By the Rev. Dr. Lakeya Stewart, M.Div., D.Min.
“Please be on time for your own soul sake, for Jesus was never late.” These are some of the lyrics for a Church School song that I use to sing a few years ago. The words of the song make a lot of sense in context. One might wonder, be on time for what? It’s like the member of a church that comes really late every week. Some church services are arranged where the sermon is early on in the service so that if people have to leave out, they have been present for the “main attraction” of the Word. What about those who are just late habitually? Most would say that late is better than absent. Let’s explore this for a moment.
Have you ever wondered why many African American functions, events and services rarely start “on time?” Is it a cultural thing? Does one’s lateness reflect one’s commitment to God?
While I was studying in Ghana, West Africa, I made several observations concerning time based on my experiences. One of the experiences that I vividly recall was that of a funeral service. I found it interesting that funerals were only held at certain times, as a community event where all those who died in a given period were “funeralized” together. Although that was interesting, I also noted that there was no clear start or end time for the event. It seemed as though time was standing still.
Why was there not a clear starting time, you ask. My observation was that people of all ages were walking to attend the service. Very few people actually had cars. This therefore meant that regardless of how often the same path had been taken previously, conditions on this journey walking to church could be slightly different. There was a sense of community present unlike anything I had previously known or experienced. There seemed to be very little worry about not starting “on time.” It seemed as though people really desired the fellowship regardless of paying attention to a seemingly minor detail like time.
The difference between American society and West African society is culture. We have briefly discussed the communally based West African culture, but how does it differ from American culture?
American culture can be characterized as individualistic as opposed to the community oriented West African society. When it comes to the Black Church and the issue of starting on time, my experience has taught me that it boils down to a person’s desire to be more concerned with themselves rather than the community and the part they play in it. Take for instance the tardy musician or usher whose tardiness or absence could potentially halt the service.
Being on time is important. Have you ever left home early to get to work on time because you knew that there was traffic or a train that habitually crossed at the time you generally passed that area? We often make intentional efforts to be on time for work and other events but why does church differ? Matthew 24: 42-44 says, “42Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. 43But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. 44Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.” This verse reminds believers of our responsibility to be prepared for the return of the Lord. Just as we ought to prepare for the return of the Lord, we as believers ought to make preparation for our weekly worship service and that includes time management/being on time. As Christians, our preparation for not only our weekly worship service but for our life with Christ should include Bible Study, communication with God (prayer), fasting and a personal commitment with Christ.
What would happen if believers made a concerted effort to be mindful of their brothers and sisters as they prepared for worship? The result would probably be inspired leaders and even inspired church members might begin to feel a sense of accountability. In general, when we as humans see the dedication of others, we tend to become encouraged, motivated, and eager to be a part of positive change.
Being on time in the United States can be a luxury. As we have seen, not all cultures have the means. A public transit system is merely a vision in some areas. Those of us who work and who have the means to get to services like worship on time often fail to do so due to a lack of planning and a lack of concern for their fellow church members. Knowledge is power and we must ensure that we as believers put in action toward being better stewards of our time in relation to God. This week, as you prepare for worship and various other events, please remember that others are counting on you!
For questions or further correspondence concerning future topics or speaking engagements, please email at RevStewartSpeaks@outlook.com.
The Rev. Dr. Lakeya Stewart, M.Div., D.Min., ABD attended Berea College and the Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky and earned a double major B.A. degree in Sociology and in African & African American Studies as well as the Master of Divinity Degree. Rev. Stewart is currently writing a dissertation on Toxic Leadership and Spiritual Abuse from Regent University.