Today’s question comes from a Rev who saw that some church members were present at church but missing from the worship services. Here’s her dilemma:

Dear Matriarchs,

Our congregation is involved in many ministries which are supported by lots of  wonderful “get things done” people. I thank God for them and for their energy for the church’s mission.

However, last Sunday after worship I discovered that several active members came to church but did not come into the worship service because they were attending to other duties. Specifically, some were preparing the fabulous after-church coffee fellowship and others were setting up beds for hosting the homeless.

I can’t decide: 

Is this precisely what Jesus would be doing alongside them?  


Should I encourage them to put worship ahead of other church work? 

What would you do?

Puzzled Rev

* * * * * * *

The Matriarchs have some ideas:

Dear Puzzled Rev,

I know two men who have ushered almost every Sunday in their church but have not heard a sermon/sung a hymn in over 20 years.  They stand in the narthex to greet people both coming and going, and they only enter the sanctuary to receive the morning offering.  They have no idea what they are missing:  spiritual nourishment, theological education, worship, prayer, community.  If I sound harsh, it’s because they are members of my extended family.  They have forgotten – in their service to the church – what it means to be a follower of Jesus. 

 “Good Church People” are not necessarily “Faithful Christians.” 

 While many of us practice our faith by serving, we are also called to stop what we are doing (honor Sabbath time) to worship our Creator.  It reminds us that God is God and we are not – no matter how much we try to keep the world spinning.  The Mary and Martha story in Luke speaks to this, if you need a reference.  And while we so appreciate the people who work hard to create a safe place for the homeless and a lovely coffee hour, it’s easy to forget that our service is not about us.  Worship is that reminder.

 Peace and Merry Christmas!


A Church for Starving Artists

Dear Puzzled,

We’ve encountered similar times when busy folks have chosen to set up or prepare for something worthwhile and meaningful during worship.

We waited a bit, so that no one would feel embarrassed, and our governing body talked together about the importance of making time and space for worship.

We concluded that we would schedule nothing other than worship during worship—no blood drive appointments, no picture directory photo shoots…nothing but worship, and encouraged folks to consider their own scheduling of important, mission-related tasks, to include worship as a priority not to be messed with.  I think it works, most of the time.


Dear Puzzled,

Sometimes the things that keep people out of worship are personal: it’s the time of year a loved one died, or hymns make them cry and they don’t like to do that, or they’re having a bad moment with God but don’t want to give up on their faith, so they are working it out in service. Especially as Christmas approaches, they may be avoiding emotional triggers by keeping busy. My instinct would be to see if it happens again, then make an invitational query from a pastoral, rather than priestly, perspective. “We miss you in worship. Do you need some help with getting the beds ready so you will have time to be with us?” Let us know what happens! 

Blessings to you,

Martha Spong

RevGals Executive Director 

* * * * * *

Thank you, Jan, Jennifer and Martha!  

Your turn, dear reader. Please share your experiences &/or advice in the comments.

Do you have a question or dilemma that could use a new perspective? Send it to AskTheMatriarch (at) gmail (dot) com.

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3 thoughts on “Ask the Matriarch: Present at Church, Absent from Worship

  1. Just a lay person here but this is more about how my dad processed the death of my 22 year brother. Before, we/he were slways at church. For a solid year, my dad didn’t come. He had lots of reasons but the main one was that he was seriously mad at God. The rest of us went, were uplifted, comforted and eventually came out on the other side of our grief. The pastor who knew my dad well, had eaten many times at our home, performed baptisms etc never called my dad. Never visited after the funeral. Never asked him why he wasn’t there. I think it would have helped him. It certainly would have helped us deal with my dad’s inability to process his grief.
    I say speak to the ‘servants’.


  2. I’m the outlier here. Can you be a Christian and honestly just not like worship services? Is what we do together for an hour on Sunday the only way to worship God? Is corporate worship required of everyone who wants to be part of our congregation? Did Jesus ever mandate attendance at worship?


    1. Sure, I think worship can be not a person’s bag. But I would point out that praising God in a community of faith is something that Jesus and his disciples did; it might not have occurred to him to mandate it. He critiqued the practices of the religious leaders, but he didn’t offer a pass on gathering to worship God. I’ll grant this is an assumption, but I think that if collective worship in his tradition didn’t matter to him, we would have heard about it.


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