As churches begin to resume services, some of us may be wondering if we really need to go back. Rev. Hambali Leonardi gives his take on some frequently-asked questions. This is an occasional series: do look out for more articles from other pastors on these issues.

Can I just worship online instead of going back to church?

We were never designed to live in isolation from the larger community of believers. If your church has permitted physical gatherings for onsite worship services, I would like to encourage you to return to your home church. There is great joy and power in the physical assembly of God’s people.

During the circuit breaker and closures of the churches, we were like the Jewish exiles under the Babylonians. When Cyrus allowed them to return from exile (Ezra 1:1–3), the Jews joyfully returned to rebuild the temple and the city. Similarly, it is our joy and privilege to return to church to serve, worship, and strengthen God’s community in person.

But what’s the point of going to church when we can’t sing and fellowship?

Coming together to worship God in a service is more than just singing and fellowship. It is also about expressing our devotion to God through prayers, scripture readings, partaking in communion, and worshipful postures. In Isaiah 1:11–17, God reminded the Israelites that He is more concerned with our hearts and attitudes than the modes of our worship. The focus of worship is on God, and not on our personal preferences or social needs.

Spaces are currently limited. Shouldn’t we let others who need it more get a seat?

I agree that we should consider the needs of others when booking a place for the next Sunday service. (Philippians 2:3–4). If there is a great desire by all members to go to church, we can take turns to ensure that each of us has an opportunity to return to church.

At the same time, we need to see that this strong desire to go back to church is good! Our personal commitment to God is important, and we must not neglect the paramount command of loving God with all our hearts, minds, and souls (Matthew 22:37–38). That’s why the Apostle John reminds us to watch ourselves lest we lose the reward (2 John 1:8).

I have to take care of my elderly parents at home. Is it okay to continue worshipping online?

I believe God will never force us to return to church. Just as He loves a cheerful giver, He loves a cheerful worshipper. We should conduct ourselves with a clear conscience (1 Timothy 1:19). If you have a valid reason and your Christian conscience is clear, by all means, continue to worship online.

However, we also need to be mindful that following Christ and discipleship requires personal sacrifices and self-denial (Luke 14:26). There will be a point in our Christian life when our personal commitment to God outweighs our personal reasons and preferences.

Acts 6:1–6 also offers a practical solution. When the disciples found that they could not cope with the duties of serving food on top of teaching God’s Word, they appointed men to help them. In the same way, we can try to make arrangements—such as asking someone to take over our caregiving duties for a few hours—to allow us to return to church.

Worshipping online is safer for our health. Why do some churches seem so anxious to get us to go back to physical services?

Online service is not the same as physical worship services. The former was introduced because of church closures and government restrictions. However, with the re-opening of churches and easing of restrictions, it is reasonable for churches to invite their members to return for onsite worship services.

In a way, you could see online services as a shadow of the physical assembly of God’s people. In Hebrews 8:5, we are reminded that the tabernacle was a foreshadow of heavenly worship. Similarly, coming together as a church community in physical corporate worship gives us a glimpse of what we will experience in eternity. As such, let us make every reasonable effort to return and worship God in assembly.

The government has already relaxed the rules on church services. Why are some churches taking so long to re-open?

There are many logistical and manpower requirements for churches to re-open and resume onsite services. Church leaders would be wise to ensure that all safety measures are in place before re-opening. I would like to encourage church members to offer support and help to their pastors and leaders on how they can serve to make the onsite worship services safe for everyone. You could offer to serve as ushers to help worshippers practise safe entry or distancing, or as cleaning crews to clean your church sanctuary after service. Do also pray for your church leaders as they make wise and careful plans to keep everyone safe.

Rev Hambali Leonardi is the pastor-in-charge of the 9 AM and 11:30 AM services at St. Andrew’s Cathedral.