The first event was that of receiving the notification to serve in the mail. There is something unsettling about getting an official envelope that says “Federal District Court”. Now, thankfully, I have no personal experience with the federal court system, and that’s a record I’d like to maintain. The first thing you think is, “who’s suing me?” I was relieved to find that it was only jury duty.
There was a form that had to be completed and returned, or completed on the web. I did mine on the web of course (gota save the forests).
There was an option for people in certain professions to request a waiver of service. I was somewhat surprised to see that “pastor” was one of those professions. But I still feel proud to be an American and was willing to do my duty, so I didn’t take the exemption. On my one hour drive to the courthouse I was thinking of all the work not getting done and I began to regret the decision to serve. But I knew it was right.
As it turned out I didn’t get selected for a jury and was dismissed after about eight hours. Those eight hours gave me some time to meditate and observe. What I observed got me to thinking about the differences and similarities between court and church.
Here are a couple of my observations:
1) Dressing for court. Not surprisingly, people dressed nicely casual. I didn’t see anyone who stood out as being particularly sloppy and I didn’t see anyone dressed up either. Of the 58 potential jurors there wasn’t a single man with a tie, though there was one man with a jacket and several others wearing sweaters. I didn’t notice any ladies wearing skirts either, but it was really cold out so that wasn’t too surprising.
So basically, most of the people dressed the same for jury duty as they probably would if they came to my church – maybe a little more casual. The judge, lawyers, and defendant on the other hand were all wearing suits and ties.
Message I got from it – everyone seemed to be of the opinion that they had an important job to do, but didn’t particularly care to “dress to impress”. I wondered if they saw themselves as being there to serve as observers not as active participants. Now on the other hand, the guy on trial for theft, he looked pretty sharp. I thought that perhaps since he and the lawyers were the actual participants, in the spotlight, doing the action, they had dressed to impress.
What I’m interested in exploring is the relationship between doing an important thing and dressing in a way that externally shows the gravity of that thing within our own hearts. Clearly God has not established a dress code for corporate worship, but He has given much information, albeit mostly in the Old Testament, about how to approach Him. While our purpose is not to impress man, it is to show with all of our being that our God is glorious and worthy of our all, our best.
2) Solemnity of the sanctuary. After an hour of sitting in a waiting room, all the potential jurors were moved to the court room. It was an old federal building and the third floor court room was as majestic as any worship building I’ve ever been in. I estimated the room to be about 80 feet long by about 50 or 60 feet wide. The ceiling was probably 30 feet high and the overall effect was that we felt small. That’s how I felt anyway.
What amazed me was the behavior of the other 57 potential jurors. Before going into the courtroom and during breaks outside of the courtroom the jurors talked and joked casually, but after entering the courtroom there seemed to be an unwritten law of silence. No one ever said that the jurors couldn’t talk, but they really didn’t. For over four hours we sat there, much of the time without the judge in the room, and most of the people just stared straight ahead; they didn’t talk, they didn’t read, didn’t sleep, just sat and stared. I wondered if it was the idea of being in court or the atmosphere presented by the aesthetics of the courtroom that had induced such silence.
Message I got from it – I’m not sure. I’ve been in churches where people arrive early so they can sit quietly and meditate or pray, and I’ve been in churches were joyful pandemonium abounds before a service. I’m not arguing that either is better, but I wonder how much the style of building we worship in affects our attitude about God and our approach to Him. I also wonder about the ways we as leaders design our services and create models for the way people approach God in worship.
It seems that there is a preconceived notion dictating a reverent demeanor in a courtroom. This might result from all the information people have in their minds about the seriousness of court. The information people have combined with the atmosphere of a court room seems to create an expectation that the courtroom is a serious place where it is inappropriate to talk out loud or act silly.
Perhaps the question we ought to ask is, “how does God desire for us to approach Him in corporate worship?” And the follow up would be, “how do we practically work out that approach in modern worship?”