Geoff and Christine are thirty-something churchgoers who love Jesus and love their three kids. They consider themselves faithful members of New Life Community Church.

Their oldest is about to be in the youth group, and their youngest is finally out of diapers. Christine has been involved in the kids’ ministry through the years. Geoff is a deacon.

But they are part-timers when it comes to church attendance, and they never set out to be.

They are not alone.

Recent statistics show that an increasing number of evangelicals who are firm in their faith are flabby in their practice of actually gathering with their brothers and sisters in worship. It’s the part-time syndrome, and it can sneak up on any of us.

Let’s go back to Geoff and Christine. There are 52 Sundays a year, and last year, they attended a worship gathering on 28 of those Sundays. (That’s an average of about twice a month.) What happened?

  • Vacation: To maximize his allotted days, Geoff took the family to the mountains during the kids’ spring break, stretching over two weekends (one of which happened to be Easter!). There was the summer beach vacation, another stretch of a week and two weekends, and then a fall getaway. Total = 5 Sundays.
  • Sports: Their oldest son is on a travel soccer team. Many of the games are on weekends, and they believe it would be a better testimony to be among unbelievers on Sunday mornings rather than let down the team. Total = 9 Sundays.
  • Sickness: With their youngest child going to preschool, the family seems more susceptible to illnesses than before, and sickness always seems to hit on the weekends. Total = 3 Sundays.
  • Guest Preacher: When Pastor Jon is out of town, Geoff and Christine usually take the weekend off. They never like the guest speaker as much as Pastor Jon. Total = 3 Sundays.
  • Visiting In-Laws: Christine’s parents come twice a year to spend the weekend with the family. To maximize their time, they usually spend the weekends catching up and doing some shopping. Total = 2 Sundays.
  • Holiday: Thanksgiving weekend, and the week in between Christmas and New Year’s, the family is traveling. Total = 2 Sundays.

Geoff and Christine may be a fictional couple, but their situation is true for many of us. Recently, a church leader told me their most faithful attendees are only in church 2-3 times a month. They basically expect churchgoers to be “hit or miss” every week.

Danger #1 – Guilt You Into Going

Now, there are two wrong ways church leaders might address this issue. The first is to go all Hebrews 10 on everyone and emphasize the importance of the worship gathering, so as to whip people into shape and guilt them into church attendance. Sorry, but this isn’t a gospel-centered approach.

We should never take the command of Hebrews 10 about neglecting the church and isolate it from the preceding verses (about the privilege of coming before God in a community of faith that holds to a confession of hope). That’s giving the imperative (“Go to church!”) without the indicative (“You are welcomed into the throne room of grace with your family in Christ.”).

This approach also stresses church as a place we go, rather than church as the people with whom we gather. It reinforces the idea that the church is a building and leads people to think holiness happens by being present every week.

Lastly, this method could cause people to have a checklist mentality, where we pat themselves on the back for being in church 48 weeks a year, while neglecting other important matters – like justice and love. Churchgoing isn’t necessarily a sign of spiritual health. How many times do you think the Pharisees were absent from the temple?

Danger #2 – Avoid the Issue

The second danger is to be so concerned with the first that we fail to address the imperative in Hebrews 10 at all. In doing so, we ignore the importance of the church as the family of Christ, the people with whom we are to gather and hear the gospel.

Because of our strong distaste for legalistic checklists, we might minimize the counterfeit gods that creep into our lives and vie for our free time. In the desire to avoid legalism, we never mention that a ball can become a Ba’al for some, or that leisure and comfort can become idols that keep us from worshipping the true God with other believers.

In an effort to not guilt people into church attendance, we never make people aware of the fact that grace is presented week after week. Guilt is the result of not going to church – not because you feel bad for not living up to God’s expectations, but because you’re not hearing the message of gospel grace pounded into you week after week.

A renewed vision of worship

The best way to respond is not with guilt or with a false grace, but with the reminder of the purpose of worship. You aren’t there to fill up at the gas station (after all, you can get some sort of spiritual sustenance by reading or listening to your preacher’s podcasts apart from the body of Christ). This is a distorted view of the purpose of gathering.

The author of Hebrews clues us in. Being with your brothers and sisters is where you are able to stir one another up to love and good deeds. It’s the place where the confession of hope is celebrated and put before you and where you are urged to cling to it tightly.

It’s not just the content you receive every week that is so formative; it’s the act of being together and making the Lord’s family your priority. It’s similar to a family that gathers every evening for a meal. The value is not in the specifics of your conversation, but the very act of demonstrating your love for each other.

We don’t go to church because of guilt. We are the church because of grace.

That’s what Geoff and Christine, along with you and I, need to remember.

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103 thoughts on “Are You a Part-Time Churchgoer? You May Be Surprised”

  1. roger mugs says:

    Not sure I understand the premise. To be out of community with believers is a danger for sure. But I’m not convinced it’s a Biblical concept that to show up between your four walls every sunday is of much great importance. Being there regularly or not does not make them any less a part of the Church… Maybe less a part of your programs…. but is that of grave concern? Certainly it might point to bigger issues, but if the guy is qualified to be a deacon and has the God-given authority to be so….

    Just saying, for a pastor who is concerned largely with church attendance numbers I can see the issue. For the guy who is actually attending (though not very regularly) I’m not all that concerned simply by his imperfect attendance record. Things Jesus didn’t say, “Attend synagogue every week or we’re going to flip out.”

    1. krisakson says:

      The issue isn’t whether you have your ticket punched each Sunday at the same building. The church is a living breathing organism that requires all members to function together for it to be healthy. That does not mean that a room full of people are a healthy mix. But according to the Apostle Paul, we need each other. We encourage each other. We minister to one another so that the church, working together, grows in its fullness as the body of Christ. We shouldn’t look for reasons to explain away our lack of participation in the things of God. I live in an area where there are very few churches where the church is accurately taught and fewer still where the church is functioning or aiming to function as it should. Folks here are so locked up into themselves and genuinely clueless of what God desires for His church. What my wife and I wouldn’t give to be able to attend a church where we can minister to the needs of others and pour ourselves into it to the glory of God. What a precious thing the church is. Never, never, never neglect it.

