Church Tardiness

I show up late for church consistently.  Every Sunday I attend I’m late, and I mean every Sunday without fail.  It’s hardly ever accidental either.  I know what time service starts, I just don’t care to be there at that time.  I take Sunday as a day of rest so that means I like to rest.  I don’t rush around and get myself all frenzied because I’m running late for church.  I used to, but not now (and it’s much better this way).  In any event, I can’t be guilted into showing up on time either.  I know what grace is and I know the liberty I have in Christ.  So when preachers try to make the congregation feel guilty by saying things like, “oh, you give more honor to man by showing up on time for work than you give to God by turning up late for church,” I just smirk and think to myself: (1) I’ve showed up consistently late for every job I’ve ever had so that one doesn’t work on me, and (2) showing up on time for work isn’t about ‘honoring man,’ it’s about keeping your job so you can earn a living and pay your bills.  God ain’t kicking people out of the Church for being late on Sundays but bosses can and do fire people for being late to work.  I don’t know what this obsession with being on time is anyway.  Who cares if someone shows up late?  As long as their entrance doesn’t disrupt the service then what’s the harm? 

What are your feelings on being on time, both for church or anything else?



29 thoughts on “Church Tardiness

  1. well, as a pastor, its nice to have people care enough to show up on time (which is always 15 min early)…. ;)

    As to your job, I see it also as an issue of integrity – you signed paper work agreeing to work for said company – don’t just show up on time (which is always 15 min early) but make an effort to show up prepared and ready to go. Work is more than just paying the bills it also a kind of worship to God in living faithfully and responsibly as he’s called us to live.

    and all this is worse if you are a blabber mouth and talk about your faith all the time and yet constantly show up to work late and so on.

  2. Nick,
    I have to disagree. It seems to me that being on time is about showing respect to the other members of the church and valuing communal worship.

    When you enter into any community, whether it be a church, a school or another social gathering you, by joining that community, you agree to abide by the standards and guidelines that group structures themselves around. Most groups structure their meetings around a certain repeatable time and by not abiding by that time you are failing to meet the implied agreed upon standards. In effect these actions say to the other members of the community: “I want to be part of this group and enjoy the privileges that come with its membership, but I refuse to inconvenience myself or take the proper steps required to abide by the groups standards. If the rest of the people in a church have agreed upon meeting at a certain time and they fulfill that commitment your actions of not fulfilling your commitment communicate that you have no regard for the groups standards and therefore the other members of the group.

    Also, if the Sunday morning service is about coming together as a group of believers to give praise and worship to God as His covenant people, then not fulfilling the standards that people has decided upon, communicates that you neither value the community nor the purpose it has gathered.

    I apologize if my tone sounds a bit harsh, and I do my best to say all this in true brotherly love, but I feel that it is important respect corporate worship as it is the time each week when the people of God unite to express our love and worship as a communal response to what God has done for us.

  3. I guess too it depends on the size of the church – in a mega church you can slip in and out pretty unnoticed but in smaller churches its more noticeable.

  4. Brian: Of course one should show up to their job ready to work (what else would they show up for?). I don’t see work as worship in any sense. I see it as a means to support one’s self and one’s family. If it was worship then every working person regardless of their faith commitment is worshipping God.

    Daniel: I’m going to have to disagree with that. The issue isn’t corporate worship, that’s a given. The issue is what time one shows up to worship. I show up late, yes, but I show up to worship, learn, and fellowship with other believers. I don’t see how showing up late disrespects these tenets.

    Likewise, I think the idea that not agreeing upon a set of standards that the other members of the group have agreed upon is to somehow exhibit disregard for the members themselves to be a non sequitur. If that’s the case then couldn’t we apply that same logic to literally any personal disagreement with the group at large?

    For example, it is my conviction that I shouldn’t speak in tongues in the assembly unless I have an interpretation. I’m the only person in the church I attend who believes and practices this. Am I somehow showing disregard for my fellow members by not speaking in tongues during service? Would the way to show them respect be to agree with their communal practice of speaking in tongues with no interpretation and follow suit?

  5. Nick,
    I think you are misunderstanding me on both regards.

    First of all, I have no doubt that your attendance to your church service is with the purpose of worship. What I am concerned about the corporate aspect of the church service. If your church agrees to begin corporate worship at a specific time and you are not present nor see the need to be present at that time, can you not see how that is disrespectful to the community and its actions in worship.

