#6 - Neglecting Church
We continue with our survey results of the top ten sins and struggles by looking at the problem of church neglect which came in at #6. This is a common problem so we will review the excuses most often given by those who do this and why it is important to make an effort to regularly attend all church services on Sunday and throughout the week.
Neglecting the Church
Actually, people listed a variety of failings in this area of spiritual life:
- Neglecting attending church services
- Neglecting to give regularly
- Neglecting to serve in some way
Most struggles in one's spiritual life begin with or result in the habit of neglecting church services on a regular basis. Note that the Hebrew writer says,
Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some
- Hebrews 10:25
In speaking of worship and other gatherings of the church, the writer encourages believers not to exchange the "habit" of coming to church for the habit of not coming to church. Therein lies the answer to the problem of neglecting worship and the other problems that stem from this (not giving or serving). If one can cultivate the habit of coming to church regularly, then the habits of giving and serving will follow suit.
Of course, regular church attendance has always been a problem (i.e. the letter to the Hebrews written in the first century admonishes the brethren about this very issue) and the excuses for neglect have always been the same. To help us become more faithful in this area I have compiled a list of the ten most common excuses for not coming to church that I have repeatedly heard in 38 years of full-time ministry, as well as three very good reasons for regular attendance so that taken together these can motivate Christians to be present at every service.
Top 10 Reasons for Missing Church
10. I am Jewish
Obviously the main reason why people do not come to church is because the vast majority of people in the world are not Christians. The number of believers in the world today is about the same as it was in 1830, but the world's population has gone from two billion at that time to over six billion today. This is why the great commission is still in force: more souls, but less Christians to bring the gospel to them. We need every Christian in church because every Christian is needed to carry out the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20).
9. I am Sick
Each week someone, among those who regularly attend, is ill or taking care of someone who is. This is normal. Church surveys tell us that five to ten percent of the members in any given congregation are dealing with illness that prevents them from attending. The danger here is that a period of illness often breaks the cycle of regular attendance and as result a formerly faithful member picks up the habit of irregular attendance. We need to watch out for that.
8. I am Changing
Life is a continual process of change (moving, college, marriage, babies, new jobs, more babies, etc.). With these changes come interruptions in our routines and habits. One habit that often suffers during a period of change is church attendance, just like it does when illness strikes. Coming to church sometimes gets packed away with other items that we promise to "sort out" once we get settled. Unfortunately, church attendance is one of those things that gets "unpacked."
7. I am Working
There was a time when industry and government recognized that this was a Christian country and working on Sundays or irregular shifts was less prevalent. Today our nation has become secularized where people accommodate worldly schedules, not the other way around. Providing for family is a priority (I Timothy 5:8). It is unfortunate, however, that society makes earning a living something that interferes more and more with our spiritual lives. Sometimes, I suspect, we work because we would rather get ahead in the world than get ahead in the kingdom.
6. I am New
One of the most embarrassing moments for the preacher is announcing the good news that we have a new brother or sister in Christ who has recently been baptized and ask them to stand at Sunday AM service only to find that they are not present. Later on we learn that they have not come for Wednesday services either. Young Christians may know about the gospel and how to be saved, but they also need to be trained in Christian living and patiently taught about the need and rewards of regular attendance. Their faith is weak and needs to be strengthened. Coming to church regularly is an acquired habit developed by word and example, but it has to be taught since it does not come automatically with baptism.
5. I am Busy
There is a difference between "I am working" and "I am busy"; one is need and the other is want. The busy person is not a bad person, just a busy person. In Mark 4:18-19 (The Sower and the Seed), Jesus describes this person as one who is concerned with problems, busy getting ahead, busy building a place for himself in this world, and as a consequence develops a priority problem. He/she allows the urgent things in this life to take over the important things. Busy people do not realize that God has promised that if we put kingdom things first (like church attendance) He will find a way to provide us with all those other things we are so busy trying to acquire for ourselves. The founder of the once popular department store chain, J.C. Penny, underscored this idea for his employees when he said, "If you are too busy to worship... you are too busy." This same sentiment is company policy for Chick-Fil-A, one of America's foremost fast food restaurants, as it embodies this spirit of correct priorities by closing all of its franchises on Sunday to allow its employees important family time.
A person who deliberately makes the time to worship God regularly offers to Him something valuable: his time, and this renders his worship pleasing and acceptable to God. The psalmist and great king, David, said,
I refuse to offer God that which has cost me nothing.
