Whenever a pastor preaches, teaches, or writes on the subject of church attendance, two responses can leap into the forefront of some people’s minds. One, “He must be really upset about certain people skipping church!” Two, “He only is upset because it’s his job!” Both thoughts are true in some sense but not in the cynical sense that might appear on first glance. As I pastor, I am upset when church members skip the assembling of God’s people and I do think about it because it’s my job. However, these are not bad things. Let me explain why.
First, let us tackle the question of my job as a pastor. The word “pastor” means “shepherd.” A pastor shepherds the people given to him by Christ. His job is not to point those people to himself but to point people to Jesus Christ the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). One of the primary ways that this shepherding is accomplished is through the regular gathering of God’s people in local churches. This is what early Christians did. It forms the pattern of what we see in Acts as people were made disciples and gathered into local churches. This pattern is codified in Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:2 where the disciples are said to come together “on the first day of the week.”
A number of great ministries of Christ take place when Christians gather together in local assemblies on the first day of the week. The public preaching/teaching of the Word, the public reading of the Word, the singing of the Word, the prayers of the saints, the fellowship of the saints, the giving of God’s saints, and the display of the Word in the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are all great ministries of Christ that take place when Christians gather week by week. So much of pastoral shepherding takes place when Christians are gathered week by week. Whenever church members skip those gatherings, the ability of a pastor to shepherd people to Christ and His Word is greatly diminished.
The truth is, I do get upset because it is my job to shepherd believers to Christ. However, this irritation is not because my feelings are hurt. Rather, the irritation arises due to the reality that I care for such Christians and I care about what Christ has commanded me to do.
Imagine with me a father who eats supper every night with his family. This is the time that he sets aside in his schedule and in his family’s busy schedule to be with each other. One particular night he sits down and notices that one of his children – a daughter – is not at the table. He inquires as to where this child is and finds out that this daughter is not feeling well. The next night he comes to the table and sees that the daughter is not there again. This time he is told that she went to a friend’s house. Still, the next night he is told that she has too much homework. The following evening, she is in her room and says “I am not hungry, I just want to listen to some music.” On the fifth night he is told that she didn’t want to miss her favorite show on TV. On night six he is told “I just don’t really feel a strong connection to this family.” Similar events continued for several weeks.
Assuming that this father was a good father, would we be surprised or condemning if the dad was a bit upset? Of course not! He should be upset because this was the time for the family and he knows that his daughter will be served well by spending this time with the family. Furthermore, he knows that the rest of the family will be short-changed without her presence! As a father, it is his duty to lead the family. But more than mere duty would motivate him. The fact that he cares for his daughter and cares for the whole family would bring him to say “this is not good that you are not eating with us. You need to join us for dinner tonight!” The same holds true for a pastor and his people. It is his job to care; a good pastor will care. He knows that God has ordained that a major part of this care takes place in the context of the gathered assembly of believers week by week.
Second, a pastor does get upset with church members who skip church gatherings because he knows the damage it will bring to their lives. A moment ago I mentioned all the various ministries that take place week by week in the church. Most of them cannot be replicated in isolation. For instance, there is something different about what happens when a person hears live preaching of the Scripture versus what happens on a podcast or on a YouTube video. Listening to other people sing on your radio or through your favorite music app does not accomplish the same thing as ministering together in songs, hymns, and spiritual songs. Something happens in me when I am in church and I hear the Word of God read to me that is different than when I read it in my own devotions. God designed it this way. He knew, in His infinite wisdom, that we would need these corporate ministries. Each of these components are essential to our spiritual lives. If you remove these components, you invite spiritual disaster.
In a few weeks my family and I are going to fly down to Texas to see my brother and his family. Imagine that as we are about to board the plane, we see out the window that a crew of people is changing a tire on the plane. When they put the new tire on, we watch as they hand-tighten the nut for the new tire, but do not use a wrench on it. Then we see someone working on the wings and we notice that one of the flaps is clearly broken. We watch as the mechanic pulls out duct tape and tapes it in place. Then we see someone working on the cargo bay door. There are 10 bolts and he has clearly lost 2 of them and does not bother to put them on. As we board the plane you overhear the pilot in the cockpit say “isn’t it crazy that the fuel level gauge is broken? But I am not worried, I saw the fuel truck pump fuel in.” At some point, we are not going to get on that plane because we know that there is danger when things are not all there or not put together properly. That plane could crash and burn.
The same is true in our Christian lives. If you strip away the ministries that occur in the assembly of God’s people, eventually your spiritual life will crash and burn as well.
As a pastor, I do get upset when church members skip church. I should get upset because I care for them. They are my brothers and sisters in Christ. I care for them because I do not want them to crash and burn spiritually.