    Within that reference, I think your example is backward, there is a difference between an allowance and a standard. If your church agreed that people should not speak in tongues during a service without an interpreter but someone ignored that standard and did so anyway would that not be disrespectful to the rest of the community? Not only because it is would distracting, but because it would be outside of the community standards for worship. When someone enters into a community they agree to abide by the standards of the community, when they disregard those they standards they show that they put their own desires above the community.

    Here’s another example: The church I used to attend would end Sunday night service with the congregation forming a circle and holding hands for a song and prayer. If I was to attend that service and not participate in that activity because I was simply uncomfortable holding someone’s hand that would be disrespectful to the group. It would show that I value my own comfort over the church’s communal expression of love and unity to God that our hand holding, singing and prayer was to represent. In the same way, if a church agrees to begin corporate worship at certain time and you do not submit yourself to that standard you would be showing the community that your do not value your corporate expression of worship to God.

    Does that make anymore sense?

  6. Daniel: I really can’t see how that is disrespectful to the community. To draw an analogy, I wouldn’t think it disrespectful to show up late to a wedding reception or birthday party either.

    But my example reflects a reality, a reality where I’m viewed as not being on “one accord” with the rest of the congregation because of a disagreement. In my example the standard is speaking in tongues during praise and worship, and even during the sermon (it is actuall frowned upon if someone does not speak in tongues during praise and worship, which quite honestly contributes to my not feeling a need to show up on time). The reversal of my example would indeed be disruptive (which is why I refuse to speak in tongues during service) but remember, in the post itself I said, “As long as their entrance doesn’t disrupt the service then what’s the harm?” If it did disrupt the service then I’d be in full agreement that there was a problem.

    Regarding your last example, do you feel that individuals should be made to feel uncomfortable for the sake of conforming to the community? Personally speaking, if I was uncomfortable with a certain practice, yet I purposed to engage in it just to conform, then my mind would be preoccupied with my being uncomfortable. My focus wouldn’t be on prayer, or praise, or worship. Do you see what I’m saying? (Obviously our examples here are a bit different than the time we show up for church so there’s going to be some problems in applying the same line of thought to the original issue).

    BTW, your first comment made sense. I don’t think I misunderstood you.

  7. Nick,
    For the birthday party, I don’t that works because that is not a corporate event of the church or worship. But for a wedding, I would say yes. If you show up 15 min late for a wedding, not by accident, but because you do not care about being on time, I think it would be disrespectful. Your attendance there is for the purpose of witnessing the life covenanting of a man and a woman. How can you act as an effective witness to such an event if you do not arrive when the covenanting begins?

    I am hesitant to to say much about your situation where you are looked down upon because of you do not participate in your church’s unorganized tongue speaking. This is mainly because I have never been involved in a charismatic church, although I am not cessationist, and do not understanding some of those issues in how corporate worship is addressed. I can only tell you, that I would have a hard time being involved in a church that structured their service in way that I saw to be against the teaching the NT as you do with non-interpretation tongue speaking. And if that was a standard for the corporate worship I would have a hard time joining that community knowing that I could not join them in their expression of love for God because of my convictions. My point is not to say that your church’s form of worship is wrong (although I do agree with you on this), but that I could not join a community of worshipers that had standards that were contrary to my theological convictions.

    Regarding whether or not people should be uncomfortable for the sake of the community, I think there needs to be standards for corporate worship that are expected of those in community together. Without them how can there be any sense of unity in expression to God? If someone could simply opt out any aspect they did not like how could there be any unity in a church service. Once church sets their own standards, those involved should submit to them.

    One more example if I may: Most churches I have been part of have a standard for the people to stand during the public reading of the Bible. Now this is not a Biblically mandated thing and if a church does not have that standard it is equally fine. But if someone does not want to stand during the reading of the text where it is a standard of worship that would be very disrespectful to the group and break the unified expression of worship. It just seems to me that the standards churches have on their worship services play a role in unifying the corporate expression of worship.

    It may be that time standards are not part of the agreed upon unifying aspect of your church’s worship. Maybe ask some of your friends whom you worship with or your church leadership if they think time is an important standard for your community’s expression, and if not, disregard everything I have said as the rambling of ignorant man from a different tradition. Again, I mean all of this in love for you as a brother, I’m not trying to be pushy, sorry if I seemed to be.

