Tag Archives: punctuality

The church, modernity, and time

Transforming Worldviews book coverUsing ideas from Paul Hiebert’s Transforming Worldviews, I looked last time at some general impacts that modernity had on the church.

One specific area that Hiebert focused on is the emphasis on law and order. In the U.S., this shows itself in our emphasis on punctuality. Hiebert notes:

The first influence is the emphasis on mechanistic order over interpersonal relationships. We see this in the emphasis on clock time over relational time. In the former, people must be “on time” according to the clock, because punctuality is most efficient in coordinating the activities of many people doing different jobs. In much of the world people live by relational time, which means they do their best to meet at a given time, but other, human-related activities may intervene and delay them. Although they may set out for church in good time, on the way they may meet a relative or a friend they have not seen for a long time. They cannot simply say hello and good-bye in a few minutes. It takes time to rebuild the relationship, and they will eventually get to the service, which is held every week. (Kindle location 3383)

I’m troubled by the obsession with time in many U.S. churches, especially as regards ending times for services. I much prefer event orientation, where the focus is on what is done, not how long it takes. I hate people saying that we don’t have time to do this or that during our service; we have the time, we just want to use it on our own leisure later.

Hiebert’s point about clock time and relational time is seen in a study that Richard Beck referred to the other day. In this 1973 study, the participants were seminarians who were assigned to preach a sermon on the Good Samaritan. When they arrived at the place they were supposed to speak, they were informed of a change in location. Some of them were told that they had plenty of time to arrive at the new location. Some were told that they should arrive promptly (moderate time pressure). Others were told that they would have to hurry or they would be late (high time pressure).

Along the way, they passed someone who was in obvious physical distress (who was actually an accomplice of the researchers). As Beck tells it:

So who stopped to help? Those on their way to preach a sermon about the Good Samaritan? Or those who had the time to help?

Overall, the results of the study revealed that the biggest factor in helping was having the time. The relevant statistic from the study was (% who stopped):

The Low Hurry Condition: 63% offered aid
The High Hurry Condition: 10% offered aid

And, incidentally, some seminarians in the high hurry condition literally stepped over the groaning person on the way to deliver their sermon on the Good Samaritan.

What was the biggest factor that determined whether or not seminarians would show compassion? Time.