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The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon

The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon is Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry at The Divinity School, Duke University. He retired after serving eight years as Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of The United Methodist Church.

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Bishop Will Willimon: Don't Give Up Meeting Together

November 16, 2009

Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
Let us not give up meeting together,
as some are in the habit of doing,
but let us encourage one another.
-- Hebrews 10:24-25

The single most revealing measurement of a congregation's health and spiritual vitality? Attendance at worship. That's why the attendance number is reported every week by our churches on the Conference Dashboard.

That's why I and the Cabinet have set for ourselves a goal of 4% increase in attendance in our churches in 2009. Church attendance among Christians in Alabama is the second highest of any state in the nation, so this is a goal we can reach.

"Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing," says the writer of the Hebrews. It's sort of a comfort to know that, even in the early church, some Christians had to be encouraged to come to church!

It's also a reminder of how important it is to be together. "Christianity is a social religion. To turn it into a solitary affair is to kill it," said John Wesley. You just can't follow Jesus alone. Discipleship is never do-it-yourself. Christianity is a group thing.

Who is a Christian? Someone who has not given up meeting together. That's not all that needs to be said about Christianity, but down through the ages we have no record of a single faithful disciple who refuses to gather with other fellow believers.

"That we may spur one another to good deeds." This statement is a reminder that worship together is not only a way to love God but also a way to love our neighbor, to fulfill our responsibility to be "our neighbor's keeper," to "spur one another to good deeds."

"I didn't get anything out of your sermon," says someone emerging from church. This statement betrays a misunderstanding of Christian worship.

Most of us learn that the supreme test of worship is not what I get out of it but also what my neighbor got out of it.

One reason why people may avoid Sunday meetings together is that it is so much easier to be vaguely spiritual, to cling to your cherished notions, and misconceptions when you have no fellow Christians to challenge and "spur one another."

All over our Conference, in churches large and small, this Sunday about 100,000 of us North Alabama Methodists will convene. We haven't given up on Jesus' promise to meet us when just two or three of us gather. We will gather, praise God, seek divine guidance and correction for our lives, and spur on one another, by the grace of God the Father, Son, and Holy, Spirit.

--Will Willimon

[Taken with permission from "A Message from Bishop Will Willimon," 11/16/2009.]

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