“Is it okay to skip church?”
This is a question that no one has ever asked me. And I can understand why, because they know what I am going to say. As a pastor, I may be biased in my answer, but I am going to share it anyway because I care about my flock. I love the people who attend Journey Church. I write this article because I am worried and concerned about the people who are regularly skipping church.
I have noticed over the last few years that people’s church attendance has dropped from weekly to twice a month for the regular committed attenders, and less than that for many others. There are leaders who don’t make it to church all that often anymore. I believe that we have forgotten the importance and purpose of gathering together as a church family and sharing in the meal of thanksgiving .
I’m not talking about missing church because of work, illness, vacations or emergencies. I’m talking about sleeping-in, allowing other things to interfere with attendance like hobbies, interests, sporting events, etc.
To clarify, church isn’t a building, church is people. Church is God’s family of believers. And we are meant to be connected, to serve and grow together and bring healing to our world.
Here is my observation: people’s lives begin to unravel when they make a pattern of skipping church gatherings. I call it the unraveling.
After skipping church one week, it is easy to miss again and then again. And something happens. Relationships begin to break down. Resisting temptation becomes more difficult. Our spiritual practices become less frequent.
Over the past several years, I have witnessed this time and time again. And you know what? People who start attending regularly again after experiencing this unraveling admit it. Their life struggled more and more the longer they were away from the attending the worship gatherings regularly. And it was so difficult to return to attending again. They get it afterwards, but it was difficult to see it when they were in the middle of it.
Just last week, a young adult in our church shared with me how his life has fallen apart, and it all began when attending church gatherings became an optional part of his week. When he attends church, he describes things as feeling right. He has peace and that carries over into relationships. When he skips, life becomes focused on his selfishness and things then get messy. The unraveling isn’t a punishment, it is just what happens when we unplug from our spiritual family.
The writer of Hebrews nails it.
Hebrews 10:24 (CEB) And let us consider each other carefully for the purpose of sparking love and good deeds. 25 Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near.
So is it okay to skip church? No, we should not skip church and here are three reasons why and they all have to do with the Eucharist meal that we share each week.
1. When we gather together, we remember Jesus.
Luke 22:19 (CEB) After taking the bread and giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
Most of us know that communion is a remembrance of the death of Jesus. The bread represents his broken body, the wine represents the His spilt blood. So as we take communion, we are remembering all that He has done for us.
The reason that we need to remember is that we are prone to forgetting. And the more that we skip church, the more likely we are to forget. Urgencies and conflicting priorities begin to creep into our healthy rhythms. Our longing for peace can be replaced by our need for stuff, and focus on self. Forgetting can lead to forsaking.
You might be thinking that I am saying that if you skip church you will cease to be a Christian. No, I’m not saying that. I am just saying that I see people begin to forget the callings on their lives, the commitments they have made to God and others, and the priority of healthy relationships. We forget.
It is easy to forget what love is, what real love is. Bread and wine help us remember.
Have you experienced this forgetfulness? Do you need to remember?
2. When we gather together, we are being re-membered.
Not only do we remember, but we are re-membered as a church, we are put back together as the body of Christ. The dismembering worldly influence of violence, power-seeking, and the marginalization of others, along with our self-centeredness fractures the body of Christ. We essentially are making fractured relationships and the broken body of Christ whole again through the re-membering in the Eucharist.
It might just seem like a ritual, but this sacrament is blessed through the presence of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.
John Wesley taught that communion is a means of grace, a way to experience the transforming power of God in our lives, increasingly recovering the divine image of love in which we were created. We are becoming whole, in ways that we were created to be. Through this re-membering, we are experiencing healing and peace, the shalom of God.
So as we dip the bread into the juice, we are coming together as fractured individuals to be put back together as the body of Christ. We are noticing those who have been dis-membered and seek to bring reconciliation. We encourage one another to continue the journey of following Christ.
The agape feast of the early church, a celebration of the love of God experienced in Jesus made communion much much more of a meal than a solemn practice. The shared experience of celebrating with family and friends is a uniting act. I am sure we all can recount times of joy and the closeness felt with those we shared that time with: a birth of a baby, the celebration of holidays and special accomplishments, etc. Celebrating unites people. The Eucharist is an act of celebration that unites all those who partake.
Do you feel alone? Do you sense a separation from God and others? Do you see a lacking of power among the church? Could it be that we are not be put back together? Maybe you are missing, and therefore, the body isn’t whole.
3. When we gather together, we find perspective for our everyday life.
The bread and the wine (or juice if you are a Nazarene) are common items, they are everyday items. God uses these everyday items to show us that He is in the everyday things of our lives. He takes the everyday, ordinary things and make them holy and sacred. Christ is present in all of life.
Our jobs, schooling, and taking out the garbage are sacred tasks. He is present in them. Our gathering together reminds us that our everyday lives matter and can be used by God in his mission of reconciling all things to himself.
Without this reminder, we can begin to live two lives: our sacred church time, and then everything else is just secular. This dualistic view can destroy our faith. Work can become a drudgery. Doing dishes can become grueling. We need to find meaning in the every day. God is with us.
So the bread and wine remind us to see the divine presence in everything we do: the divine in the daily, the sacred in the slog, the holy in the human, the Christ in the common.
We need to gather together to find perspective for our everyday lives. We need to remind one another that our roles in life are vehicles for God’s grace and peace to bring healing to others and to our world.
I know there are many other reasons that we should gather together. And while I know theologians can share many more reasons, all with much more insight and accuracy, I am writing as a pastor who cares deeply for his flock. I don’t want anyone’s life to unravel, but rather I pray for each to experience the abundant life that Jesus offers.
To my Journey Church family, I love and care for you. I pray daily that the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Let’s not forsake meeting together, as some have done. Let’s encourage one another and allow that love to spread to the farthest corners of our world.