I was raised in a pastor’s home. I have pastored at various levels, and some would say I still do. I have also been a parishioner/congregant. In all of these phases of church life I have learned a few things that I think are beneficial to experiencing the best God has to offer in the Church. Some of these lessons are primarily for leadership. I share these with other pastors and leaders in conversations where I am also learning from them. But some of the things I have learned are things that many pastors would like to say to their people, but perhaps don’t because they don’t want to sound self-serving.
So, this week, our devotionals will focus on what it means to be a God-honoring, pastor-supporting, and believer-edifying parishioner. How can I be a better part of my church? Today is Sunday… so we will look at what it means to be a better church member on Sunday.
It has been joked about that Sunday is the only day a preacher works… and for only an hour at that. We may chuckle, and a few people may even believe that. But anyone who is familiar with pastoral work knows that this is not the case if a pastor is ‘worth his salt.’ While a good pastor is basically on call 24-7 and serving over 60 hours a week, Sunday morning is the most obvious work he will do, and it is at times the most physically, emotionally, and spiritually draining. The preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is literally heart-to-heart combat with the forced of darkness. The enemy doesn’t want the Gospel to be preached because he knows how powerful it is. So he fights all week, and especially on Sunday.
Here are some things you can do and avoid to be a part of the solution and not part of the problem on Sundays.
DO NOT – (Here are some things to avoid on Sunday mornings at church.)
FIND FAULT WITH THE SERMON – A pastor will often say thousands of words in a given sermon. He will probably misspeak from time to time. He may end a sentence in a preposition. He may ask you to turn to the wrong passage (“Turn with me to John 6:13” when he meant John 3:16). Some people hear these mistakes and can’t wait for the sermon to be done in order to correct him. In fact, they won’t hear anything else he says because they are caught up in the mistake. Then they pounce on him before he even makes it off of the platform. This is not good practice. Pointing out inconsequential errors in a sermon shows that you are focused more on mistakes than the message. The fact that you can find fault with someone’s words does not make you awesome, even if you believe fault-finding to be your spiritual gift.
FIND FAULT WITH THE CHURCH – This goes beyond the sermon. Do not approach you pastor and tell him how difficult it was finding a parking spot. Don’t tell him that one of the ushers didn’t smile at you. Don’t point out the grammatical mistakes in the bulletin. Don’t tell him that the soap dispenser is empty in the bathroom, or a light bulb is flickering in the closet. These things may need to be addressed… but not on Sunday morning. Again…you don’t get any extra crowns in Heaven for recognizing flaws. If the soap is out… here’s a thought… go get some more soap. If the usher did not meet your expectations, give the pastor a call on Tuesday… or… maybe ask the usher how he is doing and if you can pray with him.
SMOTHER THE PASTOR – Usually, in most churches there is a time after the worship service to shake hands with the pastor. Some people hit the door so they can hit the buffet. Others give a wave and smile as they go by him. And then there are those who settle into a conversation with the preacher about everything going on in their life. Sometimes it even turns into a counseling session. This is not good practice. Most preachers are glad to say, “Hello”, thank you for being a part of the service, and wish you God’s blessing. But you may not realize how draining it is to deliver the eternal truth of God. If done right, it is a battle. So when you are done, you aren’t prepared to give someone advice on how to handle a mother-in-law who is overbearing at family events. It’s not to say it isn’t important. But it doesn’t have to be fixed in that moment. Again… set up a time later in the week to talk with him, and let the other 20 brothers and sisters get a chance to thank the pastor for being faithful to the Word.
DO (Here are some things you can do on Sunday morning to make Church a better experience.)
COMMUNICATE – Let someone know if you won’t be at church. This is sort of expected for leadership, though it doesn’t always happen. But even if you aren’t on the church staff, it is good to advise others when you will be absent. It is part of being a family. If I won’t be eating at home, it is important to let my wife know. It is disrespectful to not do so. The same is true in the church. Communicating when you will be out of town is a way of saying, “This is my home. I value our relationship. I will miss being here, and you deserve to know why I will be gone.” It incorporates both accountability and appreciation.
ARRIVE EARLY – It is Sunday. Most people have a very loose schedule on Sunday, so there is rarely a good reason to constantly be 5-10 minutes late. You may say, “I’m not on the worship team. They can start without me. Why should I get to church early?” Well, if you are going to worship, you are on the worship team. They can start without you being there, but you can’t start with them without you being there. Music, prayers, testimonies, etc. are not just preliminaries leading up to the preaching. They are an integral part of the whole worship experience. Here’s something to think about… The amount of worship time you miss leading up to the sermon will determine how much of the sermon you miss. It is also disrespectful to constantly be late. The people who have prayed over and planned the music don’t deserve to have to compete with people climbing over people, settling in, putting their keys and purses away, and greeting others while everyone is trying to focus on God. When you arrive early, you send the message that you are excited about joining with the family, and anticipate great things from God.
PARTICIPATE – If you went through a whole church service and didn’t sense the move of God, and this happened time after time, you would probably find somewhere else to attend. I imagine God feels the same way when you don’t move. When it is time to sing, sing. When it is time to pray, pray. When it is time to read the Word, open your Bible. Worship service is not a spectator sport, it is a participatory experience. It isn’t something to consume, it is something to offer. You can sing in your car for an hour on your way home from work. But you can’t sing three songs at church? You can pray like crazy when you want to pass that test or get that promotion. But you can’t close your eyes and agree in prayer with the body of believers at church? You can read your latest favorite author late into the night. But you can’t open the written Word of God to learn more about abundant life? God doesn’t want a family of consumers, but a family of contributors. Church isn’t where we go to be part of a sing-along, but where we sing praises from our hearts using our voices. The pastor isn’t just praying for you, but also with you. Reading the Bible in church can help you read it at home.
So there are six simple things you can do (or not do) in order to have a better experience at church. What we are talking about is the difference between ‘going to church’ and ‘being the church’. If you are only going to church, you can leave church. But if you are being the church, you will continue to be that church when you leave the gathering and the building. The apostle Paul put it this way when telling the early Christians how to act and interact…
“Be filled by the Spirit: speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music from your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.” (Ephesians 5:18-21)
Today and every Sunday we should seek to be the best part of the body of Christ we can be.
[Bible quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible, unless otherwise noted.]
Find more of David’s work at Heart Of Ministry.