What keeps you away from the assembly of the saints? I honestly believe that there are potentially valid reasons for one to miss church. We should all be thankful for emergency responders, hospital workers, and others who provide vital services during Sunday assembly. No person would want to arrive at the emergency room and see a “closed” sign hanging up on the door. By the same token, we want someone to answer the phone when we dial 911 regarding a life or death situation that impacts us in some fashion. Thus, there are people who sacrifice their family time and time at church to keep our nation safely running. We are thankful for their service and sacrifice. Moreover, there are people who are “providentially” hindered. I would imagine that most members of the churches of Christ have heard these words uttered in a prayer. Providentially is defined as “relating to or believed to be determined by providence.”
Over several years of preaching, I have noted that those who are hindered by various health and mental issues are the ones who want to be at church the most. Still, there are people who do not attend church because they are simply too sick to be in the congregation. I personally know of people who suffer with fibromyalgia and various other chronic diseases. By experience, I know that those suffering with chronic problems would much rather be in church than at home suffering in pain. I am of the opinion that God understands a person’s circumstances when they are hindered by health related issues.
We have noted that there are valid reasons why a person might not be able to come to church, but what about the other reasons that might be considered? Can a person choose to be absent from the assembly and sin by their choice? I firmly believe so.
Church attendance is up to the individual but is not optional in nature. That having been said, it is hard to judge the motivations behind one’s decision not to attend. Some might believe that it is bothersome to spend a few hours a week in the assembly. Under the Old Testament law, certain worshippers expressed the same sort of attitude. This is meted out in the minor prophet Malachi: “Ye said also, Behold, what a weariness is it! and ye have snuffed at it, saith the Lord of hosts; and ye brought that which was torn, and the lame, and the sick; thus ye brought an offering: should I accept this of your hand? saith the Lord. But cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing: for I am a great King, saith the Lord of hosts, and my name is dreadful among the heathen” (Mal. 1:13-14).
In all honesty, there is work involved with coming to church. I am always reminded of my wife, Jada, when we see young mothers struggling with children in the assembly. Since I was always preaching or teaching a class, she had no help in the pew with children who were small enough to be in diapers. I remarked to her and young parents in our congregations, “It is like moving a small army!” Still, these godly parents make every effort to get those little ones into the assembly. I remember asking Jada one Sunday after the services, “How was my sermon?” She responded, “What little I was able to hear of it was fine. Your son wiggled on me the entire time.” In light of these things, one might ask, “So why go?”
Suffice it to say, she went to demonstrate the importance of being in worship and in the presence of like-minded saints. All of my sons have been baptized, and they actively participate in the worship of the church. Before they were old enough to understand what was happening, they would pass around our drink coasters and pretend that they were passing around the trays for the Lord’s Supper. We have a photograph of our middle son in a diaper, standing behind a potato box, holding my Bible, and delivering a “sermon” for all to hear. This was because he had parents who cared enough to bring him to church. More specifically in our case, he and his brothers had a godly mother who was willing to do whatever it took to get them to church.
If you are a husband who can sit in the pew with your family, please help your wife. If you are a mature member of the body, encourage and offer to help families with small children. Seek to encourage them as they struggle with attendance and rambunctious children. We want to continually pray for our young families as they struggle with schedules and bringing their children up on the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6.4).
Still, there are some who see church attendance as a “weariness” because they had rather be doing other things. Some families have chosen recreational activities over being in the assembly with the saints. That having been said, I personally know of families who attend early services before sporting events so that they can demonstrate the importance of church assembly to their children. Still, there are families who have sacrificed their souls and families to the god of sports and entertainment. We demonstrate our priorities by the choices we make. If you fail to make Christ and being in the assembly a priority, so will your family members.
At this point one might quote Hebrews 10.25: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” This passage refers to continually and purposefully being absent from the assembly, and it would include, in my estimation, times other than Sundays. Contextually, it is written to Christians who are discouraged because of various persecutions they were facing. In part, we attend to church to help us remain faithful (Rev. 2.10) and encourage good works (Heb. 10.24).
Several years ago, I was in an assembly where a brother led the following portion of a prayer. “Heavenly Father, please punish those who are absent from church simply because they have chosen not to be here…” I wonder how many of our brethren would tolerate such a prayer? I believe that it is scriptural because of the following passage: “For the Lord disciples the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Heb. 12:6-8). I sincerely believe that this prayer was uttered in loving concern for the brethren. We are concerned when we do not see YOU in church.
Johnny preaches for the Sycamore Chapel Church of Christ in Ashland City, TN. He is a practicing marriage and family therapist. He is married to Jada and they have three sons, Matthew, Nathan and Noah.