That’s my estimate of how many Sundays I worked in over a decade of full-time ministry. Sundays were the workday of workdays. And then, all of a sudden, they weren’t.
I got my first pastoral job straight out of college as an associate student pastor. From that moment, Sundays were the focal point of my week for 12 years. Sundays were when the sermon happened, when our Sunday school classes met, when I shook hands (adults), gave high fives (college students), or gave what I hope was a chill head nod that said “look, I’m still a relevant voice in your life (high school students)! Sundays were when I saw my people, had my volunteer meetings and got to see the church I loved worship together. Sundays were marathon days, but I loved them, and they had my undivided attention.
So it was annoying when the church community I worked so hard for didn’t feel the same way! They seemed indifferent to the first couple songs that opened the service, and that’s assuming they didn’t show up late and miss them altogether. It would drive me crazy when people I considered core leaders would not show up once or twice a month.
How could they MISS CHURCH? I would wonder. Probably not an actual Christian.
When I was preaching, I could see the varying levels of attention scattered throughout my audience. Okay, she’s locked in right now I’d think. I’m starting to lose that guy. Why isn’t HE paying attention right now! He needs to hear this more than anybody! Basically, I didn’t understand why other people don’t obsess over the Sunday morning services the way I did. This is church, people! We are the hope of the world! CARE MORE!
Then it all changed. I decided it was time to step away from ministry for awhile. I was burnt out (hard to tell why, considering how healthy that thought process above clearly was). I was tired, hurt by both my mistakes and the mistakes of others and realizing there was some deep healing God wanted to do in my soul. So I took up a few different odds and ends jobs to pay the bills and for the first time in a decade Sundays became a day off.
I’m here to tell you, Sundays off are awesome. Not trying to rub it in, but there’s something about slowly getting around on a Sunday morning that’s amazing. The morning sun shines a little softer. The coffee tastes a little better. And the football, the glorious football! (Okay, maybe I’m rubbing it in a little)
Here’s my point: attending a weekend service feels different now. Every Sunday I don’t know what songs we’re going to sing. I didn’t hash out which announcements were most important and hoped people really paid attention to that plug for more kids’ church volunteers. Instead, I now do what I was convinced everyone else did: I tune out the announcements and check my fantasy football scores.
I’m not emotionally invested in the sermon heading into the weekend and to be honest, I don’t care that much about what sermon series we’re in. Sometimes–and I swear this is an accident–but sometimes I miss the first couple songs(!). The truth is that a lot of weeks I show up because I know I’m supposed to and I want my kid to go to kids’ church, but I really don’t want to be there.
I’m sure part of the above is the burnout speaking. I get that I’m detoxing. But in a way so is every other person who attends on the weekend. The truth is, people in your church communities are showing up on Sunday stressed out by their kids who made them late, the fight with their husband, feeling like they’re falling behind in their jobs or to-do lists, wondering how they’ll make ends meet, or honestly just wishing they were still sitting in the house relaxing. It’s been a long week, and the pain of dragging the family to church is in and of itself something to be celebrated, not taken for granted.
I think about how frustrating convincing people to volunteer was, and now with two young kids and a thousand things needing my time it’s hard for me to imagine adding another thing to my to-do list. I retroactively appreciate so much more the sacrifice my community was making when they agreed to serve. Honestly, I just appreciate the fact they kept showing up at all!
But there’s a reason they did. It’s because the church as a whole, and those weekend services specifically, do matter. Every Sunday morning as I attend as a layperson I find myself pulled out of my world, my concerns, my selfishness and sin and into the presence of a God worth worshipping. I find my heart lifted along with my church family and even though I am a terrible listener (as most pastors are), I still am regularly challenged, convicted and encouraged by the sermon. Most weekends I leave grateful for how I remembered not only who God is, but that I’m not alone in this journey of pursuing Him.
So pastors, what you are doing, especially on the weekend, matters. I know it’s hard to pastor people like me, but God is speaking through you. You’re doing a good job. Also, try not to take it personally when your people don’t seem to feel as invested as you are.
It’s just that things feel a lot different on their side of the pulpit.