What does the phrase ‘missing church’ mean to you?
Poor attendance? Vacation? Sickness? Sleeping in?
Perhaps we’re all aware of the pressure to ‘make it on Sunday.’ Various methods are employed to encourage people to show up. In some situations, if you don’t show up for a few weeks, you’ll get a phone call from someone who – usually after a bit of small talk – will mention that they ‘haven’t seen you’ for a while.
Before I say any more, let me be very clear about how I feel about Sunday morning. I believe that the followers of Jesus after Pentecost gradually adopted Sunday as a time to meet together. It seems that they called Sunday ‘the Lord’s day.’ I agree with the writer of Hebrews that we shouldn’t forsake the’ assembling of ourselves together.’ (Heb. 10:25) I am enthusiastically in support of Sunday meetings so that we can – as the writer of Hebrews instructs precisely before the above passage – ‘stir up love and good works’ and also remember and celebrate our Lord’s resurrection. I aim to always meet on this day and in this way.
While I don’t mind people being encouraged to make meeting on Sunday a priority, I am nervous about the way this is often done. I fear that in our genuine (but possibly unhelpful?) attempts at ‘getting people along,’ we may be in danger of missing the point. For example, I wonder if we can mistakenly assume that a person’s regularity of attendance is an indicator of their walk with God. If they show up regularly, then things must be fine, and if they’ve missed a few weeks, they might be struggling with their faith. I’ve heard such comments many times. All the time, I’m wondering, “Yeah, but what about the people that are regular attendees that might be struggling?”
For many, Sunday morning is a great time of catching up with friends, celebrating God in song and receiving useful Bible teaching. But let’s not forget how others can see it. A routine trip to a building, making their way to their seat (if they are greeted, it is impersonal and brief), singing songs that make them feel guilty for not being ‘happy all the day’, sitting through a monologue that doesn’t relate to where they are at but still manages to leave them feeling discouraged about their relationship with God, briefly hanging around afterward in case someone may talk to them or invite them to lunch or something else, and heading to their car wondering how they will motivate themselves to go through the same routine next week. And that is an example of how a Christian may feel. What about someone who doesn’t have a relationship with God?
I’m not suggesting we do away with Sunday mornings. I am suggesting that we work hard to make them as relevant to reality as possible, and that we realise that what we ‘do’ on Sunday morning will never be able to meet all of our needs as the ‘church.’
It seems to me that failing to understand why we meet, combined with a misunderstanding of what ‘church’ is, creates a dangerous situation. Not a small, harmless one, but one that can either contribute to someone being hurt, or someones hurts not being known or cared for. Let me offer some thoughts about these two ingredients.
‘What’ Is The Church?
This is the wrong question to start with. It’s not a question of ‘what’ the church is, but ‘who’ the church is! ‘Church’ is not the building you go to to meet with other Christians, a street address, or a block of time on Sunday. The Church consists of people who recognise Jesus as Lord. This understanding is not new, but we still ask each other the same confused types of questions that reflect the mistaken view of Church, such as “how was ‘church’ this morning” or “where do you go to ‘church’ at?” or “what is your ‘church’ like?” Instead, we should ask, “Who do you church with?” I think it would be a great excercise for us to not call Sunday ‘church.’ I’m not saying make Sunday less important! I’m just suggesting that it might be helpful in reminding us that ‘church’ is not some ‘thing’ that we do on Sunday mornings, but rather it is people who follow Jesus every day of their lives – and people who happen to meet together on Sunday.
Why Do We Meet?
This is a great question, and deserves a great answer. More and more I’m seeing that there is not really any biblical doctrine or instructions for what we are supposed to ‘do’ when we meet. The commands that are given in the New Testament are the kind that we can follow any time, any where. So what do we ‘do’ when we meet? Well, I think Hebrews 10:24-25 provide a nice summary statement.
“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”
This, of course, is just one passage in the New Testament. As you can see, the time, place and style of the meeting is not the point here. It is exhorting each other to love and good works that is called for. We need each other. We really do. If we are to live lives that are counter-cultural, we are going to need help. We’re going to need more than a few songs, a sermon and a cup of coffee.
That is why we must never stop meeting together! That is why our songs must be real, and reflect that life (yes, even the Christian version) is not a smiles-only club. That is why teaching must be more than a Sunday sermon, and must be interpersonal, challenging and sharpening. That is why our relationships must go beyond ‘catching up at church’ and develop to the point where we not only allow others to sharpen us, but we actually look for it. That is why ‘church’ is not a place or a time, but a people. That is why so many Christians are ‘missing church’, but still attend a building and service each week.
May we truly be committed to Christ and to each other.
May we stop expecting all our needs to be met on Sunday.
May we see the difference between the Sunday meeting and church.
May we exhort one another to love and good works.
May we develop our relationships to where we can give and recieve such instruction from each other.
May we stop ‘doing’ and ‘going to’ church, and start ‘being’ the Church.