Time and the Church

Do people show up late for your church services?  Have you ever planned an event for your ministry program, only to have people show up well after it started, interrupting your flow of communication?

Unfortunately, this is all too common.  But let me clarify.  It’s not unfortunate that people are late.  It’s unfortunate that in planning a mass event in North America, we are demanded to plan according to a strict time orientation. The world however, does not all function like this.

A good majority of the world does not function according to the clock the way we do in the Western world.  This phenomena is known as time orientation.  It speaks about how people view time in relative nature to what they plan to accomplish.  Time orientation however is not a moral issue, which we have at times in the West made it out to be.

In North America, we often use time orientation as grounds for a ethical discussion on respecting others.  We say things like, “when you are late, you are disrespecting other’s time”.  While this can feel true to us who are oriented according to what is called “Clock Orientation”, a good majority of the Christian world does not see time the same.  How we respect others then, is not morally critical on how we view time in this manner.

When someone lives according to clock orientation, they live in such a way that when something starts at a given time, let’s say 7pm, they show up at 7pm.  This is a typically North American way of reacting to appointments and events.  However, in “event orientation”, people show up for the event, not the time.  This could make little sense to us in the West.  We say that the event is organized according to time.  In other time orientation however, the time is more flexible.  It’s not when you show up that is important, but that you show up.  This can be frustrating for a North American ministry to plan.  But it is not a moral issue.  It’s an issue of globalization.

While we still need to plan according to a North American clock orientation for the most part, we need to increase our cultural intelligence about it.  We also need to practice our  hospitality and planning accordingly.  As our congregations reflect a more diverse expression of ethnicity, we must be sensitive to the issue of time orientation.  Again, it’s not a moral issue.  Nowhere in the Bible does it talk about respecting others time by showing up at the right hour.  In fact, the Biblical audience acted regarding time closer to what we see here in Africa, or Central and South America.  It’s not when you show up, it’s just that you show up.

Increasing our Culturally Intelligent Ministry means that we need to be aware of how the world works, and act accordingly.  It’s hard to plan this way perhaps, but a globalizing congregation deserves it.