We were out of town visiting last weekend and while there my wife and I talked and prayed about whether to attend a local church service on Sunday if our hosts preferred not to go. Although both grew up in church, met at a Christian college and married, they aren’t regular church-goers now.
We talk with them about this now and then and have even “tried” some services with them in their area but they always have reasons for not going back.
They live a few hours away from us and we visit back and forth regularly. When they are visiting us, they attend our church. When we visit them, we used to bring up faith and church attendance more often a few years ago but less so now.
This is a sensitive subject with them so we backed off with our "going to church" discussions. Meanwhile, we regularly pray that they will receive the Lord back into their lives in a way that is discernible to us.
I admit the “discernible” part is somewhat selfish - not that they have to prove to us that they follow the Lord but because they are dear to us. We care about their faith well-being.
For me, church-going is one solid sign that a person is dedicated to following Jesus Christ. Let me be clear that church-going will NOT endear a person to the Lord but neglecting church attendance makes faithfully following Him more difficult.
Let's face it, all the rest of our lives competes with the Lord's claim on us, including church-going. Quite simply, for me, church-going is worshiping the Lord with His people. Two teachings of Jesus anchor this for me:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” (John 13: 34-35, NIV)
That Jesus said this is significant, how he wants his followers to be known - their love for one another. Pretty difficult to love people you don’t regularly spend time with. Even once weekly church going won't really get you there but it's a start.
Church isn’t so much a place as a people. Going to church and not connecting with the people there isn’t really church in my book. That’s why we sometimes neglect to find an “Away Church” when we're away from home on Sundays.
I feebly hold a notion is that not being in relationship with "Away Church" people renders church-going somewhat ritualistic. I say feebly because most times when we're away, we find a local church anyway and go but, due to my notion, not always.
Last weekend, the Lord challenged my “Away Church” notion by bringing this teaching to mind from Hebrews:
"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching." (Hebrews 10:24-25, NIV84)
Directed to believers of a particular local church, this guidance falls into the middle of a teaching that my NIV84 Bible subtitled, “A Call to Persevere.”
“Let us consider…” is a suggestion vs. do this or else. Look also at “not give up,” as in don't stop doing something you were doing. Soon enough, not going becomes a new norm.
Reasons to stop going to church are many. Outside of church, you won’t find many, if any, reasons to continue going to church. Giving up going to church is easy but if we give up going, we will not and in fact cannot encourage each other toward the kinds of love and good deeds that mark or should mark following Christ.
What was God's challenge regarding my “Away Church” notion? Simply to "go to church” and let our hosts know our plan.
We looked up a nearby church we had attended once with them and picked a service time. The second sentence on the church’s home page spoke to me: “We are dedicated to taking the broken values of this world and turning them upside down.”
Upside down church is a term we also use at our home church, Grace Chapel. So while “Away Church” may not be the same as “Home Church,” it still fits my basic definition for church-going - worshiping the Lord with His people.
Turns out, our hosts decided to attend church with us and the teaching was based on John 15:5-9 that believers are like grapevine branches. In order to bear fruit, we have to stay connected to the vine, God.
Don’t know if they got the message but we sure did.