The Importance of Attendance:
Am I There When I’m Away?
“Is the curling iron unplugged? Is the air conditioner adjusted? Is the back door locked?” These are but some of the questions commonly asked as people embark upon a journey away from home. The basic question could be summarized, “Am I ready for this trip?” While the importance of such concerns must not be undervalued, there is another consideration that must rank foremost in the mind of the travelling Christian: “Where will I worship or attend Bible study on this trip?”
Numerous situations result in Christians being away from their residences: family getaways, visits with loved ones, work-related travel, or being forced to leave home because of inclement conditions. These are not exclusive to the twenty-first century: two thousand years ago worshippers of God were traveling for vacations, visitations, vocations, and evacuations, and scripture records such people being committed to the worship of God despite being away from home. No matter what the reason may be for Christians to be away from their houses, they are still a part of and need to be with the God’s house (I Timothy 3:15). While legitimate situations exist which may prevent a Christian from worship from time to time, the way a person treats the church is the way that person treats Jesus (Galatians 1:13; Acts 9:4); thus a Christian who uses being away from home as an excuse to neglect the church has chosen also to neglect the Lord.
Gather with the saints and worship God when traveling for vacation. Everyone needs an occasional break. Even Jesus told His apostles, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while” because “there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat” (Mark 6:31). The apostles needed time to relax. Vacation and relaxation are not only enjoyable, but they are also necessary for a person’s wellbeing. It should be noted, however, that when Jesus encouraged the apostles to take a break, He instructed them to “come,” not to “go.” In other words, Jesus encouraged them to enjoy a getaway with Him, not from Him. God has said “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5), yet there are Christians today who see a vacation from work as a vacation from God. They leave and forsake the One Who promised never to leave nor forsake them. They forsake His Word by leaving their Bibles at home; they forsake His worship by leaving it out of their vacation schedules.
Gather with the saints and worship God when traveling for visitation. Some trips are not vacations, but brief weekend visits with family or friends; such short trips threaten a tight schedule, a hasty return, and a Sunday spent traveling instead of worshipping God. On the return route of his third missionary journey, Paul visited the brethren of Troas (Acts 20:5-6). The apostle was in a hurry at this time (Acts 20:16), yet he stayed in Troas for seven days (Acts 20:6). Why? “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight” (Acts 20:7). Despite being pressed for time, and despite already being packed, Paul was not ready to leave until the day after he had worshipped God and assembled with the Lord’s saints in Troas. When a hectic weekend demands that certain activities be omitted from the itinerary, should the worship of God be the first activity dropped? If a Christian deems God’s worship to be more “skippable” than eating breakfast at Cracker Barrel or lunch at Hard Rock Café, then is this not a reflection of how unimportant God is in that person’s life? He who chooses to spend time away from God can look forward to spending eternity away from God (Matthew 7:21; 25:46).
Gather with the saints and worship God when traveling for vocation. Company retreats and traveling assignments often require brethren to be away from their homes on account of their careers. Again, this was not uncommon in scripture. Shortly after arriving in Philippi, Paul met a woman named Lydia. Scripture introduces Lydia as “a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira” (Acts 16:14). While Lydia was not yet a Christian, she was a dedicated worshipper of God who was willing to forfeit the business that she could have made by selling her fabrics on the Sabbath day in favor of gathering at the river in prayerful worship (Acts 16:13-14). For Lydia, the job did not come before Jehovah; gain did not come before God. There is no doubt that Lydia demonstrated the same steadfastness in her worship as a Christian after obeying the Gospel (Acts 16:15). If a sister misses the company of Christ’s church because of a company retreat, perhaps she has retreated with the wrong company. If a brother working out-of-town (or even in at home, for that matter) is repeatedly absent from worship and Bible study, are those absences the result an abundance of work, a shortage of will, or both?
Gather with the saints and worship God when traveling for evacuation. Various occurrences have caused Christians to be driven from their homes: hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, forest fires, riots, ad infinitum. No sane person relishes the idea of being forced to flee from home for any reason. It is stressful; it is an inconvenience. However, should the inconvenience of being driven from home serve as grounds to forego meeting with the Lord’s people? Should the displaced brother see his predicament as a reason to walk away from God’s house because God has allowed him to be driven away from his own house? The actions of early Christians offer an answer to these questions, and it is a resounding, “NO!!!!” Christians in Jerusalem were not displaced as a result of inclement weather; what they faced was a storm of persecution (Acts 8:1). There were no well-established congregations outside of Jerusalem, which meant that the scattered brethren had no fellow Christians to whom they could turn as they fled their homes. How did they react? “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the Word” (Acts 8:4). They did not visit congregations; they planted them. Christians today should gain strength from the knowledge that the scattered brethren in the first century were willing to proclaim the very message that had led to their expulsion: the Word of God (Acts 8:4) and the preaching of Christ (Acts 8:5). Consider the difference between these ancient brethren who started congregations where there were none as opposed to modern brethren who avoid congregations where there are several.
Fellowship with other Christians is a blessing, not a burden. Consider what can be gained by meeting with the saints when away from home. The first and most important benefit is that God is pleased. The writer of Hebrews declared, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him…” (Hebrews 11:6). The faith that pleases God is not mere mental assent, but a conviction that motivates faithfulness (Hebrews 10:23, 26, 36, 39). Amid these exhortations to faithfulness comes this inspired instruction: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25). The faith that pleases God is faithful enough to meet with and exhort God’s people, whether on vacation or not. When faithful Christians come together, God is pleased.
Another benefit of meeting with Christians when away from home is the blessing of fellowship with others throughout the world who “walk by the same rule,” “mind the same thing” (Philippians 3:16), and “have obtained like precious faith” (II Peter 1:1). When members of the Lord’s church stop to consider how few Christians are in the world (Matthew 7:13-14), they should be encouraged by every opportunity to meet and get to know more members of the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:25-27).
These and countless other joys await Christians who seek out and assemble with the Lord’s people when visiting other areas. Whether the journey is being done for vacation, visitation, vocation, or evacuation, traveling Christians garner great benefits by taking the time to meet with the brethren and worship God. If a Christian cannot answer the question, “Where will I worship or attend Bible study on this trip,” then that Christian is not yet ready to leave home because he does not know where he is going.