      1. krisakson says:

        Passion before proof reading. I live in an area where there are very few churches where the church is accurately taught… should say, I live in an area where there are very few churches where the WORD is accurately taught…

        1. James says:

          Have you considered moving to an area where the word is taught?
          Since eternity is at stake it might be worthwhile.

          1. krisakson says:

            It is on the radar screen but some doors will need to be opened as well.

        2. Dawn says:

          James…please explain your comment “sine eternity is at stake it might be worthwhile.” Thank you

        3. AnotherNate says:

          “Have you considered moving to an area where the word is taught?
          Since eternity is at stake it might be worthwhile.”

          That approach would nullify every missions endeavor ever embarked upon. This feeds the incubator mentality of being a part of the body of Christ. I think a better question might be, “Have you considered planting a church in your community that teaches/preaches the Word?”

      2. Nate says:

        If you believe the Gospel, you really should make whatever sacrifices are necessary to physically move to an area where you can be a part of a local church like you describe. I don’t believe this is not possible for any believer – it’s just a matter of being willing to make that choice. People move all the time for far lesser reasons.

        1. Adam says:

          We are willing to relocate for better jobs, better schools, and nicer houses. I think this is a telling reality of how we value faith. It is a huge part of our stewardship and our worship. Is our faith more important to us than those other things to the point where we would relocate for discipleship? That would be radical to most Christians today, but I think that would be a revelation of true faith. The sad story though, is that our choices reveal that we value the 3 things I mentioned far more than we do our discipleship.

          1. krisakson says:

            James, Nate, Adam
            What is crucial is the willingness to do whatever God lays on your heart to do. Personally, I have been through the fire these last few years. I am not young and not that far away from retirement age. Due to my age, I am not particularly employable should I pull up stakes but that in itself is not limiting. It just focuses my efforts. My passion for people (the church) is one that only God could instill. Time spent wrestling in prayer, listening to God’s word being explained by Washer, Carson, et al. and getting with God in His word have produced an overwhelming passion that I had not known before. I look backward at my failures and I must confess, I could easily be overwhelmed with remorse (and have been). But I can not let that sap me any longer. What a precious gift we have in the body of Christ. What opportunities are presented everyday to glorify God and love His people. Should you feel lead, go ahead and pray for me and my wife as we look to the future and what God holds for us.

      3. roger mugs says:

        “The church is a living breathing organism that requires all members to function together for it to be healthy. ”

        What you mean here is the “Church building” is a living breathing organization that reguires all members to actively participate in its programs. Or else the program doesn’t work very well.

        The Church universal is also a living breathing organization that requires all members to function healthily together, but attendance at a certain sunday morning fellowship is another matter altogether.

        1. Bob Isakson says:

          It is true that the “church” is a really big organism. Yet, I cannot interact with that organism very effectively. I am limited to that portion of the church that I can be intimate with. The universal church is very much alive and well thanks to what Christ has done and doing. But we are meant to function wherever He chooses to put us, functioning as the local body, with all its faults and frailties and with all the enthusiasm that a child of the living God should have. We all have responsibilities and we must live this life but it’s not about me (speaking only for myself) it is all about Him.

      4. Joan Davies says:

        I agree with Krisakson….never take church for granted..it is a very important place. My godly father always said..’If you are to move…find a godly church and then buy a house near it.’
        I think a lot of Christians do not recognize we are in a spiritual war and we need each other to encourage each other and pray for one another. I am very thankful that the church in which I am a member has really committed people …most of us live on the council estate where the church is built. One elderly lady brings about 3 car loads of children to church and I am amazed that they sit quietly and engage in colouring Bible pictures and fill in quizzes during the sermon. We are far from perfect but the Bible teaching is great and there is good contact with neighbors and friends. We all need to ‘work while it is day for night comes when no man can work.’.and pray that God will move in mighty power so that many are brought into His kingdom.

    2. Crystal D. says:

      Another related problem is the example it sets for the hypothetical person’s children. We have heard the statistics about how fewer and fewer church-raised youth continue attending services after high school. By making exceptions for things like ballgames, parents are subtly communicating that these activities are more important than spending time with God and other believers. Kids will know if their parents view fellowship as a chore or a as a privilege.

  2. Austin Lee says:

    Technically 2012 had 53 Sundays.

  3. John Stuart says:

    Cheap grace and bar code Christianity. The fault lies in the understanding of discipleship and what was taught about being committed to Christ in the first place. Thinking you’re a Christian is easy; being a Christian takes on a whole new level of commitment, responsibility, and regular accountability.

  4. Riley says:

    Something Jesus said: remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.

    It seems like the author is trying to say that because of grace, Christians should not feel guilty when they sin, but, does not a guilty conscience drive one to repentance?

    1. Arthur Sido says:

      Missed in all of this is the assumption that Hebrews 10 is even talking about “going to church” in the first place. We gather as the church, wherever it happens, to encourage and stir one another up, something that has very little to do with the traditional “worship service”.

      This is further muddled by those who elevate Sunday morning religious observations with the Sabbath, something Scripture never does.

      We are in far more danger by boiling the community of the saints down to a weekly religious performance than we are in not “going to church” often enough. I would rather see Christians ministering during the week and breaking bread with fellow believers than showing up to sit mutely in a religious gathering. Our emphasis should be on equipping and encouraging one another for the work of ministry, not watching someone else give a sermon or singing a couple of songs.

      1. Tom Park says:

        You get the prize Author, great points! The church should be the place we go out from, and a gathering that prepares us to go out. Sadly while we’re counting heads, regardless where we spend our Sunday mornings, the world in left without salt and light.

      2. James says:

        Arthur, how do they organize to “breaking bread with fellow believers”? The point the author is making isn’t what church should or shouldn’t look like its are you regularly partaking in the fellowship of believers, being exposed to the gospel, and outwardly expressing your worship to God.

        Is it possible that there are churches that gather and hear a sermon and sing songs AND equip and encourage one another for the work of the ministry? I submit that it is possible. I’ve seen it.

      3. roger mugs says:

        Arthur, I had just the night previously written up something much longer that says essentially this. I wish I had your brevity. My thoughts exactly, written clearer than I could have.

