Having been out of the lead pastor chair for a decade now, I have the unique opportunity to know what a lead pastor might be thinking without actually having to be him. It has been very freeing. I can actually say things now that I probably could not or would not have said had I been the “lead” guy because of all the potential debris it might kick up. No problems with that now. I only speak for myself. But let me toss out five things for your consideration that your Pastor would like to say to you, but probably hasn’t or won’t.
1. Be on time for church. Please.
If most church members took starting time at work in the same way they look at the start of a church service, they’d be unemployed. Sauntering in to the service 15-20 minutes after it starts might mean you got a few extra winks, but to the people who have been there since 6:00 a.m. preparing for the worship service….well, it’s just somewhere between irritating and disrespectful. I get it….we had four kids and getting ready for church on Sunday can be an exercise in insanity. Sure….everyone is late sometimes. But when you come bebopping into church during the third worship song with a Starbucks in your hand, it kind of says something about priorities. And yes, it takes a few extra minutes to check in the kids to the nursery or Sunday school classes….so you might want to figure that in as well. But let me assure you, every worship leader who has looked into an auditorium with 20 people in it that will have 200 people in it 15 minutes after the service starts, feels frustration. An easy solution is to simply set your alarm the next week earlier the number of minutes you were late THIS week PLUS five minutes. Problem solved!
And one other thing…you know who IS early to church? First-time guests. How do you think it looks/feels to them to be one of a handful of people sitting awkwardly in their seats as it looks like they’ve chosen to try out a mostly-empty church. Your guests will thank you along with the pastor.
2. Try to sit through the entire service.
Seriously, I once sat in the back of a church service and watched 20—TWENTY people – roughly 5% of the attendance in the room at that time – get up out of their seats, traipse to the lobby for a drink or potty break or a warm-up on their coffee or something (many times it was unattended youngsters who looked both bored and vulnerable) and then meander back to their seats stepping over people and blocking views. For a pastor, that is very distracting. For the people sitting around you, that is also very distracting. It would appear that many church goers have a bladder the size of a thimble. Maybe some churches should put a meme of a mom in their bulletin saying, “Did you visit the potty first?” What stands in contrast is that the same people who can’t manage to stay seated in a 60-90 minute church service can manage to power through an entire two and a half hours long movie after consuming a five gallon soda and a half-bushel of popcorn. But then, it IS just “church”, right? (And yes, I know people have health issues, take medication and that sometimes, you just “gotta’ go”. I’m not talking about those situations.) Your pastor will be grateful to you if you can just hang in there through the service. And if you do need to slip out – when returning, just take a seat in the back out of the view of everyone so you don’t have to bless them with your promenade twice.
3. Use the Nursery. Please.
I hear it from pastors constantly. “What do YOU all do about millennial mom’s who won’t use the nursery?” And no one has a good answer. Because if you say anything, they’ll march right out the door and never come back….so they suffer in silence as an adorable 2 year old jangles the keys you gave them to keep them from crying for 20 straight minutes totally destroying the pastor’s ability to concentrate on delivering the 30-minute message he worked for 16 hours to prepare. Your kids won’t think you hate them for putting them in the loving arms of well-trained caretakers for an hour. Seriously. Even if they cry for a few minutes, they usually stop and if they don’t, they WILL come get you. (And feel free to ask them to do so.) Most churches have number systems, pagers and cell phone notifications that they can use. Think of it as a mini-vacation. A morning at the spiritual spa, even. Free for a few moments without the eminent biohazard of unexpected pee, poop or puke. No matter how cute your pastor is in his graphic t-shirt, boot cut jeans and nifty stylish haircut, he can’t hold a candle to your adorable bundle of joy and given a choice – those nearby will look at your munchkin and tune him right out. And my caveat again….yes, there are exceptions, those who simply WILL NOT use a nursery, etc…, but at least sit near the back or an exit and when the lil’ darling starts screeching, just slip out. It’s really quite simple.
4. Don’t sneak out during the invitation/closing.
When ½ the congregation heads for the exits when the pastor ends the sermon, it does several things. It discourages those who participate in worship – both leadership and in the congregation. It makes a statement about what we value (particularly if it is so that we can get in line at the Golden Corral before the Presbyterians get there). It distracts from those who may want some privacy, quiet reflection time, response to the message or simply undistracted worship. Many will say, but I have to go to my class or relieve someone on the greeting team or get to work on time and I get that. But make sure it is REALLY necessary and even if so, again….sit near the rear or the exit. It’s just polite.
5. Don’t be a service reviewer.
No one likes a professional critic. Some services go off without a hitch. Some sermons are masterpieces. Some music gives the angels pause. And then there are the rest of the services. But can we stop with the consumeristic approach to attending church where we feel called to evaluate the quality of everything? Quite frankly, I’d rather hear someone in training to sing do their best than a hired hand who thinks we are privileged to hear them perform. Voices crack, sermons bomb, people don’t show up unexpectedly, equipment malfunctions, some folks aren’t ready for primetime yet and, well….sometimes stuff just happens. You don’t need to rate the soloist, critique the pastor, write an email about volume levels, correct someone’s grammar (well, if you are like me, you can’t help yourself, but do keep it to yourself), hand the staff a list of areas where improvement is warranted (Actually had a visiting pastor do that to me one time. I did not think holy thoughts when he did it.) Remember, it isn’t about me or you. People need and deserve the benefit of the doubt. I’m not excusing sloppiness or a lack of preparation. I am just saying that when we come to church evaluating like we are a secret shopper at Marshalls, then we just might want to rethink why we are going to church in the first place (and what we are doing to make it better for those around us while we are at it.)
So….those are my thoughts. If you are new to Whirled Views, you should probably know that sarcasm is my spiritual gift and so when I use it along with hyperbole and twists of phrases to make a point, please remember I’m not actually trying to be mean. I just think I’m hilarious. And then pray for me. And my wife. But do give some thought to these words. Your pastor will thank you!
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