I’m a Grade A, duly ordained, seminary educated, continuing-education-attending, prayerful, self-righteous, Professional Christian©.

And sometimes—okay, a lot of times—I want to skip church.

Time to back-peddle and tell you that it’s not all the time and that it’s usually for a good reason. But, as Maury Povich would announce to the world after I dramatically (but ill-advisedly) took a lie detector test about that statement: “That was a lie.”

Saturday at 4PM I start to feel a little blue because my weekend is coming to an end. I often joke with my friends that someone should find the person who decided that it would be a good idea to work Every Weekend and Every Major Holiday and smack them as hard as they can in the face. I sometimes fantasize about getting a terrible illness that would prevent me from getting up for our early service or *gasp* missing church altogether. I’ve never done it, but I’ve thought about praying for a miraculous accumulation of snow or terrifying, earth-shaking Act of God that, although causing no injuries, would force me to cancel church on a Sunday Morning.

When I’m on vacation, I look up all the local churches and hope to find something wrong with them so I can rationalize skipping church while I’m away. “I never get a real Sunday off,” I whine to my wife. “I don’t want to go to church. I deserve a week without it.” Also, I tell her, “You know I’m only going to be annoyed at the sermon and it’s going to ruin my mood for the rest of the day.” Also: “What if we have to sing ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful.’ Or if they use Prayer C. Or if they make a big announcement about Communion without Baptism. Or make us stand up or wear a nametag as visitors. Those are risks I am unwilling to take!”

I guess what I’m saying is that I’m constantly trying to get out of church on Sunday mornings.

Which would probably be fine if I wasn’t a pastor. Or maybe it wouldn’t.

An article has been making the rounds discussing the centrality of Sunday morning worship. I was struck (and then ultimately decided to read it) because it was posted by a very diverse cross-section of my friends. Catholics and Evangelicals alike! You know it has to be good when those two agree!

In short, the writer makes a very good, very clear, very biblical, very sound argument for why corporate Sunday worship should not be optional and should be at the center of everyone’s life. Honestly, I agree with most if not all of the content. I find the writer’s assertions to be true: worship helps shape my life around the power of God’s mercy and grace, it connects me to a community of believers who teach me how to love and serve others and God, and I admit to feeling that I need to be in church. I need God’s grace, mercy, and presence in my life constantly; things get worse when it’s not there. I need to gather with others, need to hear the Gospel, need to be part of this rag-tag, imperfect, messy body and family we call church. I need to be reminded that Christ died for my sins and saved me from myself.

I know that I need church. I know that I should go to church. I know that I ought to want to go to church.

But I’m also here, thinking up Ferris-Bueller-level schemes to avoid church and acting like a petulant, terrible two-year-old when my wife wants to go to church while we’re on vacation. (When did she become so holy?! I’ve made a terrible miscalculation! This is why I married an Episcopalian in the first place.)

As much as I like the article—and as much as it is a Law that convicts me at the core of my being that I’m a sinner who wants to skip church—I can’t help but feel this article forgets one HUGE thing.

Church is hard.

It’s hard for a lot of reasons (i.e. work schedules, young families, calendar conflicts, personal conflicts, trauma, history, and sermons/teaching/leadership that leave you more exhausted and burdened than when you came in; it pales in comparison to endless-Mimosa brunch; it requires more conversation than Hot Yoga). Church is hard because it’s the wildcard in the God-People relationship. It’s hard because life and people and relationships and just existing are hard.

Church is hard because of the exact reason it is good: the people who are there.

The wildcard is us! God is going to show up exactly where and when God shows up—in fog machines, or bread and wine, or incense, or chanting. God is going to be there because God is already there. Because Christ is on his throne. Because the work was finished—once for all on the cross. Because God has acted, God is acting, and God will act.

There’s only really one variable at church—a variable that also happens to be the core of what makes up the church—us!

As much as I’d love to tell people: “Church should be your excuse for missing everything else,” I’m acutely aware of two things: (1) Church might be the reason you are missing love, grace, and mercy in your life; and (2) Church might be a lot more work than you can handle at the moment.

