Good Afternoon Church Family, 

      This letter is the first email in a THREE-PART series addressing some items that I feel are important to discuss within EVERY church (not just ours). When you read through this letter, I hope you will consider that these words are being written in a spirit of love and care for your soul, and for that reason alone.

As one of your pastors, God’s Word is clear that I’ll stand before Him one day and “give an account” for the shepherding of your soul (Hebrews 13:17), and that frightens me. It means that I must be intentional in my actions, in my words, and in my example – in order to shepherd you well. It means that I must commit to caring more about your growth as a believer; your devotion as a follower of Christ, and your Walk with Him than I do anything else. And as your pastor, God’s Word also tells me that I must reprove, rebuke and exhort those under my watchcare with complete patience and teaching (2nd Timmothy 4:2).  So I’m writing these letters in an effort to be submissive to God’s call in scripture. I’m writing to reprove those who need it with patience, and to ENCOURAGE our church through the teaching of scripture.  

      The first way I wish to encourage you is to persuade you through scripture to “Not Forsake the Gathering” (Hebrews 10:25). To be blunt or forthcoming, I look around the church each week and see a different congregation than the week before. I’m sure this happens at many other churches, but there seems to be a lot of “transient” folks within our church who come and go in small seasons. This shows me that, as your Worship Pastor, I haven’t been shepherding well. I haven’t done the best job of teaching the importance of “Gathering” for the collective worship of our Sovereign God, nor of scripture’s call to be devoted to the Bride of Christ (the church). 

     And don’t get me wrong – I understand that sickness affects one’s ability to gather, and that the flu and many other illnesses have been rampant in recent weeks. I also understand that some folks are sometimes required to work Sundays in order to provide for their family. I’m not speaking of either of these particular circumstances…however, each and every week I find that many families in and around our community (not just in GCC) are missing from the collective worship of God for “other” reasons…reasons that God clearly speaks against in scripture.  Many are trading the worship of God and the fellowship (and building up) of believers for other earthly pursuits or desires, like sports, idleness, earthly family, community events, traditions, comfortability…and I want to encourage anyone who reads this today to prioritize your time in a way that honors the Lord.  Put HIM and the worship of Him above everything else, and WAR against the distractions around you.

     Our hope at GCC (and the hope of many pastors throughout the nation) is that our members grow in faith and in a deep love for Christ Jesus, so much so that “missing church” or not being able to gather with His Bride becomes a heartbreaking experience. I pray specifically that our people are genuinely burdened when they are not able to come to church…that they TREASURE the gathering and building up of the saints. But I’m not naïve enough to think this sort of devotion and dedication happens overnight. For some people it might, but it takes time for others.

I know through my own experience that as we “grow” in knowledge of our loving God, our love for Him and our devotion to Christ (and His Bride) grows as well. But we must commit ourselves to sitting under good, biblical teaching and preaching in order to grow…so it’s somewhat of a catch-22:  [You can’t grow a love for Christ’s Bride without being devoted to the gathering, and you won’t be devoted to the gathering without a love for Christ’s Bride].

So…what are some of the reasons/excuses people give when they don’t come to church, and why are they wrong?  

     I did a little research this past week and found several lists of the most reported reasons/excuses people tend to often miss church…then I narrowed the lists down to the top FOUR items that showed up on each list. I wanted to show you through scripture what God thinks about these particular reasons/excuses, and hopefully persuade you to cling to the truths within scripture and dedicate yourself to gathering with other believers each week. Here they are:

1.) Family Time/Family Reunions/Visiting Relatives 

  • This is the most reported reason, and it is a tough one to swallow.  God has made it clear in scripture that we should be LEADING our families TO an understanding of Christ and TO the worship of God  (and that we should not be lead AWAY from a deeper understanding of Him and from the worship of Him BY our earthly families). In fact, Jesus said in Matthew chapter 10 “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (vs. 37-38).

    When you chose to attend the gathering of earthly family over/above the worship of God with fellow heirs of the Kingdom, it unfortunately shows where one’s commitment is (and where their heart/understanding is)…and I pray that ANY who reflect on their lives and find any such situation will do three things:  1.) Repent of the sin of putting others before God…. 2.) Realize that God is GRACIOUS – that Christ died for such sin, and that He has ALREADY forgiven it… and 3.) Use this situation in the future to point your family to Christ.

    I know it’s difficult to tell others, especially family members,  “I can’t make it to your ___________ (birthday party, family reunion, barbecue, etc) on Sunday because I Worship the Lord on that day, and He comes first in my life”….but it shows them an unwavering commitment to the Lord – and breeds opportunity for you to share the gospel with them (and to invite them to join you).

