Letter to a Christian friend missing from Church

I’m writing to express my concern over your absence at church. Please understand that I am writing out of love and concern for you and your family. I also want you to know that I am writing this on my own accord. It is only my idea, and I have not been encouraged or requested to do so by any other persons.

I don’t anticipate this letter will be long, for if there is any key point, it is that I just wanted you to know that I know you have been missing and that you will now know I know you are missing and you will know I am concerned. Largely, I hope that to be sufficient reason for you to return to church, that is, the concern of a fellow believer, and if that was all that needed to be said, my first sentence accomplished that.

But in this age, when friendships die so quickly due to small misunderstandings, and where people believe they have an inherent right to live their lives without the slightest intrusion from their neighbors, I want to ensure that my message is clear and not misunderstood, if it is possible for me to do so within the limitations of written words. In addition, I would like to give you some background into my thinking and my motivation in writing this.

My worldview is such that I tend to view the people I know as a small community, not altogether different from a small town of four or five hundred people. I am aware that average folk will assume that your absence is being attended to by other concerned persons, or alternately, they will give you the benefit of the doubt, as I have for some months now, that you are probably taking care of your family spiritually in some other beneficial way of which I know not. Some may, in fact, just choose not to acknowledge your absence for any number of reasons, including not wanting to be “judgmental”. Some might even feel that by pointing out to you, even in a happy-go-lucky manner, their awareness of your absence that they may somehow make it more difficult for you to return. They might think such an action might cause you to suspect that the whole eyes of the church will watch your grand re-entrance, and although such a scenario is unlikely, the sheer terror of such imagination may be enough to keep you away longer, waiting perhaps, for an equally grand excuse to return. (”I’ve just returned from a mining expedition in Brazil and look what I have for everyone here today… Gold! Solid Gold, baby!”).

However, I sort of tend to view the world as too small to not express my concern. Maybe others you know have already done so - but my concern is my own, and I leave it to myself to express it to you. If it adds to others voices, then maybe it will be from a slightly different view or context that may give you additional things to contemplate. If it is the lone voice in a sea of silence, well, then perhaps that is what I fear most, and I should choose my words more carefully.

Despite my reputation, which precedes me as a loud-mouthed confronter, a hard-nosed opinionated snob, or a simply a “jerk”, I think you know me well enough to know that these things are distorted versions of my character. In fact, I think you would agree that I am not one to pick a fight, or one to prolong an argument with someone set fast in his or her ways. Perhaps it is my understanding of the judgment of God that allows me to walk away most of the time, but it is also my understanding of our Christian Duty that impels me to insert myself in some situations that perhaps others would avoid. I hope you understand that my fear is ever present in these moments and although outsiders may think me strong, I certainly do not feel it at the time. In writing this, my fear is large. I have, I suppose, much to lose, chief among which is your friendship, and perhaps the disfavor of others in the church, should you take the liberty to share this with them.

Certainly, the easier thing to do would be to continue silently hoping everything is okay, or maybe making a phone call or visit to give you the opportunity to make an excuse. But I thought that in a sudden move like that, you might be tempted to twist the truth to alleviate your friend’s concerns, perhaps to even convince me that everything is okay. I would not want to tempt you to do that, and felt that a letter would give you more time to reflect. Also, a letter, in truth, does not require a reply at all, in the sense that a conversation does, and this letter is certainly no exception to that rule. And on a more personal level, a letter allows me the security of choosing my words carefully and perhaps risks a bit less in communicating to you my concern.

In all honesty, going to church on a regular basis, especially with children, is a time-consuming difficult thing to do. There have been many mornings when I have slept in, even though my wife and children were ready, causing the entire family not to go. There have been many mornings where I have simply not been motivated to go to church, not for any perceived deficiency of our specific church, but my own estrangement from God. There have been many mornings where I have found something that was “more important” to do than to attend church. In short, I am no saint on church attendance, and perhaps perfect attendance at church would be, for most people, a sign that maybe they were majoring on the minors. For there is certainly nothing wrong with a man who stays home from church to nurse a lingering illness and everything wrong with a man who ventures into church with a contagious flu. As your family grows, there will be increasing occasion that the whole family will have to stay home due to the needs of just one person.

