Monday, April 30, 2007

Staying Home from Church

[Warning: Potential legalism approaching]

Today a Pastor friend asked me my opinion about professing Christians who stay home from church more often than not. What are we to make of their spiritual condition? Another question, what do we do to try to minister to these folks? Here is a passage to use as you reflect on this issue:

"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and 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, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near." Hebrews 10:23-25

I would love to hear your thoughts and comments about this issue that many pastors struggle with.


brettpayne said...

What a great topic!
My gut feeling is that the issue is as much about what "church" is as it is about people who do not regularly participate. People are so naturally disconnected that they do not view "attendance" as obligatory unless there is money or status involved. The only other motivation is having real, connected and organic relationships. This means that you have people with whom you are connected in a meaningful way. Sometimes this happens in the more formal church setting - but more often it requires a specific connection during the week that includes real life stuff.
Most people do not view "church" attendance as required to maintain a relationship with God. They will show up if they have real relationships with the people.
Just a few initial thoughts:)

Michael said...

It's a funny thing that you bring this topic up today, for I was just doing some research on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I have heard that Bonhoeffer was not a particular church goer before pursuing theological studies. However, one of the greatest contributions he left for the church was his work on community which can be found in his books The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together. Both works a small and should be read together. These books will enlighten any Christian on what community is all about.

Jon Cyrus said...

Great insights. A sense of genuine/authentic community is vital. Next to solid/authentic preaching, building community and relationships is so important to assimilation and participation.

Brian said...

Yes, great topic. Jon starts a firestorm...

I like the Hebrews 10 verses, but many have heard it before and sometimes look at it as prooftexting. I try to present other passages to show that regular congregational participation is expected in the NT:

My main passage is John 17. The desire of Jesus is that we have salvation so that we can act "as one." We are saved for a purpose (or mission) and into a community. If you are not part of a community, then you have evidence that your faith is not genuine.

I also use Eph 2:19-22 and 1Pe 2:5. God's intention is that you would be a stone - part of the temple he is building. If you are not there, how will the temple be built? If you are not part of the temple, how do you know you are really a stone?

Then I usually refer to Hebrews 10.

Finally (if their eyes have not glazed over), I refer to the Body imagery of 1Cor 12 and Rom 12. How does the body function without its liver or kidney? What good is a kidney if it is not in a body?

Throughout, I try to make clear that, yes, the church is better off if you are a part of it, but the main question is concerning your own spiritual health. I don't want you to be left behind because no one ever told you what God expects. Church membership is no gaurantee of salvation, but the lack of participation is evidence of a lack of salvation. Repent and get plugged back in and we will welcome you with open arms.

I have an appointment for a conversation like this tonight.

One other thing I did, though. I have spent time in my preaching and teaching times teaching the regulars this concept. Both so that they would know what Scripture teaches and so that they can reinforce when their backsliden buddies call around.

brettpayne said...

I can't help but jump back in on this. If the question is how can we minister to those who are inconsistently attending services, it is not going to be very effective to preach to them about reconnecting by more regular attendance. The answer, I believe, is in being the church in our relationships with them. Invite them into our lives, and encourage those who are attending church services to connect in real ways with the people who are "members" and certainly with those who are not - and then inspire them by example to do so! This call to community is the key, I believe, to the primary weaknesses in the church today. I also believe this will contribute to a recapturing of worship as primarily about gathered believers worshipping God, and not about evangelism. It is also about a movement outward in our private lives. This may be saying too much, but in a world where looking good seems to matter more than being good, I think showing up to church is not the only evidence (or even a primary evidence) of authentic faith. Authentic faith is evidenced in authentic lives lived out in real Christian community, no matter what that looks like.
I truly believe this is at the heart of what Christ demonstrated with His approach to relationships, His teaching and His sacrificial act.
Practically speaking, I think this means a variety of home based ministries that are interwoven into the fabric of the more formal church programs. If people don't show up - they lose the very fabric that holds them together as the church, and they notice it immediately. Living this out is the hard part.

Jim Cormack said...

Hey Jack,

Great question. Not being a priest or pastor, I can only respond from my own experience and Episcopal perspective - most definitely I believe that regularly gathering as a body to pray, study and break bread is held as a standard in the teachings of the early church, and I believe that solitude is likewise seen as a necessary part of our spiritual journeys. One of the subtle arts of being a Christian is keeping these things in balance, I suppose.

Maybe it is worth asking the opposite question - why do/should professing Christians GO to church? Other than for "legalistic" reasons? Lots of research on this subject, I know, but none of that gets me in the heart. Another question to consider is "what is church"?

Enough rambling - gotta go to bed. Take care brother.

Oh yeah, thanks again for the concern. It is well placed and very much appreciated!!


Teen Choir said...

