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When You Do Not Go to Church

November 21st, 2012
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It never ceases to baffle and confuse me when I hear people make the comment, “You don’t have to go to Church to be a Christian.” I used to try to respond to this with rather long-winded explanations of the third commandment, and the gifts given, and blah, blah, blah. Lately, I’ve just decided to respond to those comments by asking, “Really? Where does our Lord in His Word teach that?” Hint: He doesn’t! My friend, Pastor Weedon, offers this “take” on not attending Church.

“If I decided one Sunday just to skip Church that week, do you think anyone would notice? Ah, you say, but you’re the pastor. Yes, they’d notice. I agree. They would. But it also makes a difference when YOU decide to skip Church this Sunday.

“Each Sunday is a gathering of the family – and when a beloved family member doesn’t show up for the family gathering and meal at Christmas or Easter or Thanksgiving, there’s a hole, a gap, a pain that everyone feels. We’re all the less for that person not being with us to revel in the celebration of that day. Their absence diminishes the joy of the family. So when you choose to skip on Sunday, when you don’t come together with your church family to join in offering the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving and to receive the gifts your Lord has for you, it’s not just you that miss out. Your extended family – the Church – misses out. They are diminished by your decision to absent yourself. The singing is that much quieter. The “amens” that much softer. The spot where you usually sit and stand reminds us all of your absence.

“Surely old Neuhaus was dead right on this: Christian discipleship should begin with a very simple commitment that any given Lord’s Day will find you in the assembly of God’s people, singing His praise, offering your prayers, receiving His gifts. The *only* reasons for missing is because you’re too sick to be present or because you’re away traveling – and even in the later case, blessed are you if you find the family gathered in that location and join with them.”

“Let us consider how to stir one another up 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.” Hebrews 10:25

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Categories: Christian Life
  1. Sven Wagschal
    May 19th, 2010 at 05:18 | #1

    “Going to church doesn’t make me a christian!” – “And going into a garage doesn’t make you a car. But a car knows where it belongs.”

  2. May 19th, 2010 at 10:57 | #2

    We do indeed rob not only ourselves, but the Body of Christ as a whole when we fail to gather together to worship our Lord! Thanks, Paul!

  3. Kathy S
    May 19th, 2010 at 11:48 | #3

    I am in conversation with a friend who says that “personal worship” is what matters; corporate worship is for fellowship with other believers. He doesn’t understand what we “get” in worship. And he used to be Lutheran! Personal worship? What is that?

  4. Laura
    November 21st, 2012 at 09:35 | #4

    Perhaps Pastor Weedon has not had to sit through church with at least one small child who would not sit and be quiet– By himself, as his wife was the pastor. For that matter, as the spouse, he probably never felt as though he was fully included in the”family”. Also, it’s a small church in which most people have been members since Grandpappy or Great-grandpappy laid the first brick. Many Sundays I have felt as though the hour at church had been wasted. Yes, wasted.

    Yes, this is my experience. When I have missed because of kids, or because I just didn’t care at all, nobody asked my husband about my absence. This has led me to believe that nobody cared, or was interested.

  5. Dan T
    November 21st, 2012 at 09:43 | #5

    Interesting take, though I’d argue there are certain holidays (at least in my extended family) where it’s much easier and more enjoyable when certain family members don’t show up, haha.
    That said, we have five kids and it can be difficult to get into our Sunday best ever week for church. However, we do it because we believe it is the good and right thing to do, and that is how I was raised. Our Pastor once explained the benefits of weekly worship in this way – the weekly exposure to God’s word at church, among others who are also their to Worship, will have a positive impact on your Christian life, even if you’re not really listening (the old “sermon is boring” or “I don’t get anything out of it” argument). He said you will take in the Word of God, even if you’re not actively trying to by letting your mind wander, and as a result, your Faith will be strengthened. The Devil wants us to find excuses not to attend ever week, because he is looking for a crack in the foundation. I thought this was an interesting explanation.
    So with those five kids, even though we’re occasionally a few minutes late for church, people don’t seem to mind because we’re there every single Sunday.

  6. Glomer
    November 21st, 2012 at 10:11 | #6

    I would like to know then… Which Church should I go to? There is Roman Cath. Or Evangelical or 4 or more branches from Dutch reformed? The Lutheran Church does not exist here in the Netherlands. I would like to go to church but being Lutheren, which do I pick from these?

  7. Rev. Koch
    November 21st, 2012 at 10:45 | #7

    Great article. It is a similar thought process that prompted me to pen the following prayer that I pray with my congregations every day.

    Holy Father, today as we glance around the church and see empty pews we are reminded of those men and women and children who are not here this morning but should be. If families are traveling, keep them safe. If individuals are sick, restore them to health. If people are lazy, remind them of their priorities. If they are outside the realm of faith, embolden us to share your Word with them, and let your Holy Spirit enact faith in their lives. Amen

  8. Rev. Koch
    November 21st, 2012 at 10:46 | #8

    I meant to say that I pray with them every *Sunday* not ‘every day’

  9. Nicholas
    November 21st, 2012 at 19:20 | #9

    Glomer, if there is no conservative Lutheran church where you are, not even one without its own building, then I suppose attending a conservative Reformed church would be the next best thing. But maybe don’t take Communion there? I’d like to know Rev. McCain’s answer to your question. I haven’t thought about it before.

