The Danger of Skipping Church
I have been praying for you this week, that “the Lord would be your portion … and that your hope would be in him” (Lamentations 3:24).
In October 2015, I was in Raleigh, North Carolina at a conference for church planters and pastors who were considering launching a daughter church from an existing ministry. Along with affording me the occasion to learn from some of the brightest and most experienced mobilizers, this also allowed me to worship on the Lord’s Day with The Summit Church, led by pastor and author, J.D. Greear.
It was early Sunday morning and I had just finished my Waffle House breakfast, which I enjoyed immensely (though I was a little alarmed that none of the food preparers were wearing gloves, not even the lady who carefully inserted the crispy bacon on my plate while simultaneously and bare-handedly washing the dirty dishes.) Nevertheless, I tried to look only at my food, persuading myself that gloves in restaurants were superfluous. Then I made my way to the worship center, plopped down in the second row, and I prepared myself for a morning of music worship, communion, and the Word.
The music was wonderful and the spirit of God was evident. The joy was effusive. Perhaps that’s why I was a little surprised when Pastor J.D. took the stage and immediately chastised the congregation for their fickleness in attendance. “This is a church that more than 9,000 people call home, and yet on some Sundays, hundreds of you opt to hike, bike, boat or do other things rather than join us in corporate worship.”
What I realized in that moment was that sporadic church attendance at corporate gatherings is a nationwide phenomenon.
To be sure, there are good reasons to occasionally miss out on the church’s gatherings: sickness, travel, and work are a few that come to mind. But something tragic happens when we “skip church.” And it’s not simply a consequence that we suffer. When we elevate ourselves and our preferences we do harm to the spiritual welfare of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
In a post last week, popular blogger, Tim Challies made an excellent point; he wrote:
“We are a culture of convenience, of personalization, of individualism. We have a million ways of customizing our lives to perfectly suit our every preference. When things are difficult, we think little of pulling away from responsibilities, of reorienting our lives away from whatever causes inconvenience. This can even extend to something as good and as central as our commitment to the local church.
Here is what Hebrews 10:24-25 says: ‘And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.’ This passage does, indeed, warn of the serious consequences of skipping church, but its focus is not what we might expect through our Western, individualized eyes. This passage does not warn us that when we skip church we put ourselves at risk. Rather, it warns us that when we skip church we put other people at risk. The first sin of skipping church is the sin of failing to love others.
As we prepare to worship on Sunday morning … we should approach [the gathering] deliberately, eager to do good to others, to be a blessing to them. In those times we feel our zeal waning, when we feel the temptation to skip out on a Sunday or withdraw altogether, we should consider our God-given responsibility to encourage ‘one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. …’ And, of course, our commitment to the local church is far more than a commitment to Sunday morning services. It is a commitment to other people through all of life. It is a commitment to worship with them once or twice a week, then to fellowship with them, to serve them, and to pray for them all throughout the week. It is to bind ourselves together in a covenant in which we promise to do good to them, to make them the special object of our attention and encouragement. It is to promise that we will identify and deploy our spiritual gifts for their benefit so we can serve them, strengthen them, and bless them.”
That’s well said. And I would hasten to add that when we consider our participation in the corporate gathering not only should we reflect on our “responsibility to others,” but we should also take this to heart: God loves us and delights in “showing up” in a powerful way when we gather. While God’s affection for us doesn’t wane when we take a Sunday to hike, he does lament, in a sense, the missed opportunity to stir our hearts afresh through the Spirit’s application of the Word, the public confession of the faith, and the one-voice declaration of our Father’s goodness.
I know that you’re already excited about Sunday—especially you baby-lovers since it’s our Parent-Child Dedication day—but if you’re still deciding if you’re going to join us on Sunday, please know this: your absence will detrimental to those of us who look to you for encouragement.
Grace and peace,