I was a strange kid! While most kids complained about going back to school, I loved it. Every teacher was different. Making new friends was fun. It was nice to see friends from the previous year. Like most nerds, I liked learning and books. I thrived on the new subjects. I loved going back to school!
I remember telling my brother, Dan: “Knock, knock.” Dan said: “Who’s there?” Me: “Gladys.” Dan: “Gladys, who?” Me: “Gladys time to go back to school!” That was corny humor, even for a 10-year-old kid, but it was true. I loved going back to school.
Well, I feel the same way about going back to church. Every Sunday in the last 7 months has felt strange. Learning to do video sermons and do them on Saturdays stretched my comfort zone. I loved it that we had new people watching our on-line services, some from Oakland. While the gates to our beautiful church campus was closed. God continued to use our church for His Kingdom.
Nevertheless, I am thrilled that we can re-open for public services this Sunday. Your elders and pastor have diligently and earnestly sought God as to when to re-open for some time now. We did not want to dishonor the Lord by opening too soon, causing anyone to get sick, or have discord with the county or the governor. But after prayerful and careful consideration, we believe it is time to return to in-person and corporate worship.
That’s why I encourage you to recommit yourself to weekly, regular, and faithful public worship. Here are several reasons why:
First, re-commit to public worship to obey the Bible. The writer of Hebrews (10:25 NLT) is unequivocal: “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” Gathering for public worship is not an optional activity. It is not an occasional activity. It is an ongoing and regular commitment. The Bible emphasizes the importance of the local church.
Think about it. After the four gospels, almost the rest of the New Testament is about the local church or directed to the local church. Throughout the New Testament, local congregations met together and worshipped together. Christians do it to obey what the Bible says.
Second, re-commit to public worship to grow spiritually. We grow as a believer in Christ when we have a committed prayer life. We grow when we are committed to read Scripture daily. We grow when we share our faith regularly. We grow when we serve in ministry. And we grow when we commit to attend worship services faithfully. Church attendance is a spiritual discipline. Sure, you can worship God anywhere, but public worship will move you further in spiritual maturity. So, come back to church!
Third, re-commit to public worship to fulfill our mission. The pandemic and quarantine have been not been good for our world and for churches. But now, we have the incredible opportunity to hit the reset button! For many Christians, committed church attendance was waning before the pandemic. God has reminded us, perhaps even given us a major wake-up call, to tell us how really important the gathered church really is. As looting, arson, rioting, and unrest foments, the Gospel is the only elixir to our world’s problems. We can’t do change the world if we stay home! We have to be salt, light, and witnesses for our Lord Jesus! And that means we are out in public again!
Fourth, re-commit to public worship to reach the younger generation. Most of our church family is over 60. For East Hills’ ministry to continue long after we are gone, we need to attract more people under the age of 40. Our ministry area stretches from Keller to the Caldecott Tunnel. We have people coming from Livermore to Lafayette and from Berkeley and Benicia. There are over a million people within 20 minutes of our church campus. Over half of them are under 40. East Hills needs to have public, in-person ministry to reach them. Realistically, on-line services won’t do that on a long-term basis. So, our services have to be public so we can connect, convert, disciple, and assimilate them into our church. We need to meet, greet, be-friend, and integrate the next generation into the ministry of East Hills Community Church in Oakland.
Fifth, re-commit to public worship to encourage each other. When we gather together, we encourage each other. Life is hard. There are broken hearts and discouraged people everywhere these days. Drug use, suicides, marital discord, job loss, and money problems are rampant these days. So, we need to build Christian friendships and enjoy Christian fellowship, we help, comfort, and encourage each other to persevere! As much as on-line services have worked, for us they are no substitute for public worship.
Galatians 6:2 says: “Bear one another’s burdens …” We can’t bear burdens if we don’t meet new people and know each other personally. We need public worships services!
Lastly, re-commit to public worship for a permanent pastor. Last Monday, the EHCC elders announced that they are presenting Pastor Josh Smith as the candidate for the Senior Pastor position at our church. He is young, experienced, educated, energetic, and called by God to vocational ministry. Josh is highly recommended by past churches, pastors, and people with whom he has served. Our EHCC elders unanimously believe Pastor Josh is God’s choice for our church. But, we don’t make momentous decisions alone at EHCC. We need the members of our church to discern, seek God’s will, and confirm the Elder’s recommendation. I hope you will make every effort to attend this Sunday, October 4 and the next Sunday for the vote on October 11.
Of course. coming to East Hills for services always voluntary. Your salvation is not in jeopardy if you don’t come. It is not a mortal sin or even a venial one either. If you feel uncomfortable or fearful about the virus and being in public, we understand. But the elders, pastors, most physicians, local and state health officials, and lots of others churches feel that those risks are minimal.
To minimize the risks further and follow the governmental guidelines, your elders and pastors developed a re-opening plan a few months ago. We combined the government guidelines, what other churches are doing, and ideas that have come from our church family. Also, we considered our own EHCC situation and prayed for God’s direction. So, here is how we plan to conduct our public services for now. We will:
· Meet outdoors unless the weather forces us inside
· Practice social distancing
· Wear masks unless you are leading the service.
· Ask people who are running a temperature or sick in any way to stay home
· Keep from shaking hands
· Have performed music only (but you can hum along if you want)
· Have a hand-santizer, communication card, and offering box station
· Ask people to bring their own chairs
· Not offer childcare or children’s church
· Not have coffee or snacks available
· Not celebrate The Lord’s Supper for a few weeks
I know these rules may seem odious. We know that we will not please everybody. But we are really trying to obey the guidelines, prevent illness, and honor the Lord! Thanks, in advance, for your patience and forbearance as we try to take a prudent path on this stuff.
With the writer of Psalm 122:1, I encourage you to say with me: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’ ” and join us for public worship.
See you this Sunday, at East Hills church campus, at 10:30 A.M.!!
I love being your pastor!
Pastor Mark Platt