  10. Jonathan Trost
    November 21st, 2012 at 21:17 | #10

    An old admonition comes to mind: “If all else fails in your trying to figure out what to do, consider reading the instructions.”

    And what do our Lutheran Church fathers teach us about the importance of attending The Service regularly?

    1) When the pastor preaches, it is God who speaks through him to you; and

    2) He/she who partakes of the Sacrament worthily receives from doing so forgiveness, life, and salvation.

    Do we really still believe that “stuff”? I ask that because that is what Lutheranism has always taught, (right?). Yet, many, I am convinced, don’t believe it, perhaps simply because they have not been taught the importance for their lives of regularly hearing God’s Word proclaimed and of receiving the Sacrament. Rather, they’ve wrongly come to believe that Sunday morning is all about us and what we do, i.e., “worship”, rather than about what God does to and for us in Word and Sacrament.

    It seems to me that here, again, if not all about, it’s much about catechisis. In the Church’s being the Church, let it never forget the great importance and responsibility of its Teaching Office.

  11. CRB
    November 21st, 2012 at 22:09 | #11

    Thank you for a timely article. I would like to pass this on to some who are of the opinion
    that Sven put forth about those who equate church and Christian as posted above.

  12. Laura W
    November 21st, 2012 at 23:29 | #12

    @Laura: Maybe Pastor Weedon can’t identify with your situation (though something tells me he could guess…sorry for being presumptuous,) but I think I can. My husband and I have six children, ranging from 17yrs. to 5 yrs.; and on occasions I’ve had “wrangle” them all to church and sit with the wiggly ones on my own. Sometimes I’ve had a child to nurse and had to figure out how to coordinate what to do. Some mornings I’d leave church exhausted and feeling like we were on exhibition because of having to deal with sinful children who’d rather be home playing. Wouldn’t it just be easier to skip?

    Our Lutheran church is very large and we are lost in a sea of people often not asked about if we happen to miss a worship, because folks assume that we will attend a different service…or maybe they don’t notice we’re gone at all.

    I want to encourage you though, because that hour is never wasted. I’m so thankful (now) that my husband led our family to church almost every Sunday (8a service with the elder folk of our congregation to boot!) because it is in that time that they learned what worship is by experiencing it. They learn to quiet their spirits (this is not natural) and listen to His Word. My older children now receive the Lord’s Supper. My fifth child was given a Bible by the church and he is trying to read a chapter every day (he is my first child to be diligent in this area, and didn’t even give up when reading the names of characters in the genealogies) My five year old boy is as wiggly as it comes, though! His Sunday School teacher smiles at us after worship and shakes her head. He stuck his finger up his nose while singing Away in the Manger last year at Christmas and he did it again on the way back from the communion rail last Sunday!

    But this said, the time you spend training your children, and speaking words of encouragement into them, is never wasted. We had a home devotion last week that almost made me cry. My daughter picked a song that we often sing at church and all six of them belted it out. I didn’t make them, they sang from the heart! They had learned how to do this as we worshipped together at church on Sunday mornings, but it took years of being in the pew before this spilled into the home. It was worth the effort just to hear those voices in praise! I think God must feel that way when he listens to our voices raised together.

    Lately we’ve been encouraged by people who are finally getting to know us as we’ve worshipped at our church for the past 11 years, and they are encouraged too. I would greatly miss this if we had chosen to stay home or do a home church worship on Sunday, and even though some may gripe when they see children coming into church, I’d say more are sorry that they don’t see children being brought to church.

    I hope to encourage you to continue bringing your young children into worship; this time is much too short to be wasted.

  13. November 22nd, 2012 at 05:42 | #13

    @Laura
    Well said. I have to confess, the same thoughts ran through my mind as I was reading this article. It stands to reason: DO others at church really care?

  14. JJR
    November 24th, 2012 at 18:46 | #14

    No church? Hold divine service in your house, just like the old days, or not so long ago when rural communities had no churches. Just gather and read the Word, sing hymns, and be glad that you could receive the gifts of the Lord today. Might be good for someone with experience to post a simple liturgy for household use, since I am also finding it difficult to find an organized house of worship where I live.

  15. Lüzia
    November 26th, 2012 at 13:02 | #15

    There are always two sides to every coin. Some of these responses have touched on difficulties experienced in coming to church. One topic is whether church members care about fellow members. One mentioned generational churches heavy with earthly family relations.
    These are areas that are in need of serious deep consideration, and as one said, instruction. For whatever reasons, there are some significant holes in teaching and understanding being the body of Christ…being family in Christ. It begins to seem, as one observed, that the focus has wrongly become the opposite of what Lutheran doctrine, and even the pastor in the very pulpit in front of us teach. It has become that “I” worship right, show up on Sunday, tithe appropriately, support activities, missions half way around the world, etc, etc; not anymore “I”, a poor miserable sinner, need all that is offered and taught in Christ. “I” need all of my family in Christ, and they need me, and we all suffer when we fail to love and care for, and SHOW concern for one another.
    As to children being sinners who would rather be home; try teaching and consequences. Even as infants, when my children got restless in church, I whispered in their ears that we must be quiet and listen, because we are here to be with Jesus, and listen to the pastor teach us about Jesus. If I had to step out with them, I never put them down (lest I inadvertently “reward” squirming in church with a chance to run around), and continued the same message in their ear. The result was that in every church we attended, people marveled about how well behaved our children were. It takes consistence, but children can and will learn. The mindset that they are sinners incapable of responding to consistent teaching is just wrong.

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