In the last several years, observers of American church life have noted that the definition of a regular church attendee is changing. With increasing affluence, mobility, commitments, and entertainment options, many Christians gather with their church family less often than they did ten years ago. Previously, a regular church attendee was a person who “only” gathered with their church one time a week. Now a regular attendee is a person who may attend twice a month.
We don’t often think about what happens when we don’t regularly gather with our church. Sure, we may think about what “I” might miss. “I won’t hear the sermon today, but I can read a book, listen to Christian radio, or catch up on the podcast.” “I love to sing worship music, but I can do that in the car on the way to where I am going today. I don’t have to go to a building to sing praises to Jesus.” We make these excuses to ourselves and use them to justify how “I” can make up for what “I” am missing when “I” miss gathering with the church.
What if you miss something bigger than missing out on a sermon or singing when you don’t gather with your church body? We have heard the words of Hebrews 10:24-25 often. “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.” These Christians faced the temptation to stop meeting together because of the persecution faced, but they could not stop. The writer reminded them of their responsibilities to each other. They must stir up each other to love and good works. The way they accomplish this is by “not neglecting to meet together” and instead regularly meeting to encourage each other. The writer’s logic here is simple and we can’t argue with it– you cannot encourage people you do not see.
You come to an important realization when contemplating the message of these verses. Instead of only considering about what you miss when you miss gathering with your church family, also think about what other people miss because of your absence. Do you see the difference in perspective here? When only thinking about what you aren’t getting, you view the church with a consumer mentality. The church becomes another place where you receive goods and services. However, when you begin to see the church as a people to whom you belong, your motivation for gathering changes. The main worship gathering, community groups, and having people over for dinner become a means for you to give as well as receive.
You may think people don’t miss much when you aren’t around, but consider the metaphors the Bible uses to describe the church. Paul pictures the church as a body, a temple, and a family. Each of these metaphors stresses the church’s interdependency. If the church is a body and you go AWOL, the body will not function properly. Since the church is a family, when you don’t gather with them there is an empty seat at the table. The church is a temple and you are a brick in it. The whole structure is weaker and more vulnerable when you are not there.
How many times have you been encouraged by a quick word from another Christian? How often have you shared your burdens with another Christian in a short conversation and discovered they were praying for you a month later? When you first visited the church you currently attend, wasn’t it helpful to see people there you already knew? You have the opportunity to be the same blessing to others. The Sunday you want to sleep in could be the Sunday one of your neighbors decides to attend and feels more comfortable because he sees someone he knows. The week you gather around the table with other Christians for lunch instead of running home to catch a football game might give you the opportunity to encourage someone who has been suffering in silence. This week, you may get the opportunity to be a strong shoulder for a hurting friend because you gathered with your group instead of scheduling something else.
God could accomplish all of his purposes without us, but he works through means. The Lord uses our lives to accomplish the spread of his kingdom and to build up his people. His ministry of encouragement takes place through ordinary Christians praying for and helping each other. He often brings comfort to his hurting children not through an angel from heaven, but through the people he redeemed.
In two years, you may not remember the sermon you heard when you gathered with the church this week, but a hurting or discouraged friend will remember the kindness you showed them. Today, begin to see the church as something more significant than a place where you go to get the religious things you need. Start viewing the church as a people to whom you belong and who need you so they can grow into the image of Christ. If you belong to Jesus, he has gifted you to build up his people and his kingdom. Gather with his people this week not only thinking of yourself but also about how you might be God’s means of building up another
“Cultivating a Deep Walk with the Lord“
For Further Reading:
The Compelling Community by Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop
A Meal with Jesus by Tim Chester