Family is good. Church is good. So which is better? Is family more important or is church? This is a question I’ve heard during my several years of local church ministry. If I had to answer this question in one word, I would not answer “yes” or “no.” I would answer with the word, “why?” Why are we even asking this question?
An Unhealthy Category
I believe this question reveals an unhealthy category. Should church be categorized as essential or nonessential? Few people have ever asked: Is family more important than personal hygiene? Is family more important than sleep? Meals? Exercise? For that matter, is family more important than breathing?
We don’t ask these sorts of questions, because personal hygiene, sleep, eating, exercise, and breathing are all considered essential.
The Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports that the average American spends 11 hours per day doing these essential activities. That’s 77 hours each week. No sensible person sees taking a shower, eating a salad, or getting a good night’s sleep as a threat to spending time with the family. Because these are essential things.
It seems the main reason a Christian may view church as a threat to family time is that many do not see church as an essential activity. Church has been placed in the same category as a hobby or social activity. It’s something we do when it’s convenient, and it’s something we are quick to cancel.
Is It Ever Appropriate to Miss Church Because of a Family Matter?
If one of your family members is having a medical emergency during church time, then you should by all means tend to this emergency!
When a family vacation has been planned, then you should most definitely enjoy your time together. (Side note: One of our favorite vacation pastimes is visiting other churches.)
I know what it’s like to have a cancer patient living in the house, and then having to decide which adult is staying home and who is going to church. We’ve also had babies with snotty noses and medical disorders—the baby years are hard years!
Church Is a Family Event
Unlike some essential activities like sleeping and personal hygiene, church is an essential activity you can do with your family! Like family meals around the dinner table, you can come together each Lord’s Day and worship together. Family meals do not take away from family time; neither does family worship with the gathered body of Christ.
There is no better way to spend the first day of the week than singing together, sharing a bible during the message, holding hands during prayer, and giving in the collection plate.
Worship is not the only family church event; serving the church is also a great way to get the family together. Some of our sweetest family times have been spent in the church, serving Christ. Currently, Kimberly and I, along with our three kids, are privileged to make copies, fold worship programs, arrange music stands, replace microphone batteries, and setup sheet music for the musicians every week together at our church plant. We treasure these times together.
Too Much of An Essential Thing
Is it possible to have too much of an essential thing? Yes.
If eating keeps you from breathing, it is too much of an essential thing. If an excess amount of sleep keeps you from getting to church, it is too much of an essential thing. If an excessive amount of church commitments keeps you from spending time with your family, then it is too much of an essential thing.
Too much time at church is not an issue for the average person. In the survey referenced above by the BLS, 13.4% of Americans surveyed reported that they participated in organizational, civic, and religious activities (including volunteering) for about 3.5 hours each week. The remaining 86.6% reported zero time participating in organizational, civic, and religious activities. Given the fact that these 3.5 hours are not just church involvement, I think it’s safe to say that the average American Christian is not dangerously close to getting too much church.
A word of caution: As someone who has served in the church as a volunteer and as a full-time minister, I can promise you that too much time at church is a constant concern for the families of ministry leaders. Many pastor’s children have been wounded by parents who could not find the balance.
Is Church Essential?
The local church is a community of redeemed people who gather regularly to worship God in the Spirt and truth and to carry out Christ’s mission. The church is most often spoken of in terms of local assemblies, but it is also a universal body of all believers both living and dead. Christ promised that the church will succeed: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Mat. 16:18).
When discussing the essentiality of the church, “Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some,” is the verse often quoted. While this is certainly a clear command from Holy Scripture to gather with the body of the Christ, the reason for this command is given in the phrases immediately before and after the forsake not the assembling phrase: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works . . . but encouraging one another” (Heb. 10:24-25). It is essential for you to gather so that you can minister and be ministered unto. The reality is, much of what Scripture commands the believer to do can only be done in the context of a gathered assembly.
You may say, “Well, I don’t really need other Christians; my main focus is my personal walk with Jesus.” The writer of Hebrews also places emphases on the fact that you as an individual believer can “enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus by the new and living way” (Heb. 10:19-20). Following Jesus is a personal decision. You don’t need a priest to do this! Christ, your brother, the one who makes his saints holy is interceding on their behalf (Heb. 2:11) and has made it possible for you to boldly draw near to the throne of grace and find mercy (Heb. 4:14-16).
As glorious as personal salvation may be, the writer of Hebrews does not see this in conflict with regular meetings with the body. Verses 19-23, which immediately proceed the “forsake not the assembly” verses, emphasize Christ’s priestly work for each individual believer, and then the writer of Hebrews gives the command to gather regularly and all the more as we see the Day of the Lord getting closer.
We shouldn’t see church as a conflict with family, any more than we see breathing as a conflict with family.
Church is essential.
Because it is essential, gathering on the Lord’s Day with the local body of believers that you’re accountable to should be the first thing you do every week; it should be the highest priority of your weekly schedule; it should be the last thing you cancel.
After all… you wouldn’t cancel breathing, would you?