Writings by Cole Huffman

Time Dysplasia (Sunday-Onset)

Reading those “times for everything” in Ecclesiastes 3, I notice there’s not “a time to be late.” For that matter there’s not “a time to be on time” either, but you get the drift. In most venues tardiness is frowned upon and in some it is penalized. Want to make someone feel really awkward? Call attention to their lateness. You only increase their cringing if there’s an audience, and now we all feel awkward because it is impolite to shame the late person for the impoliteness of their lateness.

There are two kinds of late: being late and running late. This isn’t a hard and fast distinction but most of the time being late has justification: I left in time to arrive on time but a traffic accident blocked lanes and the bottleneck took a while to pass. Being late is someone else’s fault more than mine and thereby a shade less embarrassing. Something interfered on my timeliness.

Running late, by contrast, does not have justification. I simply didn’t get up on time, prepare on time, leave on time, so I didn’t arrive on time. Running late is my fault not someone else’s. Like chewing your fingernails down to the quick, so too in running late—nobody does that bad habit for you.

Both kinds of late arrive (eventually) to services on Sunday mornings. I suspicion there is more running late than being late. The most extreme version of running late I witnessed was a family in a church I used to serve. Not only did they commute to us from another town, requiring ample time for travel, but they wouldn’t wake their daughter to get to our service on time. They let the child sleep until she woke herself, then got in their car and drove 45 minutes to our church, often arriving with about 15-30 minutes of service left. In a small church that’s noticed. On the one hand you appreciated their desire to be among us; on the other you were mystified why they bothered making the trip. It was almost as if they were hampered by a condition—call it time dysplasia (Sunday-onset)—and couldn’t do better.

I don’t believe there is such a condition, but how else to explain how chronically late that couple ran for church? And let us specify that it was church they ran so late for, not work or school. You can’t hold a job or pass a grade running that late consistently. Church seems to be the shorter leg of the stool.

I wish there was consequence for running late to church services. For 5-10 minutes past you lose donut privileges for the morning; for 10-20 minutes past you lose donut privileges for the month; for 20-30 minutes past the third grade boys’ Sunday school class gets to eat donuts in your car; for 30-40 minutes past our high school drivers get to do donuts in the parking lot with your car; for 40-50 minutes past we let Satan shoot fiery donuts at you, etc.

Kidding aside, running late to church is a problem. Can we talk? A percentage of our church consistently runs late to services by a 10-20 minute margin. I assure you in our service planning we consider no part of that time optional or okay to miss. In June our services will no longer be stacked atop each other so one Sunday the sermon may be toward the beginning of the service, the next Sunday it may be delivered toward the end. Why not be here for all of it?

My tack on this is not to humiliate latecomers on Sunday mornings. I don’t know for sure if you are being late or running late and—my luck—as soon as I decide to make a public example of someone slipping in the back I’d probably learn he was late for a very good reason. I don’t want to scold but I also don’t want to address this in the “wimperative,” that tone we take when we’re turning directives into interrogatives; e.g., “Hey, you know, if you could maybe just come on time? That would be awesome!”

My appeal: If you consistently run late on Sunday mornings please give a more concerted effort to arriving early. I don’t know what you need to do differently with Saturday night and Sunday morning. I have no timely formulas or techniques to suggest. Just stop being okay with running late for church services.

Being on time—my mantra is early is on time—communicates preparedness to maximize the worship hour and fellowship. Arriving early allows your heart and mind to sync for participating in and receiving the Word spoken, prayed, and sung. And it encourages those of us who’ve prepared ourselves to lead you in worship, that you value it well.

Tardiness is a greater Memphis problem. I know of a situation where Memphis’ culture of tardiness was cited as a reason for turning the city down for hosting a national organization. First Evaners can really only tend to our own house in this, but I’m hoping we’ll be culturally distinct and improve. Not just for the first Sunday in the new schedule, June 2, 2013, but for June 9 and 16 too—and September 15, December 29, and any and all Sunday mornings to come.

Posted by Cole Huffman at 9:02 AM
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4/11/2013 at 09:40 PM by Sharon

Thank you. It stung a little, but I needed that. I think we were all under the wishful delusion that nobody noticed and no harm was done. I'm glad you blogged it in stead of calling ME out. Point taken. Mortifing embarrassment avoided.

4/15/2013 at 01:08 PM by DebbyH

I understand what you are saying. It is a pet peeve common among pastors. Everytime i think about this blog post i weep. Picture a single mom, up all night with a baby, waking just as tired as when she finally fell asleep at four in the morning. A family of five who, having moved to the area almost a year ago, still hasn't found a church home. Every Sunday it has gotten harder and harder to get up and rally each child to get up and get ready to go to a place they are beginning to doubt their need for. A newlywed couple who have begun to discover that the problems that emerged early in their relationship didn't magically disappear when they got married. Each drive to church starts with a fight and ends with the wife drying her eyes in the parking lot and fixing her makeup before they walk in to the service. In each case the enemy is working to remove them from fellowship. Each one of these is a target. Every person who walks in the door on Sunday morning, whether early, late, or on time has victory. 100% of people who come on Sunday showed up. Despite their circumstances they felt compelled to come to church anyway. Assume that each latecomer has the most excusable, pardonable reason why they are late. That is grace. Assume that each latecomer is there to receive what God has specifically for them. They need your blessing, not a curse.

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