As much as I’d love to call people and get them to take attendance more seriously, I know that it will not produce what I wish it did. Instead of being an invitation into the unconditional Grace and Mercy of God, it will be an expectation that weighs down, burdens, and crushes. Instead of finding Church a benefit, folks might instead find it just as messy and human as anything else they go to. As much as the Church is the Bride of Christ, it can feel a whole lot like one of the Real Housewives of New Jersey, one of the Sister Wives—the one that makes jewelry—or even *clutch pearls* like Lucille Bluth.

I know this because I feel this—the Professional Christian, the in persona Christi, the priest behind the altar. “Church should be your excuse for missing everything else.” Church is LITERALLY my excuse for missing everything.

And I still kinda want to skip church.

So now I need to tell you my answer for this “problem.” But you may have picked up that transforming my intentions and thoughts to those of Christ’s has not been fully realized in my own life, so maybe I’m not the best person to answer the question in the first place. I’m not sure I even have a solution.

Instead, here’s what I can tell you.

The answer to encouraging folks to discover for themselves the “benefits” of corporate worship is not to shame them, burden them, or fact them to death. The answer is the only one we can really give—because the answer really isn’t about us but what God does through and for and in and around us. The answer is about God acting first.

The answer is: we love them.

We love folks who are there.

We love folks who are not there.

We love folks who we wish were there.

We love folks who wish they could be there.

We love folks who we wish came a little less often.

We love as if everyone is already as they ought to be (even as we ourselves are not who we ought to be).

That is not a satisfying answer. Because it doesn’t demand anything from anyone but ourselves. Because a place that requires no expectations but treats people the same whether they come twice-a-week and twice-a-year is not a great business model. It’s not satisfying because we don’t get to feel righteous for being there, and we don’t get to judge others for not being there. It’s not satisfying because it sees people as they are not as they could/should be: messy, busy, stressed out, over-anxious, over-scheduled, tired, lonely, beloved children of God. It’s not satisfying because it forces us to remember that God loves us even before we loved God—and that believing and feeling that imputed love takes actual work. An actual accounting of just how much we don’t love God and just how much God loves us anyway.

That answer, I’m sorry to say, does not make me any less eager to skip church on Sunday morning.

But it does remind me that God loves me in church and out of church.

In my experience, unconditional love is the only thing that consistently gets me to church on Sunday mornings when I’m working and especially those Sunday mornings when I’m on vacation. Not my love or my church’s love or my family’s love. But God’s love in Christ Jesus. The fixed part of this relationship. The part that is always adjusting and accommodating the wildcard.

Look, if you’ve been thinking “I should go to church more,” then I want to say “Fantastic!” If you’re looking to get more involved in a local parish, please reach out and let me (and Mockingbird) help you get connected to a good one. Church is amazing and I deeply, deeply love it. I also happen to believe that church is transformative and will change us is positive and lasting ways. I’m a big proponent of big, institutional church. (Check us out on Instagram & Facebook #holytrinitywenonah.)

But if you’re anything like me and church sometimes feels like a lot of work with very little personal benefit, then know this. Church is, for better or worse:

  •  A hospital for sinners
  •  A place for the messy, the broken, the hurting, and the confused
  •  A place where just showing up is good enough
  •  A place that loves us when we hate it, and loves us when we are hurt by it, and loves us when we are at our most unlovable

Because a church that is full of actual people—people who want to skip church and go to brunch but come to church anyway—that church is full of something that is intangible and unmeasurable.

It’s full of the love of God. It’s full of the grace and mercy of Christ. It’s full of people just doing their best and trying to get by. It’s full of those things because God pours himself out on those folks—whether they know it or act like it or want to believe it.

At that church, you’re gladly welcomed in. We love you whether you’re there every day or once a month or every 8 weeks or two times a year or you give us anything but the angry emoji on our church Facebook posts. We are praying for you through all of the messy stuff of life. We are praying for you in the best stuff of life.

And if you do—by the unmerited unsurpassable incomprehensible grace of God—make it out of bed on Sunday morning with enough time to make it to church 20 minutes late after getting the kids dressed and fed, the dogs watered and walked, and the family out the door:

We’ll be glad to see you.

(Especially if you’re the pastor.)