My grandfather was aptly named Frank. His church once called a new pastor. On the pastor’s first Sunday, Frank approached the pastor and asked, “Do you like my tie?” “That’s a very nice tie,” the pastor replied approvingly. “I’m glad you like it,” Frank said, “This tie goes home at twelve o’clock.”
Many pastors constantly find themselves admonishing their congregations to stop being so time conscious during church. Pastors guilt their congregations for happily spending hours watching movies and TV yet getting antsy when church lasts longer than an hour. Pastors enlighten their congregations with anecdotes about Christians in foreign countries who leave 3-4 hour services asking for more. From the pulpit’s perspective, fidgeting congregations across America appear to have desperately little love for God.
Perhaps American Christians are failing to love God as they should. In our affluent culture, the cares of this world do easily drown out our affection for God. However, in most cases, it’s not just the backslidden checking their clocks.
Christians become frustrated with long services because they do not love as they should. However, impatience usually indicates a failure to obey the second great commandment, not the first. When Christians get upset over long church services, their primary problem is not a failure to love God; they are instead not loving their neighbors as themselves.
Worship services at smaller churches are often put together by one person, the pastor. The sermon usually receives the lion’s share of the preparation with the rest of the service being almost an afterthought. Consequently, services tend to drag from one part to another, with extra minutes in transitions, announcements, and miscellanea adding up quickly. On top of this, pastors often preach too long because they are either unable or unwilling to take the necessary time to prepare a clear and concise sermon. The pastor’s lack of preparation is the single largest factor in turning worship services into marathons. This fact is rarely overlooked by either pastors or congregations. Pastors perceive complains about lengthy services as personal criticisms because that is what they are.
Congregations have opportunities to love their pastors when services go long. The only times that we actually show love to people are when they are unlovable. Every other time is just coincidence (Luke 6:32). Love is patient when services don’t run smoothly and kind when the pastor is at fault. Love does not envy the church down the street or boast about how they could do it better. Love is not arrogant about the value of their time or rude to the pastor at the door. Love does not insist on its own way. Love is not irritable or resentful during rambling sermons. Love does not rejoice with thoughts of anger or retribution, but rejoices with the truth being preached. Love bears burn roasts, believes unoffered excuses, hopes for improvement, endures fussy children. Love never ends at noon.
While congregations need to be more loving, pastors can do three things to make themselves and their services a bit more lovable.
1. Plan Everything. How can we eliminate awkward transitions? Can the children be dismissed during one of the songs? Can we eliminate/combine introductions? How can the announcements be streamlined? And, of course, how can my message be as clear and concise as possible? If this sounds like too much work, it is–hence the second point.
2. Delegate Most Things. No one person can adequately prepare the worship for an entire congregation. Give interested individuals control over parts of the service. If the pastor delegates effectively, he will no longer have to run the whole service and will be free to focus on the few portions that really need his attention. Pastors often find this difficult to do because they love ministry and want to be involved in everything. However, if you want something done right, you can’t do it all.
3. Trim Nonessentials. We shouldn’t marvel at the fact that people enjoy watching 2-3 hour movies but get bored in worship services half as long. It’s all a matter of quality. The average two-hour Hollywood movie is the condensation of over 200 hours of raw footage, each second of which was meticulously planned by teams of professionals. The editors relentlessly trim away everything that does not further the film’s message. The more one condenses a message/event, the clearer the purpose will be. Services and sermons are often packed with nonessentials that detract from the worship and edification of the body. Perhaps churches would be better off if more ties could go home at noon.