Hey Pastor: It's Okay to Skip Church
Many years ago one of the pastors at the church where I worked decided to take a staycation for a week to get some stuff done around his house. On Sunday morning, he showed up at church in jeans and a T-shirt (which wouldn’t be too abnormal now, but back in the early nineties it was strange). I was standing nearby when a volunteer asked him a question, and he responded, “You’ll need to call me next week, I’m on vacation.”
Was he serious? You can’t go to your own church and pretend to be on vacation. That would be like a restaurant owner going to dinner at her own restaurant and refusing to answer questions or solve problems because it was her day off.
There is an added layer of complexity and tension for those who work at a church. As a pastor or church leader, you do everything you can to offer great environments and experiences for people to meet God on Sunday. But there is a reality that sometimes going to church is not what you need to take your next spiritual step. In fact, sometimes going to church might even damage your soul. Let me break it down.
Place Doesn’t Matter
- God does not live at your church. (I hear gasps of disbelief.) It’s true. Some of the most unspiritual people I’ve met are those who spend the greatest amounts of time at church. They attend every Bible study and every prayer gathering, and sign up for every event and team, but they aren't very nice to be around. If you had to choose between cutting off your leg and spending more time with those people—be honest—it would take a few minutes to decide.
- A pastor’s job is not to create automatons who come every time the church doors are open. He or she helps people grow in their love for God and their love for others. Most times that happens best away from the church property.
- Church attendance and involvement are poor substitutes for genuine spiritual health.
Pay Attention to Your Indicators
- If you are sitting in your own church service but find your mind wandering to the things that need to be fixed, the people who need to be corrected, or the systems that need to be added—instead of learning or worshiping—that’s probably a sign that you need to get away.
- You have to know what fills your spiritual and emotional tanks. Sometimes that might be singing worship songs with hundreds of people. Other times it might be riding a motorcycle, reading a book, or playing a video game.
- I can tell when I’m feeling “fried.” If I keep up the same pace, I’m going to lose my love for my ministry and will begin to lose effectiveness. When I begin to feel toasty, I need to get away. Sometimes sleep is the most spiritual thing you can do.
Healthy Separation Is Okay
- Don’t worry about what people will think of you if you skip a service. You don’t have to advertise it, but if someone asks, use it as an opportunity to let the person know you are focused on your spiritual health, and that’s why you stayed home from church.
- When church leaders begin to see their people become less involved in the activity of the church, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are backsliding or falling away from God. It might mean they actually get it now, and they are practicing the Jesus-life where it matters: in their relationships and communities.
Every now and then, the most spiritual thing you can do is to skip church.