When I was a kid, going to church was an absolute no-brainer. I can hardly remember any Sunday that I missed. I actually don’t remember missing any particular Sunday until I was well into my teenage years, unless I was on a youth group field trip or desperately sick. If I spent the night with a friend, I went to church with them. Even when I was in college, I went every Sunday with few exceptions. Indeed, it was that weekly attendance that saved my faith as I was presented with alternative truth claims…from my religion professors no less!
When I was in seminary, I observed that weekly attendance by seminarians was not practiced by every student. I was shocked! If they didn’t have to be somewhere, many of them would choose to stay on campus. For myself – and later my wife when we were married – it was never a question of if we would worship on Sunday morning, but where. We took advantage of our free Sundays and worshipped at Lutheran, Catholic, Episcopal, and Orthodox churches, and I still remember many of those Sundays quite vividly.
So my credibility as a weekly worshipper is quite high. However, my credibility in encouraging others to worship weekly is now quite low, because I’m the pastor, and such encouragement is expected from me. Pastors talking about church attendance is almost as popular and as common as pastors talking about money. For good reason, pastors are often seen as men who do little else but harangue their poor members for more time and more money. In some cases, it is because the pastor’s own ego is at stake, and that eventually is rejected by those tired of hearing that message. So if I tell my church members to go to church, I’m just another pastor lecturing them on how to spend their time, with self-interest to boot.
Still, I observe that we have many members for whom weekly attendance just doesn’t happen. It is foreign to me because it is all I have ever known, so I really don’t know what to do with it. I would like to begin, though, by simply stating what I think we all know: the third of our Ten Commandments is to honor the Sabbath Day. While that day has moved from Saturday to Sunday (the day of resurrection and new creation), that commandment still holds because it is part of God’s moral law. God’s moral Law never changes because He never changes.
While that commandment does not necessarily include the worshipping of God (it there only speaks of the necessity of rest so as to “hallow” the day), we certainly understand that worship of God is included as part of our Sabbath rest. Indeed, as one matures as a Christian, I believe that worship is transformed from an energy-taker, to an energy-giver. Luther says this about this commandment: “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”
Beyond the mere command, I believe it is God’s desire that we worship not because we are told to, but because we cannot see ourselves doing anything else, at least for a portion of our week. Like I desire my children to actually want to be obedient, I believe God wants the same for us. I have thought many times about how we might change our worship to make it more accessible or “enjoyable”. I’m certain that many who visit or even our members find it boring to do the same thing again and again. But I cannot escape the commandment or the feeling that my desire to make worship more attractive kind of misses the point entirely.
The truth is that when any of us are not present, for whatever reason, good or bad, it is a loss to the Body. I am encouraged when we have many brothers and sisters together, sharing our life together. And I am discouraged when there are not many of us present. So as any good pastor should, I encourage you to be present in worship on Sundays. Let us be an encouragement to each other.