Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.—1 Timothy 4:7,8
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.—Hebrews 10:24,25
I skipped church this past Sunday.
Sunday morning worship is a different experience for me than it is for most people. Church is my job. And it’s a place where I am serving, giving out, not so much a place where I am receiving. Skipping church for me isn’t exactly the same thing as it is for a lot of people; it’s more like someone else taking a day off of work.
I don’t do it very often. If things go according to plan, I’ll preach around 44 of the 52 Sundays in 2024. That’s over 80%, or better than 4 out of every 5 Sundays. It’s a pretty good rate of attendance, considering that statistics tell us the typical churchgoer now attends church an average of less than twice per month. Then again, those people aren’t paid to be there. Then again, when they do show up, I assume it’s not the same exhausting experience it is for me. Like I said, my situation is unique.
Still, it felt strange not being there. I slept in, and then watched the first service online in my pajamas, just to see what that’s like. Then my daughter, who is a brand-new driver, wanted to attend second service, and the roads were icy, so I took her there and picked her up afterwards. It was amusing to see the confused looks of people I passed in the parking lot. Shouldn’t you be inside? Yes, usually.
It was also encouraging to see all the people faithfully making their way to worship, even in bad weather. One of the unique things about being the pastor is that when I arrive at church, the parking lot is almost empty, and it’s the same when I leave. I’m never a part of the hustle and bustle everyone else experiences when they come. I never have to compete for a parking spot, or see any other churchgoers on the streets. It was a surprising blessing to be reminded of the effort God’s people make to show up to church each week. As I crept along through the snow and ice, car after car was being driven by a familiar face, someone who had made the decision to get out of bed, get themselves ready, and be present for worship.
Why do we do it? Does it make a difference? I know that one of the reasons people attend church less than they used to is that they don’t feel the need for it. If you got something out of church last week, some kind of spiritual boost, and things have been cruising along pretty smoothly since then, maybe you don’t feel the need to go to the trouble again this time. Maybe what you got last time can last you for a couple of weeks. Then, when you’re feeling spiritually dry again, you go back.
The problem with this kind of thinking is that it assumes the benefits of church can always be felt. People talk about “getting their worship fix,” or about getting some kind of nugget of truth from the sermon that will help them handle life for a while. If it helps me, I’ll be able to feel the difference, and if I don’t feel it, then it must not have helped me.
But the Bible describes our spiritual lives differently. It doesn’t talk about worship meeting an emotional need. It talks about it more like a good habit, a discipline, that brings about real transformation over time. It’s not always like having a good cry or a good laugh, it’s more like having a good workout or a good piano practice. You might not feel different tomorrow, but as the weeks and months go by, you’re being shaped into a different person. In this kind of situation, there’s value in something every time we do it, even if the effects aren’t felt immediately.
Several times, the Bible uses the language of physical fitness to explain the process of spiritual growth. Paul told Timothy that it’s possible to train ourselves to be godly. Training in godliness is more important than physical training, but it’s comparable. The principles we learn from one can be applied to the other. If you’ve ever gotten serious about exercise, even for a season, then you know how it works: one workout won’t transform you, but faithful discipline over time will bring about real change.
What if this was our understanding of church? This particular Sunday, I may or may not have a moment where I feel God moving in my heart. But if I’m faithful week in and week out, one day I’ll wake up and realize I’m a different person.
I couldn’t help but think about this principle at our Christmas Eve service a couple of weeks ago, seeing faces I have come to expect to see twice a year. (Once I accidentally said out loud to someone: “How have you been? I haven’t seen you since Easter!”) I’m glad those people come, and I pray for God to speak to them in those moments. He can do anything, so there’s always the potential for a spiritual breakthrough of some kind whenever someone turns their attention to Him. But those lightning-bolt moments are rare. For the most part, attending church twice a year has about as much effect as going to the gym twice a year: You might feel better about yourself for a couple of days, but real growth is unlikely.
This year, instead of asking yourself “do I feel like I need to go to church this week?” maybe ask a better question, something like “What kind of person do I want to be a year from now?” “How close to God do I want to be?” “How much do I want my thinking to be shaped by the truth of His Word?” Make it a habit to faithfully attend worship, whether you feel like it or not, because that’s when the growth happens.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.—1 Corinthians 9:24,25