It’s always hard for a vicar to talk about church attendance.
On the one hand, it’s important to be realistic about all the pressures people face nowadays. If you read my recent post featuring “Mr Stickman” you will know I take seriously the demands of family, work and so much more besides. It can be a real struggle to find the time and space to have fellowship, one with another.
But on the other hand we need to have a far deeper understanding that the Christian faith involves a new relationship not just with God our Heavenly Father but with each other. If we are in Christ, then we are part of His body. We are together living stones in His temple, together a holy nation, together a royal priesthood.
Last week at Bible Explored we explored the question of what happens when someone stops belonging to the body of Christ. We came up with two really interesting answers. The first is that they die spiritually. If, for example, you cut off an ear, then the organ will no longer have blood and nutrients supplying it. And however much someone protests they don’t have to be a Christian to go to church, the reality is, when people fall away from fellowship, they nearly always fall away from the faith.
But the second answer, and one I hadn’t really thought about, is that, when, say, an ear is cut off, it leaves behind a hole. And that’s something perhaps we should stress more often. If I am not present when others are meeting in fellowship, they are deprived of my gifts and ministries (and if we have the Holy Spirit all of us have gifts and ministries). My absence makes the life of the whole church poorer. It is less able to function as the body of Christ and make Christ known in the world.
When you begin to understand that, you begin to see how much church attendance counts – not just for your own sake, but for the sake of others.
Yesterday in our Harvest Festival I got a group of willing volunteers to play the part of lepers. To do this, I gave them red spots to put on their faces, and of course they could do this easily. But then I came to the point where Jesus healed them (Luke 17:11-19) and it was time to remove the red spots. What the volunteers discovered was that it was far less easy to remove the red spots themselves. They needed the help of other people.
It struck me this was a real parable of our life together as a church. We come as imperfect individuals, all too often broken and in need of healing. We need our brothers and sisters in Christ so we can minister to each other, help each other find healing. It’s far easier than trying to do this on our own! And then even if we find we cannot physically attend a church service, we can take comfort and assurance from the fact there is a network of prayer and support behind us, and help one another live out our faith in the midst of our busy weeks.
So is it a good idea to attend church? Yes, but not out of guilt or to keep the vicar happy: rather, because it is essential to our own discipleship and to the witness of the whole church.
See you next Sunday!