  8. Don’t stress Nick. I think getting hot under the collar about tardiness is taking things far too seriously. You take God seriously and surely that’s what matters. Church isn’t compulsory. The smaller churches I’ve been to generally welcome latecomers as they arrive – at the end of a song or whatever. :-)

  9. Nick:
    Don’t you go to a church though where the services sometimes go on lasting for hours? This isn’t the type of 1 hour and out thing is it?

    I think in those kinds of church contexts it’s understandable if you show up a little late. If the service goes on for hours without any discernible time limit or schedule then obviously time isn’t that big of a deal. They don’t seem to be concerned about agreeing to get you out of there at a regular agreed upon time so they should be ok with you showing up a little late.

    In another more structured church context I would probably agree with Daniel, however I beleive in being fashionably late to everything (except work) : )

    Very true!


  10. Daniel: You don’t seem to be pushy, and there’s no need to apologize. You disagree with me, which inevitably means that you’re wrong, but that’s okay. ;-)

    Robert: If being late (for anything) is wrong then I don’t wanna be right!

    Steph: I’m going to have to go ahead and agree with you. :-)

    Bryan: Yeah, service can be anywhere from 2 to 10 hours. It’s all “subject to the leading of the Spirit.” Like yesterday I left before service was over because at the end of service they were casting a demon out of this girl. I had my father with me and that was new for him, but they made it way more theatrical than it had to be and after the girl was delivered there was no indication that it would be over any time soon. We walked out and I told my dad that it could have gone on another 30 seconds or 30 hours.

  11. “The smaller churches I’ve been to generally welcome latecomers as they arrive – at the end of a song or whatever. :-)”

    Steph…now that’s a manipulatory move!

    Let’s all draw attention to those who don’t have a clock…

  12. Im late to service as well sometimes. Justifying being late is kind of a silly argument though. All in all thought you are the church. Being on time is just respecting the service.

  13. Nancy: Ha! I didn’t think of it like that!

    Shawn: I’m of the opinion that folks only try to justify things that they think are wrong. So in my case I’m not justifying being late, I’m just being late.

  14. I know that the following deals with a very different Christian tradition than yours. It is certainly not the current Catholic tradition either!

    Fr. Josef Jungmann was a German Jesuit liturgist and liturgical historian who died in 1975. Among other books, he wrote a history entitled THE EARLY LITURGY: TO THE TIME OF GREGORY THE GREAT (Notre Dame: Notre Dame Press, 1959).

    In chapter thirteen, entitled “The Role of the Liturgy in the Transformation of Pagan Society” dealing with post-Constantine times, Fr. Jungmann wrote [obviously in 1959 without any inclusive language concerns]:
    “[O]ne who belongs to the community knows that he must take part in the whole service. He will be there on time, and he will not be tempted to leave before the gathering is dismissed. Being on time, like being attentive, is part of a Christian’s way of life. This idea is even given a liturgical stress; a Syrian source, the Testamentum Domini, a fifth century document, directs the deacons to shut the doors when the celebration starts, and on no account to open them for late-comers, but to insert a special prayer for them in the common intercessory prayers, that God may grant them more love and fervor.”
    [Jungmann, THE EARLY LITURGY, p. 173, emphasis mine]

    They sure didn’t fool around in those days, in that locality! Certainly there wasn’t a question of what a latecomer should do, other than go home. I think that is a little stronger than what I was thinking for any current latecomer policy.

  15. I would think it’s disruptive for people to come in late but I have no idea what the church service is like that you go to. If everyone showed up late would you show up later? (smiley would go here)

    Sounds like bold autonomy.

  16. Jeff: It can be disruptive if people slam doors, talk as they walk in, stomp up to the front to take their seat, etc. But I’m quiet as a church mouse. And it would depend on how late everyone was showing up. I’m not late just to be late (although I am late to just about everything). I’m late because I covet that extra hour of Sunday morning sleep. ;-)

  17. How about this: your pastor is a brother in Christ, and he’s asking something of you that is not unreasonable. If it blesses him, why wouldn’t you?

  18. Danny: There’s more to my personal situation than I’m letting on here but let’s just take my tardiness as completely hypothetical. The post itself is about tardiness AND manipulation (a point that I think most everyone has glazed over). I’m saying that I can’t be guilted into showing up on time (or doing anything else for that matter). Telling me what a terrible Christian I am for not showing up on time isn’t going to motivate me to get there any earlier. But substitute punctuality with anything else and my point is still basically the same.

