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Absent Member, Suffering Body


Starting with the Wrong Question

“Why should I attend the assembly of the saints if the pastor is teaching something I already know?” “Why should I attend Sunday night service if I can read my Bible at home?” “Why should I attend church if I don’t have a formal ministry to participate in?”


These questions flow out of another, more fundamental question people ask. “How will attending church benefit me?” For many, this is the chief question asked when deciding whether or not to attend church.


There are undoubtedly helpful answers to this question (see: the ordinary means of grace).


However, there are underlying problems with this question being the principal determiner of church attendance.


What’s Wrong with this Question?

For one, worshiping God is our primary motive for attending church, not our self-gratification. God commands that we worship him corporately. The frequent use of the pronouns “I” and “me” reflects wrong priorities. God is the object of our worship, not ourselves.


There is also a secondary problem with this question. Though our first priority is a love of God, we must also remember our second priority: a love of neighbor.


Our question should not be, “How will attending church benefit me?” Rather, our question should be, “How will attending church benefit us?”


The ever-prioritized “me” demonstrates the effects of a consumeristic individualistic society that courses through the veins of the average American churchgoer.


“This teaching series is not to my liking.” “It’s easier for me to watch Bible teaching online.” “I’m too tired to spend time with God’s people.” “They don’t offer programs that fit my wants and tastes. I’ll shop around elsewhere.”


When the New Testament talks about church, the emphasis is the “one anothers,” not the individual self.


When the driving factor of church attendance is me and not us, our priorities are misplaced, and the whole body suffers.


The Church: A Body

Part of the problem is a misunderstanding of what the church is. The church is not a mass of disconnected individuals; the individuals of a church are tightly woven together to form one body.


Paul writes to the Corinthian church:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-- and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Cor. 12:12-26 ESV)


Paul explains that the body of Christ is one body consisting of many members. Each member has an essential function in the body. Each member is hand-picked by God and arranged in his wisdom. These members are so tightly knitted together that if one member suffers, the whole body suffers; if one member is honored, the entire body rejoices. Local churches are a microcosm of this universal reality of Christ’s body.


Every Member Essential

This view of the church should revolutionize our view of church attendance. Each member of the body of Christ has an essential role – even if they don’t know it!


A fingernail seems like a small thing until it is absent. Though invisible to the naked eye, our white blood cells provide an essential defense to the rest of the body. When a member of our physical body is absent, the whole body suffers. Likewise, with the body of Christ, when one member is gone, the entire body misses out.


Each member is essential; each member is needed.


Of course, there are times when a member must be absent. Sickness, emergencies, military deployment, and the like are unavoidable. However, we should recognize even then that the whole body is missing something important when one of its members is gone. The entire church loses out when a member is missing from its assembly.


Now, for some, this may feel unbelievable. What do I have to offer? How do I benefit others in the body?


Though I cannot give an exact answer to these questions, I do know this: each member has an essential function in the body. Just by being present, the whole body benefits.


Think of the elderly couple that is there week in and week out. Their quiet, consistent presence gives stability to the rest of the body. Or the young family that has its hands full of spunky children. They bring vitality and life to the whole congregation. Think of the widow who faithfully serves the saints in small yet tangible ways. She encourages the church to use what it has to bless each other. The introvert who diligently listens to the preached Word and quietly prays for others likewise powerfully blesses the body. Each member has worth.


The Body Grows Together

There is a mystical union between the members of the body of Christ. Though God has saved us as individuals, he does not leave us as individuals. God wisely forms us differently. God sovereignly places us into a body. God graciously gives us gifts. God does this to grow the body of Christ and build his church.


Paul writes in Ephesians:

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Eph. 4:15,16 ESV)


The growth of the body is corporate. Members of the body grow together when each part is working properly. When one member is absent or not functioning correctly, the growth of the body is stagnated. We grow together, or we stagnate together.


Though many churches have a variety of non-corporate ongoings that don’t necessitate everyone to come (women’s groups, small groups, etc.), when the church gathers corporately on the Lord’s Day, every member’s presence plays a part in the progressive building up of the body.


A Concluding Exhortation

So next time you are debating whether or not to attend church, don’t ask, “How will attending benefit me?” Instead, ask, “How will attending benefit us?” Believe that God has uniquely equipped you, that the body depends on you, and that your presence is essential. The whole body (including yourself) loses out in your absence and benefits from your presence.



Stephen Duarte (ME, National University; MTS, Reformed Baptist Seminary) is a pastor at Parkside Bible Fellowship in Fallon, NV. He is husband to Debbie and father of three.



Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of other contributors on this site.



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