The Pastor's Pen

Relocating to the Zoo.

Church perspective

In March 2020, New Life Church was told that we can no longer meet at the Heritage Hall in the Emirates Park Zoo, our regular place of worship.

Because of the Covid pandemic our corporate worship was not going to be the same for the next 3,5 years. That same month, we launched our first livestreamed service. These were unique circumstances, and it seemed a great blessing that people could worship from their homes.

What we as a church have learned from the Covid pandemic is that worshiping as a church is an embodied experience, in both its individual and communal dimensions.

Four months after the lockdown, we received official confirmation that NLC could enter Phase 1 of the re-opening process. The main provisor was that we had to meet at The Evangelical Church Centre (TEC), on-island in Al Mushrif. For the next 3 years we would be guests at the same compound where our church was started from.

We knew this was going to be a temporary solution till we were able to move back to our normal, usual geographical meeting place at the Emirates Park Zoo, where our church was planted to reach the growing number of people that had moved into the outlying communities off of the primary Abu Dhabi Island. 

One of my prayers from the very beginning of this pandemic was that the Lord would help us come out of our lock-down with a greater appreciation for the church and the blessing of gathering with one another as a corporate body.

The Bible is clear that gathering is essential for the life of the church. In Matthew 18:17-20, in the context of Jesus speaking about the church, he makes his beloved promise: “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Paul admonishes Christians to celebrate the Lord’s Supper when they have come together (1 Cor. 11:33). The author of Hebrews tells us to not neglect meeting together (Heb. 10:25).

We are not simply minds that passively take in the prayers, teaching, and worship of a worship service. Rather, as those created body and mind after the image of God, we must experience what is sung, prayed, taught, and tasted in worshiping God with our whole selves.

Gathering is essential for the life of the church.

Moving back to the Emirates Park Zoo, we believe is a step in helping our church gather again more effectively. After being away from the Zoo premise for 3,5 years, we have seen a significant decline in our numbers and we believe a key factor related to this is because we have been meeting at the TEC, so far away from where most of our congregation lives. Matthew 18:18-20 tells us that local churches are kingdom embassies. Hebrews 10:24-24 tells us that local churches are communities of disciples, and Matthew 28:18-10 tells us we are to be hubs of missional activity. It is for all these reasons that the elders believe it is better for our church to gather near where most of our people live.

We are trusting and praying that this shift back to the Zoo, closer to where most of us live, will help us as a church work together in serving and evangelizing our neighbours, and to prioritize church relationships as we grow closer together not just physically but spiritually as well.

To use old-fashioned Baptist language, the church building is the meetinghouse. Wherever the people are, there the church is. On the Lord’s Day, and perhaps other times, we’re the church gathered. When we leave the meetinghouse and head out into the world as individual disciples, we’re the church scattered.

For most of us, it’s easier to be a meaningful part of the church gathered—and to partner with the rest of the church scattered—when we live in the same community where our church’s gathering place is located.

Must a Christian live close to the church or move close to other members of his or her church? No, the Bible doesn’t command this. We’re free in Christ to live wherever we want. But this is one concrete way to love the church — to consider others better than yourself and to look to their interests.

Did the Son of God submit Himself geographically for the church’s good? He left heaven. Let’s put on the same attitude our Saviour put on for us.

The elders are aware that in the 3 years we have been gathering on-island the Lord has added to our membership individuals and families that live in the city and have never even been to our old gathering place at the Emirates Park Zoo. We will do everything we can to help with this transition. Please do let us know if you are needing help with transport to the Zoo premise. We want to do everything we can to serve you and help you still be a part of our church gathering. We know there will be a sacrifice on your part in the beginning, but we ask you to please give this a chance (the on-island Homegroup will still be meeting there during the week).

We will be needing to call on all the members to help serve once again in various capacities so we can meet and minister as we used too. We no longer will have the help of the TEC staff with the set-up and the instruments and sound & lighting. We will also be needing people to help us run our children’s ministry again in the Zoo. But with challenges come opportunities. Please be praying about how you can help us with this transition.

I thank God for the Evangelical Church Compound—it was worth the drive! But I’m grateful to now be meeting again soon – on the 2nd July at the Emirates Park Zoo. It is also worth the drive—though fortunately, the commute is much shorter (much better parking) and the church’s primary mission field is around us all the time.