  19. Ahh yes… guilt and manipulation—some of the best tools the church uses to “motivate”. I can see why many non-Christians see that as all Christianity is about.

    One of my favorites: talking about how rowdy and excited people in the church got for the college football game the day before and how they should be like that in worship right now instead of seeming so melancholy, because obviously the things of God are way more exciting than a meaningless football game. I always think “Yeah but I’m not betting money on the church service and hoping its going to go to the championship!”

    -Bryan L

  20. Nick- well, to be fair to your readers, the question you asked was about tardiness, not manipulation. And the manipulation seems (from your post) only slighted related to your tardiness. In other words, you’d be tardy whether or not your pastor was manipulative. At least that’s how your post reads, you may wish to clarify.

  21. Nancy: I wondered if someone might interpret it like that, but I can assure you, the welcome isn’t designed to humiliate at all. The latecomer is made to feel as if their attendance is truly appreciated and their being late is of no consequence.

  22. Bryan: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that one, although it’s always been pro football as the example (since they play on Sunday and all).

    Danny: While the question at the end wasn’t about manipulation, the post did explicitly mention it, so I wouldn’t know how to clarify that. Also, I’ve not said that the manipulation was related to the tardiness, at least not as a cause of it. Again, there’s other things going on that I won’t talk about here. The manipulation is just not something that’s going to correct the tardiness, especially given the fact that I’m an equal opportunity latecomer. That being said, I wasn’t talking about my pastor. I’m not a member of the church I’ve been attending and the pastor in question, while being a good friend of mine, isn’t my pastor.

  23. OK, the manipulation is a different angle. But I’m as confused as ever. Pastors guilt people into giving, doing good works etc. but that shouldn’t be a reason for not doing them. If they stuck to teaching the Bible and helping people to become more Christ-like, then they would naturally want to do those things. As far as being late, I’m at a loss.

  24. If I might interject as one who pastors a congregation of latecomers, my task is to help my people to bring their lives in line with the teaching of God’s word. Yes, I am sure that there are times when my challenges/comments might be viewed as manipulative by those who choose to receive what I say through that particular frame, I am ok with that. I know there are others who listen for truth through other frames even when it might challenge their will/wants/desires and perceived rights.

    Let me share with you one perspective on the issue of “latecoming” and I will leave it up to you to decide which frame you will choose to receive it through (yes…a little manipulative).

    Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians about the “Ethic of the weaker brother”. Is it OK to eat meat sacrificed to idols? Answer…Yes! Condition…as long as it does not cause your brother to stumble.
    Please do not overlook the condition because it is the condition which determines the “rightness” of my actions.

    Do I have the right to be late? It depends! How does your actions affect your brothers and sisters.

    If my tardiness has a negative impact on my brothers/sisters then (seeking to live according to God’s word) my only option is to change my actions for their sake. I am not called to argue with them, debate the issue or stake my position on my Christian liberty. I am called to give up my will/wants/desires and rights for the sake of another.

    I think the bible has a word for this… GRACE.

    I can’t remember where I heard this but I like what it says.

    “Grace is something that costs the one who receives it nothing, but costs the one who gives it everything.”

    Are we not called to be people of “Grace” even when it might cost us something…maybe even an extra few minute of sleep on a Sunday morning.

    Blessings on you all

  25. I haven’t read all the comments, but I will tell you that what gets me is someone who believes they have prestige, like a pastor’s widow, coming in late to the front of the church, Sunday after Sunday, being noisy about it and not caring because of who she is. Now I made concessions at first, because she lost her husband. But a year and a half later she is engaged to marry and still has the same attitude.

    I volunteer to play at church. I practice to be prepared, but nothing can prepare one for constant disruption like this. It feels disrespectful to me, the church community and God. We are a small community so it is quite noticeable. But people will stop what they are doing and make more commotion getting her a hymnal, bulletin, etc., and she is late.

    God should be the center of attention at every church service, not people, no matter who they are. And out of respect for God, the one day of the week we have for special worship, we can get up and out the door on time. If we’re too sick, maybe we should stay home, so as not to infect others. And if we can make it, even though we’re ill, maybe stay in the back, so as not to disturb others. They are there for God and this time is and should be treated as sacred.

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