Recently I had a great conversation with a friend around the complexities of evaluating our priority of ‘attending church.’ There really are a lot of complexities.
After all, perfect church attendance is not how we are rescued into the hope and joy of being in Jesus Christ. We are instructed to live our entire lives as worship (a living sacrifice), therefore our worship is not confined to a Sunday gathering. Today, more than ever before, we have great Bible teaching available to us anytime and anywhere through a plethora of podcasts.
The truth is that we have so many demands on our time that this discussion becomes very relevant. Can we or should we be doing something else each weekend rather than gathering together with the church? Or, maybe we are asking how important it really is so that we can measure it against the other opportunities that arise on occasion?
There have been a handful of times along my journey that I have come back to this question. I have enjoyed participating in triathlons. With very few exceptions they all happen on Sunday morning. It is easy to find yourself asking, ‘Is it really that big of a deal to miss gathering with the church?’
Now, as a parent whose children are involved in even just a modest level of extracurricular activity, it becomes so relevant. My daughter LOVES to play volleyball. She literally cannot get enough of it. It is fun as a parent to see her so passionate about something. As parents, Lori and I know that we are just around the corner from an ‘opportunity’ which is going to ask that she play volleyball regularly on Sunday mornings.
Those who know me would not confuse me with a legalist for a moment. I want to be clear that missing a Sunday morning at church for some type of family activity is NOT erroneous. Perfect church attendance is not the path to righteousness. So, where is the line that must be drawn?
First, we do need to understand the significance of the gathered church. As we read the Bible, we can observe that one of God’s first actions after Jesus ascended (left the earth) was the creation of the Church (Acts 2). A person who reads the Bible must see that God birthed a movement of co-laboring followers who would need the gathered church to participate in full obedience. At the most basic level we need to understand that church participation is a foundational characteristic of any Christ-follower.
Second, we should wrestle deeply with the values we hold and the values we communicate. Seizing an opportunity on a Sunday morning to engage an irregular activity, in my estimation, does not communicate a diminished value for the gathered church. However, if I was to allow my daughter to play a volleyball season which had games every Sunday morning for ten weeks then I would be communicating and discipling a value into her life and heart. In that case I would be discipling her to believe that the gathered church is important but not necessary for Christ following obedience. I would be demonstrating and teaching her that the gathered church is of value until something arises which might bring more pleasure in the moment.
At the end of the day, I have to remind myself that all of the great activities in which my children participate are just a fleeting flash of light amidst the eternal perspective of living life in Christ.
How do we draw the line between legalism and biblical discipleship and fruitful living when it comes to this discussion? Every decision we make in life displays our values. To be legalistic about church attendance in order to display or earn some type of righteousness would NOT be displaying a value of Christ-exalting living.
At the same time, if we choose a pattern which prioritizes anything over the gathered church then we are also not displaying a value of a Christ-exalting life.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 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. (Hebrews 10:23-25 ESV)
Have these struggles become relevant in your home? How have you navigated these waters?
Matt Powell serves as teaching pastor at Crossings Community Church, a body of believers whose mission is to engage, equip, and empower homes for gospel transformation in Katy, TX.