the third time, losing each baby almost halfway through the pregnancy.  Devastated, emotionally shut down, confused and uncharacteristically quiet, I slipped unnoticed into the dim back corner of the church building.  I’m not sure what I was specifically hoping for in walking into the church gathering that morning.  I just knew I felt dead inside and that this had always been a safe place where God speaks, and the truth of His character and the kindness of His people could be found.  Though in my deep grief I couldn’t identify it at that moment, I desperately wanted the God I still believed in by faith, to somehow breathe life, hope, and purpose back into my broken soul.

As the church assembled and His people served out of their calling and gifting that morning, God met me in the most profound and unexpected way.  Although there were tender smiles and hugs, comforting and challenging biblical truth from the teaching pastor, and thoughtful lyrics and prayers through our time of worship that caused tears to flood my face, the key to heaven touching earth for me that day was in the form of a painting.  One of the skilled fine artists in our body had been inspired to paint a simple but massive thirty-foot canvas installed as a backdrop for the stage.  The human form in the painting sat on her knees, face obscured, hands together in front of her body, palms up in quiet surrender.  I could not escape the image that captivated my sight as the Spirit spoke directly to the deepest part of my wounded heart.  I realized I had a choice before me—would I stay stuck in my pain and disappointment, resisting His path for my life, or would I surrender another devastating loss, with no seeming explanation or purpose into His care, and trust His purpose, His way, in His time?

So why do we gather as the Church?  Bottom line?  God tells us to.  The Holy Spirit, through the writer of Hebrews, makes a pretty clear directive in Chapter 10—don’t blow off gathering together.  Why?  Because gathering together as the Church helps us to remember.

Remember…who God is, His overwhelming love and sacrifice for us in Jesus, offering undeserved mercy and grace, which brings us as diverse people to a level footing of awe, humility, and gratitude.

Remember…that we were created to worship—not just as individuals, but also as His gathered people, the Body of Christ, connecting us together in unity and joining in with the unending worship that is already going on in heaven.

Remember…that hearing the Word of God proclaimed encourages, strengthens, comforts, corrects, guides, challenges and motivates us together as a local church to live for His glory.

Remember…that our story is one speck in God’s epic and glorious story of redemption, which gives deeper meaning to our lives and causes our concerns to be put into perspective.

Remember…that we need time to step out of our everyday-life demands and distractions to come together as the people of God to refocus, reflect, and find a place of reverence.

Remember…that we do not stand alone—in our mess or in our success.

Remember…that we were designed to physically and emotionally see others, be known, share real life and find belonging in the real community, not just engage with a highlight reel on social media.

Remember…that sometimes we need someone to hurt with us and have to borrow the faith and lean on the prayers of others when we are struggling.

Remember…that gathering together as a church provides an opportunity to give back—with a higher purpose.  The body is challenged to use their unique gifts to love and serve those who are different from us.

Remember…that we are called to make disciples.  It is in the biblical community that we mentor and practice grace and truth, reinforce biblical culture and values, and experience forgiveness, healing, and growth.

Every time a body of believers, large or small, gathers together, God assures us He is present (Matt. 18:20). This is not a dry theological statement.

As in my personal story of God at work in the shadows of a church service, seen or unseen, at every gathering, the Holy Spirit is supernaturally at work, bringing His presence into our pain, confusion, disappointment and the reality of our broken lives with the same power that raised Jesus from the dead!  HE is WITH us, working IN us, and working THROUGH us.  And as worship leaders, pastors, songwriters, curators, visual and technical artists, media developers, dancers, actors, writers and volunteer teams who facilitate most church gatherings, we have the privilege, opportunity and responsibility to connect, to discern, to plant seeds, to teach, to challenge, to serve, to provide an authentic language and environment of praise and worship for the gathered church to respond to Him. What you do matters. Today. Eternally.

When we, as leaders, get discouraged or burnt out and fail to see our roles from this astounding and humbling perspective, we can easily get caught in the grind of weekends coming every seven days, and inspiration, intentionality, and creativity to communicate our message compellingly go out the window.  Crazy as it is, the Holy Spirit chooses to partner with you in your calling to serve the gathered church.  The outcome is totally His, but the opportunity for Him to maximize your unique gifting to impact people for eternity is in your court.

So that begs the question, are you as a leader/influencer of church gatherings unleashing and investing your gifts and the development of your team’s gifts to the fullest?  Do you challenge yourself and those you lead to communicate the unchanging truth of God’s Word and character in a way that connects with your people in fresh, creative, thought-provoking, memorable and Spirit-infused ways?

If we study the human heart and mind, it is clear that God built us to respond to story, to surprise, to beauty and discovery.

Our desire in the church is not to develop the newest gimmick, nor pander to a consumer mindset.  Yet, we, who communicate to hundreds and even thousands of people every week, would be unwise if we ignore how our God-designed brains function.

God’s creation is rife with variation, creativity, surprise, and beauty.  Scripture is filled with life-stories and parables, most with unexpected players, twists and outcomes.  The Creator has imagined and put into action the most amazingly unbelievable, redemptive, vital, eternally significant story humanity could ever hope to hear.  We, in turn, have the opportunity in our work as leaders to serve the gathered church through investing in the development of our own God-given creativity and energy and encourage the God-given imagination and efforts of gifted artists and communicators within our Body in the continual retelling of that story.

In partnership with the Holy Spirit, creativity can give an opportunity to effectively captivate the listener with God’s unchanging truth in an unexpected, powerful and transformative way. This intentionality maximizes the precious moments when the church does gather, accomplishing far beyond what we understand today, or may ever know this side of eternity.

Why do we gather?  Because it honors and blesses God when a grateful, redeemed people come together to recognize His worth and focus their devotion in the right place.  Because we need each other to help remember His truth when life’s influences seem to be screaming just the opposite at us.  Because sometimes we need God’s touch with skin on.  Because you never know when the Spirit will use the creative offering of a painting to penetrate a broken, still heart and breathe into it new life, hope, and purpose.

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