This semester, for the first time in my life, I have had to consistently miss church services. A week before the semester started, my class received terrible news: two of our courses had been rescheduled, upending our evening plans for the next four months. One class would be on Monday nights. The other was scheduled for every Wednesday night—starting before mid-week worship services began and ending long after they finished. When I could no longer go to church on Wednesdays, worship assemblies stopped feeling routine; going to church became a privilege.
My purpose for this article is not to complain about the injustice of class scheduling or even to discuss whether or not “missing church” is a sin; those are conversations for another place. Instead, I intend to share some things I have learned about worship assemblies from my study and from my experience without them.
The important things on my to-do list aren’t as important as they seemed.
Before this semester, it was—and, honestly, still is—sometimes difficult to be fully present in the worship service rather than let my thoughts dwell on my booked schedule. Although consciously adjusting my focus is still a work in progress, this semester has helped me value the time I get to spend in services and thus helped me realize that, as important as research projects and therapy planning might be, they can wait until after I get home. When going to church became a privilege, it became easier to push everyday worries out of my mind and focus on why I was there rather than my plans after the closing prayer.
Church services build me up more than I realized.
When Paul explained to the Corinthians how to conduct assemblies, he also explained the reasoning behind his instructions: “Let all things be done for building up” (1 Cor. 14:26b). Gathering with our family in Christ is intended to build us up—and I didn’t realize how much it did until I was missing out. From the time I walk in the door, assembling with my family in Christ gives me a break from unwritten paperwork and unfinished homework, and I instead get to talk, sing, pray, and study with some of my favorite people. I can feel the “brotherly affection” that Rom. 12:10 describes and the unity that binds us together as the body of Christ. The assembly gives me strength that I could never find on my own.
I need the time spent focused on God & edification to refocus my week.
Even though I love my grad program and what I am learning, the week sometimes bogs me down with a busy, school-focused schedule. The writer of Hebrews asked his readers to adjust their focus to “…consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…” (Heb. 10:24). What was his conclusion? We should “not [be] 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” (Heb. 10:24-25). Gathering together with like-minded Christians should encourage us and refocus our perspective to love and serve others. Attending services helps me adjust my attitude and attention to be less concerned about my own pursuits and more focused on my spiritual life.
When going to church became a privilege, I put more effort into the service—and received more value in return. Edification became more meaningful. Worship became more focused. Encouragement became more uplifting. For all its frustrations, a Wednesday night class helped me appreciate the value of gathering with my brothers and sisters in Christ. It reminded me that the assembly should not be just another event on our weekly schedules; every time we meet as a congregation, we have an opportunity to worship, to build up others, and to grow spiritually stronger. It’s your choice, and mine: we can treat church as routine, or we can treat it as a privilege.