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Q6 : Church Attendance and Work

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Q6 : Church Attendance and Work

I was wondering what the Bible says on the subject of a profession that does not allow a person to attend services on every other Sunday night and every other Wednesday?  I work night shift and find it difficult to attend any other services, esp. morning, due to sleep schedule.

A6 : by Tony Garland

From my reading of the New Testament, it appears that Scripture provides for great flexibility concerning fellowship and worship.  As with almost all things in Scripture, the real issue is not what a person can or cannot do externally, but what is the internal motivation and heart attitude.  There are those who are only in fellowship minimally because they are motivated to work a lot to make money or to achieve things in their career.  Then there are those who find their practical working schedule such that it does not allow them as much time in fellowship and worship as they would like, but it is not their preference.  It sounds to me that you are in this latter category where your motivation is pure - you would like to be able to participate more fully in the life of your local fellowship and are not working a lot because of a desire for material wealth, but out of practical need and sincerity.
 
The first thing to consider is that, as New Testament believers, we are not measured by a legalistic adherence to any formulas concerning the frequency or even the day of fellowship and worship. Although there are many within the Church today who want to enforce a "Christian Sabbath" and brow beat others into doing (or not doing) specific things each and every Sunday, they are confused about the flexibility that we have as believers in Christ. While this may not be your situation, I'll spend a little bit on this frequently-encountered external pressure from others just in case:
  • The Sabbath is Saturday not Sunday.  When the early Church met on Sunday, they never viewed it as "keeping the Sabbath."  Far from it, they understood that the true Sabbath was on Saturday. Therefore, Church attendance is not about "keeping the Sabbath."
  • Those who want to place us under some sort of legalism that we must be in Church every Sunday or feel badly are misinterpreting the Scriptures. For one, as we just mentioned, they misunderstand what the Sabbath truly is—and who it was for (Israel as a sign of the Law of Moses, Ex. 31:13-17).  Secondly, when they say others must "keep the Sabbath" they themselves are confused about what this means. If you ask them "what is keeping the Sabbath?" they will generally reply with their own definition of what it is to keep the Sabbath according to their own private brand of legalism.  Does it mean just go to Church? Does it mean we also can't work on Sunday? What about travel—can we go more than a "Sabbath day's journey?"  How about carrying wood, or starting a fire?  In other words, they generally neglect to understand the full definition of "keeping the Sabbath" which is not theirs to define, but has already been defined in great detail for the nation Israel in the Law of Moses. I can assure you that none of the "Christian Sabbath-keepers" we so often encounter keep the true Sabbath anything like how Israel was required to keep it. Truly keeping the Sabbath goes far beyond anything these would suggest. That then raises the realization that we often come under "Christian legalism" by taking bits and pieces of Old Testament law and trying to come back under the yoke of bondage which Christ came to set us free from! If we are going to go in that direction, then we are heading back into the Law and we have estranged ourself from Christ:
    • Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, "Cursed [is] everyone who hangs on a tree"), (Ga 3:13)
    • You have become estranged from Christ, you who [attempt to] be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. (Ga 5:4)
  • We have complete freedom in the matter of our observance of worship and times of fellowship. It is a personal decision whether and how to treat various days:
    • So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. (Col 2:16-17)
    • Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. One person esteems [one] day above another; another esteems every day [alike]. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes [it] to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe [it]. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. (Ro 14:4-6)
  • When the leaders of the Church in Jerusalem (the Jerusalem counsel) wrote to the Gentiles indicating what laws they must observe to be saved, the recommendation said nothing about "keeping Sabbath" or a special day which must be observed each week:
    • For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell. (Ac 15:28-29)
I realize that the material I have covered above is not specific to your question. But I wanted to mention it as important groundwork to any consideration of work schedules vs. Church attendance. It has been my experience that often, when concerns arise that our work schedules keep us from Church, there can be a feeling of imposed guilt from others who are walking in realms of legalism.  Perhaps that is not the situation you find yourself in.  But in any case, you should see that the only motivation for being concerned should be your own personal desire to grow in the Lord and to minister to and with others.
 
Here is what I would say. God is well aware of your situation and the practical restraints that your work place on your ability to fellowship and be at Church.  He is also far more interested in your heart-attitude and motivation than in any outward "schedule" that you can or cannot keep. Provided that your work schedule is not driven by your own choices for material gain or achievements elevated over a desire to know God, then I would rest in the assurance that our Father is more interested in the quality of time you spend with Him than where that time happens to be spent (in church or out of church), including how frequently you can be at the official church service.
 
It would seem that your current work/fellowship arrangement meets the guidelines of Hebrews 10:25, for you are not forsaking fellowship, but desiring it all the more.  Yet, as Christians, God places great importance on being reliable and responsible citizens within the society which we find ourselves in. There are many Scriptures which discuss God's intention that believers be reliable and fruitful employees and workers:
  • that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, (1Th 4:11)
  • But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1Ti 5:8)
  • For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone's bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us. For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. (2Th 3:7-10)
I share the above because it is important to realize that our lives are not separated into two categories; a profane category which involves our daily duties and responsibilities such as work and a sacred category where we are in church and fellowship with other believers. Our worship to God is 24X7—we live every minute of every day to Him!
 
I want to reassure you that God knows your exact situation and is not upset if the practical needs of your work or profession are such that you cannot be in church as frequently as you would like. So long as your heart motivation is right (and it sounds like it is), then He is pleased with your responsible diligence and your witness in the workplace as one who is blessing your employer rendering faithful service.
 
If you ultimately desire to be in Christian fellowship more than your current schedule allows, then this is surely a matter to take before the Lord in prayer.  However, beware not to make the mistake of some believers who make what they think to be "godly decisions to spend more time in ministry" which result in being unable to pay their bills or other poor witness in the secular workplace. How many believers there are today who say they have great dedication for Our Lord, but then rob from nonbelievers by not paying their bills on time or in failing to be diligent and reliable employees! This is a trap which must be avoided.
 
To summarize:
  1. Check your heart attitude. If your motivation for working at the job you happen to have is right (you are not driven for material goods or career goals which overshadow your Christian fellowship) then know that this is where God has you for a season.
  2. Be sure your concern is not due to imposed guilt from others about what they think "being a good Christian is" according to some external set of rules or expections.  We have enormous flexibility in the time and manner of our worship before the Lord.
  3. If you desire more fellowship time, pray before the Lord and ask Him if He might show you a way to have that come about. Perhaps He will provide a different work opportunity or allow a shift in your schedule. But be sure to let Him know that your every intention is to honor your employer as if you are working for Jesus Himself: Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. (Col 3:22-24)
  4. Rejoice in the Lord every day and in every opportunity, while commuting, lift your eyes to Him at your lunch break. Make every day the Lord's day and He will speak to you and deepen your walk even if your time with other believers is less than it could be.
I hope some of these thoughts and Scripture verses will prove helpful to you as you seek to please our Lord and to grow in your walk and in fellowship with the saints!

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