Thinking Out Loud

May 13, 2013

When People Forget Why They Went to Church

Filed under: Church, worship — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:09 am

So earlier this week I was speaking with a couple who operate their own automotive repair business. They were telling me how their primary purpose in attending church is to worship God, but people like to use Sunday morning to discuss car problems or even book an appointment to get some work done.

Okay. In a way I totally get that. Most of the ‘fellowship’ that happens in the lobby before or after church isn’t true spiritual fellowship. It consists of talk about the hometown sports team; how the kids are doing in school, piano and soccer; and the weird weather we’ve been having this year. Not so much of, “So what’s God been showing you this week?” Or, “I gotta share this verse with you I was reading yesterday.” Or, “Anything I can pray with you about over the next few days?”

That doesn’t happen so much. Maybe more in the U.S. than in my home country of Canada. But not a whole lot.

Talking in ChurchBut what really got to me about this couple’s story is that people were requesting consultation and wanting to book appointments during the offering (okay it’s like the seventh inning stretch in baseball at some churches), during worship choruses (well, in some places it is more like a rock concert than a worship opportunity) and even during a prayer (ouch!). Remember, they weren’t standing in the aisle passing out business cards, people were coming to them.

Now, I love that worship services in western Europe and North America are slightly more casual. That necktie was choking me all those years and those shoes just plain hurt. But have we gotten too casual? Is a whole generation of church-goers emerging that has no sense of propriety; no sense of what it is supposed to mean to come into the presence of a holy God?

We got a comment this week on a old blog post here about guys who keep their hats on in church. Normally when I comment on a post that old, it’s spam and I’m all set to delete it. But this time…

Yes, now it is my turn. We can debate whether it is a matter of “custom” or a matter of scripture; I affirm the later. For 1900 years, the matter was clear: Women are to be veiled in church, men must not cover their heads. This is based on 1Co 11:2-16 and was understood this way – as I said – UNANIMOUSLY in ALL churches of Christ for two millennium! Now, in the WEST women took off the veil and became pastors – which is a severe discontinuation of Apostolic practice UNIQUE to the Western churches, esp. Protestants. And it is in THIS setting, that men became increasingly indifferent as well and started wearing their baseball hats to church a only couple of years ago. Also: Shorts are worn to church, and shirts are no longer tucked in – the body language became totally disconnected from the spiritual language we utter with our lips. Watch out: That’s contemporary Gnosticism! Where are these brave leaders who address misbehavior like this and put an end to it?

Now, you might just dismiss this a comment from an ultra-conservative reader, but I don’t. Not completely. That sentence, “…the body language became totally disconnect from the spiritual language we utter with our lips;” is the part that haunts me.

There’s a trend emerging, but where is that trend taking us? Some say to just relax because in a few years, the men at the bank and the real estate office will be back to suits and ties. (In our town presently, the only person who wears a suit is the funeral director.) But is a whole generation that’s known nothing but casual Sunday likely to go formal?

Typically, I find that people in blue collar jobs tend to dress up for church, while people in white collar jobs tend to dress down; at the same time as everybody tends to be very casual in their approach to weekend worship. Even the concept of weekend worship is a compromise which allows those who choose to have their entire Sunday free to play golf, picnic, visit family or head to the beach.

…In the meantime, I feel for this couple who owns the auto shop. They are trying to live their lives by a higher standard and are no doubt unimpressed by those who choose to violate their time of worship. If you were they, how would you respond to a mid-service request for auto service?


  1. A real estate salesman attended a church that we attended several years ago. He approached us in the church lobby one Sunday and tried to talk us into putting our house on the market and ‘move up’ to something bigger. Totally inappropriate and I would never list my house with someone who would do that.

    Comment by Issy — May 13, 2013 @ 10:41 pm

  2. I am generally opposed to dressing up for church. Your commenter implies that dressing down is a recent phenomenon, but this is not correct — for centuries most people only had one or two sets of clothes. Dressing up for church only became popular as the middle class emerged and people were able to afford more and better clothes.

    I think that dressing up carries with it a mindset that we need to be all neat and tidy for church; that we put on our false fronts and project an air of perfection to our fellow congregants. I much prefer an environment where we are more transparent and authentic with one another, and our dress can reinforce that attitude. Secondly, I feel that as Christians we should not create bariers for anyone to join in fellowship. If everyone at your church dresses in their ‘Sunday Best’, this creates a barier for those who cannot afford nice clothing — often the very people Jesus calls us to reach out towards.

    Finally, what about Monday to Saturday? If we’re so concerned about how “the body language has become disconnected from the language we utter with our lips”, then I wonder what this person would be uttering the rest of the week, in his/her “normal” clothes. We all agree that Christianity is a full-time way of living, and while Sunday should be a _holy_ day, why should you dress or speak differently on that day compared to the other days?

    Comment by Mike — May 14, 2013 @ 8:41 pm

  3. There is much to be considered on both sides of the debate. Maybe my age at least influences my position on the subject, but I find it odd that people dress better to go shopping than they do to attend a Church service.

    When considering an “outsider” – a non-believer or a seeker – entering a Church, I think it is good that they see all degrees of MODEST dress standards. A church full of suited gents and hatted ladies would be very off-putting and would turn many away.

    Personally I prefer to see ‘better’ dress codes – long pants and button-up casual shirts for men and MODEST good clothes for women – especially for those on the stage or taking part in any form of ministry. While I don’t think ‘beach clothes and thongs’ for men or ‘disco’ clothes for girls are appropriate I can’t object to them when in the congregation. We would welcome a dishevelled drunk, a street kid, a tramp etc regardless of their clothing or appearance.

    Comment by meetingintheclouds — May 15, 2013 @ 6:11 pm

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