  5. Jason says:

    A timely article for my Bible study group in my church. We appreciate 1) the addressing of the issue and 2) the reminder of why we gather.

  6. DLE says:

    Too many church meetings today consist of nothing that resembles actual godly fellowship.

    People sing some songs with vague references to Jesus. They listen to some announcements. Some guy with a seminary degree talks for 45 minutes about something with vague connections to most people’s real lives. Everyone watches the show and then goes home.

    This bears no resemblance to the Church in Acts. No wonder people don’t care if they don’t meet regularly. Who wants to attend something so bland and pointless?

  7. Bryant says:

    We should not fail to see this issue as a heart issue rather than a not-following-Hebrews-10 issue. Does this family miss church because they are busy and thus maybe need to be less busy or do they miss church because they do not value the gathering of the redeemed or their creator’s very own admonishment to do so. The former can be fixed by finding a small church to attend while at soccer games or vacation, thus being a witness to others around them to the importance of the gathering of the redeemed, the latter only by the intervention of the Spirit of God in their lives.

    1. Steve says:

      The premise of either being too busy or not valuing gathering is a false dichotomy. The answer is never just find another church to attend. The issue is being in community. I would say anyone that buys doesn’t value gathering with the community. The answer is to stop idolizing leisure and definitely stop idolizing sports. Too many parents raise their children to worship a soccer ball more rather than Jesus.

  8. Carly says:

    It’s a simple concept. Just like with our biological families, we need to get together. How else will we relate, know each other more and sharpen one another? I feel that we use our own agendas to dictate Scripture rather than taking Scripture and applying it to our lives. I experienced a period of several months when my husband and I had to find a new church and it was extremely difficult and lonely. I was so relieved when we finally found one. There is nothing else like the family of God.

  9. Ken says:

    I guess I and my family are part-timers. After work moved us 1200 miles from our families, we finally were able to move back to within a one-day’s drive. Now we regularly spend holiday weekends, birthdays (when possible) and, as our parents grow older, other times every month or two “away” in order to maintain those apparently unimportant family ties. And, yes, we do take the occasional vacation to reconnect with each other, and more so as the kids grow older and start to venture out on their own.

    Never mind that when we are “at church” we are there from 8:00 am until 12:30 pm, that we are members of two small groups and lead a third, and that we attend church leadership meetings at least once a month. Guess we just don’t care enough.

    1. James says:

      Ken it sounds like you might be a little bitter. Are you serving in the local church out of your love for Jesus or out of obligation and duty?

      The author of the article encouraged us not to respond with guilt. Are you serving out of a love for Jesus and his gospel or are you trying to earn his love through your service? The second one isn’t something we are called to. Also, when you visit your family are you a gospel witness to them while you are there?
      If so then you are being the church even when you aren’t gathering with your local church.

      1. Ken says:

        I have no guilt feelings. And I haven’t near the love for Jesus that He has for me. I simply do whatever I can, when I can, the best I can, wherever I happen to be, to help His Bride to ready Herself for Her wedding day.

        And, yes, fellowship is very near the heart of it all. The longer I am left to serve on this side of Glory, the more members of the Church in its various congregations I come to love.

        No guilt, just a deep and abiding awe for the incredible mercy, glory, and creativity of our Lord that is exhibited in those He has and continues to gather.

        As to my earlier comment, I was merely trying to demonstrate the shallowness of the article.

        1. James says:

          I honestly am not sure how the article can be seen as shallow.
          He gives great biblical reasons for gathering together as a local church. There are many Christians who claim to love Jesus and his church but are distracted by other communities and causes. They need encouragement and exhortation to not forsake this valuable community.

          You of all people given what you shared about your commitment to your local church should actually be endorsing this article. Have you benefited from the church family that you serve with? Don’t you want others to do the same?

          1. Ken says:

            The shallowness lies in the assumption that all reasons for missing a worship service are equally sinful. It seems to me to be at least a little presumptive to say that we modern congregants are “flabby” in our attendance of weekly meetings compared to who knows what or when. Most of us don’t live anything like people did in 19th century Iowa.

            Please don’t read this as saying I believe all reasons for missing a service are equally valid. I am among the minority who believe children’s sports, the one excuse for which the article provides actual background information, have gotten completely out of hand. Don’t let me get started or I will rant unendingly about the stupidity of a child needing to commit to year-round, travel teams in order to even hope to be allowed to participate at the high school level. My wife and I must have done something right raising our children. One of them, when asked why he didn’t play on a travel team, answered that he had a life. Now he wants to go into full-time missions. Hmm…

            1. Ginger says:

              Ken, your family seems very well balanced!!

  10. David says:

    Great article. I personally need to take this to heart more often. 1. I don’t always stress the importance of church attendance to my family and to myself (according to your principles, which I’ve taught in my own church) and 2. To take the time to actually think about this stuff. Life gets so busy deep down inside sometimes it’s nice to just turn things into a checklist or routine so it’s one less thing to think about before doing. But when we do that we dilute our walk with God. Part of keeping Him and His people priority.
    Also good to note “not forsaking” is not followed up by “but rather attending” or even “fellowshipping.” no, it is followed up with “but rather exhorting one another.” If you’re not exhorting one another you are not really “fellowshipping” in the sense that the author is trying to get across. If there is little exhortation among the members when the sermon isn’t going on, then you might as well mark it down that your church is skipping most of the service.

  11. John Waller says:

    I agree that this is a heart issue.If sports, shopping and in-laws are more important to you than worshiping God than you are going to have a problem with Heaven where there will be none of the former and an eternity of the latter.

  12. Lowell says:

    I fully appreciate the anti-legalism campaign the church has been on for like 35 years now, but there is something to be said for the the level of commitment. We vote with our feet. Heard a good sermon once about how there is no such this as separation of mind and body in this life. We cannot say to someone, “I wish I could be there. But I’ll be with you in spirit.” No, the truth is, “I have something better to do.”

    1. James says:

      Exactly. Very good points all around.

  13. Lowell says:

    Another aspect is how the secular world does not tolerate, or extend as much grace as the church. How many games would your little leaguer or h.s. athelete play in if he/she missed practices? But church stuff? Just show up when you can–if you feel like it.

