A pastor once shared with me how he often really feels when he heads into church on a Sunday: he wishes he was doing something else.
He was quick to point out that those feelings change quickly once the church service begins and he starts to feel the benefits of being among God’s people. But he’s not alone. Many of us, if we’re honest, have felt a sort of hesitation about going to church. In those moments or seasons, it doesn’t take much to stop us. A couple of snowflakes on the road; the merest tickle in the throat; a looming work deadline on Monday.
The fact is, we often don’t need to look for reasons to skip church; we need to look for reasons to go. God himself gives us two in Hebrews 10:
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. (Hebrews 10:24–25)
“Some of us miss church because we deeply believe they don’t need us.”
The habit of missing church is not a new one. People were already trying to ditch the discomforts of covenant community two thousand years ago. If people in a very different context a long time ago had the same inclination, then it really is a human problem, not just a modern one. For as long as Christians have gathered, there has been the temptation to habitually miss church.
How God Encourages
What might surprise us in Hebrews 10:24–25 is the alternative to going to church: “Not neglecting to meet together . . . but encouraging one another.” Meeting together for worship is vital for every Christian because it is an essential way God encourages us in our faith. Think about that. God has designed us to need other Christians to help us keep going in the faith. And he’s designed them to need our encouragement. So, skipping church deprives in two ways: you of their encouragement, and them of yours. Your church needs you to be there, and you need your church to be there.
This directly speaks to the two most common reasons we can develop the habit of giving up meeting with others — pride and discouragement.
The rest of your life stretches out before you. Do you want to spend it growing in Christ, and being useful to him? God himself says to do that you need the input of others, and to have input into the lives of others. That is how God has designed his people to flourish.
Outside of the local church, we will lack the encouragement God has for us (and we will be failing to help others grow in their faith too). To think we will carry on our Christian lives is therefore arrogant — I can manage without the encouragement that God wants to provide me through the local church. Our pride says we don’t need them.
The apostle Paul was no stranger to this way of thinking. He likened the various members of a church to the various parts of a body. In any mixture of people there will be some who feel their need for others less.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” (1 Corinthians 12:21)
“You are not less integral to the body of the church than anyone else. God does not make redundant Christians.”
Apart from being attached to a living body, an eye cannot see nor a head function. Their usefulness in life may be conspicuous but we shouldn’t infer from this that they’re self-sufficient. The same is true of believers. Someone might feel like the equivalent of an eye, or even a head — vital to other Christians and even superior, in some way, to them. But to conclude they don’t need the church, that their own spiritual health is independent of the support and input of other believers, is as foolish as thinking a lone eyeball will be able to “see” anything.
But some of us miss church because we deeply believe they don’t need us. We feel useless, convinced we have nothing to contribute. We’re not like the head or the eye in Paul’s analogy. We’re more like the less-important parts they’re comparing themselves to. Paul understands this as well:
If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. (1 Corinthians 12:15)
Your foot would really struggle to do what your hands do, typing emails, carrying groceries, eating, playing piano. But that doesn’t mean your foot is not integral to the useful functioning of your body. The hand is only typically able to do what it does because the foot is getting the body where it needs to be. However less you may feel yourself to be than others, Scripture is emphatic: you are not less integral to the body of the church than anyone else. God does not make redundant Christians.
Back to the verses from Hebrews. The passage tells us to “encourage one another,” not “be encouraged by those sufficiently advanced spiritually.” All of us can get in on this, however old or young we are in the faith, and whatever our gifting and talents. Others really do need you. Your presence can make a difference. You are not dispensable, and the very fact you might feel you are could be one of the ways you can be of comfort to someone feeling the same way.
Two Ways to Pray
So, here are two ways to pray as you head to church, regardless of how indifferent or even fearful you might feel about going.
First, pray that at least one thing would be a significant encouragement to you. Be open to being encouraged. Look for encouragement. It might be a lyric from one of the songs you sing. It might be someone’s prayer, or a line from a sermon. It might be something someone says to you before the service begins or after it ends. Ask God for this. He means to encourage you.
Second, pray that you would be a significant encouragement to at least one other person. It might be what you say to them. It might simply be seeing you there, faithfully attending even when you don’t fully feel like it. Stick around long enough to have one meaningful conversation. I’m shy — I don’t like moving into a crowded coffee space after church not knowing whom to talk to. But I love lingering in the pew talking to whoever’s around me.
God has designed us to be mutually encouraged by meeting together regularly as his people. To seek it is to go exactly with the grain of what God wants to do for us. These are prayers God means to answer. Trust him as you walk into church again.