A simple application for prioritizing Christian fellowship is using the time before and after worship to encourage one another—and to be encouraged. Rather than rushing to and from church, come and get to know the community of faith. Coming early gives you the chance to greet others, to get to know those who are new, and even to notice the absence of those who were not able to make it. Those who arrive on time are able to serve by praying with and for their pastors and by meeting practical needs in the church alongside other members. Arriving early allows for the opportunity for hospitality. When we are rushed, we are not only moving faster physically, but often we are moving faster emotionally and spiritually as well. Our hearts and attitudes can be rushed and distracted and therefore not prepared to worship and love God and His people.
Time before worship, then, is not just a time for early risers or overachievers but a time for practical ministry or “family time.” We have fellowship with the family of God through Jesus Christ His Son. The worship of God never happens by chance or accident but occurs only with purpose, which requires preparation. Fellowship before the worship service gives us the opportunity to be prepared to enter into community and to invite others into this blessing as well. The week can create a fog and a weight that distracts, but there is something special about the gathering of the saints to worship. It is the Lord’s Day that instructs us in our anticipation of the Great Day, the return of Christ. Martin Luther once said, “At home, in my own house, there is no warmth or vigor in me, but in the church when the multitude is gathered together, a fire is kindled in my heart and it breaks its way through.”
Similarly, staying around for a few moments after the service allows us time to meet visitors whom perhaps we hadn’t met before. Having spent time in worship, perhaps one is now more prepared to encourage others because of the truth that was proclaimed. The thoughtful, Christ-centered, purposeful worship that God has laid out for His church in His Word requires work, and yet worship works. It brings us into the throne room of grace by which we see the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, and the atoning work of Christ for us. We believe that the Word of God is living and active (Heb. 4:12), and therefore, as we worship, the Word pierces us and stirs in us worship of God, conviction of sin, and comfort for the downcast. Staying after the service provides an opportunity to continue that ministry by greeting, getting to know, and encouraging others with the truth that we just confessed and received.
We gather on the Lord’s Day not simply to congregate together but to worship together and to fellowship together. We are sojourners and exiles throughout the week, but on the Lord’s Day, we receive a foretaste of home. We can come hungry, and by God’s grace we will leave blessed and filled.