Going to church every Sunday was always a priority growing up. I didn’t have much of a choice, since my Dad was the pastor. As a kid, I was a little self-righteous about my church attendance and took it a little too personally when other people didn’t seem to take church as seriously as I did.
I was raised to value and prioritize going to church above almost anything. As I grew older, I could understand why. The church is a beautiful gift from God. The church is a safe place of growth and support. The church is a place to gather with brothers and sisters to worship and praise God. It’s the body of Christ. It’s family. Why wouldn’t I want to be faithful in attending something like that?
Church attendance was and is still incredibly important to me. But I have recently been rethinking my philosophy about church attendance a little bit.
I have struggled with chronic illness for the last few years. Going to church has become incredibly difficult because of that. While I can attend church occasionally, I have often missed the encouraging worship, the faithful preaching, and the sweet fellowship with other believers. I have missed the ministries I used to be a part of but could no longer physically handle.
This has raised numerous questions in my mind, many of them sounding something like this.
Am I still a good Christian if I can’t go to church?
Am I an important part of the body even if I’m never there?
Can I stay involved in my church when I can’t even attend services?
I used to judge people for not going to church… are other people judging me?
If you have ever struggled to attend church for physical or mental health reasons, maybe you can relate. If you are struggling with this, I want you to know that you are not alone.
As I have worked through my questions and doubts, there are three things that I have needed to remind myself of. Maybe you will find them helpful too.
1. Do what you can, then rest.
Sometimes, pushing through pain to do good things is necessary. Other times, it’s just plain stupid.
You know your body best. Don’t forget that.
Do what you are able and then rest when you need to.
When you have the energy to go to church, thank God and go! On days when you don’t have the energy, don’t beat yourself up about it. It doesn’t make you a bad person. You are not in control of your pain. The guilt that often comes with low function is not yours to carry, so leave it behind.
2. Get creative with community.
Just because you’re not able to be traditionally involved in church doesn’t mean that you can’t be involved at all. It may take some creative, outside-the-box thinking, but it is still worth it .
Many churches live-stream their church services now, so make you are aware of and utilizing those services.
It can be hard to feel connected to a body of believers when you don’t see them often. Prayer is just one highly effective way to build connections with other believers. Follow your church’s prayer updates and read missionary prayer letters and let your brothers and sisters know that you are praying for them. Prayer is an underrated ministry that has incredible potential to help and encourage others.
With some creative brainstorming, I’m sure you can find more specific ways to be involved in your church. Your ministry is important, no matter the magnitude of it.
3. It really doesn’t matter what other people think of you.
While it’s good to be conscientious of how your actions affect other people, your decision to not attend church for health reasons is your business.
If you’re worried about people not understanding your illness and judging you for your decisions, I want to encourage you to let it go. You won’t be able to educate everyone about your decisions, and you don’t need to. I know it is easier said than done to not care what people think of you, but you will be so much happier when you are free from the idea that you should go to church to please other people.
You are only responsible to do your best, then leave the rest up to God and forget what other people think about you.
I hope you have low-pain days in your future that allow you to attend church and worship with fellow believers. If that isn’t your reality, try to keep these three things in mind. I know how frustrating it can be to miss out on things you want to prioritize. Keep your head up!
You are an important part of your local church and the global church of believers.
You are not responsible for your pain.
You can still grow even when you aren’t able to physically attend church.
Stay committed. Stay Creative. Good things will happen.