About time

I was thinking about time. Time and culture. Yesterday, someone who was visiting our service asked what time service began. I smiled because the posted time is 10:00 a.m., and it was 10:05. This lady had no problem with the informal starting time; she was just making sure she was there at the right time.

Think about some of these scenarios:

  • The preacher “preaches too long,” and the service lets out later than usual. People complain, saying, “In our society, people have to know what time they’ll be getting out.”
  • A Bible class made up of young families has the habit of starting late, giving parents enough time to drop off of their kids. Some other church members criticize this, saying that these families are “cheating the Lord out of His time.”
  • A Christian agrees to support a new work in another country. One of the stipulations laid down is that the assembly must begin on time and end on time.
  • A predominantly Anglo church begins a separate Spanish service that meets at the same time the English service meets. The elders are troubled to see that the people in the Spanish service are standing around visiting with one another well after the appointed hour for the assembly to begin.
  • A group of Christians travel to Africa. When it’s time for church to begin there are more visitors than local members. The church begins the service “on time”; most of the local members arrive half an hour later.
  • A group of elders travel to Latin America to visit a local preacher they support. They arrange to meet for supper at 6 p.m. When the local preacher arrives at 6:30, the elders tell him that they aren’t sure if he is responsible enough for them to continue supporting.

OK, enough scenarios. It’s funny to me that we can spot the cultural influences in others, but not in ourselves. The compulsion to be punctual is just as culturally-driven as is the tendency to be informal about time. Forcing a service to “end on time” robs as much time from the Lord as does starting late. (And yes, I agree that the concept of robbing time from the Lord is a bit misguided)

What’s worse, when we go to other countries and insist they follow our concept of time, we’re communicating things we never intended. In many countries, it is the subservient person who arrives on time, the one who views himself as the slave of the other. When we go speaking of equality in Christ, we destroy that message by forcing time consciousness on a people that aren’t time oriented.

Those are my thoughts for now. Any reactions?

5 thoughts on “About time

  1. nick gill

    The ramifications of considerations like this are far-reaching and important to wrestle with… time-orientation isn’t the only way cultures differ.

    Volume of worship… ways of expressing agreement… ways of expressing joy… ways of expressing reverence… ways of expressing WORSHIP! All these are different manifestations of heart language, and it pains me to see one culture’s method of expression become, through unexamined assumption, fossilized as “The Pattern.”

  2. Jess

    Every culture is different. You can also boil that down to individuals too. For example While most people want to show up a little bit before the starting time I like to show up about a half hour early. Its not that I want to be extremely punctual or want to beat everyone there; I just like that little bit of extra time to pray and get my head clear. For some reason that’s hard to do at home when everyone is running around worrying about whether they’ll be on time.

  3. Darin

    I totally understand what you are saying but couldn’t help but be hit by this statement, “it is the subservient person who arrives on time, the one who views himself as the slave of the other.”

    “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” John 13:3-5

  4. Tim Archer Post author


    The problem is when we insist that OTHERS arrive on time. Rather than be servants ourselves, we are trying to force them to be servants.

    Grace and peace,

  5. heavenbound

    When I was in Greece back in May it dawned on me that time really wasn’t important.
    Only when it was important to get on a travel bus. Dinner, breaks when there was a schedule it was important. But when at the hotel overlooking the Agean time stood still. Capturing the moment for most people doesn’t exist. Living in the moment is all I think about anymore. I guess at my age since I have lived most of my life already…its important to cherish the time left…Peace and GRACE!!!!

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