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church-768613_960_720A sparse sanctuary can discourage a pastor.

Surveys show that, in the past twenty years, the definition of a "faithfully attending church member" has fallen from three times a week to three times a month, resulting in sparser attendance in many evangelical churches, even if membership has climbed or plateaued.

Loving God, Loving His People

Church attendance came up in discussion with my small group recently, in a study on Joshua's statement about his family choosing to "serve the Lord." We asked the question: How do you cultivate in your family a love for God and a desire to gather with His people?

Some of the group members said you must do more than simply talk about the importance of gathering with God's people; you've got to demonstrate that importance by the commitment and consistency you maintain as a family. Others mentioned how “forcing” your family to go to church, if it is done solely as a duty or as an obligation, can backfire and lead to resentment from your kids.

Writing at Christianity Today, Michelle Van Loon warns against using church attendance as a scorecard of faithfulness:

"When I hear a pastor talking about how true commitment and godly character requires being at church every week, I imagine him tapping his foot impatiently while holding a scorecard in one hand and a red Sharpie in the other."

But while Michelle is right to say that "perfect attendance is not a reliable metric of one's fidelity to Jesus," gathering with God's people is one of the primary ways we are reminded of Jesus' fidelity to us.

That’s why we need to turn this conversation around. If you think of attending a worship service as merely a duty or an obligation that you are bound to fulfill, then you are speaking of worship as if it were a chore. Regular church attendance may feel like that at times, just as a daily "work out" sometimes does. But we’re off base if we regularly conceive of our weekly efforts to "meet together" and to "stir one another to love and good works" as merely an obligation.

Having To, Getting To

One of the dads in my small group said that he corrects his kids if they ever ask about having to go to church on a weekend. "We never have to," he says, "we get to go." I like that. He's policing the language of the house because he knows that the way he talks about church will send a signal to the rest of the family about how to view Sundays - as chore or as privilege.

Here are three ways we should see gathering with God's people as privilege:

1. Culturally

In some places, church attendance is regulated by the government. Unless you are registered, you cannot legally meet. Or you must meet in small numbers. Or you can meet, but are constantly afraid of what might happen. The news of church bombings across the world, often during worship services, is a frightening reminder of the high cost of meeting with other believers.

We have the privilege of living in a society where we are free to get to go to church. It is hard to imagine persecuted believers whose baptismal services are secret, dangerous affairs ever saying they have to go to church. Listen to the global church, and be renewed in your gratitude for the privilege of freely worshipping with believers.

2. Theologically

In some religions, adherents must fulfill elaborate rituals and sacrifices before gaining access to a holy space or the ability to appease the gods. Christianity, however, teaches that we have direct access to God because of the final, perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ on our behalf. The gateway to God has been opened by Jesus, the Door.

Whenever we conceive of our praying and singing and listening to God's Word as merely a duty or obligation, we forget that we are responding to a precious invitation. We have the privilege of speaking to and hearing from the King of the Universe. Do we have to meet with God Himself? Or do we get to address “our Father”?

3. Corporately

One of the reasons I love meeting with other believers is because I feel like I have a front-row seat at what God is doing in the lives of people around me. Over time, I see how God's Word slowly transforms us into His image. I see how God brings people from different backgrounds and interests, different ethnicities and generations, and unifies them by the gospel without obliterating their differences, thus shining a spotlight on the goodness and grace of God from gloriously different angles.

We are not lonely pilgrims on individual journeys to glory; we are a community of faith, marching forward as exiles in this world, beloved by God and beloved by each other. It is a privilege to be part of each other's lives, to cheer one another on in the faith, to chasten and chide with holy reverence when needed, and to love one another as Christ has loved us.

Conclusion

We do not go to church because of guilt. We are the church because of grace.

As Jonathan Leeman writes, we "gather to hear the Lord's words, to affirm [our] accountability to it, and to extend its ministry in one another's lives." What an honor! Do we have to extend the ministry of God's Word in the lives of others? Or do we get to see and show Jesus in the lives of our fellow church members?

Church attendance is not a chore. It's a gift. Therefore, it should elicit gratitude, not griping.


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11 thoughts on “3 Reasons You Should See Going to Church as a Privilege, Not a Chore”

  1. AF says:

    Your first statement notes the real reason behind all of this – its all about how the pastor feels. Better show up Sunday morning to encourage and validate the Pastor. Would not want them to become discouraged (sigh).
    Perhaps attendance is falling because people have figured out that much of what happens is a show. Some of us have figured out that “gathering with God’s people” occurs in much more effective ways than on Sunday mornings.

