“One of my old pastors told me a church isn’t a building. It’s a group of people. And I have my group of people at work. We watch a pastor on tv together. That’s good enough!”
That’s what she told me. Never mind that what she said meant she didn’t belong to the same congregation as her family. Never mind Jesus invited her to the feast of Communion only in a local congregation, not through television. Never mind that her tv preacher was a false teacher. Never mind that I was her shepherd calling her back.
It didn’t matter what Scripture I proclaimed. It didn’t matter at all – she didn’t need church.
Never mind that she constantly complained that her son didn’t come to church. (I wonder where he learned that?) Never mind that she was constantly so overstressed that she needed Jesus to calm her down and make her let go of her stress. Never mind that Jesus commands us to gather together.
Well, as might guess, it wasn’t a fun conversation for either of us. She left, telling me, “Maybe I need to think about whether or not this is the right church for me.”
Oh, the next day?
Her brother (also a member) was in the hospital and about to undergo emergency surgery. “He’s about to go into pre-op, so you probably can’t get here in time. Just say a prayer, ok?”
I grabbed my coat and drove to the hospital. I’m known in this particular hospital, and if the patient allows it, I’m allowed to go all the way in until the actual operating theater. When I arrive, he’s still in his room, surrounded by family.
Including that woman.
“Pastor! You got here fast!” she says.
I look at her. “A tv pastor will never visit you in the hospital.”
“You’re going to be mean about this, aren’t you?”
And I turned to the man in pain and shared the Gospel with him. I visited him every day until he went home – and I’ll do a follow-up this week at his home. (I make it my policy, whenever possible, to visit a member every day they’re in the hospital. It might be only a five-minute visit, but I’m there with them! There are definite positives to pastoring a smaller congregation!) I shared Jesus and comfort from him at every visit.
See, God has given us a great blessing through television and the internet to share the Gospel with others. But there are things that cannot come through a screen. A personal visit when you’re in pain? No matter how close you might be to that person on the other side of the screen, they can’t hold your hand as you pray together, and they can’t sit with you in your pain and simply be there.
But I can’t help but feel God timed this all to happen just right to show that woman… yeah, you do need a local congregation.
I just hope he gets through to her. Personally, I’m not confident – she’s a stubborn woman, she is! – but if anyone can get through, it’s God!