    PLEASE NOTE:  I’m not saying that someone can’t EVER go to a family event that causes them to miss a Sunday worship service…I’m just encouraging you to take seriously the gathering of believers, and to not make it a habit to plan/attend family events that cause you to miss worship regularly.

2.) Social Events/Concerts/Sporting Events/etc

  • Scripture is clear about this as well.  Paul wrote to the church in Colossi the following reproof, calling them to “seek the things that are above” over earthly things…he writes: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1-3).

    If God’s Word calls us to ‘set our minds on things that are above and not on earthly things’, then we can rightly deduct that when we choose to forgo hearing God’s Word preached over an earthly event, we are walking outside the will of God. Right?   Again, if you find yourself in this position in the past, repent of it, realize that God has already forgiven you of this through Christ, and rejoice that there is no condemnation for you.  Walk forward with CONFIDENCE that you are loved by Him and let His GRACE inspire you to seek His Will in your life.

    Again…PLEASE NOTE:  I’m not saying that sporting events, concerts, and things of that nature are inherently “wrong” by any means…they are gifts that the Lord gives us to enjoy in moderation.  It’s when they drive us AWAY from the Lord that the trouble arises.

3.) Holidays

  • With the exception of Easter, worship services during or around Holidays are known for being “low attended” services, with a large portion of the church missing to enjoy the holiday weekend. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Labor Day or 4th of July, the commitment to the church somehow takes a backseat to the cultural celebrations around us.If we think hard about Holidays, we’ll find that the majority of them are merely Traditions implemented by man – celebrations of sorts. And the bible has a LOT to say about the difference between human/man-made traditions and the traditions of Faith… For example, let’s again look at the words of Paul to the church at Colossi. He says in Colossians chapter 2, verses 6-10 “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.  See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, ACCORDING TO HUMAN TRADITION, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.

    Brothers/Sisters – we have been “set apart” as the bible says to be a light to the world…and we’re told again and again throughout God’s Word to follow the “Traditions of Faith” and NOT the traditions of man. One of the “Traditions of Faith” is to Gather with the saints – to sharpen one another – to worship God collectively, as fellow heirs of the Kingdom. So this year, I want to encourage you to plan cultural celebrations AROUND the Worship of God. Don’t let your identity as an American overtake your identity as a Child of God, and put HIM first.

3.) Rest/Relaxation/Vacation

  • The next item following Holidays is “Rest, Relaxation and Vacation” time.  And to be honest, I didn’t want to touch this one at all.  I wanted to skip over it, because it’s a tough one to balance, and an even tougher thing to teach. God calls us in His Word to “Rest” (as He rested), and there is a whole “theology” built around God’s instructions for us to “rest”.  Vacation time, Weekly Rest, and times of Relaxation are much NEEDED. They rejuvenate us and help revive both our bodies and our minds, and there is nothing wrong with taking some time to realign oneself (even missing a Sunday or two per year to do so).

    However, when rest becomes our main goals, and when we find ourselves slipping into a rhythm of rest which keeps us from the Worship of God, THAT is when we run into trouble and into sin.  When we start missing the gathered worship to sleep in on Sundays, and start using rest as an excuse to separate ourselves from those God has called us to gather with, we are NOT walking in the will of the Lord.I’ve personally seen people jam-pack their schedule with soooo many things to do throughout the week (or weekend) that the only time they have “Rest” scheduled is on Sunday mornings….and it unfortunately uncovers where that person has placed God on their list of priorities.

    Believer, if this is you, I want to encourage you to place the Collective Worship of God at the top of your priority list.  I want to encourage you to build your weekly schedule AROUND the gathered worship service…to make it a priority to sit under the preaching of God’s Word, and to schedule your rest at other times of the week.
    We have 168 hours per week to eat, sleep, work, bathe, study, rest, entertain, and to spend with family/friends, and the Gathered Worship only takes roughly 2 of those hours (at most, including any travel time). I pray you’ll schedule those 2 hours before anything else, and come to worship each week ready to transform your mind through the study and preaching of God’s word.

Again… I hope and pray that this letter is seen as an overflow of love for you, for my church.  It’s my greatest desire to see us “grow up” in knowledge of our Lord as He has commanded us to, and to take what we know out into our communities – to see more people confronted with the Gospel, professing the name of Jesus and trusting in Him alone for their salvation. May the Kingdom grow through our diligence and commitment, and may we continue to seek His will for our lives in everything we do. 

With love, 

Joshua Vandgrift
Worship Pastor
Gospel Community Church
Owensboro, KY