Staying Home From Church: Something Over Nothing
Staying Home From Church is a series of posts challenging Christian understandings of what it means to “go to church.” This series was inspired by an article posted on The Gospel Coalition website called “ 5 Reasons to Keep Going to Church with Baby Brain.” While it was posted back in 2019, it only recently came across my social media feeds and with mixed reviews.
You can check out previous posts from this series at the following links.
Staying Home From Church: Intro
Staying Home From Church: Setting an Example
Staying Home From Church: More Than a Sermon
Staying Home From Church: Encouraging Others
Staying Home From Church: the Slippery Slope
In this final post of the series, we’ll consider the fifth point in the article: some church is better than no church. This point of the article doesn’t really present new information, so this post will mostly examine how previous themes carry through to this final point. If you haven’t read the previous posts, I recommend it. They’ll help flesh out some of the things in this post.
Bringing Themes Together
In the previous post about slippery slopes, I talked about the shift from skipping a worship service to staying away indefinitely. The author continues with the latter posture in this final point, as well as leaning into the church = weekly services premise.
“Some church is better than no church” implies that:
- The reader is thinking about quitting church, at least for a time, rather than simply opting out for a weekend.
- If you’re not attending, you’re not “getting” any church.
- “Some” is a measurement of what you receive at “church.”
- Attending “church” is objectively better than staying home.
Let’s consider each of these points.
Staying Away Forever
Staying away forever doesn’t seem to be the starting premise for the article, but it’s presented as the ending premise. Throughout, there’s been a dichotomy: you’re at church or you’re not at church, and “church” has been used to imply “weekly worship services.” I won’t reiterate all the details, but let’s remember that this wasn’t what was implied by the article’s title.
When we considered setting an example for our children, consistency of attendance was implied with the mention of developing cultures and sending messages about priorities. Should you or should you not skip a weekly service due to fatigue?
This final point, however, builds off the previous point by implying an all or nothing decision. You’re not just thinking about skipping a worship service; you’re thinking about not going at all least for an indefinite period of time.
Don’t get pulled into that. Your “church” attendance isn’t necessarily an all or nothing decision. It doesn’t even have to be about future services. It can be a here-and-now decision just for today. If you need the day, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re deciding to stay away forever.
“This is not ideal, but I still get some time with God, encouragement from others, and a chance to encourage. And my son gets to hear a message in his kids’ program each week, which is also important.”
Susan Rockwell, “5 Reasons to Keep Going to Church with Baby Brain”
This is where we continue seeing the conflated notions of church, God, worship services, and God’s people. I hope I can be clear about this; there’s nothing wrong with “getting” something from only one place, but that’s not the same as something only being available in one place.
If worship services help you focus on God and feel encouraged, then you’re getting that time with God and getting that encouragement while you’re there. If your presence and interactions encourage others, then you’re getting to do that, as well. If your children hear a message in a kids’ program, then they’re getting to do that. However, the tone of the entire article builds off the premise that those things can only happen at “church” — at weekly worship services.
The idea that you are either getting those things or you’re not presumes too much, and it leaves a lot of other questions. Questions that I think are actually more important than the question of “church” attendance. For example:
- Why do you feel you have no other opportunities to spend some time with God?
- Are other Christians not encouraging you outside of weekly service times?
- Do you feel you have no opportunities to encourage others outside of “church?”
- Is “church” the only place where your kids are “getting to hear a message?”
If “church” is one of many opportunities for you to receive these things, then sure, you should consider that along with all the other considerations we’ve talked about in this series, but if it’s the only place you’re getting things, we should address some of those other questions.
Some Church Is Better Than No Church
“Some,” here, is essentially an abstract measurement. It represents an indefinite, non-zero quantity. The author is submitting that a non-zero amount of church is better than zero church.
If you’ve been reading through this series, you might already see the problem: church really means “church,” which means the only place you can get some church is by attending “church.” If you don’t attend a weekly service, you automatically get zero church.
I actually agree with the premise that some church is better than no church, but since I don’t restrict the idea of church to a weekly service, staying home from said services doesn’t necessarily interfere with someone getting “some church.” If someone suggests that you haven’t “gotten” any church because you haven’t attended weekly services in a couple weeks (or even just one week), I consider that a red flag. It’s a sign of an unhealthy view of “church.”
For the sake of argument, though, let’s pretend that weekly services are the only things that count toward getting some church. Remember when I said the author sticks with the premise that you’re thinking about not attending for an indefinite amount of time? Here’s the logic:
- Attending a weekly service is the only thing that counts as getting some church.
- Some church is better than no church.