But naturally, I am speaking here of a different kind of absence entirely. I would hesitate to use the words “slothful, weak, disobedient, and foolish” to describe a man who continually forsakes church in favor of sleep, hobbies, work, projects, or relaxation. But those are the terms I would have to use to describe myself when I have left my family’s spiritual growth on the back burner to the betterment of my own (sinful) comfort. Certainly others have prayed for us, and we will pray for your family in the same vein. Conversely, I might go so far as to describe the man who takes his family to church consistently, despite working two jobs, having the lawn to do, being tired from working late Saturday, etc, as “diligent, strong, obedient, and wise”, and I think you would agree with that assessment. So, we each have to look at our own actions honestly if we are to make any improvement at all.

As parents, do we have an increased burden, scripturally, to attend church? I would agree that we do. While it may be accurate that people who are having difficulty attending church regularly are probably suffering from the same spiritual decay (or condition), it is important to recognize that we, as fathers and husbands, have additional duties we are neglecting that a single man is not. And those additional duties are the charges that the Lord has given us over our wives and children. There are many instructions for parents throughout Scripture; the three of the more basic duties are as follows:

1. Personal obedience yourself - “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged” (Col. 3:21). In a Christian home, the children are under the authority of the parents who are under authority themselves. Nothing undermines godly parenting more than hypocrisy. When children see that they are expected to be obedient to the parents’ authority while the parents have no expectations for themselves, the results are highly disastrous.

2. Intercession for your children - “So it was, when the days of feasting had run their course that Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, ‘It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.’ Thus Job did regularly.” (Job 1:5). As the context makes clear, Job was righteous in what he was doing. Not only did Job pray for his children, he did so as their representative. But Job did not pray for his children because he liked them, or because he was close to them. He prayed because he was responsible.

3. Instruction in God’s standards - Read Deut 6:4-9. You will notice that the greatest commandment is given to us in the context of a passage on bringing up our children with a Christian education. Parents are to teach their children the law of God, and they are to do so without ceasing.

But, I don’t imagine you would take issue with me on the importance of church attendance for your family. But you might feel, for yourself, that attendance is not of the greatest import. For you were taught well, you know the scriptures, and in the case of our church, you have been under the pastor’s teaching for many years. So, it is unlikely that any great revelations of truth will be splattered upon you in a sermon that stir your soul, shock your senses, or fill your eyes with tears. In fact, you could probably help our pastor write some of his sermons, if given the opportunity. And like me, sometimes the excitement of truth, wisdom, insight, and revelation is motivation enough to attend many things. But if I know our pastor is preaching a 37 part series on the life and times of King David from the age of 9 ½ to 10, using just four verses to expound upon (I can actually see him trying this), I might have the sincere belief that missing a few of those probably isn’t going to leave me in want.

I don’t want to “preach to the choir” and you probably already know most of these verses by heart, but I will take a moment to type them nonetheless, perhaps to remind your heart what your head already knows.

“Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.” (Hebrews 10: 19-27, but the entire chapter is applicable).

“Then those who gladly received his word (Peter’s) were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2: 41-2)

Here also are a few brief quotes from the Westminster Confession of Faith regarding our overall conduct on the Sabbath:

“Saints by profession are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification; as also in relieving each other in outward things, according to their several abilities and necessities.” (Chap. XXVI, Sec II).

“This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy. (Chap. XXI, Sect VIII - Sorry, I do not have the scripture references for my Confession).

