I still remember the surprised looks-from both of us. I was talking to several young adults. All of them were regular attendees of their local church, who I knew to be fairly active. In fact, I had worked with them on a few projects and, as the Bible would say “I knew their works”. I do not know of a Pastor who would not have been happy to have them in his/her church.
I happened to mention to them that I had recently returned from a trip out of the country. Before I left, I had looked up the name and address of a local church where the service was in English. It was my intent to worship there.
But several things happened. First, my hotel was a lot further away from the city than we thought. My wife had picked up a nasty cold on the trip. We were moving very slowly and we realized that we were not going to be able to make the hour trip from our hotel to the church before church service was over. So, we watched the services of one of our churches in the United States via live stream.
I happened to mention that to the young adults with whom I was meeting. Said I, “That was the second time in my entire life that I missed church without being sick” (the first time was for the exact same reason-I was out of town and moved too slowly to make the long drive to the church we had planned to attend. We were in Wyoming and that church was a zillion miles away). I said that-not boastfully, but as a matter of fact-that is how I was raised: People who were not ill, went to church on Sabbath.
The young adults meeting with me, stopped meeting long enough to look at me as though I had two heads. Even though they were regular church attendees, apparently, never missing church was just as strange an idea to them as missing church without being sick was to me.
Three years ago, when I left the conference office in South Central after having worked in that office for nearly thirty years, I went back to working in a church as a Pastor. It was interesting to see how different the church was since the last time I had pastored a church in 1990.
One of the major things that I learned was that people did not necessarily view church attendance in the same way they did in my previous pastoral days and the way people viewed it when I was growing up. In both the churches that I served, we counted the number of people that were there each Sabbath. It was not unheard of for the attendance to fluctuate twenty per cent from one Sabbath to the next; that is to say, to have twenty per cent fewer people in church one Sabbath than there were the previous Sabbath. As a Pastor, I could no longer assume that the same people who were at church this Sabbath would be there the next Sabbath- the way I assumed thirty years earlier.
This is not to pick on the people of those two churches I served; one of them is still my home church and on the infrequent occasions that our travel schedule allows me to worship there, the members are always kind and friendly.
However, as I talk to Pastors around the country, I hear the same thing: People view weekly church attendance as much more of an option than the necessity that I was taught to view it.
So, a question is: Why do we need to attend church on a weekly basis? Is regular church attendance a relic of the past-something that we used to do out of habit but-especially with technology-no longer need to regularly do any more?
I can’t answer for others, but here is why I still go to church every week (obviously, I am usually the preacher-but here is why I attend regularly even when I am not!):
- I attend church every week because God has invited me to go. I do not know if I can think of very many times where God would say to me (or anyone else) on Sabbath morning, “Stay home today. You don’t need to meet Me there today”.
The natural question for me is if it isn’t God that is telling me to stay home from church, then who is telling me to stay home?
Now I am not saying that everyone who has ever stayed home from church did so because they listened to Satan instead of listening to God. I don’t profess to be able to easily ascertain what anyone else is hearing or not hearing from God (though the Bible is pretty clear when we really want to know something).
Here is what I do know. I do not have to know whether or not it was God that told you to stay home from church. But you have to know.
You have to know whether whatever gave you the impression that you should stay home is an exception to what the Bible says about the Sabbath being “a holy convocation” – Leviticus 23:3; the New International Version says – “a day of sacred assembly”. The truth is, one can neither “convocate” nor “assemble” by themselves. The only way that Christians can have a “sacred assembly” or a “holy convocation” is they have to leave their house and come to God’s house.
Hebrews 10:25 gives us these familiar words (King James Version):
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as we see the day approaching.
That text suggests that the closer the coming of the Lord is, the more His people ought to come together-not just because we need to hear a Word from the Lord-but in order to encourage one another-I want to come back to that in a minute.
But for now, please allow me to get back to the point that each Sabbath, there is an invitation to come to His house that comes-not from the Pastor-but from God Himself. When we do not show up, we are standing God up.
Imagine for a moment inviting some people to your house for Sabbath dinner. You buy the food, cook the food, lay out the food for your guests-but they never come to eat the food. They just don’t show up. And they don’t call to give you a reason; they don’t have a reason. They just decide that they’re not going to show up. You wouldn’t like that very much. But it happens to God every week.
