Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Four Little Words

What is the likelihood you’ll be at church on Sunday? 50%? 75%?

Recently, I heard an experienced urban minister reflecting on the reality that in most urban contexts, among most young Christians — even reformed evangelicals — church attendance peaks at around 2-3 Sundays per month.

Before you judge, honestly evaluate your own attendance over the past little while. I say that because for most of these young people, if you were to ask them, they would indicate that they are very committed. In their own perception, they are more likely to be there than not, whether or not the facts bear that out. Many think they are more faithful than they are.


That’s been on my mind today because I’ve been studying about Jesus. Here’s what I read:

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been raised, and he entered the synagogue as was his custom on the Sabbath day and he rose to read… (Luke 4.16)

Four little words stuck out to me. Did you catch them? ‘As was his custom.

If there are things we tend to not like as younger people, particularly younger evangelicals, it is commandments and customs. We don’t like to be told something is necessary. But if something is good, shouldn’t it be customary? If Jesus made it his custom to go and hear the reading and explanation of the law for the first 30 years of his life before beginning his ministry, shouldn’t that inform some of our customs?

I was further rebuked by this statement from Josephus:

‘He [Moses] appointed the Law to be the most excellent and necessary form of instruction, ordaining, not that it should be heard once for all or twice or on several occasions, but that every week men should desert their other occupations and assemble to listen to the Law and to obtain a thorough and accurate knowledge of it, a practice which all other legislators seem to have neglected’ (Ag. Ap. 2.17 §175).

If unbelieving Josephus could see the wisdom in making it a custom for God’s people to gather to ‘every week’ at the expense of ‘desert[ing] their other occupations’ to ‘obtain a thorough and accurate knowledge’ the law of Moses, doesn’t it seem like all the more important for believing Christians to gather together to obtain a thorough and accurate knowledge of the gospel as the fulfillment of these scriptures?

Of course, the notion that the custom of going to hear the word of God happens in the context of a weekly church gathering presumes that the custom of that church is to read and exposit the word of God. If that’s not the custom of your church, you should probably find another place to customarily attend.

So if we were to look at your life, what would we see? Would your biographer be able to write this? ‘And that Sunday, as was his custom, he was in church to hear the reading and expositing of the Scriptures.’

Customs start with single acts. Good customs start with single acts of conscious obedience. So … where will you be this Sunday?


  1. Both church attendance and church absence are habit-forming (Hebrews 10:25).

  2. The "why are (members of a particular demographic group) not attending every Sunday morning church service?" blog theme is soon going to be trending like "missional" in 2008. Most of these posts have two things in common: 1) a brief anecdote attempting to argue that perfect attendance in Sunday morning worship services is in decline (usually ending with a statement designed to elicit a stunned "wow" effect on the part of the reader) and 2) no discussion of the real linkage between this attendance record and the loop where disciples are made who are then making disciples.

    Those of us who work 50-60 hours (or more) per week at our "secular" professions need to hear something more than an "ought to" message about why we should be doing something in the remaining 50-60 hours per week when we're not trying to get a decent night's sleep. And more importantly than hearing, we need to see a commitment to an execution of a life of disciple making, on the part of the professional ministry class, coupled with real evidence that such action is resulting in the making of disciples that can be counted.

    Life is not just about planning and talking about plans. Life is also about execution (Matthew 28:18-20 contains command to get certain things done not just think and talk about the things that need to get done).

    My working theory, as a pastor son (married to a pastor's daughter) with around 4 decades of experience in church ministry at various levels, is that we have become so enamored of the act of preaching that we're willing to do whatever we think it takes to convince ourselves that this act, and the worship ceremony that we've built around it, is THE beginning, center, and end of obedience to Christ.

    The thing is, that's only going to work as long we can convince hundreds/thousands of others to also suspend their own disbelief….if only for an hour or two…per week. Yet, the service always comes to an end…and then what?

  3. We (my wife and I) believe in the value of the local church. The main problem we have faced over the past 2.5 years is that we live in an area with no gospel-teaching church. We go, because we feel the need to be a part of the community. But we don't get much at all out of it. We rely on on-line teaching, and occasionally going out of town to other, more solid churches that we know. (The closest church that is Bible teaching is 90 minutes away.)

  4. Evangelist Vanessa

    30 November, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    Excellent blog Julian. I believe the Spirit of God gave you this. Bless you for your obedience in writing. Be encouraged!

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