    None of your points are necessarily applicable to only Sunday morning gatherings.

    You do conclude with an interesting point – “we are the Church…” God has blessed us with a community of His people. It is what we are; not where we go.

    1. Clare Nesmith says:

      It is not the pastor feeling discouraged for him/herself, or that she/he needs good church attendance to be validated. It is a desire to reach people with the gospel, and it feels like that isn’t happening. I appreciate this author trying to look at this with new eyes, to keep finding ways to answer the question “why worship?” and reaching over and past the unhelpful language of obligation and duty. God’s love is freely given, may it be freely received and our actions spring out of that in joy and gratitude.

  2. Rick says:

    If we just consider Heb 10:24-25 by themselves, it seems like they are an imperative for us to honor and obey. And if we just consider an imperative by itself (apart from the glorious riches of all of the indicative in Heb chapter 10 leading up to the imperative in vs 24-25) we could easily interpret it as a ‘duty’ or ‘obligation’. I see the key is viewing the imperative in the glorious light of all the indicatives, and when see that, we will have desires and affections to honor and obey out of joy and delight vs duty, obligation or drudgery.

  3. Bitsy says:

    “We do not go to church because of guilt. We are the church because of grace.” – Well said, Trevin!

  4. Michael M. Rico says:

    Just because church is a chore doesn’t mean we should stop going to church.

    Trevin has attempted to address parishioners’ wrong impulses for attending church. He encourages churchgoers who are struggling with consistent attendance and who bring to worship languid attitudes, dying motivations, and zero expectations.

    These are considerations that need attention. Parishioners should be aware of how they feel and think about worshiping in the body of Christ. But if joy at worship is flagging, it may not be the attendee’s fault alone.

    Take my own local church situation. I’m a conservative Presbyterian. I love the church confessions. I love the church hymns and singing the harmonies to “A Mighty Fortress,” “The Church is One Foundation,” and “Be Still My Soul.”

    I love the solemnity and silence during of the ministry of the Lord’s Supper when partnered with instruction and cognition of Triune glory.

    I love the pastoral prayer prayed with thoughtfulness and preparation and biblical language and doctrine. I love the opportunity to respond in worship through liturgy: reciting creeds and confessions and the antiphonal reading of the Psalms.

    But now I attend a church which practices none of these historic and biblical modes of worship.

    The decibel level of the contemporary music played at the church I attend is 100 decibels or louder. I no longer can hear myself sing. I have not sung in worship for over a year. The theology of the hymns I love are not a part of my experience anymore, because the church I attend does not sing hymns.

    Contemporary Christian rock blares before the start of worship. My wife and I have long had a habit of arriving at church early to prepare ourselves for worship through reading of and reflection on the Word, but this is now nearly impossible with the distraction of Christian contemporary in the background blasting away.

    The Lord’s Supper offers no silence. Contemporary music exploits every part of the Eucharist, even when the pastor speaks. The Holy Supper is presented speedily as though it were an obligatory add on. Bread and juice are offered at the same moment to save time, not separately. The Supper is ministered without content and without doctrine.

    The sermons are immersed in personal illustrations, geared to draw people in and make attenders laugh. Props and video are mandatory requirements for every sermon.

    Under these conditions, without my cherished preferences, is it a chore to go to church? You bet it is. But I go because refraining from going is not an option. I have to go somewhere.

    What can I do to make things better? Pray for the other worshippers and myself that God will use the message to transform us. Try to meet people when appropriate and possible, keeping in mind many people do not want to be met and others are established needing no one else.

    Experience the culture of God’s people—weekly—and absorb the nature of Christ’s body even if my current local church culture is not what I wish it to be.

    And participate in the Lord’s Supper with gratitude. Yes, gratitude that I can receive the holy meal at a local body fulfilling the spiritual necessity, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

    Doing the above mollifies the difficulty of attending church weekly. Even so, each week my wife and I pray, “Give us the strength, Lord, to abide through worship.”

    The routine of attending our current church is a chore. But we are learning, yet again, that it takes the Trinity’s strength to apply what is biblically expected, even attending worship. My wife and I have only a short time left of worship on earth. Soon Christ will return. Unmitigated and unified worship will follow forever.

