Going to Court vs. Going to Church

I had the privilege of serving jury duty last week.   It was interesting.  Nothing special happened but the experience was instructive to me.

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?”

Your thoughts?

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Going to Court vs. Going to Church

  1. Kelly

    I have thought about this and talked with my daughters about how we dress when going to church to worship God. I want us to ask ourselves would God feel that we are giving him our best?
    As for how we act in church I have seen people that look like they are uncomfortable being there. They keep their kids close and bolt when the service is over. I hope that we are as a family in church so often that my kids are comfortable there and treat it as a second home. Much as you would a wonderful close Christian neighbors home.

  2. Kathy

    This was an interesting post Pastor, and as I thought about how my grandmother instructed us. There was never a time when we were allowed to wear jeans, sneakers, sweatshirts, shorts, etc… to church. We were required to dress in our best for church. Looking back as to why this was done, I don’t believe that my grandmother encouraged us with a legalistic viewpoint or with a view of earning our salvation through works but rather we came dress in our best clothes out of respect and reverence for God.
    In my opinion, it is not merely about our appearance but it also comes down to one thing that is very important and that is our attitude towards God. Are we giving God the respect and the reverence that He deserves?
    I thought about the behavior of those jurors in the court room in comparison to how some enter into the presence of God. I have found that not everyone worships the same way. Some may worship quietly, with their eyes closed and heads bowed. Others may have a sincere outward expression in their worship. I don’t believe that there is a right or wrong way in how we worship but the key goes back to our attitude towards God. What is the attitude, are hands lifted to be seen by others or is there a pure, sincere heart that desires to surrender all to the Lord. David danced before the Lord (2 Samuel 6:14) not to be seen by others, but because of his joy. On the other hand, how precious are those quiet moments before the Lord, where we can be still and know that HE is God. Either way, it is not what we do and/or what others see but rather our heart and attitude towards God.
    I have been in churches that during the prayer time, individuals were having their own conversations or looking around instead of dedicating that time to prayer. Or where there are individuals who constantly interrupt and distract others by getting up or leaving the sanctuary during the message.
    It’s sad to think that some individuals will have a greater respect for a court room than they do for God.

  3. Kelly and Kathy,
    I’m glad both of you enjoyed the post. My goal was mainly to get people thinking about what we do and why. I agree that there is much room for differences in the way we approach God.

    Kelly, I agree that I want family to feel very comfortable in church, like at a friends house, but I also want them to be able to discern the difference between my house, where, yes, I do let them jump on the couch sometimes (its old), and a friends house where…. they better not.

    Kathy, I agree that the key issue is our heart. God would rather have our heart than our sacrifice. On the other hand, it is possible to sincerely desire to obey and worship God, but be wrong. As I meditate on these things I’m trying to ask myself if I’m right even more than I’m asking others. There is much room for differences, but I’m just trying to get people thinking, “what does God really want based on Scripture” as apposed to “what seems good or normal to me based on my cultural experience of church”. As I pointed out in yesterday’s post “Skirt vs Pants”, I do not think it is good that we take our cues from our fallen culture when it comes to approaching God. I believe that I’ve done that sometimes, and that we probably all do. Searching out the things of God is a task for a lifetime and beyond.

    Great thoughts. Amen.

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