But let me get back to what the Bible says about “exhorting one another”- most other translations use the phrase “encouraging each other”. That leads me to the second reason why I go to church every Sabbath:
- I go to church every Sabbath because I am prayerful that the Lord will use me that Sabbath to help and encourage someone else. Church attendance is not just about what we get from the service. Sometimes, it is about what God gives us to give to others.
And the Lord does not just use Pastors to help and encourage people on Sabbath. Certainly, a major figure on Sabbath is whoever God has called on to preach His Word. I certainly want the Lord to use me to help and encourage someone else; why else is the preacher standing there other than to be used by God to help or encourage someone?
I ask the Lord to help me remember when I preach that there is someone in His house that day that came hurting; that though they may have plastered a smile on their face and said, “Happy Sabbath” and all the other things we say on Sabbath-that there is a deep hurt inside them and a desperation to hear “a Word from the Lord” (which by the way, is another reason why I go to church every Sabbath: The very day that I miss may well be the very day that the Lord has sent someone to give me the very thing that I need).
But preachers aren’t the only people that God uses to encourage others. Sometimes, he has the choir, or the Praise Team or the soloist to sing “that song”; they may not have planned to sing that song or even rehearsed it. But God told them to sing it because He knew you needed it.
But you do not have to preach or sing for God to use you to encourage someone-sometimes, all you need to do is smile.
Years ago, I was a young Pastor, with a church school that I loved-but was making me pull my hair out (I had hair then!). On top of that, I had just had my wisdom teeth pulled. My dentist was great, but in those days, they did not stitch after the surgery the way they do today. They had these giant stitches that were quite uncomfortable.
I came to church that Sabbath, tired, irritable and with a sore mouth. Both the school situation and my oral situation had me feeling badly. But it was my habit to get to church early and greet everyone at the door (something I saw the late Elder E.C. Ward do when I was a student at Oakwood and it stuck with me).
One of my faithful members said to me as I greeted her that Sabbath, “Pastor, I am praying for you”. That’s all she said. But it changed my mood.
That was 1,000 years ago when I was a young Pastor. That lady has no doubt long ago forgotten that moment. But I never forgot. The Lord sent that lady to encourage me.
This Sabbath-someone is going to come to church, feeling just as I did that long ago Sabbath-or worse. Someone is going to come to one of our large churches and feel as though even though they are in this large crowd, they are alone.
That person needs-not just a Word from the Lord-but a Word from one of His people. They need to know that someone sees them-that next week, if they miss church, someone will miss them.
And the last reason that I have time to share that I go to church every Sabbath is because God has ordained it that my church needs me.
God has ordained it so we are dependent on each other-I need my church and my church needs me.
That isn’t to say that your church cannot survive without you and my church cannot survive without me-it can-and one day, if time should last-your church and my church will survive without us.
But God has ordained it so that each of us is a piece of the great gospel puzzle. Some preach, some evangelize, some administrate, some sing, some usher-some just faithfully show up every week.
Have you ever noticed that there is an energy in a full building that is not there when the building is half-empty? There most assuredly is a difference between a full church and an empty one.
I visited a church once upon a time on a cold dreary Sabbath. The church was half empty and the mood on the inside matched the mood on the outside. It was terrible. You could almost hear what the people were thinking to themselves, “I am really not sure that I want to be here”.
Years later, I visited that same church: The weather was sunny, there were twice as many people-it was a completely different church. Sometimes, what your church needs from you is you-your church needs you to show up.
Here is my last illustration to help me make the point as to why I go to church every Sabbath: I wear daily wear contact lenses. For those of you who wear contacts, you know that usually daily wear contact lenses (the kind that you wear for the day and throw away at night) are plastic. That makes them easier to wear but also-easier to tear.
One morning, I was putting on my contacts and they felt so uncomfortable-it was as if someone was sticking their finger in my eye.
I took the contact out and saw that a tiny piece of the contact had torn off. It was a very tiny piece but that tiny piece was the difference between being able to wear that contact and not wear it. That tiny piece was the difference between that lens being usable and functional and it not.
You may feel as though you are only a tiny piece of your church but the Lord gave you a unique set of gifts and talents that He gave no one else. Your church is not completely whole without you.
And you are not whole without your church.
By Elder Dana Edmond