I usually accept invites to preach out quite far in advance. My church tends to run a rota in 3-monthly burst and I usually write sermons ahead of time and, therefore, need to write up new rotas 3 months ahead so I know what I need to prepare next. All of which means, if you’re lucky, I might need 3 months notice to preach for you because my preaching dates will be set. If you catch me at the wrong time, you’ll need to be asking about 6 months ahead. I sometimes have wiggle room on that, and weeks I’m not preaching and could be available, but not so often. All of which is to say, I am usually accepting preaching invitations quite far ahead.
Now, that usually works out fine. But occasionally I get into a period where I have inadvertently booked myself out more than perhaps I intended. It doesn’t happen often, I try not to do it, but sometimes a coming together of various things makes it happen. So, I can sometimes find myself preaching out, being on holiday shortly after, and then out again and away in a short period a bit more than I might otherwise like.
In have been in a bit of a period of this lately. I have been away on holiday, then was speaking over a weekend where I was away and had booked myself ages ago to preach at another church. It was a privilege to do all those things. I am in no way complaining about them. It just so happened they bunched together in a way I hadn’t quite planned. It wasn’t ideal, but it is not a disaster. Just a scheduling matter that I would have otherwise avoided. It’s nobody’s fault (or, at least, if it’s anyone’s fault it’s entirely mine) just a coming together of things that meant I was away in a short period a bit more than I would have otherwise liked. No doubt my church were grateful for the little extended break from me nevertheless.
But I really do miss my church. I don’t always notice how much I value it until I haven’t been there a couple of weeks. I really feel it when I’m not there. I’m sure everyone at church is breathing a sigh of relief to have a break from me, but I must be honest, I don’t enjoy being away from them for an extended period of time. One week is alright. But more than that just feels a bit much. I miss them when I’m not there. I am reminded what I miss when I’m not there. I am so pleased to come back when I haven’t been there for a few weeks.
And that’s not just me saying it for effect, but isn’t that how it should be? How would your wife or husband feel if they found out that, actually, you really quite like being away from them as much as possible? Imagine how your kids would feel if they discovered you found coming home anytime you were away a massive downer. Ugh, I have to spend time with the family! I mean, anyone looking on at that would surely recognise there are some serious problems brewing in your family if that is your attitude. It doesn’t scream that you love your family all that much, which is more than a little bit of a problem.
The same surely applies to your church. What does it say if you can’t wait to get away from them? What does it say if you are on a huge downer when you go back to them? What does it say if you just love being away from them for extended periods of time with regularity? If it is a problem with your biological family, is it any less of a problem with your church family? Something is awry if you love being away.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you can never be prized away from them. There are all sorts of reasons you might not be with your family any given week. There is nothing wrong with enjoying being with another church family now and then either. But if that is your regular view, if you are constantly hankering after being away and don’t enjoy the fact that you are back with them, it doesn’t say all that much for your love for your church. Which is its own problem when we consider what Jesus says, ‘by this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’ (John 13:35). John puts it this way in his letter, ‘If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen’ (1 John 4:20). Our love for the church is a reflection of our love for the Lord Jesus himself, which is a reflection of our love for God altogether. These things hang together.
I wonder how you feel when you’re away from your church? Do you miss it? Are you glad to be back with them? Are you pleased to be back with your family? How you feel about these things might say a great deal about how you feel about the Lord. This is not an unimportant thing. It has eternal consequences. Ask yourself, do you miss your church? If you don’t, maybe you need to ask yourself why not. The fault may well not lie with the church.