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When Is It Okay to Miss Church?

I received a great question this week from a very faithful Christian who wants to know, when is it okay to miss church? This question comes from a deep place of conviction. This person loves Jesus, they love the Bible, they love their church. And they wonder when it’s okay to miss church, not as an excuse to miss church, but they’re wondering, hey, is it ever okay for me to miss? They’ve got a heavy conscience about this. I want to try to think about this this week on the podcast. Let’s be honest here; you are going to miss church. Everybody misses church, sooner or later. Nobody has 100% attendance. There are all sorts of reasons why you’re just going to miss church. Illness, you’re going to get sick, you’re going to be hospitalized. I mean, goodness gracious, just to be very honest, in the last four or five years, I’ve had four brain surgeries. The brain surgery and recovery has meant that I have probably missed more church than any other pastor in my church and a lot of the really faithful members in my church. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just you get sick, you have to go to the hospital. There are going to be other kinds of emergencies, work emergencies, car emergencies that are going to keep you away. There are going to be travel situations where you have to leave town, and you’re not going to be able to be with your body of believers. There are going to be vacations where you’re going to take a needed break with your family, with your spouse, with some friends, and you’re going to be away out of town on vacation for church. There are other reasons to miss that are actually ministry reasons. Some people won’t be in their church because they’re doing ministry. I have a number of ministers of the gospel in my church that are employed by other ministries, for example, the Florida Baptist Convention. One of our very faithful members works for the Florida Baptist Convention, and he’s not here most Sundays because he’s serving the Lord in other churches fulfilling his ministry.

What Do We Prioritize?

So look, there are all sorts of reasons why we’re just going to miss church, and that’s just the way it is. When we get into problems is when we prioritize things that create a pattern of getting us out of church. That’s the problem. This happened, frankly, with COVID. There are millions of Christians all across the United States and all across the world who discovered in COVID; you know what? Sunday morning is better for me when I’m in my jammies drinking coffee. I think I can get my church fix sitting and eating doughnuts while live-streaming the service at my church. COVID took a lot of people who were faithful church attendees and showed to them that church isn’t as important to them as they thought it was. They created a pattern. Look, COVID happened. Churches canceled services. People couldn’t go. But then what happened is that it taught us a pattern to prioritize something else over church attendance. So it happened with COVID.

This happens with work. And listen, I want to be very careful here. Some people have to work on Sundays. I’m not talking about a choice they’re making. I’m saying they have to work. They need to pay the light bills; they need to pay the grocery bill. They need medical insurance. And their job requires them to be at work on Sunday, and they just don’t have a choice. Some of these people, quite frankly, are folks that we really need. I have a lot of medical doctors in my congregation, and some of those guys just have to work on Sunday. And believe me, we want them in the emergency rooms. We want them nursing and taking care of patients. Police officers in my congregation that just have to work on Sunday. If all the police officers are in church on Sunday morning, we’re going to be in trouble real quick. So some people just have to work. I want to be really careful for the people who absolutely have to work. I’m not talking about those folks. I’m talking about people who don’t have to work but choose to pick up shifts because they’re bored at church because they think they got better things to do because they just are trying to stockpile more money. I’m talking about not doing what we have to do. I’m talking about prioritizing things in our hearts that create a pattern of getting us out of church that happens with COVID. It happens with work,

It can happen with travel; I’m not saying it’s wrong to take a vacation. And if you take a vacation, you always have to be in town, at your church, on Sunday. But there are people who always have a reason to travel here and there to go to all of these great locations. And all of a sudden, you realize, you know what, all your pictures on social media every weekend are of you out of town at this great place doing this fun thing. And you’re not ever investing in your church. You’re not ever investing in the body of Christ. Happens with COVID, happens with work, happens with travel. It happens most famously with sports, particularly kids’ sports. There are parents all across the world who prioritize sports, who prioritize the dance team, who prioritize the cheerleading team. And all of those things always have us on the road on the weekend. We’re playing travel ball, and our kids are always playing baseball on Sunday, and they’re never worshipping the Lord. And listen, I’m just telling you, this isn’t about being legalistic. This is about your kids learning what you think is important. You teach your kid that what is really important is to do well in the sport. What’s really important is to do well in this extracurricular activity. And when they are 30 and they do not care about the things of God. Parents are just going to have played a huge role in teaching them that lesson.

Encouragement from the Bible

I’ll just tell you even one, one reality for us; we have a son who loves to play baseball. And there was an opportunity a few years ago for him to be involved in a baseball camp that was going to happen on Wednesday afternoons for a month, and it was going to mean he wasn’t going be able to be at church. Now listen, this wasn’t a long-term commitment. It wasn’t even Sunday, the principal time when Christians gather on the Lord’s Day. It was Wednesday when our church gathers for an important time of midweek. It’s not the most important, but it’s an important time. And it was a very limited time. But we decided as parents, hey, do you know what if we do this, if we say, hey, you know what, let’s miss church for a month on Wednesday for baseball. That’s just a lesson we don’t want our young son to cherish. We want him to learn the lesson. You know what? We are invested in our church, we prioritize the body of Christ, and so we’re going to be with our Christian family whenever we can when they’re together. We’re not going to make a decision to prioritize something that’s going to create a pattern that gets us out of church. I’m not saying that’s always wrong for everybody. But I am saying that your kids are noticing the decisions that you make, they’re noticing what’s important, and they can tell what’s important by how you schedule your time.

There are a few conversations we could have that could have a more legalistic ring than this one. This really runs the risk of being legalistic. I don’t want to be legalistic. I’m not a legalist and don’t want to sound like a legalist. This shouldn’t be about what you have to do. Believe me. There are commands in the Bible. It says in Hebrews 10:24-25 “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some but encouraging one another and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” This is not about legalism; this is about you need your church; you really do. You need people to help you consider how to be stirred up to love and good works. “You need to be encouraged all the more,” the Bible says, “as you see the day drawing near.” It’s hard out there. Christians really are marginalized. And as the day gets closer and closer, we need each other more and more. You need your church, and your church needs you. There are people in your congregation that only you can encourage or that you can encourage and love better than anybody else. If you’re not there, they might not get encouragement and love that day.

Here’s another thing. You are teaching a lesson to the unchurched people that you’re with when you’re skipping church. When you’re going on travel ball, and you’re doing all these things, you’re teaching a lesson to them that godliness and faithfulness is not all that important. But baseball sure is soccer sure is. Dance competitions sure are. If you don’t teach your kids to go, they won’t. If your unbelieving friends see you not going to church, why would they ever want to go? So this is not about legalism. This is about church being a really good thing. It’s about being a tremendous blessing. It’s a blessing that sometimes with broken hearts, we will have to miss because we’re sick because we’re traveling, because there’s emergencies, because we’re doing other ministries, but it’s a blessing that if we really know what we’ve got, we would never prioritize anything in our heart that would create a pattern of getting us out of church and missing it.