  14. DLE says:

    Let’s be honest here. If the Book of Acts is any indication, we are all part-timers because the vast majority of us do not get together with the daily regularity depicted in that book.

    Every Sunday? Wow, we are SO committed.

    And if we’re just sitting in the pews as stuff happens outside of us, then we’re fooling ourselves into thinking we’re really doing church anyway.

    1. James says:

      Is the book of Acts prescriptive or descriptive?

      If you really want to look like them then you should be out buying different clothing and wearing sandals. Is it possible for the content of the gospel to remain the same while the methods and culture change over time?

      1. DLE says:

        James, let’s be honest here. The whole “descriptive vs. prescriptive” argument is simply a smokescreen from people who don’t want to have to deal with the charismata as a normal function within the contemporary church.

        If people in the early Church were sharing their goods and wealth (oh no! communism), meeting together every day (oh no, socialism!), operating in the gifts of the Spirit (oh no, open canon!), and people cry “descriptive only,” it’s a cop-out. Really. If the early Church was doing it, they had a pretty good reason, and we need to take it seriously and not dismiss it with the old “descriptive vs. prescriptive” out.

        If people in the early Church were getting together every day to fellowship, commune, worship, etc., then if we start talking about part-time Christians, then perhaps we need to ask ourselves if those of us who attend Sunday meetings only, but do so “religiously,” aren’t, in fact, part-timers too.

        1. James says:

          So this author doesn’t take it far enough for you.

          Well if you are gathering every single day breaking bread and praising God with other believers as a church then good for you.

          Hopefully that is what you are actually doing and not just daydreaming and deconstructing every other church article you come in contact with.

  15. Louis Cook says:

    Great line and comparison, “we never mention that a ball can become a Ba’al for some.”

    1. Ken says:

      But not necessarily for all. I wonder if Tim Tebow’s mom ever missed a Sunday service so he could play football? We need to be careful not to paint everyone with the same brush.

  16. Bob says:

    If you make the choice to participate in sports with any regularity at the expense of a weekly corporate gathering that is a part of your local church commitment – well then you’re doing it wrong, period. But we’ve become so timid about this that we are failing to disciple our people. If you make a commitment to a local church that only gathers corporately on Sunday mornings, it’s not OK to miss that for soccer. Either go to a church that gathers at other times or say no to soccer. This really isn’t even a grey issue but we’ve become cowards about it.

    No, the other soccer families will not be witnessed to by you spending time with them on Sunday mornings. All they will see is that you don’t really care about your church gathering all that much, so why should they? No, the real witness is to publicly say that you wish you could do soccer then, but your church commitment is more important to your family. Making those kind of choices is the only way we can actually show tangibly what Jesus and His bride means to us. The other choices are syncretism in the end.

    Vacations – how about sometimes we come home on Saturday morning, good grief do we really need 9 whole days? When relatives come, we witness to them by saying that we love to have them here, but our local church gathering is so important to us that we don’t miss it. They can come with us or we’ll be back in a few hours. That is witnessing to them. And the whole missing when the main speaker isn’t there – good grief that’s just sinful.

    In all these issues, if we had more of an outward commitment to something that we claim is of eternal significance, maybe the world would take our inward beliefs more seriously. I’m not suggesting a return to fundamentalism or a new law, just a more frank discussion on what is or is not wisdom with the way we spend our time. I genuinely look forward to the gathering each and every week, and hate it when I’m not there. Why can’t we spend more time think of ways to be there, instead of justifying reasons to miss?

  17. j james says:

    This was a very helpful article for me. My church has community groups that meet weekly and I’ve found myself downplaying the importance of the corporate service at times. It’s true that my closest relationships are in my c group–that is where more intimate fellowship occurs. But the corporate service still needs to be a huge priority. I may not know everyone there, but there is still something powerful about being in the same room together, hearing the same message, and singing together.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I did not read this article to mean that it is sinful to occasionally miss a service to take a vacation (most pastors do this, right?) or to visit relatives for a holiday. If you take the list of reasons Geoff and Christine are absent into separate consideration, there might be an appropriate reason to miss from time to time. But when you consider the reasons as a whole there is a pattern of a somewhat dismissive attitude when it comes to church attendance and this shouldn’t be.

    1. Bob says:

      I think this rests a lot in wisdom with how we use our time. Of course it is not sinful to miss a worship gathering now and again. But the issue is the reason why – what does it show about our life priorities?

      If you need to miss a worship gathering to spend vacation time with your family, by all means do so. But do all our vacations need to be Friday – Sunday night, 9 full days? We are historically spoiled rotten there, and perhaps we ought to consider giving up some of that freedom to be a part of the body. I know we enjoy our 7 day vacations much more and we only miss one Sunday so as to not get so disconnected. That these issues are never even considered is because we don’t talk about loving the body in terms of our own discipleship. We should want this!

      In terms of priorities, I struggle with kids playing with balls. I mean, soccer, football, baseball – these things are just so trivial in light of eternity. I could not for even one Sunday justify to my own children that a sport is a better use of our time than gathered worship. That is a priority choice and even one Sunday missed is a misplaced priority. This should not be a grey area for us! Our failure to prioritize gathered worship above sporting events is the reason so many sporting events have been moved to Sunday in the first place. It is not a matter of Sunday being sacred, but a matter of us as believers showing the world our priorities.

      The world desperately NEEDS to SEE that our church family means more us than sports! We need to be outcasts on this issue for the sake of the Gospel.

      1. j james says:

        Bob,
        I don’t disagree with you. It is important to show the world that church is more important than other things. It’s admirable that you’ve made such an effort to establish this view in your own home. Like you said, wisdom is key and I’m with you for the most part when it comes to sports.

        As far as vacations and other ‘acceptable’ reasons to miss church, I think we need to be careful to assume the best of one another. Yes, if members are clearly in the habit of missing church that is problematic. But it seems equally dangerous (if not more so) to be the family who pridefully looks down on others for taking a longer vacation than them. I don’t mean to suggest that you do are being prideful so please don’t take it that way…only giving an example!