- II Samuel 24:24
4. I am Hurt
Many people come less and less to church because they have genuinely been hurt. Hurt by another member's comment, hurt by a perceived lack of attention by the leaders and ministers, hurt by some things that are being done in a way they do not agree with or hurt by a teacher's point of view on a particular Bible topic. It is unfortunate when this happens and I am persuaded that when there is an offense, it is never intentional. It is sad when people leave the church under such conditions, and unfortunate for two reasons:
- Leaving the church because you are offended will not justify you before God. Jesus warned His disciples that they would be subjected to persecutions, false teachers and sufferings of all kinds (including hurt feelings). But He says, "the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved." (Mark 13:9-23) Regardless of the offense, leaving the church is rarely the answer nor is it something God excuses.
- Stopping regular attendance because we are hurt or hurting (sometimes we are hurting because of some loss, tragedy or disappointment and we decide to take it out on God by ignoring Him) is never the answer. Jesus teaches us what we need to do when we are offended (go to the brother/sister in private, etc., Matthew 18:15), or hurting (ask for prayers and help, James 5:13). Let us not offend God for the offenses committed against us. Better that we "turn the other cheek" rather than abandon the one who died for us. That is why we offer an invitation at the end of every service, so we can minister to each other. Humbling ourselves and asking one another for help and prayer in times of conflict or hurt builds trust and develops spiritual character.
3. I am Lazy
I have only met one person who actually sincerely acknowledged that this was the cause of many of his problems and failures, and I admire that person for their honesty. Let us face it, going to church on a regular basis requires physical and mental effort. There is preparation and travel (multiplied if you have kids, I feel for those moms who get those kids to church), discipline to sit and listen, and additional work involved if you are teaching, preaching or serving somehow. Then there is the mental effort required to take in information, and the spiritual effort necessary to make the continual adjustments and changes demanded by the Holy Spirit as He molds a Christ-like image in us.
The definition of a lazy person according to the dictionary is, "one who dislikes physical or mental effort." Proverbs says it in this way, "The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he is weary of bringing it to his mouth again." (Proverbs 26:15) In other words, a lazy man will not even feed himself! The Lord provides for the nourishment of the only thing that will survive this world, a person's soul, and yet laziness keeps so many from feeding themselves on a regular basis. The best way to deal with laziness is to acknowledge it as a sin and ask God's help to overcome its many forms every day, especially on Sunday.
2. I am Worldly
One of the saddest stories in the Bible is the reference to Demas. In Colossians 4:14 and Philemon 24, Demas is counted among Paul's helpers and faithful disciples of the Lord. In his last letter from Rome, however, Paul refers to Demas, but this time he says, "..for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica." (II Timothy 4:10) Some Christians do not attend church regularly because, like Demas, they love the world more than they love Christ. They love the smell of money more than the smell of the sacrifice of praise. They love the activity, the allurements and the pleasures of this world more than the activities, pleasures and promises of the next.
This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.
- John 3:19
When we are involved in a sin of some kind (i.e. a secret life) and have no desire to let it go or make no effort to struggle against it, we then lose interest in the light of truth shining upon us as it does when we worship God and study His word. Worldliness is such an insidious vice because it eats away at our spiritual life quietly and without pain until we are cold and dead in Christ but do not realize it until it is too late. We continually make one little concession to the world after another until we are no longer of the kingdom but of the world. This becomes evident because the first casualty of worldliness is our regular church attendance. Satan's number one strategy of attack is to diminish our exposure to God's word and other Christians, and he does this by finding all kinds of (reasonable) excuses for us to avoid regular church attendance.
1. I am ______
The number one reason, of course, is your reason for not being faithful to all the services of the church, whatever that may be. It could be any of the above or one I have not mentioned yet, but it is the number one reason if it keeps you out of church. For example, maybe you do not think you need to be at every service, maybe you are not convinced that the Lord really wants this, perhaps you've abandoned the church because you feel that you are not getting anything out of church services. Whatever the reason, Satan has managed to find an opening in your spiritual defenses and has somehow convinced you that not attending all services is acceptable to God.
So much for excuses. There may be more but these ten probably include some that most Christians have used in one way or another to justify their absence from church services. In the last section of this chapter I'd like to look at some positive reasons why we should eagerly and joyfully attend every service of the church.
Reasons to Attend Regularly
Now some people ask, "Do I have to be there Sunday and Wednesday?" If you ask this question your problem is not attendance, your problem is love, gratitude and respect for God. We will deal with that later, for now, here are three reasons to come regularly:
1. Attending Every Time Pleases God
30I will praise the name of God with song
And magnify Him with thanksgiving.
31And it will please the Lord better than an ox
Or a young bull with horns and hoofs.
- Psalms 69:30-31
God has always desired that His people gather to worship Him and that they do so often.
6"Also the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
To minister to Him, and to love the name of the Lord,
To be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath
And holds fast My covenant;
7Even those I will bring to My holy mountain
And make them joyful in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar;
For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples."
