Gathering for corporate worship during a global pandemic has proved challenging for Christians everywhere. Many of us have traded our temperature-controlled auditoriums with cushioned chairs and coffee stations for the great outdoors. We’re meeting on ball fields and in parks, on farms and in parking lots.
As my family gathers with several hundred saints on a ball field on Sunday mornings, I wonder what the people driving by and the woman walking her dog think as they witness our worship. It’s one thing to pass by a church building on Sundays and imagine what’s going on inside, but seeing it all on full display—the singing, preaching, baptisms, and fellowship—is surely interesting to onlookers.
Although our commitment to the importance of corporate worship has been tested in 2020, our resolve to gather publicly to exalt the living Lord is true. This season invites us to deny our preferences in how we gather to demonstrate love for our neighbors and submission to our authorities. It has led many churches to meet in whatever outdoor spaces are available in their communities. I believe there are at least four benefits to gathering the church outdoors.
SERVES AS A VISIBLE WITNESS TO OUR COMMUNITIES
God’s people are proclamation people (Col. 1:28). We delight in bearing witness to the grace he’s shown us. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). We’ve been delivered from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13). And it’s with great joy we tell this good news to our neighbors still walking in darkness. We invite them into our confident hope that transforms the way we live in anticipation of Christ’s return.
What makes a group of people scattered across a city gather on Sunday mornings to study the Scriptures, sing about God, and pray? These actions are the result of renewed life in Jesus. Our neighbors no longer need to wonder what we do on Sunday mornings; they can see for themselves. Let them witness our worship of King Jesus. Let their curiosity grow. We’re eager to tell them the reason we sing!
EXPOSES OUR IDOLS OF COMFORT
Let’s be real; meeting outside isn’t as comfortable as meeting indoors. Corporate worship without childcare isn’t as easy. We’re giving some things up, but for me, that’s been good. All I’ve given up are things I don’t need to worship God anyway. The disruption of our rhythms and the crushing of our idols is all grace. Our comfort shouldn’t affect our worship. It’s not about us; it’s about God.
Many times, I’ve endured the heat, cold, and rain to cheer on my favorite football team. Why would I live with any less passion to gather with my local church to worship Christ? God is using these times to reveal our idolatry and to reorient our hearts to love him more than our comfort.
REMINDS US THE CHURCH IS NOT A BUILDING
I’ve spent decades saying things like, “it’s time to go to church,” or “he goes to church with me.” These kinds of statements support the idea that the church is a place. And while we wouldn’t hesitate to declare the church is a people, our vocabulary suggests otherwise. A few years ago, my husband and I resolved to change the way we refer to the church so our language would better reflect our liturgy. Now we say, “we’re going to the building,” or “he’s part of our local church.”
Because the church isn’t a building, not being able to fully use our facilities for a season can’t derail us. We can thrive in all conditions, and historically, we thrive best in hardship. Gathering the church outdoors helps reinforce our theology by reminding us we’re not a place, we’re a people. We flourish wherever we’re positioned because our God sits on the throne.
HELPS US RELATE TO THE GLOBAL CHURCH
During my first Sunday service on the ball field, I was reminded of the Sunday I visited Sojourn Church in Kampala, Uganda. We gathered in an open-air environment to joyfully worship God. Many churches around the world gather every Sunday outdoors because they don’t have buildings in which to meet. They worship without the convenience of a nursery for their little ones.
As we leave the comforts of our buildings, we get the privilege of identifying more with the global church in a small way. Whether we’re sweating or shivering, gathering outside for corporate worship reminds us of our kinship with other believers.
If you drive by our ball field on Sunday mornings in the winter, Lord willing, we’ll still be there singing, and my pastor will still be preaching his sermon on the mound. Moving the church outdoors and putting on display our worship of God improves our witness in our communities and exhibits God’s sanctifying work in his people.
The church outdoors isn’t an inconvenience, it’s an opportunity. So grab your sunscreen or your thermos. Bring your lawn chairs and blankets. Let’s cherish this time and enjoy the benefits of gathering outside to worship the risen Christ.