        1. Bob says:

          I think you’re right, we do have to be really careful about that. I think the fear of appearing prideful is why this subject isn’t really talked about out in the open. On a blog comment board we can do it, but in person we don’t feel the freedom to say, “Look, I’m just saying we ought to think about wisdom in these situations and vacation time shouldn’t be sacrosanct. We can’t make a law out of this, but it’s all on the table.” But we just don’t talk about it.

  18. Concerted Effort says:

    Well, you could be like my old church and advise if anyone is unwilling to meet the “attend all stated meetings unless providentially hindered (i.e. you have a fever)” rule in the good, old church constitution…you should resign your membership….AND, since you’re not a member of a church any where, withhold the Lord’s Supper.

    Stated meetings equal SS, AM, PM worship services and Wednesday prayer meeting. Yep, good old northeastern Reformed Baptist Church

  19. Dawn says:

    Guest Pastor =3 Sundays? More like = 10-15 Sundays Could it be there are some part-time pastors also?

    1. Bob says:

      Dawn, you are so right on here. There is just no reason for the average person or pastor, if they are arranging their lives properly, to be out of town more than 3 or 4 Sundays a year. No reason! Now different life situations do happen, health etc, but I’m talking about the average person in the average year. If our life is so chaotic and unrooted, we ought to change it. Living in community means presence! Be there, be around. We’ve got to reject the detached values of our culture. Now, that doesn’t mean the pastor needs to preach 48 times a year, goodness now. But pastors of a church ought certainly on average be present 48 times a year.

      These are generalizations of course – many of the pastors who post on TGC are not at all average and have a larger responsibility and influence, which may require more travel.

  20. JohnM says:

    “We should never take the command of Hebrews 10 about neglecting the church and isolate it…”.

    Yes, we should never take the command of Hebrews 10 about neglecting the church and isolate it – from the warning against apostasy.

  21. Shane says:

    I understand the approach of guilting somebody is not exactly graceful and is an improper way of approaching a brother or sister in Christ. I would also agree that Hebrews 10 is not a text that should ungracefully thrown into the face of one who may be a brother or sister in Christ; but it should presented to them if they are not faithfully attending a local church. It’s the warning that follows verse 25, according to the context of the text, that should and will convict a true believer’s heart if they are unfaithfully attending their local fellowship when the text is presented. There is a clear distinction between a universal and local church in the Scripture (compare Matthew 16 from 18). The believer should never struggle whether they want to go to church or not (not the building but it is a particular community that one is associated with that acts as a body in which they were baptized in) but their struggle is always against the temptation of not going. I understand many churches in America are not very solid, and even throughout the world, but that does not mean we give up, for Christ never gave up and never will give up on us. He sent His Helper, who indwells within us, so that as believers we would desire the incomprehensible trinitarian fellowship of the Triune God Himself. Christ cried out on the cross, “My God, My God why have you forsaken Me?” His eternal fellowship was broken so that we may join it (1John 1:1-4). To have the Spirit in us, Christ’s blood covering us, and fellowship with the Father, we cannot help but want to serve and be with one another (Acts 2:42; Phil. 2:1-8; Eph. 4:1-6)! I praise God for your heart brother and the recognition of the urgency for believers to bear fruit (Matt. 7; 2 Cor. 13).

  22. Lou says:

    I agree with the idea of the article.

    However, why might this article be offensive and insulting to me and many other Christians?

    First, because I am guilty of every single reason for missing church that the author writes in this article. What I see is pastors in my own church and nearby churches(right or wrong-I’m not judging) taking vacations that cause them to miss Sunday’s. Visiting family on weekends etc. I am convinced that our Pastors get 3 months vacation per year. Then the 3 month sabbaticals overseas.

    This article seems to intentionally have a tone of criticizing lay persons who miss church for reasons of vacation, family, and illness. This article criticizes me but not my Church leaders.

    Another reason this is offensive is because I know church leaders using this article stealthily to guilt people into their pews! I found this because it was shared on Facebook by a few Church leaders I know. One of whom I respect.

    This issue is a 2 sided problem that includes Pastors and Members. Why write just about members/goers?

    1. Mel says:

      You need to read Thomas Rainer’s blogs on Pastors, the time they put in and people’s expectations. You assume that you know what that pastor is doing and living every single minute when you can’t possibly.
      If you think that your pastors are getting three months vacations based on your observations then you are judging. This where that log verse applies. As well as the verse about love believing the best.

      The way to grow in faith is to examine yourself not looking around to see if everyone else is getting chewed out too.

      http://thomrainer.com/2013/07/24/how-many-hours-must-a-pastor-work-to-satisfy-the-congregation/

      1. Lou says:

        Mel

        Thanks for chewing me out again! lol

    2. Bob says:

      I really think Lou has legitimate concerns and I’m glad to be at a church where the pastors are transparent about their commitment and reasons why. While I know they do take needed rest, they rarely miss our corporate gathering to do so and whats more they say it’s a joy to be there. If the pastors don’t long to be at the corporate gathering and make every effort to do so, the issue stops there. But there are pastors out there who love gathering together every week. Lou, please see my comment above to Dawn if you haven’t.

  23. Lyn says:

    This article saddens me. I get on some level the point but this constant need Christians have to qualify who measures up is just tiresome. It’s had more to do with wrecking my faith then anything. We’re committed to our church on Sundays, small group and ministries but vacations are needed and a blessing. When we are sick we stay home, as we should. When we have family visiting from out of town we are so thankful for every last minute we have together. Instead of rushing around and racing off to church we spend our usual last hours together sitting around the breakfast table loving, listening and encouraging one another. I’m sure someone will try to say that time would be better spent in corporate worship but I will say my conscience is clean before The Lord. We will all be back in our own churches the following week but for thatt Sunday when we are together it is priceless and we are so thankful for the time we have.

    I’m so thankful for the gospel and my church. I’ll just have to live with the part timer label I guess.

  24. Jeff says:

    How about the demonstration of the spirits power? The church I attend is charismatic yet light on the glory and presence of the glory of God. There are lots of churches in my area like it and after leaving my very first church a while back to discover there is not much better out there I have come to the conclusion that the Internet is my only hope for real god glorifying sermons and church content. I’m not going to keep moving from church to church either as I don’t want to become a spiritual vagrant. Where’s the power? Where’s the life altering glory of god?

