It could go without saying that COVID-19 has caused countless discussions, meetings, and planning sessions regarding how we do life in these times. Nowhere has this been truer than in the realm of pastors and other church leaders. Now before you tune me out, this post will not largely be about COVID-19. I merely bring it up because it has caused almost every Christian to ask, “When it is OK to skip church?” Now there is a great deal of wisdom each Christian must use in deciding whether it would be best to avoid gathering in the short term, but I suspect that there are many, many people who did not really value the gathering as they should and this global pandemic is only too convenient for them to do what they were already inclined to do. I would like to explore the question here, “When is it OK to skip the assembling of ourselves together?”
For the vast majority of the history of Protestant churches, church attendance was completely expected of all church members and even many citizens in the broader culture. In the last several decades church attendance has declined precipitately even among individuals who hold membership in a church. There are multiple reasons for this, largely revolving around our busy schedules, the increase of work hours, and sporting events on Sundays. Ultimately though, it really reveals our skewed priorities and a deficiency in our understanding of what takes place (or should take place) during our regular Sunday morning gatherings.
The writer of Hebrews makes it very clear that this is not just a problem
for our day and time, but also during the setting at the time of his writing.
Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawingnear.”
It is not hard to see that this was a problem even in the first
century church. Now, do we view it as a sin to skip church for any reason?
Certainly not! There are very legitimate reasons for doing so, but I firmly believe that the American church has strayed far onto the side of regular church attendance being optional for the believer. Again, I believe this shows a deficiency in our priorities and view of church.
Some might say, “I do church online.” Now I think everyone can be
thankful for the wealth of good teaching content online as well as more and more churches being able to livestream their services. That said, I think you are missing at least half of the importance if you think that services are only about being fed the Word of God. That is a very important and primary ministry of our regular services, but is not sufficient in and of itself. You see, church is not really about you. I know, news flash, right? Look again at verse 24, we are called to encourage one another and build one another up. How can you do that if you are neglecting to see one another.
Another huge role of church is to be accountable to the pastors and other
church members. How can you do that if you are regularly skipping regular church services? Maybe you are an independent person by nature and an introvert. You want to deal with your own problems and let others do the same. I’m sorry, Christian, but you are not afforded that choice. You see, God gave us all a role to play in the mutual building up of the body of Christ. This is clear in many places including the command to “rejoice with those who rejoice” and “weep with those who weep” or “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” I’ll ask again, how can you do that if you neglect the local body of Christ? Do you know that there are many, many brothers and sisters around the world who are literally willing to die to fulfill God’s command to meet together? And yet, we can find countless excuses to just stay home.
But what about you who say, “Pastor, I’d love to be at church, but my
work schedule just won’t allow it” or “I just don’t have good health” or “This is just a season…” These may all be reasonable and acceptable objections as reasons to miss church, but I believe most of the time we skip church is due to the fact that we just don’t view it with the priority we should. Also, many of you out there would respond, “My relationship is between me and Jesus,.and I have peace with this decision.” You are right and wrong. Remember that God has also commanded us to be accountable to one another. God will not command you to do something contrary to His Word.
Now, maybe you are offended at this point, but if you have read all the way to here than let me encourage you to truly evaluate whether you too are guilty of neglecting the body of Christ. Maybe you are in doubt about whether your situation demands you to not attend your church. Well, let me encourage you with this, invite your pastor to weigh in on your decision-making process. We pastors care for you and your situations. We are, after all, called to, “Care for your souls as ones who must give an account to God…”