Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Church Overtime

This last week our worship leader had a great Kingdom building opportunity that required him to be gone Sunday, so we called an audible.  I moved over to cover the music and asked a missionary friend in our church family to preach. Then, my missionary friend did what many missionary friends do...he preached for a long time.

I understand that people's time is valuable, but a preacher going long doesn't bother me (as long as he's got something to say).  People followed Jesus around for days at a time because what he was teaching was worth listening to.  My friend preached a long time, but it was all rich and rooted in the Scriptures.  It was spoken from someone whose life and family has been radically changed by the power and truth of the Gospel and is bearing undeniable fruit for the Kingdom.  I could've listened all day.

Our services usually start around 10:40am (10 minutes later than the advertised time because there is never anyone there at 10:30).  We are usually done between 12:00-12:15.  As the 12:00 mark came and went on Sunday, people started to get antsy.  As 12:30 came, some people were visibly annoyed.  Four different groups of people got up and walked out.  One lady left her seat to come and ask when it was going to be over and left irritated minutes later.

This troubles me.  When we watch sports, we celebrate overtime.  At our favorite concert, we beg for an encore.  We want to get our money's worth at every other thing that we do. We'll sit through a 3 hour movie and talk about how amazing it was. At church, if it goes 15 minutes longer than normal, we get antsy, silently complain and can't wait to leave. The thing that troubles me the most is that I don't think it is people seeking to know God who are annoyed.  I think it's church people. I would understand if it was lost people, skeptical people, sojourning people who couldn't take any more and wanted to check out.  That would be fine.  But, it seems to be church people with church backgrounds who are the most annoyed.

If we are teaching that worship should conform to our expectations of time and experience, then we are not teaching about the Kingdom.  Even with a longer than normal sermon, our gathering was over maybe 15-20 minutes later than normal.  Are we really saying that the Kingdom of God is not worth another 15-20 minutes of our time? Is it really that big of a deal?

I understand that people make plans based on the time we normally get done.  I understand that sometimes those plans can happen at certain times that may begin to conflict with our end time.  I understand that some of those things may even be Kingdom things that are important. However, I think that most of the time that's not the case.

When I was first in ministry, I was mentored by some really great guys that I still look up to very much.  One of the things we used to talk about was how to evaluate a successful worship experience.  It's easy to scrutinize the music, the preaching, the announcements, the externals and the other people.  However, for followers of Christ the question shouldn't be about any of those other things. It should be "how was my response to what God has revealed?"  Heaven is going to be an eternal worship gathering.  Worship on earth is supposed to be a taste and reflection of that.

Maybe I'm off because I see it through the lens of someone who's been walked out on a time or two.  Maybe there is a Kingdom-justified reason why an extra 15 minutes is unreasonable.  Maybe I just needed to vent and rant for a bit. Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems to me like church overtime is a good thing.  I wish more people felt that way...

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