Recently I have started going back to the gym and I have found it really hard to get into the flow. I wake up, feel tired and the last thing I want to do is to get my gym gear on, get in the car and get my work out on. What I realise is that the problem is that I am waiting until the morning to decide how I feel. This means that I end up wrestling with my willpower, feeling tired and either resenting the workout or skipping it altogether.
What I need to do is to pre-decide. Whatever I feel like when I wake up, on this day, at this time, I WILL be going to the gym.
I think that the same pattern is true for many of us with church. We wait to see how we feel or try to fit it around our other plans for the weekend. The result is that it soon becomes like the gym, something that we know is good but doesn’t always fit into our schedules. Steven Covey talks about this mindset in the 7 habits of highly effective people. He says that life is so busy and chaotic that if we do not predetermine our priorities they will be pushed out by things that are not as important. We need to stop making it a decision and pre-decide that we will be there every week.
But should Sunday services be a priority? Does it really matter? If you are a follower of Jesus, I think it does. There are five reasons people give when they miss church that I want to dig into. The problem with each of these ideas is not that they are untrue but that there is enough truth in them to allow you to create distance between you, your community and ultimately your purpose.
“The Church is not just a Sunday gathering”
Perhaps you are thinking, “why are you being so hard with this? Church is not just a Sunday meeting.” I agree completely! The Church is not a Sunday gathering, it is so much more than that. We should be meeting up through the week, supporting each other, reaching out to the poor and sharing the gospel with those around us. Every day that we live should be following Jesus alongside other believers. The Church is not just a Sunday gathering. But it is definitely not LESS than a weekly gathering. What I have realised is that no amount of good habits or hard work will bear the fruit we long for when you are not rooted in a local church. Don’t let your high expectations of church rob you of the foundations.
“I’m too tired to get to Church”
This is true for a very small minority and we need to do better at supporting them. But for the majority it is simply untrue and you need to stop speaking that over yourself. What if you are too tired to NOT go to church? It’s a bit like saying you are too poorly to go to the hospital. I call this a ‘bastard sabbath’ and it does not work. Since when have we believed that a lazy morning or Netflix binge will restore us better than our creator. It is not true. If you feel tired, fragile, burnt, emotionally drained then come and receive. Don’t allow your fatigue or pain to create a cycle that builds distance between you and God.
“I won’t be missed”
In the garden of Eden, before sin entered the world, God looked at Adam who was alone and said, “it is not good for man to be alone.” We have been created to connect. I think that this is why prayer is so powerful when it is for others. Prophetic words are most commonly given to us for others. The way that Jesus has set up the Kingdom of Heaven forces us to be community. It is the only way that it works. I need you. And you need me. When you come, realise that you are there for someone other than yourself. God has brought you with something to that others need.
“I am ‘being’ church with my mates”
This is usually followed up by quoting Jesus, “where two or three of you are gathered, there am I.” Church really does come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. It can adapt to different cultures and settings. It doesn’t need to be on a Sunday. It can be in person or online. This is the beauty of the Church. If you boil church down to its key elements you would say that a church is a community that reaches UP in worship, IN in discipleship and OUT towards new people. So this sentence appears to be true. However, the reality is that it is more often used as a smokescreen to stop people from challenging us. It usually comes when people have been hurt by church or are scared of being challenged over attitudes or behaviour. I know that communities can be painful but there are incredible churches out there. Be courageous, forgive us for when we have not done well enough, get up again and keep pushing in.
“I can decide my own schedule”
This is a bit like saying, I don’t need to brush my teeth every day. But then you wake up in pain and your tooth falls out. It doesn’t work. God created us with a seven day week and he set aside a day every week for us to connect with him. It is a day of communion and community. It is the rhythm that we were created by him. You can fight against it but it will come at a cost.
The church is not a gym. It is not just a ‘good’ thing to do. It is vital. Jesus says ‘this is how they will know that you are my disciples. That you love one another.’ When a group of people gather as the church, each playing their part, something beautiful happens. If you have a party or a football match on Sunday that you want to invite me to, then I am very honoured but have to turn it down because this time is holy, it is reserved and set aside, for me to connect with God and my church family.
So please stop deciding to turn up. Pre-decide that you will be there consistently, courageously and at times self-sacrificially and the benefits will so greatly outweigh any cost. This isn’t an aspect of following Jesus, he never called followers and encouraged them to follow their own patterns or to dip in and out. He challenges us to throw ourselves in and to create irresistible communities that will bless the world.