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?