, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

So, how do you respond to someone who walks out of the Christmas Eve worship service and says to you in the greeting line, “Thanks for calling me out for never coming to church except at Christmas and Easter”?

I hope that responding with “You’re welcome” suffices, because that’s exactly what I did.

Of course, there were a few other things I managed to say, softer words like “We miss you here at the church,” and “Let’s get together for coffee sometime—I’ll buy—and we’ll figure out what’s keeping you away.” Funny thing is, the gentleman returned the next day to the Christmas Day service, which for the most part, isn’t well attended.

Nevertheless, the particular portion of the Christmas Eve sermon that I’m guessing stung the most was when I discouraged the listeners from resting too comfortably in the privilege of calling themselves Christians if their only motivation for attending the night’s service was due to their family dragging them along by a leash of guilt, or because they were sensing the first of the only two seasonal obligations to their church community that they feel all year, the other arriving at Easter. From there I pressed that calling oneself a Christian means having an innate and steady awareness that not only knows that there’s no other place on earth for a Christian to be on Christmas Eve than in worship, but that regularly attending worship is crucial for healthy faith.

I don’t know how that meets with your senses, but I would surmise that almost anyone who knows me also knows how I feel about tip-toeing around issues. It never works. Most often, in fact, it only makes things worse. It’s better to steer into the painful discussion and deal with it. It’s rarely easy. Sometimes it takes a good long while before results are seen. Sometimes results are never seen at all. Other times it’s all that was needed and things turn around right away. But every time it needs to be a communication that pulls back the curtain to shine the light on the excuses.

Besides the paragraph above, I’ll give you another example. Here’s a pretty typical conversation that takes place in a church on Christmas Eve:

“It’s great to see you, Bob!” the pastor says with a pleasant smile.

“Yeah, well,” Bob replies sheepishly, “things have been pretty busy. Life just gets so busy.”

“Oh, I know,” the pastor offers, missing his chance. “Life keeps us running. Be sure to say ‘hi’ to the kids.”

I’d rather see the conversation go this way:

“It’s great to see you, Bob!” the pastor says with a pleasant smile.

“Yeah, well,” Bob replies sheepishly, “things have been busy. Life just gets so busy.”

“Did you die and then come back to life?” the pastor asks, seizing his chance. “Or have you been in a hospital quarantine since last Easter? You know, being dead or infirm are some of the only allowable excuses in the Scriptures for missing worship. And even with a quarantine, when you can’t go to church, the church is supposed to go to you. I’m sure they would’ve let me speak to you through your plastic bubble.”

Another example might be:

“It’s great to see you, Bob!”

“Yeah, this evening worship service works out pretty well. With everything going on in my week, it’s really hard for me to get here for the worship service on Sunday morning.”

“How’s that new TV working out for you?”


“Yeah, that 70 inch flat screen I saw you carrying out of the electronics store at 4:30 in the morning on Black Friday. How’s the picture on that bad boy?”

The point is, be ready for the typical defenses, and then be ready to steer into them in a way that shows the person you aren’t so easily fooled. I guarantee that a conversation—easy or hard—will be stirred by the effort. If it’s an easy one, roll with it, and then be glad that a door has opened for an honest and contrite conversation between two people. If it’s a hard one—one in which you find yourself in the crosshairs of a venomous person doing everything he or she can to project the guilt upon you—roll with that one, too. When they point to your failures and inconsistencies as a person—shining the light on all of your warts—take it in stride as best you can, maybe even agreeing to some, and then steer back into the topic at hand. The humility and diligence will eventually accomplish something.

Unfortunately, I fear that in our post-modern, radical individualistic society filled with “who-the-hell-do-you-think-you-are-to-tell-me-I’m-wrong” kind of people, the chances are better that they will leave the church. This, too, you must take in stride. Consider that the seed has been planted, and if they transfer to another congregation’s roster, maybe what you’ve given to them in honesty will be to their good, maybe even helping to encourage them to keep connected in the new place. Or maybe they’ll just stay put because they’ve realized the friend they have in their pastor, and they know that with such an association, they have a friend with whom they can exchange their warts for something better—namely, a churchly dram from Gooderham & Worts. And I must say the 17-year-old “Little Trinity” edition is an exceptional reward for heartfelt repentance and faith.

Inspired by the namesake church that Gooderham built for his employees in Toronto, the nose of this whisky is one of vanilla soaked pears and coriander, as well as a touch of cinnamon. This complexity carries over to the palate, revealing in the first sip a wash of raspberries atop a rye bread slice and gladdened ever so slightly by the already familiar vanilla.

The finish is shorter than I expected, although even in its hasty passing, there’s enough time to gather wood spice and a pale sense of the pears from the nosing.

In all, when it comes to the opportunities for giving the best dosage of lawful reality to certain folks, Christmas and Easter are some of the only chances I get. And so, in these instants, I try never to shy away from seizing the sermonic moment before a relatively captive audience. That being said, if you’re the listener in the pew, let the whisky description above be an enticement to venture beyond the horizon of insufficient excuses to your clergyman. We’re not all as dumb as many of us look, and we’ve probably heard everything you’re about to create so many times before. It’s really not new. And like I said, with the possible endpoint iterated above—at least in my church—you might be really glad you came clean.