  25. I think the intentions of the article are noble but unrealistic. Since I live in a college town, there’s more mobility here and people have a higher expectation that even the regular members will miss many Sundays. Our church basically takes the whole summer off – no Sunday School or official church events. We’ve tried to buck the trend, but there’s only about four weeks in the summer where everyone is in town, and those four weeks are scattered across the calendar.

    The issue to me is: when you are away from your home church, do you make an effort to attend a church service anyway? If so, then any argument against vacation time goes out the window. You’re still making church central to your life, and you’re still teaching your kids that attending worship is important.

    Same goes for sports. Weekend sporting events are inconvenient, but if you have a kid who is a potential pro player (as my nephew was), then finding a church at whatever city your kid’s travels takes you to should be fine.

    Holidays and family can be more problematic. Many of us live in families with mixed religions. You and your family might be believers, but you parents and grandparents might not be. If they’re hosting you and have plans for Sunday, it’s best to keep family harmony and respect their plans. Skipping out of family time just to prove a point about how important church is will only ruffle feathers.

    I’ve been a believer since 1985, and except for 2002, I have not been to a church worship service for Christmas or Christmas Eve since 1998. That’s because my non-churchgoing siblings have had kids, and whichever sibling has the most young children becomes ground zero for family get-togethers. When your brother and sister-in-law prefer a night at Olive Garden to Christmas Eve service, you don’t argue over it. You roll with it. I miss Christmas services terribly, but the reality is that when you travel long distances just to spend a few days with family, you try to max out your time together and keep everyone happy.

    As for sickness, if the illness is contagious or severe enough that going to church without the rest of the family would be inconsiderate, then by all means stay home. Just don’t use illness as an excuse to skip church.

    The only example that I can find fault with is the guest preacher issue. If you’re in leadership you should show support for all guest preachers as much as your time will allow you to.

  26. Kim says:

    Greatly appreciate this article! A much needed topic for the age we live in where distractions are a dime a dozen. Thankful for in-season and out-of-season teaching. Pragmatic decision-making is always counter to Scripture. We have faithful members in our church who drive a total of four hours each Sunday (one hour each way for two services)–not including all of the ministry they do during the week. They have tried, multiple times, to sell their house and move closer to where we meet for church (at the expense of the work commute) but to no avail. They understand the commitment is more than just a preference or convenience, and have decided, by God’s grace, to yield to Scriptural commands which in turn produces eternal reward vs. temporal. They are of huge encouragement (and frankly, conviction) to our small body of believers. We walk by faith, and the commands found in Scripture by the power of the Holy Spirit; not by sight. Local church is one of the few God-ordained institutions where our faith in Jesus is stirred, challenged, and bolstered. God’s attribute of faithfulness is often revealed to us within the direct context of church fellowship and ministry. (cf. I Cor. 1:9-10; Heb. 10:23-25) What more do we need?

    1. Sarah says:

      You guys might want to think of doing what our church does. We have many families that travel from 30-60 minutes away to our church. Thus, many years ago they decided to drop the Sunday evening service for a Sunday afternoon service. We have our regular Sunday school and morning service, then we have a potluck followed by our afternoon service. That way families don’t have to travel to church twice in one day and the added benefit of the weekly meal is that fellowship is deepened greatly, and the women don’t have to worry about lunch back at home and the kids get to eat right away! :) It’s a win-win all the way around.

  27. JohnM says:

    “when you are away from your home church, do you make an effort to attend a church service anyway?” I think is a good point. Do you want to be in church? The question is one of desire and the bottom line is people don’t go to church because they don’t want to.

    It’s not that I subscribe to the every-time-the-church-door-is-open school of thought. However, “2-3 times a month” would be quite faithful attendance compared to some professing Christians I’ve known. If the professing Christian has scarcely any desire to be in any church, anywhere, anytime, that surely raises some serious questions about their profession.

  28. DLE says:

    In a way, this entire article misses the point.

    To the Christian, every day is holy.

    To the Christian, all that he or she does in a day that is done with a mind set on Christ becomes worship.

    The Lord calls us to meet regularly. Wherever we go as Spirit-filled believers, we constitute the Church. If a group of us meet together in a pub to talk about life, we are the Church. If we play a game together, we are the Church. If we hand out food to the poor, we are the Church. If we fall prostrate on the ground in the middle of a busy city square because we are overwhelmed by the goodness of God, we are the Church.

    This stilted mentality that church is what we do on a Sunday morning is so limited and so small that anyone who is keeping track of who is attending and who isn’t is frankly missing the Gospel.

    If Christians limit themselves to the pigeonholed thinking exhibited by this post about being declared a part-time Christian because up showing up randomly on Sundays, then we are missing the point, and I would question whether or not we really understand what this Christian faith is all about.

    If anything, we don’t gather together enough. Sunday doesn’t cut it. Our vision is way too small if we think it does.

    But then, that’s where we are in America 2013. We just don’t get how we’re supposed to be as Christians. We don’t understand what we’re talking about. And the proof comes when we have silly arguments about how many Sundays someone has shown up for “church.”

  29. Brad Lenzner says:

    HI Trevin,

    Would you be willing to clarify what you meant by this statement?:

    “It’s not the content you receive every week that is so formative; it’s the act of being together and making the Lord’s family your priority. It’s similar to a family that gathers every evening for a meal. The value is not in the specifics of your conversation, but the very act of demonstrating your love for each other.”

    I’m thinking that you must have misspoke (miswritten) because, taken at face value, that statement seems to contradict your understanding of the Gospel and the means of grace (Word and Sacrament).

    Do you really mean to communicate that “it’s the act of being together making the Lord’s family your priority” that is formative and not the content of what we receive during a biblical worship service?

    Did you really mean to say that the content (which, in a true, biblical church ought to be Christ and the grace of God received through Gospel preaching from the Word and the sacraments) is secondary to something that we do (which according to your statement is “the act of being together and making the Lord’s family a priority)?

    Do you really mean to communicate that the content of the worship service is of lessor importance than “our act of demonstrating our love for one another”?

