I’m Sorry that Seat is Saved

24 Apr, 2012

I went to a church on Sunday to hear my friend deliver the sermon. I arrived a half hour late and everyone was already seated. I surveyed the gaps of people to locate a seat that would leave an empty on each side of me. I think most visitors like that kind of safety margin.

I saw a section of six empty chairs so I quickly moved in that direction. I sat down but the guy a couple of seats to my right leaned over in my direction. “I’m sorry, that seat is saved. Would you mind scooting down another seat?”

I didn’t mind, and I moved down two seats just to show him I could go the extra mile. Then the man on the left of me leaned over. “I’m sorry, that seat is saved…”

I got up and left that aisle. I didn’t hold a grudge against the men, I just found it funny that we use the word saved in Christianity as being such a divine thing but to an outsider the same word can be used to let them know there is no room for them in the inn.

I found another half empty row hoping it was enough space for a seat-salvation margin of error. I sat down and no one challenged me so it appeared I was safe. But then I wasn’t. Thirty seconds later a friend sat down on my left and told me how glad she was that I was there. She told me she’d been missing me that morning and asked if she could sit with me. Then my right side margin of personal space evaporated when another friend took the seat on the other side of me.

I looked back and forth between the brunette on my left and the blonde on my right and considered that going to church with these two beautiful souls wasn’t such a bad thing. If I was keeping score it was now tied – two rejections and two receptions. I settled in for the sermon; my friend was about to be introduced.

Maybe a little background is necessary to understand the meaning of the next couple of paragraphs. One of the things that disturbs me so much about Sunday morning church services is the programmed nature. This may be oblivious to many spectators but I spent so many years trying to hone the perfect church service that it has left me jaded. I know all about making a good transition between worship (and what kind of song to end on) to the offering (and who should pray for it depending what the budget is that week), to the announcements (and the proper mix of humor and warmness) and to the sermon, follow up music, ministry time, and transition time before the next service. I know how important it is to keep on time and know how many minutes are set aside for each of those above components.

Honestly it is hard for me to sit in a church meeting and not mentally make a list of all of the items that should be discussed at the next staff meeting for making the following Sunday even more professional. I was trained to be a expert church meeting critic and I am too good at it for my own benefit.

So when the morning’s speaker, who had already been announced, stopped by my row and waited for me to stand and hug him before moving to the pulpit I melted. He could have used that time to make an extra sermon point. He might have even been able to recite that poem that was in his sermon notes. Instead he took his time, really everyone’s time, to hug one visitor. It was out of the box, and it saved the morning, for me.

And the Son stood still, hovering over us, and smiled.

Pinging is currently not allowed8 Responses

  1. wordhaver says:

    Chad, my brother, I am so glad I hearkened to the voice of chutzpah as I walked up that aisle towards you. I was simply afraid I wouldn't get over there to you in time for that hug afterwards. So do it now, it said. No time like the present – in fact, the present IS the only time we have. All our plans should be made with full expectation of dropping them. Oh my gosh, the bit about the chairs! Ouch! But brilliant observations! "To the outsider 'saved' can mean there's no room at the inn." Oh my. What a metaphor. "Seat-salvation margin of error." Wondrous. So glad you could be there. I cherish the moment.

  2. wordhaver says:

    You're right – and He did.

  3. Sherri says:

    Wow. I Love this post. I think that's why I really go to church. It didn't hit me till just now. I get to have a couple of those loving moments each Sunday which refills my gas tank because the week can get me to believing the enemy or the "no vacancy" sign. My hugs are like super glue to the wounds in my heart and it's taken some time but I have also learned which ones are filling and which ones I am filling……and some mean much much more than others, as if the Lord himself were hugging me. It's worth the trip for me. I Love that you express your thoughts and feelings and are so honest and real here. Your writing is such a blessing. I'm sure there are people who don't feel alone anymore.

  4. stu says:

    I have been having the organic vs. programmed conversation for a month now with a brilliant guy who is my pastor and a Bible college student. Both are anti-program.

    As you know though, structure comes out of necessity and the programming out of that structure. Then believers feel boxed in and part of the program, they become observers rather than worshipers. Christian consumerism at it's very best (worst).

    I was talking to my friends about just getting together at the coffee shop after hours, keeping it organic, have a moderator/pastor get people to process interactively about what is going on in their life, introduce Jesus from the Word.

    At an appropriate time (as the Spirit leads) have some quiet time and unplugged worship.

    We've already crept into program, dawdled at the edges, as you will. However, as we're getting settled into a running 'start', someone asks, "Is there some place my energetic little kids can go?" Now we're fully into program, whether we like it or not. It's a real quandary.

    Is the 1st century church model culturally relevant? Not the purposes of the church, those will never change, but how we conduct being church? Then the questions arise, 'that guy is new to the faith, what does he need, is this the place?' That women has such an introspective, quiet temperament, she seems uncomfortable with all of this interaction and really seems to be trying to hide, is that cool?'

    Yeah, I'm jaded too (church electronic media director for 5 years), however, I do only sit in saved and sanctified seats and only drink milk from a Christian cow. Thanks for getting me thinking!

  5. heidi says:

    not sure why I am crying at this. Actually I am sure. I can not remember the last time I sat in a formal church service and felt personally valued. Most of the time I experienced and even enabled the same linear, programatic, time clocked church you described. And I have not given up on the love and acceptance that I so long for within my Christian community. It's often hard to find and I must also actively be that which I want from others. It brings me joy and renews my faith in the Christian religion to experience along side you the love and value and appreciation you experienced from one to another.

    • Chad Estes says:

      Hi Heidi,

      Thanks for replying to this post and for sharing your own journey. I know that community does exist in structured Sunday environments but often it is in spite of the programming and not because of it. I'm glad you want to actively give and receive love, because of that I am sure you will create the opportunity for it to grow.

      Chad

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