  5. Matt Lawrence says:

    If we have Christ in our hearts, we have spiritual gifts and we see almost every relationship as a gift and an opportunity to use them to give. Church is a joy because it is a great place to give and let Christ’s love flow through us. It could be that when we don’t count it a privilege we might not have a fulfilling personal relationship with Christ. It can also be that a church is quenching the Holy Spirit by closing doors of service of its attenders. I think para-church organizations sometimes meet needs for people who are in such churches.

  6. Jarge says:

    “A sparse sanctuary can discourage a pastor.”
    My experience is (and I’ve always loved going to church) a boring sermon can discourage a parishioner. Its not about the pastor, its about the gospel and the gospel is alive, exciting and should not be dumbed down by boring sermons or the “performers” (aka worship leaders) up front singing obscure songs or the latest dittys and durges just to be “contemporary”. We also don’t sing about the blood anymore. Try that and the presence of God will fill the service like no other time.

  7. Joan says:

    I, too, was raised by a father who would answer my “Do I have to go to church?” With, “No, but you WANT to go.” I am so thankful for that because, throughout my life I have truly learned that I want to go each Sunday. It is my way of saying to God that He is the bedrock of my life, and I know I belong to Him. It has also been a way to say to my children and grandchildren, “This IS important, do not neglect it.” I know that I can worship, pray, and study God’s Word at home, alone. But I choose to be surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ as we worship together, to sit under the teaching of my pastor, to greet and encourage one another, especially the younger believers. It is not a duty, but a privilege to worship my God freely and publicly.

  8. Josh says:

    I am a pastor and I hope nobody comes to church because of me. I am not the head of the church. My words can’t heal the broken. My blood can’t forgive. I have no authority to proclaim the Word. It’s all about Jesus. And if we’d simply get back to preaching the whole counsel of God, people will come. They are hungry and only Jesus can satisfy.

  9. John Mulquin Jr says:

    No biblical verses in this article supporting the viewpoint. Unfortunately invalidates the piece.

  10. John says:

    Could anyone share with me the biblical church organization concept? (separate from the biblical concept of the church being the body of Christ) If you want to go to a building and meet with other believers, that’s okay with me. Confusing a church organization with all its administration, politics, checks and (lack of) balances with the church being the body of believers of which Christ is the head, is not okay with me.

    In Matthew 18:15-20, “For where TWO or THREE gather in my name, I am there among them.” I have yet to find a translation that says, “where two or MORE,” which seems to be a common misnomer. The Lord’s Supper was Jesus and the disciples was a small group. Only when Jesus spoke did large groups gather.

    Hebrews 10 says we should meet together, but does not say we need paid positions at a building parishioners pay into. Many use this building as a business networking tool. Many paid positions build their careers off the volunteerism of the congregation.

    If a pastor’s role is to be similar to that of Peter (or Paul) in the New Testament, in John 21, Christ game Peter three precise instructions, “feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, and feed my sheep”. Feed His children, Take care of His people, and Feed His people. Paul, was sent out to the Gentiles, in a small group, constantly being jailed, returning to groups of believers through letters.

    I’ve grown up in and through church organizations and having a prolonged desire to learn and know my heavenly Father more through the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit which is available for all who know Him. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly in these organizations because they are all made up of imperfect people.

    In Mark 11:12-26, Jesus points out how people turn His house into ‘a den of robbers’, instead of ‘a house of prayer for all nations’. Matthew 15:3, Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? Isn’t the non-profit, church organization a tradition? And when speaking of ‘tithe’, isn’t that an old testament/old covenant tradition? One that in the old testament, applied to one family and their available mode of worship? Matthew 6:5 tells us how to pray, yet we see the complete opposite in church buildings.

    If a church organization is the setting people prefer to worship and/or fellowship, I look to Romans 14 and 15, allowing for each believer his/her process of growing closer to OUR Father.

    I am, in my own personal opinion, not impressed with this article gauging privilege against chore. Your three points of discussion; culturally, theologically, and corporately; Culturally, church organizations are regulated by church elders/pastors/larger church-planting organizations. Theologically, adherents are often expected to become a ‘member’ or give a (non-biblical) tithe, or volunteer in one, often more, capacities. And Corporately, we should be doing this six days a week, worshipping in all we do, while we are working our day to day lives, with other believers and non-believers, so that we are encouraging other believers and non-believers can see the love of Christ through His people. (And on the Seventh Day he rested.)

    If you look at a church organization as an educational institution on biblical matters, then the

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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