It’s tempting sometimes to want to skip church. Sunday might be the only morning all week we can sleep in, maybe we have chores and errands that need to get done, maybe it’s too much work to get the family up and out the door in the morning, maybe we have that football or soccer practice or maybe we just want to enjoy the beautiful weather outdoors. If we attend church two or three out of every five Sundays, that’s enough, right?
I am in no way trying to ‘guilt’ anyone into attending church, or even telling anyone what they ‘must’ do to be a better Christian. My main purpose for this post is to speak to those who believe that they can grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ outside of a regular, ongoing relationship with a local body of Christ followers. The idea of being a Lone Ranger Christian is not an idea you can find anywhere in the word of God.
At the same time, it’s surprising to me how many Christians struggle with the idea of regular church attendance. If church attendance isn’t one of your top priorities (following other things that might easily take it’s place), then I’d suggest that our priorities are out of balance.
Let me say here that I completely understand that there are other things that do get in the way that we can’t do much about: such as sickness, maybe there isn’t a church close by, travel, the occasional live Super Bowl game (especially when Seattle is in it), work commitments, etc. But what I am speaking to regarding the priority thing is when I’d rather be on the golf course Sunday mornings all summer, or where I’m finding other ‘options’ in life regularly and consistently become the first choice over regular attendance, believing that they are the priority of my life.
Of course, this isn’t a new problem. Since the beginning of Christianity, the early leaders had to challenge this mindset, saying “Do not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:25
I don’t for a minute believe that it’s about not wanting to be with others. I’d think that it is instead a misunderstanding what being with others means. I say that, because most Christians I know would agree that regular fellowship is important. So, they make it a priority to connect in a small group, or an accountability group or at least get to the monthly men’s breakfast ritually, believing all the while that they are fulfilling the Hebrews 10:25 directive. But what if that’s not the case? What if we are actually not living out what we’re told to do in Hebrews and so are missing out on a great blessing?
If that’s the case, we may need to fundamentally change our thinking about what ‘going’ to church means in order to obey a directive given in God’s word and to appreciate the great gift that God has given us in being part of his body in a community of fellow believers.
I think part of the issue stems from the way we think about church attendance in the first place. Many of us think about church as something we have to do; that it’s another thing to check off our weekly checklists. Our view toward church attendance can begin to be transformed, however, when we consider a few important things that remind us of the privilege of meeting each week specifically to focus on God and his people.
WE NEED COMMUNITY
Firstly, it is important to make it a weekly habit of meeting with God’s family because if we truly want to grow as Christians, fellowshipping with other believers, hearing the Word of God, and worshipping the Lord are the perfect places to begin. Of course, personal bible study and prayer are integral as well, but worshipping God corporately provides us a unique opportunity to see what God is doing in the lives of his people in the wider church community.
Weekly attendance puts a check on our cultural tendencies to value personal time over community. Think about what Jesus calls those who would follow him to do with their lives.“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” – Luke 9:23. In many cases this would involve giving up our wish to keep all our time to ourselves. One important aspect of church attendance, then, is for us to interact with other believers and see how God is working in their lives. It’s an opportunity to value community.
WE NEED TO BE ENCOURAGED
The early church set the pattern for what this meeting together thing looked like. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer – Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” – Acts 2:42; 46
It is good to meet in small groups of Christian community, such as in each other’s homes, coffee shops, pubs or other small gathering places regularly, that is healthy and something to be encouraged as we see practiced in the daily meeting in homes the early church was engaging in. At the same time however, it shouldn’t be overlooked that as they met daily in their homes, they also met weekly in the temple courts. It seems that they gathered this way at the start of the week to be encouraged before scattering into smaller communities the rest of the week.
In Jerusalem during this time, the temple court was the place where the wider community gathered, both the Jews and the Christians, but as the church spread in other communities the synagogue became the common gathering place where they gathered on a weekly basis to worship, encourage each other and learn together, at least until the Christians were forced to relocate. But even when that happened they would still meet corporately wherever they could find space.
In fact, Paul and the other Apostle’s letters were sent to the many church communities that gathered in various cities to be read aloud ‘together’. The idea of Church meant getting together with other believers to worship Jesus Christ, hear the Scriptures, and encourage one another in the faith.
Wherever it is we meet, the act of gathering each week allows us to give and receive encouragement before we scatter out into the ‘world’ to face the challenges of the week ahead.
WE NEED THE LEADERSHIP PROVIDED
Because of the individualistic culture most of us have grown up in, one of the things often missed in this discussion is that the gathering in a corporate body allowed for the church to function as it was designed to function. Three of these functions were put in place by Jesus to provide a spiritual covering or protection for the flock, to offer some form of spiritual and community accountability, and to give the flock an opportunity to submit to Godly leadership.
Not all of us are called to church leadership, and so we should submit to, and serve whoever God has called to lead at the place we find ourselves. “Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith. – Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit.” – Hebrews 13:7; 17
WE NEED EACH OTHER
Christians need God, but we also need each other. All of us long for community and connection with others. It fulfills something inside of us to do life with others, encourage each other and be authentically involved in each other’s lives. Christian TV, podcasts, books and conferences are wonderful additions to our spiritual lives, but nothing can take the place of consistent accountable and weekly vision casting Christian community provides when we gather as the local church.
Granted, it can be messy when we step into (and sometimes onto) each other’s lives. We are all human, and no one is perfect. So, it requires effort and intentionality and grace from God to do life together – even as believers. But gathering regularly with others becomes a refining process whereby we help each other, pray for each other and encourage each other to want to follow Christ more wholeheartedly. That’s why a healthy church family member learns to repent often, forgive freely, and extend grace continually. It is a truly beautiful thing.
WE NEED TO BE INVOLVED
Church is the place where believers can love one another, encourage one another, “spur” one another to love and good works, serve one another, instruct one another, honour one another, and be kind and compassionate to one another.
When a person trusts Jesus Christ for salvation, he or she is made a member of the body of Christ and for a church body to function properly, all of its “body parts” need to be present and working.
“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.” – 1 Corinthians 12:14-20
It’s not enough to just attend a church; we should be involved in some type of ministry to others, using the spiritual gifts God has given us, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” – Ephesians 4:11-13
The truth is, a believer will never reach full spiritual maturity without having that outlet for his or her gifts, and the full expression of the gifts can’t be seen when alone and are limited in small groups settings. For these reasons and more, church attendance, participation, and fellowship should be a regular aspect of a believer’s life.
At the same time, please know that I am not saying that weekly church attendance is “required” for believers, but someone who belongs to Christ should have a desire to worship God, receive his Word, and fellowship with other believers.So, make weekly attendance a priority. You’ll be blessed and encouraged because of it.