Posted by: pastortomvabeach | August 8, 2017

Thought for the Week August 13, 2017

I want to bring up a dilemma that I have wrestled with for many years and tried many times to resolve. It is something that I have seen in almost every church I visit and affects the church I have the privilege of serving as well. It is noticeable to me and others nearly every service and may have a tendency to tempt some to become cynical or frustrated towards their brothers and sisters in Christ which can affect the loving relationships we should have at all times.

What am I talking about? Those who come late for worship services. A typical service begins with 6-10 musicians, singers, and sound techs, the staff pastors, and about 20-25 percent of the people who eventually arrive for the service. The remainder of attendees trickle in during the first 20 or so minutes, some arriving after the singing has finished.

At our church, we make it a point to start on time so we don’t encourage members to come late by our lateness. But I haven’t figured out how to get the majority of our folks to arrive on time or early most of the time. I certainly understand that circumstances arise that mess us up: flat tire, child spills on clothes and has to change, accident in the road reroutes traffic, etc. My dilemma is how coincidental would that be for 75-80 percent of the congregation to have that happen every week? And remember, I said this isn’t isolated to our church. I’ve seen the same thing in literally every church I’ve visited when I’m out of town or on vacation. So I want to take a couple of weeks to share some thoughts I’ve gleaned from some others about this dilemma.

Samuel Mills, a young college student from Australia, who attends an Anglican Church where he serves with the youth group and worship team writes from a young person’s perspective some ideas that are reasonable for all of us. I will put his comments in quotes and add some of my thoughts in italics. His blog article is entitled, Why Arriving Before The Start of the Service Can Make a Huge Difference. He writes:

“I’m not naturally someone who runs on time. I don’t really like waking up early and often if I’m in the middle of something I don’t like to be restrained by deadlines or appointments. But I’ve recently become convicted of many reasons to get to church on time, or even early! As young people, it’s not really that hard – we don’t have kids or a bunch of people to organize (those with kids can prepare in advance). Getting to church on time is actually really important, and I think we need to be starting to get into this habit in our teenage years (adults can start the habit, too). So without further ado, here are three reasons for you to get to church on time regularly:

“First: to meet new people. A few weeks ago…I looked out on the congregation ten minutes before the service started and saw three groups of people I’d never seen before, glancing through their handouts. Unfortunately, there were very few regular churchgoers at church at that point (apart from those of us in the band), and so there was no one talking to them. What a missed opportunity. Let’s face it – new people are usually the ones who get to church early. And if you get to church even five minutes before the service starts, you can welcome them before the first song even begins.

“Our churches need to be welcoming new people; whether Christians visiting from another church, Christians looking at coming to our church, or people yet to know Christ coming to see what it’s all about. It’s good to meet new people after the service over tea and coffee but welcoming them, having a good conversation with them, before the service even begins will make them feel so much more at home. It could be the difference that makes them want to come back next week!”

One of my dilemmas comes from the fact that new people are most often on time. When they see a three quarter empty room at the beginning of service, what does that tell them about the value regulars place on their church or their relationship with the Lord.

“Second: to encourage the encouragers. I could be a bit biased as I’m usually playing in the band, but I think getting to church on time shows those who are serving that you appreciate what they do. If you’re there when the service begins and sing heartily along to the music, listen when the Bible is read, and listen to what the (leaders) have planned, you are showing that you appreciate the work they put in to encourage the church.

”Contrast this with regularly turning up fifteen or twenty minutes into the service. As someone who often serves up front at the start of the service, I get the message that you don’t think what goes on is that important. You don’t value the way the music team has rehearsed and are using their efforts to lead the congregation in praise to God. And you don’t value the work the (leaders) have put into helping the congregation grow in and be encouraged in their faith. You just come to church to hear the sermon or worse, for the refreshments afterwards!

“Of course, the people serving up the front shouldn’t be doing it to impress people but for God. But as fellow brothers and sisters, we should encourage them as they encourage us, and appreciate what they do.”

I struggle with feeling that habitual lateness shows disrespect for those who practice, prepare, come early to pray, and work hard to provide a worship experience in which the congregation can really encounter God. I know it’s not intentional but I feel it anyway.

“Third: it shows and sets your priorities. Regularly turning up late might not seem that big a deal for you. But if we’re really honest, it’s a symptom of the real problem – we don’t see church as important as it should be. What makes us late for church? Maybe a few more minutes in bed; halfway through a (movie) and want to finish it; hanging out with friends; stopping at McDonald’s on the way, or finishing an assignment we should have done earlier. When we do this regularly, we put sleep, entertainment, friends, food, and schoolwork before church (before the Lord).

“And why is church so important? Because the Bible says it is! Hebrews 10:23-25 reads: ‘Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.’ (When we gather) we hold on to the hope we have in Jesus and spur one another toward love and good deeds. Meeting together regularly at church is how we encourage each other as we look for the day Jesus returns. Church isn’t just a bunch meeting each week. It’s not just readings and songs and talks. It’s the time we encourage each other in our faith, reminding each other to hold onto the hope we have in Jesus, as we wait for him to return.”

And, for me, if it is that important, we ought to make it a priority to be there, with bells on, on time, or better yet, early. I would be interested to know how you would solve this dilemma.

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