Great topic.
The heart of the matter is the heart. It's important to note that in Acts 2, at the beginning of the church, the believers were together as much as they could be. They understood the importance of being together.Many times people do not attend regularly because they do not see it as being vital to a believers life. Other's are just "baby-like" in their faith and the love for other things just superceed their love for Christ. Missing a service does not constitute sin but continual missing does - according to Heb. 10. The key is their heart - why are they not coming?


Rob said...

Is it really a matter of legalism, obligation, or delighted love? Personally, I find it a matter of love and delight in the Lord.

I am for the health of my body, obligated to eat on occassion (I do this on too many occassions). But if a feast is set before me on Thanksgiving or a special desert on my birthday, I feel no obligation to eat, but I love to enjoy everything that has been set on the table - because of the love it took to set it there and the joy I have in consuming all the various tastes.

If Jesus Christ is the bread of life, if we are truly in Christ and love Him because we have a glimpse of understanding of His sacrificial love for us, will we not eagerly run to the feast that is found in His church. Won't we delight in loving others and pointing them to the glory of our great God too. I think so.

Brian ... your thoughts are helpful ... should we apply church discipline (Matt 18:15-20) to Members who refuse to fellowship with the church body?

Jon Cyrus said...

Great thoughts. I think most of us would agree this is a troubling issue. Pastor and layman alike should be heartbroken when Brothers/Sisters in Christ are struggling. I think the real question is, what do we do in our churches? Brett, Brian and Rob are all correct. We build community. Grounded in scripture and supported by genuine love and accountablity. We preach/teach the basis for this and all the aspects of our "walk." And, as Rob pointed out, we raise the expectations (See Rainer, "High Expectations") and hold folks accountable.

This topic was obviously very interesting. I can't take credit. However, the one that raised the topic has yet to chime in, Chris??

Anonymous said...

2 things come to mind...

1. Hearing the Word preached. Yes, we can sit and read our Bible at home but it is not like hearing the Word preached with passion.

2. Testimony of others. A substantial method in giving God Glory for the things he has done. I think this can be just as powerful as preaching (not in place of).

Joh 4:39 NIV Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me everything I ever did."

When I hear and see the change in a person, by the power of the Holy Spirit, that is God Glorifying, what else can you say?

Brian Bridges

Chris said...

Thank you all for your comments. Jon knows I hate blogs ( vengence is mine LOL). I am a pastor in West Virginia that is struggling with a congregation of Laodecians. Are we being too legalistic about church attendance? Possibly. I have long said that I see no Biblical requirement for a Sunday evening or even a Wednesday evening service although most of the " Bible believing" churches believe that Christ said thou shalt have these services. But on the other hand, I do find, Eph 2:10 "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." And we know from James that faith without works is dead. My personal struggle is that I can not understand why someone would claim to have been born again and yet by their works they have no desire other than occassionally and on Sunday mornings to worship their Savior. I would think that if they were truly saved then they would have a desire out of love and gratitude to worship Christ as a community as often as possible, i.e, everytime the doors are open. The scary thought for me , and many other pastors, is that if the "sometimers" are not truly saved then we have approximately 50% of our congregations are not saved and think they are okay with God even under the preaching of sound doctrine ( as judged by the average 50% drop in attendance between Sunday morning services and Sunday evening services).

One thought that no one has mentioned directly is the idea of being saved vs. being "sold out" for Christ. I have often said that for many salvation was fire insurance and nothing more. They wanted saved from an eternity in Hell but that is all they wanted and they do not understand that they are God's property. There are many in the pews who are not totally devoted to Christ and have decided already what they are and are not going to sacrifice to him.

I too believe it is a matter of the heart. Is the church/preacher at fault? Sometimes. But honestly there are some things that only the Holy Spirit can work and do so in a heart that is receptive to His voice.

Recently a fellow minister encouraged me to build my congregation with the few that were dedicated and eventually the new converts would outweigh the dead weight in the congregation and they would become uncomfortable. I think he is right.

To the idea of community, I would say I agree. However, it is difficult to build a community of people even outside the church if people are not willing to commit and participate.

The only course of action I can find to correct the problem is through earnest, fervent prayer. All we can do is preach truth, God must change hearts.

Thank you all for sharing your thoughts. God Bless.

CHRIS said...

( This is an email from a friend of mine that I wanted to share--Chris)

Are they saved? Only God knows.

Do they truly love the Lord? Not likely.

Are they walking closely to the Lord? Unless they are Grizzly Adams or physically unable to attend, not likely.

"Christians" who only attend curch on occassion are missing out on Christian fellowship, education, coroporate worship and Christian support, which goes both directions (giving and recieving). They are likely not giving financially to the kingdom as directed. It may be possible to have a "right" relationship with God minus "Church," but I would suggest that it is not likely in most cases. (As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:12) How are we helping each other if we are not together as a Christian community?