When I was a kid, there were a series of commercials that aired on television in an effort to curb truancy and absenteeism in the public school system. The commercials starred a variety of celebrities, usually walking and talking with the camera before they ended with the tagline of, “If You Miss School, You Miss Out.” I don’t know what the actual impact of these commercials was on absenteeism, but they were incredibly memorable.
When I began teaching in the public school system, this adage rang true. I had a number of students whose attendance ranged in the 40th percentile. On a good week, they were present in their classes two of the five days of the week. Some students were even lower than that, coming once every 10 days just to avoid triggering the 10-day drop rule in our state, which would require them to be re-enrolled.
These students struggled academically to keep up with their peers because of their absences. They had a difficult time forming relationships with the other students and with their instructors, and missed enough material to fall behind quickly as a result of gaps in knowledge and a lack of accountability.
When we were able to get a handle on a student’s attendance, their level of academic achievement increased almost exponentially. Not only that, but when they began to attend school with regularity, they made friends, joined clubs and sports, and usually were a part of the fabric of the school in a positive way.
It turns out when you miss school, you do in fact, miss out.
Our Spiritual Instruction
In our spiritual life, we learn our life’s lessons through a practicum format, meaning we go out into the world around us and experience opportunities and situations that help us put these spiritual principles into practice. The lessons occur during the regular parts of life, and they provide us with opportunity to reflect on and practice how to appropriately interact with others as a Christian.
But one of the big ways we first learn those principles is in a more formalized educational setting.
It is important to recognize that even though much of our instruction comes through experiential learning, these formal opportunities to learn with our brothers and sisters are not simply suggested, they are commanded by God.
The book of Leviticus outlines these formal sessions in a syllabus of sorts for the people of Israel. God provides His people with the times they were to come together and worship him. In Leviticus 23:1-3 Leviticus 23:1-3 1 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
2 Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, Concerning the feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts.
3 Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; you shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings.
American King James Version×, He explains the importance of Feasts, that they are His Feasts, not belonging to any one people or group of people.
They are also revealed as “holy convocations” such as the weekly Sabbath and the annual Sabbaths—called assemblies intended to be kept holy and set apart. They are a sacred summons to gather and worship Him at the times He appointed. The rest of Leviticus 23 describes these days and how to keep them.
God expects His people to present themselves on the Sabbath and the annual Sabbaths, gathered together to worship Him at these times. It wasn’t something that was suggested, it was mandatory.
Even then, there were provisions for individuals who were unable to attend for specific reasons. Typically, these involved illnesses, injury or potentially advanced age. God understands these situations, but it seems at times—particularly in this modern era of the Church of God—it has become easy for able individuals to simply not attend.
Perhaps it is easier to stay home and listen to services on the web, or it’s easier to meet in our home with a couple of close friends rather than go out to services somewhere else. Or maybe it is easier to support the work of God from afar instead of rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty.
Is that what God desires?
In the book of Hebrews, this concept of “missing out” is addressed.
In Hebrews 10:24-25 Hebrews 10:24-25 24 And let us consider one another to provoke to love and to good works:
25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as you see the day approaching.
American King James Version×, the author writes of the importance of assembling together before God. Based upon how this passage was written, it appears that enough brethren had ceased assembling together that the issue needed to be addressed.
He pointed out that in their forsaking of their assembly together, certain very important functions of the body of Christ began to suffer.
Regularly assembling together enabled brethren to stir one another up to love and good works and to exhort and encourage one another, particularly as trials and persecutions of Christians increased. These relationships, formed and strengthened by the bonds of fellowship, provided an essential support for those in the congregation during times of difficulty.
Attending services isn’t just about what we personally receive from the service, it is about what we are able to provide to someone else.
It turns out, if we miss church, we miss out. But what do we miss if we don’t come together and worship regularly? What are we actually missing out on ?
If we don’t assemble together, we miss out on an opportunity to spend valuable time with those of like mind.
The Church is a community of believers who are connected to one another through God’s Holy Spirit. They have a shared belief in God and His way of life, and desire to learn how to live this way more fully.
In Philippians 2:1-4 Philippians 2:1-4 1 If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,
2 Fulfill you my joy, that you be like minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
American King James Version×, the apostle Paul writes about the encouragement of being united together and comforted by love. He strongly advocates being of one mind, love and accord, and looking out for the interests of others.
When all brethren humbly seek ways to esteem others better than themselves, fellowship builds. Bonds of friendship increase. We grow closer as a result of our shared mind and purpose. As we grow closer we grow in our love for each other as Christ admonished His disciples to do (John 13:34-35 John 13:34-35 34 A new commandment I give to you, That you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
35 By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.
American King James Version×).
If we don’t assemble together, we miss out on the opportunity to stir one another up to love and good works.
Discussions at Sabbath services—when we talk of God’s Way—provide us with opportunities to help each other live this way of life more fully. And these conversations are best had in person.
The book of Proverbs calls this concept “iron sharpening iron.”
Who we spend our time with will have an effect on our character, whether we want it to or not.
1 Corinthians 15:33 1 Corinthians 15:33Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.
American King James Version×states it in a slightly different manner, “ Do not be deceived, evil company corrupts good habits .” Unfortunately, try as we might, the negative influences of the world around us work their way into our lives. They can easily make us less sharp.
When we gather together with like-minded brethren, with whom we have a strong relationship, an incredible sharpening effect takes place. We can discuss our trials and difficulties and our faith and character can improve. We can restore the edge of that blade through these mutual interactions.
This kind of relationship cannot be built without coming together regularly.
If we don’t assemble together, we miss out on the opportunity to encourage one another.
As society around us becomes increasingly hostile to people of faith, it will be even more important to ensure that we gather together. That was the point the author of Hebrews was making. He was telling the brethren not to forsake their assembling together, but to exhort or encourage one another particularly as you see the Day [of Christ’s Return] approaching.
We have an important responsibility to encourage one another as things get more difficult. The congregations of believers are the only physical support we can have in times of difficulty because it’s the only place where we will find people of like mind— people who truly understand.
When we deal with difficulties, sometimes it makes all the difference to simply know we’re not alone, and to understand there are others who are experiencing the same difficulties as well. Coming together to worship God, to fellowship and build those bonds, can be an incredible comfort.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11 9 For God has not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,
10 Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.
11 Why comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also you do.
American King James Version×, Paul discusses the Day of the Lord and encourages brethren to prepare for this coming time of challenge and joy. He tells brethren to spiritually prepare for this time, but also to encourage and edify one another.
We’re all in this together. We need one another.
We need you.
Learning the Truth for the First Time?
The United Church of God has congregations all over the United States and around the world. Its members are warm and friendly, and its pastors truly care. The members are working together to help one another grow in grace and knowledge and to become more like our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ.
If you haven’t attended services before, or even if it has been a while— take that first step.
Reach out to the local pastor or reach out to a member you might know. Roll up your sleeves and become directly involved in the work of God by becoming part of an active and vibrant spiritual community of like-minded believers. The students that I taught who became a part of the school community excelled and became stronger students.
Even though God teaches us many lessons through practical living, there are required formal periods of instruction. The Creator of the universe commands our presence before Him every week. We must recognize the importance of that command—the command to give of our time to come and learn more about Him and His Way.
When we don’t, we miss out on these lessons. We don’t learn God’s Way as effectively, and forsaking our assembly weakens the body. When we do this, we run the risk of missing out on opportunities to grow closer to one another, to stir one another up to love and good works and to encourage one another in the face of trial and difficulty.
If you miss Church, you miss out.
Are you missing out?