Rethinking Our Assembly
One day, an alcoholic man spoke to a preacher comparing his experience with church to his alcoholics anonymous (AA) meetings. “When I’m late to church,” he said, “people turn around and stare at me with frowns of disapproval. I get the clear message that I’m not as responsible as they are. When I’m late to AA, the meeting comes to a halt and everyone jumps up to hug and welcome me. They realize that my lateness may be a sign that I almost didn’t make it. When I show up, it proves that my desperate need for them won out over my desperate need for alcohol.”
That quote stabs deep. I’ve heard an awful lot of announcements about getting to church on time. Could it be that those announcements have had a negative impact on the way we think of those who struggle to arrive in a timely fashion?
The announcements are logical enough. We want to have time to speak to one another and greet one another. There are plenty of scriptures about doing things like that (Heb. 10:25; Rom. 16:15-16; etc.). We also don’t want to be disruptive to our worship or a distraction. God deserves uninterrupted attention. Plus, we are told that all things should be done in an orderly manner (I Cor. 14:40) which could reasonably be applied to starting assemblies at a prescribed time.
That explains the “arrive on time” announcements, right? Maybe. For some, I think the issue is about their own character. They are sticklers for regiment. It isn’t really about being orderly and encouraging… it’s just about the way they think things should be.
I’m certainly not encouraging people to arrive late. But better late than not at all.
I’m certainly not saying we should do away with start times. But for as many times I’ve heard a congregation called to arrive promptly, I haven’t read such a thing for Christians in the Bible. What I do read is a call to “wait for one another” (I Cor. 11:33).
Maybe we aren’t going to stop the worship whenever a family walks in late, but if we look back, can we do it with a warm, welcoming smile? Can you do anything to show how glad you are that people made the decision and the effort to join us in worshiping God?
The man’s quote stabs me deeply because I have been guilty of thinking about the assembly as a requirement rather than a statement of faith. I think of it as a necessity, rather than a choice. For me, the assembly is simply a part of my routine and life. It feels weird when I’m not there. For others, it has not been that way and they are breaking their routine in order to obey God. Yes, the assembly is an act of obedience (Heb. 10:25) but couldn’t it also be a desperate call for help? We gather together to build up strength and motivation to fight our spiritual battles throughout the week. The assembly isn’t just something we do, it is something we need. Maybe there is a way we can reflect this attitude in how we greet one another and look at late-comers.
Just something to think about.