Someone on social media kind of complained a few days ago that people too quickly point out their mitigating circumstances whenever they see posts laying down Scriptural principles. I am one of the people she meant, though I doubt she had me in mind when she wrote the post. As I’ve mulled over her remark, I’ve had to agree that people these days are far too sensitive, especially when circumstances beyond their control force them to be exceptions to the rule.
One topic in particular seems to compel me to voice my status as someone with exceptional circumstances. Whenever I hear admonishments against staying home from church, I immediately experience defensive feelings, certain that others judge me as a hypocrite who has no business writing a Christian blog. And if I stayed home from church simply out of personal preference as a matter of convenience, they’d be absolutely right!
I haven’t been to church in over two years. Of course, I haven’t been anywhere else, unless you count my hospitalization in the fall of 2020 and a handful of times I’ve driven my power wheelchair a few blocks around our neighborhood. My back simply can’t handle extended periods away from my desk, where I can lean on my headstick to redistribute the weight and thus minimize my back pain.
Sitting through the actual church service itself wouldn’t be too difficult. In fact, I sit away from my desk to watch the live stream from our church on Sunday mornings, sometimes with minimal discomfort. On those good days, I begin to think I could actually handle returning to church.
But then I remember that our paratransit system, The RIDE, is a shared service, which means that the 20-minute trip between our apartment and the church building can sometimes take up to two hours as they pick up and drop off other passengers. Not to mention waiting for an hour or more for The RIDE to pick us up in the first place. Before my injury, John and I willingly made the sacrifice. Now, however, we don’t want to risk harming my back even further.
Thankfully, our pastors and elders support our decision. One elder comes over each Wednesday morning to do Bible Studies with us. This week the Associate Pastor came with him. Additionally watching the live stream of Sunday services and Wednesday night Bible Studies keep us somewhat connected. I’ve asked the elders to oversee this blog — hopefully one of them does. In short, we do all we can to remain accountable to our church, despite our inability to attend physically.
Yet John and I believe more than ever that a willful failure to attend church rebels against the Lord. Whereas we would give anything to return to in-person worship with our wonderful church family, we can’t understand people who stay home and “do” church in their jammies when they’re perfectly capable of driving their cars a few miles each way. Sure, they can sing the hymns and hear the sermons, but they can’t build relationships with other members of that church family.
The writer of Hebrews strongly warned against staying away from church gatherings:
23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. ~~Hebrews 10:23-25 (NASB95)
Our brothers and sisters need us! When we fail to attend services, Bible Studies and other functions simply because it’s easier to fire up the computer and watch a live stream, we withhold ministry from our brothers and sisters who desperately need us. Sometimes just a warm smile across the lobby can bless someone struggling with loneliness. Other times, a conversation about what God showed us in personal Bible reading can offer encouragement. As people observe your interactions with your children, the Lord might use you to teach them parenting skills. In short, you really have no idea what eternal impact you have just by being physically present!
I don’t miss dealing with The RIDE on Sundays, but I definitely miss being with people who love the Lord and enjoy talking about His Word. This time of being unable to attend church only deepens my conviction that missing church when we don’t have to is inexcusable. John and I are the exception that prove this rule.