In a couple of weeks, I’m scheduled to head down to Illinois to attend a pastors’ conference. There are several speakers at the conference that I’m glad to hear. One is the pastor of the church I grew up in. Another is the president of one of the seminaries I graduated from.
But to be honest, as much I expect to appreciate the sermons, I’m really not going for the preaching. I’m going for the meals. I’m going for the break times between sessions.
And this is not simply because I like food (though I really do like food).
If I merely wanted to listen to the speakers, I could do that without getting in my car and driving for five hours. I can download the sermons in my office and listen to them.
So while I’m going to benefit from the sermons, the real appeal of a conference like this is the conversations. I have friends here. Some were my teachers. Others are men I attended seminary with. Others I’ve met along the way, and I’m grateful for a chance to cross paths again.
And likely, there will be some conversations with people that I don’t yet know. And who can say what benefit might come from those? Perhaps I will hear a theological insight that I’ve never considered before, something that will end up helping our whole congregation. Perhaps I will have an opportunity to share a word of encouragement or a practical help from my own ministry experience.
I cannot know in advance what conversations will happen. But I do know that God intends such conversations to play a part in the lives of his children.
This last year (and counting) has been a mess. I’ve personally known multiple people who’ve died of COVID, including one friend just last week. I understand and appreciate certain precautionary measures.
But I’m deeply concerned that some people have become comfortable with the idea that church is something you can stream on your TV. The reality is that you can listen to any number of sermons online.
But what you can’t do online is replace the commonplace interactions of gathering with God’s people, your brothers and sisters in Christ. To be sure, you can still intentionally stay in contact with friends. But those incidental conversations—the ones that find you, instead of you seeking them out—we miss out on.
Our passage for last Sunday’s sermon included this verse from 1 Thessalonians 5: “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”
Paul clearly assumes that as Christians, we will have ordinary contact with other believers in the church. He urges that we do so with wisdom. We need to notice who needs a word of encouragement. We need to notice—and have the courage to challenge—the one who needs a word of warning and correction.
These incidental conversations are a part of the ordinary way in which God shapes his people more and more into the image of Christ. We need these conversations and cannot avoid them indefinitely if we wish to be obedient to Scripture’s commands.