    It seems like your saying that the most important thing is our commitment to Christ and his people and that God’s grace and his means of grace are beneath that priority.

    Do you mean that receiving Christ through the preaching of the Gospel and the Lord’s Supper and Baptism (which ought to be the content and specifics of our worship service) are secondary to our commitment to Him?

    Am I interpreting what you wrote correctly?

    If you meant to communicate something else than the face value of what you wrote then I encourage you to revise that paragraph.

    For Christ, HIs Gospel, and His Church,

    Brad

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      I’m not saying the content of our worship service is unimportant at all. My point is that we are to gather together to hear the Word, not merely hear the Word in our podcasts, cars, and online sermons. The act of gathering at the table for food (through the Word and Table) is what we are called to, not merely sustaining ourselves through studying the Word on our own.

      I’m using the Hebrews 10 passage, which is why the stress in this post falls on stirring one another up to love and good deeds (and that takes place through the Word preached, of course, but also through doing life together in community).

      1. Brad Lenzner says:

        Thanks for your reply, Trevin.

        I think I understand what you meant to communicate now. In light of your clarification, you may still want to consider emending this statement: “It’s not the content you receive every week that is so formative…”

        It does still give the impression (albeit inadvertently according to your clarification) that Word and Sacrament is not as formative as our commitment to gathering together to stir each other up to love and good works.

        Both are important, which you have communicated, but gathering to stir each other up for love and good works is not more formative than the primary formative influence of Word and Sacrament (it’s not equal to the formative influence of Word and Sacrament either!).

        I hope that you don’t misunderstand my constructive criticism. I think that this blog post is good and helpful overall. I’m just encouraging you make what you mean more clear in your concluding remarks order to help people avoid misunderstanding the primacy of the means of grace. I’m assuming that you would agree that’s an important clarification!

        I hope you have a good week and a great Lord’s Day this Sunday!

        Brad

  30. Brad Lenzner says:

    I should clarify something of my own as well!

    When I referred the primacy of the means of grace above I am referring to receiving the means of grace in the context of a public worship service. I’m not referring to our private reading of Scripture or our private listening to online sermons/podcasts.

    Grace and peace,

    Brad

  31. g canady says:

    Seems like no one is asking about what the elder leadership of your local church body is asking you to submitt to.

  32. Jared says:

    This is a terribly, legalistic article. I bet the Pharisee never missed worship. The issue isn’t church attendance but being the church even on vacation.

    A father leading his family in worship, while on vacation, is “full-time” than any corporate worship service.

  33. Tom Campbell says:

    Church is not a place but rather it is the corporate body of Christ. Rather than asking the question do we go to church we should be asking are we being church?

    I liken Sunday morning service to a military formation. Essential for good order and discipline but only a tiny fragment of what is expected of a soldier or Marine. The important thing is how one functions when no one is looking.

    Christians have an obligation to be-in a word-Christ-like. Charity, humility, compassion, self-sacrifice, and mercy are just the short list of things we are to be or to be becoming. To the extent that corporate worship helps to inculcate these values and behaviors it can be valuable but regrettably true spiritual growth is most often developed in other venues.

    Small groups and auxiliary ministries are often more successful in the maturation process though perhaps weak in worship. Then again did not the Lord define true worship in terms of service to the weak and deeds of charity?

  34. Arabin says:

    In agreement with what Brad and Trevin wrote, I contend we should be structuring our understanding of how to be the church based on Acts 2:42, which describes the fellowship of the baptized:

    “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

    This is the definition of “gathering together.” It’s a fellowship carried out with other believers, in a particular way: the apostles’ teaching (Word & interpretation), godly fellowship, Holy Communion, corporate prayer.

    This is not a podcast. But even a “worship service” doesn’t meet this standard if said “service” doesn’t involve the reading of the Word, corporate prayer, and participating in sacramental fellowship through the Body and Blood.

  35. Jonathan says:

    Part of the problem may be that the cultural context that shaped our largely modern and Western model for “church” has changed and we’ve refused to change with it.

    We need to be honest without ourselves. The weekly worship gathering (singing, offering, preaching, etc…) where everyone sits quietly facing the stage/pulpit is not analogous to a daily family gathering around the dinner table. It is a closer analogy to a dating couple that attends a movie together. It can be very meaningful but it really does nothing to further togetherness.

    It may be the case that the overwhelming focus on the weekly preaching event and the lessening focus on the interactive, growing together, small group events (that are really more of a parallel to the Acts model) is partly responsible for what TW presents in the blog post. Perhaps if churches saw these smaller groups as foundational and prioritized them in a similar fashion as the weekly preaching event, both would grow.

    1. Riley says:

      We don’t determine what is foundational. God does. He’s told us in His Word that His Word, especially preached, is foundational to Christian piety. We are in no position to question that. If Christians can’t get excited about hearing the Word, where it is authentically preached, it probably means they are unregenerate. His sheep hear His voice and follow Him. They can’t get enough of hearing authentic sermons.

      Furthermore, I truly have a hard time understanding where this neo-evangelical “once per week only” idea comes from. When I was a pew-sitter, I couldn’t get enough. Listening to 3-4 sermons per week was average.

  36. Jonathan says:

    Riley, you’re correct, God determines what is foundational. We’re commanded to make disciples, not just sermon hearers. At some point, we made a cultural shift where the preaching event has become the central (and, in some churches the exclusive) component in discipleship. We should not be surprised that this has resulted in congregations of members who caught that merely showing up is sufficient. And we should be even less surprised that, having experienced a couple of generations of declining impact on the culture, that members are starting to realize thr lack of community and connectedness that exists in the Sun AM event.

    Attempting to rebuke folks for not attending a preaching event is not working. Perhaps me might try actual discipleship?

  37. Riley says:

    “We’re commanded to make disciples, not just sermon hearers.”