Note here that “duties of necessity” are not referring to steam cleaning the carpets, buying a new tie for Monday morning, or filling the car up with gas. They instead refer to such things as eating, breathing, getting dressed, brushing teeth, etc, and are mentioned as a hedge against pietist thinking that wrongly believed that absolutely no work could be done on the Sabbath by defining “work” in the same vein as the science of physics: the expenditure of any energy to accomplish any task. This created a whole system of laws, some mentioned in the New Testament, regarding how far you could walk on the Sabbath, what you could eat, and so forth. Jesus helped to reform this sort of thinking while on earth, along with later emphasis from the apostles, most notable Paul, and the confession merely uses that simple three-word phrase to summarize what is made plain in scripture.

I could continue, I suppose, at some length, but I want to avoid assuming too much by writing an argument against every reason you might not be attending. But I can assume one thing quite fairly, and that is that church attendance is not important to you right now. I don’t expect that to change overnight. For someone to simply point out that church attendance is important is not likely for you to immediately turn about, alter your schedule, and begin a long string of near-perfect attendance.

My challenge for myself each week is to just get to church next week. It isn’t difficult, but planning and anticipating sure makes it easier. When my wife asks me Saturday, “Are we going to church tomorrow?” I no longer answer, “I hope so” or “Maybe” or “We’ll see”, but “Yes”. It may seem simple, but it works well for us. I mentally make plans to be there and as the end of the week approaches, I try to keep it in mind as I contemplate my activities for Saturday night, my Sunday afternoon plans, and my Monday morning schedule. This seems to work far better than somehow “hoping” to fit church in my busy weekend. I hate to sound like a preacher, but the truth also is that when we do go to church, somehow, somehow, somehow… we find more time on the weekend. Of course, that is the work of the Holy Spirit, helping us, through church, to focus on the important things.

Again, to summarize and re-emphasize, I am not perfect and I don’t expect you to be. But, I am writing out of concern. If the father is not leading, his family will lead (or stray), and that is not the recipe for family that God prescribes. In the small things, like faithfulness, is where most of God’s richest blessings are to be found. And while you may not grow mentally each week as much as your spouse or others around you, you will grow spiritually. And if you struggle from even half the sinful temptations I do, that can only be a good thing that the Lord will use to strengthen you, bless you, and honor you among men. This is an interesting scripture worth noting. Right after Jesus was found in the temple by his parents when he was twelve and he said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?,” it says that his parents did not understand the statement but that his mother kept (or remembered) all these things in her heart, almost as if she was observing quietly to determine what she should be doing in her life. The following verse (Luke 2:52) says “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men”. Of course, that favor with men sort of vanished for a while, according to God’s great plan, and that might likely be the case with us one day, Lord willing. But the principle of Godly obedience and the gain of wisdom, stature, and favor with God and men is not limited just to Jesus. That is the result of his relationship with the Lord and putting that first, even above that of His parents (and their comfort).

On a lighter note, I tried filling out the children’s bulletin this week with the kids while listening to the pastor. If you need a mental challenge, that thing should do the trick. I don’t know what children they expect to successfully complete it. One of the words this week was “imitative” which I didn’t even know was a word. I’ll be taking a few extra vitamins before going to church next week to get mentally ready.

I do hope to see you in church soon, and I’ll not rush over to shower you with hugs and trumpets, or make mention of this letter, nor count your return as a sort of triumph for me or my effort in writing this letter. I will, however, be glad to see you nonetheless, and I’ll trust that, like me, God has you there, that day, for a reason of His own purpose and timing.

Please give consideration to what I’ve said, and if you feel concerned about my letter, the tone of it or the content, or find yourself in disagreement with anything I’ve said, please feel free to communicate that to me in whatever fashion you find convenient to allow me an opportunity to clarify or embellish anything that I may have not explained well. I would appreciate that. But as I stated earlier, other than that reason, do not feel imposed upon to respond. I wrote this letter, hoping to edify you and build you up and the response I’m hopeful for is your edification. God bless you and your family and if there is anything I can do for you all in any area of life, please ask me to do so. I trust you will allow me the pleasure of assisting if it is possible.

In Christ Jesus,

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