- So, if you’re not getting any church, it means you’re not attending at all.
If I go to worship this week, stay home next week, and then go again the following week, I’ve attended 2 out of 3 times. I’ve gotten some church. In fact, I’ve gotten more church than I’ve missed. Yet, the author implies that unless you’re going every week, you’re not getting any church. That’s why I say it implies the long-term absence.
Again, I think some church is better than no church, but 1) “getting church” is about more than just weekly attendance, and 2) even if we boiled it down, staying home from time to time wouldn’t disqualify you from getting “some church.”
Is “Church” Objectively the Better Decision?
Showing up is presented as objectively better than staying home.
“…for now, this is what I do, and it is better than staying home. My children are seeing me make church and God a priority in my life, and I consider that a win.
“Sisters, God holds you close. He longs for a relationship with you and has sent his Son to prove it to you… No matter how hard it is, keep going. Draw near to him, and he will draw near to you.”
Susan Rockwell, “5 Reasons to Keep Going to Church with Baby Brain”
All the points from the article are brought together to claim that your attendance is definitely better than your non-attendance, but it’s all built on rigid assumptions about where God is and how we gain access to God and God’s people.
The author says “church and God” are made a priority, but the rest of the article emphasized that it’s because God can only be found at “church.” Is that really true? Is there no other way to show our children that God and the Church are priorities?
“God holds you close” stands at odds with the claim from the previous point that “the Father…longs to hold you close” and the implication that you must first “draw near to him.” Which is it? Is God holding you, or is God waiting for your to draw near because God longs to hold you? Let me be clear: these are not the only two possibilities, but they’re presented in the article in ways that reinforce the false dichotomy that you are either being held by God at “church” or you’re at home not being held by God.
If I take all of the author’s points and the ways she attempts to show that “church” attendance is the objectively better decision, I have to disagree. There are too many assumptions about how God operates and how righteousness works. As I said in the intro to this series, staying home from church used to be a pretty clear-cut idea. The article treats it like it’s still a clear-cut idea, but it’s not. Christians needs to out-grow that notion; “‘church’ is good” should no longer be taken for granted.
And yes, I know the part about drawing near to God is a quote from the book of James. Yes, I know the theme can be argued throughout scripture and that “help yourself” theologies exist. My own theology, however, emphasizes the drawing near of the kingdom first rather than the drawing near of humanity. Diving into the James passage is probably a whole post on its own, so I won’t do that here.
The irony is that I agree with many of the things the author mentions alongside the above quotes. Unfortunately, I don’t agree with them in the context of the article.
God Holds You
Similar to how I agree but disagree with “some church is better than no church,” I agree/disagree with some of the other things the author suggested in this last point. I want to leave you with a reimagined version of the article’s final point — a summary of my personal position on staying home from “church.”
I know firsthand the difficulty of parenting young children through worship services and Bible studies. Leaving them with others might not be an option, so you might miss many sermons. Sometimes, you might be able to stay in the services for the singing and praying. Sometimes, you might only be able to be there for part of it. Sometimes, you might be able to sit with your children in a kids’ program and return after the service to fellowship with others. Sometimes, you might need to stay home and rest.
No matter how we imagine life should be, things aren’t always ideal, but you can still spend time with God from wherever you are, because God holds you close. Hopefully, your brothers and sisters in Christ will offer encouragement as you make healthy decisions for yourself and your family. Hopefully, you can encourage them to do the same.
One good thing is that kids’ programs at institutionalized churches aren’t the only way your children receive messages about God. As you learn to make healthy, loving choices about your own self-care, they’ll hopefully learn that God also wants that for them, that loving ourselves is an important part of loving God and loving our neighbors.
For many parents, this is a season. Most children don’t stay young and needy forever, so you’ll probably, one day, hear a full sermon again and not be too tired to listen to most of it. For now, this is the season of life you’re in, and it’s ok if you need to stay home. Your children are seeing that church is more than a weekly service, that “church” was made for humanity, not humanity for “church,” and that you have freedom to love yourself in the grace of God, and I consider that a win.
Parents, God holds you close. Your relationship with God is secure, and the story of Jesus reveals the depth of God’s dedication to it. So hold on to God through the tiredness. Hopefully, you can also draw strength from your fellow believers as they encourage you on your journey of self-compassion. Let others know you’re tired, because there’s no shame in being human. God will strengthen you, uplift you, and grow you, but that doesn’t mean your journey has to look like anyone else’s. No matter how hard it is, God is present with you. Draw near to God, for the kingdom of God has drawn near to you.
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Originally published at http://breakingbreadtheology.com on April 18, 2022.