Denton Mystery Worship Fourteen: They Changed the Service Times!

OK, churches: here’s the rule: If you are going to change normal worship times for any reason, make it clear on your website that you are doing so. Or better, don’t change them. Not if you want to welcome the stranger in into your place of worship.

Twice now in this worship adventure, I have discovered that the church either was not meeting at all or that worship time had been changed for a particular day.

Last fall, when I tried to visit the Church Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints i.e., Mormon Church, I managed to pick one of two Sundays a year when no one actually shows up. All participate at home by TV in a world-wide conference. No explanatory signs were posted. Just empty parking lots and locked doors.

This past Sunday, I drove up early to St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in downtown Denton, intrigued by the full parking lots. A friend and I walked in and found the service nearly over. Helpful ushers explained that a congregational meeting and lunch were to follow. For this one day, the entire morning schedule had changed.

However, nothing stops this intrepid worshiper, and a few hasty phone calls took us to a local restaurant. There a group of eight who are interested in spiritual matters but who have found themselves alienated by a difficult political fight at their former place of worship had gathered for brunch. They offered places at the table and warm welcome.

Centering worship around a meal certainly has biblical roots. Shared meals help lead to shared lives and provide openings for powerful conversations. Unless, of course, one is dining in modern restaurants, most of which seem to specialize in making the dining experience as loud as possible. In addition, rectangular tables mean people at one end rarely have any real engagement with people at the other end.

At our end, after introductions and general exchange of information, the talk turned to what it means to commit oneself to some sort of religious group. The commitment should be both in time and finance in a way that maintains spiritual integrity and financial health.

Which brings me, on this wandering morning, to the topic of clergy compensation. What should a congregation pay? After all, as many say, clergy only work two hours a week.

One year when the annual pastoral evaluation needed to be written by the members of my church where I served before my retirement, I (somewhat jokingly) penned the following response:

Would be nice to have Jesus as pastor but he probably would not fill out the reports and might call the church hierarchy a bunch of hypocrites and white-washed sepulchers.

Instead, we request a young male pastor, no more than 35, with a wife who will work full-time for the church, without compensation of course, as musician, children’s pastor and office help. She should produce multiple smart, beautiful, perfectly behaved children.

  • He will have extensive experience as preacher, writer, teacher, conflict manager, vision-caster, fund-raiser and administrator.
  • Although he will spend many quality hours with his wife and children, at least 40 hours of his workweek will be used to make contacts in the community as Apostle and Evangelist.
  • In addition, he will attend every football game, basketball  game, volleyball game and track meet. He will be at all performances of local orchestras and bands and will travel with the UIL teams to their various competitions.
  • He will serve actively in all local service organizations, holding leadership offices as much as possible.
  • His sermons will be so carefully crafted that publishers will be hounding him with lucrative publishing contracts (so we don’t have to pay him anymore), and his sermon podcasts are downloaded around the world.
  • He will devote hours to counseling those in trouble, leading them to greater health even as they insist on staying in unholy life patterns.
  • He will call on all shut-ins and nursing home residents daily.
  • He and his family will be content to live in simple poverty (unless his books sell) doing without many of the basics for the sake of the Gospel and for the sake of the church budget.
  • He will also pull every weed daring to poke its ugly head on the church grounds, will plant and maintain the church vegetable garden to feed the hungry, will make sure the toilet paper is on the dispensers before every church function and will clean up the kitchen as needed.
  • He does not have to scrub the toilets: his wife can take care of that.

Yeah, it was a bit snarky, but there is a legitimate question here that almost every person with any connection to a religious organization answers differently. What is the actual job of a pastor? What should they be paid?

Would love to hear what you think. Please feel free to email responses to: dr.christy.thomas@gmail.com

As for where I will turn up next Sunday . . . I would simply suggest church websites keep times up to date!

[Note: this column is scheduled to run in the January 30, 2014 print and online editions of the Denton Record-Chronicle].

Additional Thoughts

Further commentary on changing service times and church communications that are welcoming to visitors can be found on this blog post about 12 website tips.

About Christy Thomas

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