    Might I suggest that you are presenting a false dichotomy? In the Church, and for most Christians, hearing sermons is and ought to be the primary means of discipleship. It is authentic discipleship. In an authentic sermon, the hearer is dicipled by Christ, and called to follow Him. Preaching being central to the ministry of the church is not a cultural shift. It’s what we’ve been taught by our forefathers, since the Reformation. You may think this centrality of preaching is unbiblical, but I believe it is biblical:

    And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; Luke 3:3

    Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also. Acts 15:35

    For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. 1 Corinthians 1:17

    For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. 1 Corinthians 1:21

    how shall they believe in Him, whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? Romans 10:14 (Notice that it is Jesus Himself who is heard when a preacher is preaching the Word.)

    Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine. 1 Tim 4:2

    Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. 1 Tim 4:13-14

    Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. 1 Tim 5:17

    But hath in due times manifested his word through preaching, which is committed unto me according to the commandment of God our Saviour; Titus 1:3

    Furthermore, every significant period of blessing in church history (Reformation, Great Awakening, 2nd Great Awakening, etc.) was driven and characterized throughout by the authentic preaching of the Word. It works because God has promised to work through it, and He does so.

    Authentic preaching of the Word challenges and inspires you to live for Jesus as His disciple every day of the week, not just to show up at church on Sundays and call yourself a Christian. If it’s not, there’s something wrong with the preaching. And honestly, I think that is and has been the main problem in the churches: the low quality and lack of faithfulness in the preaching. Authentic preaching changes lives. And yes, there is too much focus on the Sunday AM event, considering that there ought to be more opportunities in the week to hear a sermon at church than just Sunday AM. In fact, there is only one church I have experienced which only provides one sermon per week. I don’t personally get that meager schedule aka. “new tradition.” And for me personally, as a minister of the Word, preaching 1x per week is not enough.

  38. Jonathan says:

    Jonathan: “We’re commanded to make disciples, not just sermon hearers.”

    Riley: “Might I suggest that you are presenting a false dichotomy?”

    Sure, you can give it a shot…but you’re going to have to do better than doubling down on a Western centric view of all things “church”.

    Riley: “In the Church, and for most Christians, hearing sermons is and ought to be the primary means of discipleship. It is authentic discipleship. In an authentic sermon, the hearer is dicipled by Christ, and called to follow Him.”

    Okay, so you’ve made your assertion. Its a big one and one that is not self-evident. So you continue with what you think is proof. First up, the historical argument:

    Riley: “Preaching being central to the ministry of the church is not a cultural shift. It’s what we’ve been taught by our forefathers, since the Reformation.”

    You are correct, your assertion is a common one. The thinking that, since the Reformation, preaching (and preachers) is THE central component to the church and her mission, is an essential component of how preachers (irony?) attempt to frame the context of church history. The why of this is for a more extended conversation but it is one that you should probably look into for yourself.

    Next up, you attempt to provide biblical support for your prior assertion, “In the Church, and for most Christians, hearing sermons is and ought to be the primary means of discipleship”

    Riley: “You may think this centrality of preaching is unbiblical, but I believe it is biblical:”

    Okay, what I’m going to do next, Riley, is done secondarily out of a sincere respect for you, your calling and your passion for yourself and your calling. There are multiple pastors in my extended family, I’ve been around them all of my life (my father and father-in-law are pastors) and I’ve been involved in teaching for decades. I get the passion.

    Riley: “And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; Luke 3:3″

    John the Baptist preaching the baptism of repentance. This does not support the assertion that “In the Church, and for most Christians, hearing sermons is and ought to be the primary means of discipleship”

    Riley: “Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also. Acts 15:35″

    Still not a support of the assertion, “In the Church, and for most Christians, hearing sermons is and ought to be the primary means of discipleship”

    Riley: “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. 1 Corinthians 1:17″

    And…still not a support of your assertion.

    Riley: “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. 1 Corinthians 1:21″

    A great verse that supports the place of preaching in the salvation of those who would believe…but not a support of your assertion that “In the Church, and for most Christians, hearing sermons is and ought to be the primary means of discipleship”

    Riley: “how shall they believe in Him, whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? Romans 10:14 (Notice that it is Jesus Himself who is heard when a preacher is preaching the Word.)”

    And note that this is a description of the salvation effect of the proclamation of the Gospel or just one of the initial components of making disciples.

    Riley: “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine. 1 Tim 4:2″

    Great verse. Says nothing in support of your assertion.

    Riley: “Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. 1 Tim 4:13-14″

    Another great verse that support the activities of one particular office within the church…but does not support your assertion.

    Riley: “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. 1 Tim 5:17″

    Riley: “But hath in due times manifested his word through preaching, which is committed unto me according to the commandment of God our Saviour; Titus 1:3″

    Ok, I think that now you’ve forgotten what you’re attempting to argue here. None of these verses support your contention.

    And, yes, it is true that throughout history, great periods of revival, reformation, awakenings were sparked by the proclamation of the Word. But is also true that when this preaching was not accompanied by an intense, intentional, focused and ongoing process of discipleship, that these periods were relatively brief and ended with a whimper. Check out the history of Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle less than 10 years after his death. Do the same for any other church or movement sparked by a single dynamic preacher. In each of these cases, the focus on preaching as the central component of church became confused with a focus on a single, human personality such that once that person was gone, the effect of the preached Word, sans an ongoing commitment to making disciples who disciple who disciple…, faded away.

    We’re called to make disciples. That’s a calling to do something that can be evaluated. By focusing on only one particular method, we’ve become experts on a method but have lost the ability to even see that we’re not making disciples who are making disciples.

    One of the results is the example that TW gives in this blog post. Sure, it is does fit our Western, preaching/preacher centric culture to suggest that the problem is with the lay people who are not showing up every time the door is open…but this is a lazy way of avoiding meaningful evaluation of what we’re doing (and not doing).

  39. Steve says:

    I understand where this blog post is coming from. As a church leader, I oftentimes find myself wondering if person x is growing further from God based on their increasingly spotty attendance. It’s oftentimes the only thing we have to go by. But discipleship isn’t about being at church every Sunday. If the person described in this blog post is: part of a discipleship group, is in positive mentoring relationships, is constantly growing in faith and understandinig, has a good prayer life, and is serving the church or the world, then that is a very healthy Christian. The fact they didn’t go to the big Sunday event every week is largely irrelevant. Church doesn’t happen on Sunday, it happens every day of the week wherever the body of Christ is at work.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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