- Isaiah 56:6-7
God was very specific about keeping the people true to the day of worship and pleased with those who kept it.
17So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, 19speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord;
- Ephesians 5:17-19
God desires that we be involved in this type of activity when we are together rather than chase worldly pursuits. You have a choice of activity on Sundays and Wednesdays. Worship will always be the thing that pleases God.
15Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. 16And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
- Hebrews 13:15-16
God is pleased to see us offering Him praise. God is the same in the Old and New Testaments.
Pleasing God is what our lives are about, to know and glorify Him is the essential meaning of life. When we worship Him we know we are doing the right thing. When we worship, we have reached the zenith of what life is all about. Not coming requires an excuse (good or bad), but being present at worship never requires an excuse. Our conscience is clear because we are doing the absolute right thing. Most people want to please those that they love, this is a plain truth. Being present at every worship service pleases God and demonstrates our love for Him.
Unfortunately, our sinful flesh would rather please ourselves and make church attendance convenient, fun, easy, pleasant, etc., but we need to remember that the object of our worship is to please God, not ourselves!
2. Being at Every Service Strengthens Your Faith
When people have problems and you ask them what they need, aside from physical help, they usually ask for more faith. The Apostles witnessed the miracles of Jesus and yet when it came time to ask Him for something, they asked Him to increase their faith (Luke 17:5). Faith is not only necessary for salvation but is also necessary to be able to persevere through the ups and downs of life so we can maintain that salvation.
Faith is such an important thing, but how do you acquire it and how do you strengthen it?
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
- Romans 10:17
All the activities in the world combined do not add a single measure to our faith. Hearing, sharing and learning God's word, this sparks faith and helps it to grow.
What you are able to do in the name of the Lord (i.e. resist sin, persevere in suffering, doing good, bearing spiritual fruit, etc.) is all based on the strength of your faith, and the strength of your faith is proportional to your exposure to God's word and God's people. There are no short-cuts. Weak attendance equals weak Christians with weak faith who produce little spiritual fruit. Strong faith is usually a result of much teaching, and for most Christians that only comes through regular attendance.
Some will inevitably ask, "If I only come to Sunday AM worship and skip the rest, can I still go to heaven?" My personal answer to this is: probably not, not because you do not come regularly but because your question tells me that you are a legalist doing only what you have to do. You have fallen from grace and are trying to justify yourself with religious works, and minimum religious works at that! This question shows a lack of knowledge regarding the faith. You need to come to church, not to increase your attendance level, you need to come to church so you can learn about God's grace and be free from the Law. If you keep this attitude, no amount of church attendance will save you. I am not saying, "If you do not go to Wednesday night Bible study, you are going to hell." I am saying that if this is your attitude you are a legalist and fallen from grace. We are saved by faith: we see by faith, we walk by faith, we can cast mountains into the ocean by faith, and that faith is conceived and nourished every time we attend church services. Why come to church every time? Because every time we leave, we leave with a stronger faith.
3. Your Attendance Builds the Church
23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25not forsaking our own assembling 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
The problem that these Jewish Christians struggled with was that they were weak in the faith and were being tempted to return to Judaism as a consequence of their spiritual immaturity. Their absence from the assembly contributed to their weak faith and their weak faith could not sustain them when under pressure. In addition to this, their absence was hurting others. This is why the writer of this letter encourages them not to abandon the assembly and exhorts them to give an example and word of encouragement to others about this as well.
Presence at all services is critical in the building up of the church. Through regular attendance at all services:
- We proclaim Christ to each other and the community (I Corinthians 11:26).
- We provide an example to others (Hebrews 10:23-29). What do you think our absence says to children and younger Christians? It says, "When I grow up or when I am an experienced saint it will be acceptable to skip church." Unfortunately, it is not acceptable and a member's absence without cause harms the church.
- By attending all services we contribute towards the needs of the saints (I Corinthians 16:1-7). Not just by giving money, but by knowing who needs help and learning how we can serve.
- We demonstrate our support for the leadership of the church. The elders have set these worship times as a way of protecting and feeding our souls. Refusing to come is a refusal of this leadership. The Bible says we must submit to those whom the Lord has set over us in Christ (Hebrews 13:17).
We build the place where the saints meet for worship with wood and brick, but faithfulness to all the services is the cornerstone upon which the building of the congregation itself rests.
As I close I want to say to all those who listed "church attendance" as a problem that their struggle is nothing new. It was there when He church was established (Hebrews 10:25) and the Bible says it will be there until the end of the world (Matthew 24:12). The solution then, now and in the future, has always been and will always be the same:
- Begin to cultivate the habit of regular attendance to all services.
- Get involved in the work of the church.
- Realize that coming to church is always the best choice and God will reward you for it.