by Mark Woods
I like the church I belong to very much. I’m one of the leaders there but we have a full-time pastor who does the heavy lifting. I do quite a bit there, but not half as much as some people. I rarely get to the point where I think, “Not church again.”
But I sometimes recall a conversation – let’s call it that, though it was more like a row – I had when I was in pastoral ministry a few years ago. The gentleman in question wasn’t from my church and I can’t remember how the subject came up, but he was absolutely adamant that when pastors had a Sunday off they should still go to their church. It was their duty. As well as being pastors they were church members (we were Baptists, that’s how it works) and that’s what church members do.
No, I said. When I go to church and I know someone else is in charge, it’s more stressful than taking the service myself. What happens if they get something wrong? What happens if their sermon is rubbish? Even worse, what happens if it’s brilliant – ie, better than mine? And why is no one talking to that newcomer, and who’s on the rota to wash the communion cups, and is it OK if I go home and leave someone else to lock up?
And I like visiting different churches and seeing how people do things there. And sometimes – not often, but sometimes – I might decide I don’t want to go at all.
It’s not just pastors who feel like that. Church is usually a place of blessing; it feeds us. But sometimes, because of the commitments we undertake when we’re there or the demands of the people we meet there, it can be draining. It doesn’t feel like rest, it feels like work.
And the worst of it is when we’re expected to be there every week, rain or shine, tired or not.
I know all the arguments for going to church when you don’t feel like it. I’ve used them myself, and by and large I believe them. It’s too easy to let other things crowd out our service of God. The discipline of attendance is good. I have no patience at all with the “You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian” excuse for staying in bed on Sunday mornings.
But I believe we need to be able to tell ourselves sometimes it’s OK not to go, or to visit another church – and that pastors ought to be fine with that.
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SOURCE: Mark Woods