In my previous blog entries I have cited two pieces of poor advice that I have been given over the years. The first related to sung worship, the second related to giving as an act of worship.
Here is the third and final memorable piece of poor advice I have received in relation to starting new churches:
If you choose not to meet on the occasional Sunday, your church will not spend any more time with those who don’t know Jesus and your people will just see it as a week off.
My first response to that is that is it not my church, but His church. They are not my people but His people. I have sweated for the church, but I have never bled for it. I have led the church but I am not the Head of it. I am part of the body of the church, but it is not my body – the church belongs to Jesus.
My second response is that the church does not only exist in a specific time and in a specific place. We are the church everywhere, not just somewhere. We do not cease to be the church because we don’t gather together in a room between 4pm and 6pm on a Sunday. We are the church 24/7, 365 days a year. We don’t have a minute off from following Jesus, never mind a week.
When Jesus challenged the religious people about their traditions he warned them that by their unquestioning allegiance to certain habits they were at risk of nullifying the very Word of God that caused these traditions to be created.
The Bible makes it clear that the first believers met regularly and did not stop meeting together. But it does not explicitly state that every church met every week at the same time and in the same place. Common sense may dictate that this is useful, but it is not essential and in some respects it may even be harmful.
Harmful!! Let me explain… I am always amazed how many people see a coming together of the body of Christ as a meeting which you simply attend, perform certain habits or traditions and then go away again. It is not that. It was never intended to be that!
The coming together of the church, whether public or private, is first and foremost a family gathering. It is a time where we encourage, stir up, pray, teach and worship together. The reason it can become harmful is that people may take the gathering for granted (the church will be together when I need it and who cares when I don’t). Gathering together is something we should cherish, value, look forward to and miss when it does not happen.
Over the years I have noticed that by occasionally pausing the weekly gathering of the church and not meeting it actually increases our desire, our need, our purpose and our pleasure of being together. It brings freshness and also honours those who serve week in and week out (who rarely ‘miss’ a Sunday any other way). It allows people to plan times away or to visit family and generally brings a freedom in coming together, rather than an expectation or compulsion. So maybe for many it does feel like a ‘week off’ which is exactly why rest is needed, because coming together should not feel like something you need time-off from!!
We do not expect the time between 4pm and 6pm to always be occupied in the company of those who do not know Jesus Christ. But what it does mean is that we are reminded every time our weekly habit is disrupted that Jesus Christ came to save those who are lost and are more and more unlikely to walk into a church meeting to find their way.
Finally if you still need another reason to occasionally pause from meeting as a church may I suggest this. Every time we don’t meet, go somewhere public (you could do this on a Sunday morning just as much as a Sunday afternoon). Observe how many thousands and thousands of people are not in a church meeting – let’s assume that they can’t all be Christians ‘skipping’ a church gathering – and therefore are more than likely people who do not know Jesus Christ. Let that reality motivate you to mission and to making friends with those outside of the church as much as those within it.