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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Human Frailty: Why We Can’t Stay Awake in Church



(c) 2013 by Tom King

This morning I ran across one of those Facebook posts designed to make you feel bad about yourself.  The post criticized folk who nod off during church services.  If you can stay awake for a three hour movie, you should be able to respect God enough to stay awake for a couple of hours in church. 

Well, I just want everyone to know I can fall smooth off to sleep in any movie you care to put up on the screen.  ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ right off into the popcorn while nubile scantily clad starlets set off explosions to the right and left (not that I watch such things mind you) and despite the fact that the theater, in order to keep the projection room cool sets the thermostat on “Arctic”.  And I do nod off in church more often than in theaters, but there’s is a perfectly good reason for that.  I go to church more often than I go to theaters.

Of course, people fall asleep in church, but it’s not about respect for God.  It’s not that we would rather worship celebrities than God.  It’s about temperature, timing and sound.  


  • In theaters, they turn the AC on high to keep the projectors coo.  It gets so frigid in there you have to stay awake to keep from freezing to death. In churches, on the other hand they keep the AC low and the temperature higher to save money on the utility bill.
  • There is also the occasional explosion and with Dolby sound they are fast becoming more and more realistic. In churches, if anyone makes a startling noise he or she is quickly shushed lest they wake their fellow members of the congregation.
  •  Add to that, it's not only warm,  but it’s quiet.  To make matter worse, you have this guy with a deep baritone voice with this Walter Cronkite face and conservative suit standing up front speaking in gentle soothing tones after you just had a big breakfast.  
  • AND It’s the end of a hard work week and you’re tired and you had to get up early to get everybody ready for church.  God gave us a Sabbath rest for a reason.  WE NEED IT! 
  • Finally, you have the architecture working against you.  Services are supposed to be conducted in a restful setting.  The architects design church to be quiet, reverent and solemn places.  It’s true, however, that Fundamentalist Protestant church services are harder to stay awake in than the kind of services offered by Catholic and high church protestant denominations like Lutherans and Episcopalians.  These guys salt the service with sudden bursts of congregational participation activities which require standing up and reading off bits of the liturgy, singing or running up to the rail for communion.  This makes it harder to doze off in a mass. But give me a good old Baptist, Adventist or Church of Christ pastor on a warm summer morning after a week of hard work, family duties and business and you might just as well dissolve Ambien in the communion wine.

So, before we jump on the farmer, plumber or contractor for nodding off in church, accusing him of disrespect for God, let’s step back and wonder how God looks at it.  He gave us the Sabbath to give us a day to recoup and recharge.  I suspect he doesn’t mind it too much when the 70 year-old deacon nods off somewhere between the offertory and the benediction. We used to have a head elder back in Louisiana who almost every Sabbath, dozed off and started snoring while sitting on the rostrum behind the pastor.  The church started moving the elders off the rostrum and Elder Mickey continued snoring peacefully after that in his spot at the front right of the church next to the organ. He was a good man. He just worked long hours and he was getting old.

Look at it the way God the Father looks at it.  Remember when your kids used to fall asleep eating supper – dropped his head right down into the plate, face-first.  You didn’t berate him for disrespecting your cooking.  You picked the poor thing up, wiped off the potatoes and peas and tucked him into bed for a nap.  I expect that’s how God views the situation.

Besides, dozing off in church is a useful barometer for an alert pastor. It help him pastor know when he’s reached the end of his sermon.  If a third of the congregation is doing the head bobbing thing, it’s time to wrap it up and break for lunch.  I know pastors who used to write their sermons so that when the head-bobbing reached a certain pitch, he could cut to the end and wrap it up before the deacons began sawing logs in earnest. 

I’m just sayin’


Tom King

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