Having spent most of my life attending a variety of churches in different parts of the country as well as abroad, I think I’m suitably qualified to assess some of the annoying things that occur within this wonderful, frustrating, diverse community we call Church.
And in case you’re wondering, faux pas is the same in both the singular and plural, you just pronounce the ‘s’ in the plural… yup, I did look it up.
1) Saving seats in the sanctuary
Picture this: it’s Sunday morning, and you’re having one of those days when you really don’t feel like going to church. You head into the room/church/sanctuary looking for somewhere to sit. The front is not an option; when you’re going through crises the front seems unsafe and makes you feel vulnerable. At the same time, you don’t want to sit all by yourself in the completely empty rows. So you tentatively approach a couple of free seats on the fourth row near someone you kind of know. Just as you’re about to plonk down your bag and take your seat you hear the most horrifying words: “Ooo sorry, I’m saving those seats for so-and-so!” No: “Oh hello, good morning, how are you?” Simply: “I’ve saved those seats for someone else.”
“Oh, ok,” you squeak weakly, feeling ever so foolish – even though those seats HAD BEEN EMPTY; no Bibles or bags on them – and retreat hastily to the back of the church. It’s happened to all of us, right? I can only imagine how a newcomer or super-sensitive person would have felt after that uncomfortable exchange.
To be honest, after a similar interaction, I felt worthless and that I didn’t belong. When you’re feeling vulnerable the lies and feelings of low self-worth come thick and fast. Please let’s think first before any interactions with those we meet in church; we may be the only person that individual speaks to that morning. Will we show friendliness and kindness or will our behaviour speak rejection to others? Don’t underestimate the power of a moment to speak life or to put down.
2) The cheesy grins
In an attempt to respond to their church leader’s request to be friendly to visitors, you arrive at a new church to be met by over-zealous greeters who seem like they’ve been trained by Sony’s salesman of the month or your local McDonald’s crew. Before you get the chance to ask what time the service usually finishes, you’ve been invited to sign up to a home group, asked round for coffee and been introduced to all the leaders. Just when you thought being ignored at a new church was the worst thing that could happen to you, you’re met with Mr or Ms hyper-enthusiastic and their broad grin. It’s all a bit too much for 10am on a Sunday morning! Introverts, I know that you know what I’m talking about. And it’s even worse if this is in fact your third visit, but you can’t bear to disappoint the super-smiler. They mean well, but you wish people would act a bit more normal in church settings, rather than acting like they’re trying to reach a ‘target membership quota’.
3) The conversation hijacker
THE number one most annoying thing that people do – and I have been guilty of this too – is the hijacking of conversations over coffee. Picture the scene: you’re chatting intently to someone, really getting into it and feeling as though you’re properly getting to know them, when along slides someone with a big smile (as though that makes it ok) and says: “Oh excuse me, can I just…” And then they proceed to instigate their own conversation with the other person.
Arrrggggh! It’s not ok. A quick interjection, such as: “Oh hey Annie, just checking I can get a lift home with you today?” or: “Hi, just wanted to say congratulations on your new job post!” – I can tolerate that. But highjacking someone else’s conversation for the purposes of your own long conversation is unacceptable. The one time I found myself committing this major faux pas, I observed the crushed look on the other person’s face, and realised that this did matter. I went to apologise to her the following week, and she acknowledged that this had indeed upset her and she appreciated my apology.
When you push into another’s conversation and highjack their conversation, you are basically asserting your importance and status while trampling on the other person’s value. Extroverts among us, let’s beware of committing this faux pas.
4) Excessive, long, repetitive praying
Prayer meetings are not generally known to be fun or popular events. Whether you’re in a proper prayer meeting or just having a time of prayer as part of a mid-week home group or at a music practice, you’ve probably experienced the dramatic pray-er. Rather than simply getting to the point in their thanks or supplications, they drone on with impressive words, repeating themselves several times, perhaps throwing in some words of scripture and most likely including what sounds like a bit of preaching to their listeners. It’s awkward because you sometimes get the feeling that the prayer is for your benefit or to impress others rather than a heartfelt plea before God. I know we can’t judge others hearts, but I sometimes can’t help wondering if the dramatic pray-er prays like this at home?
The trouble with lengthy prayers is that quite often this means that others in the group may be deprived of a chance to pray what’s on their heart. At a big prayer meeting, you may suddenly hear: “Ok, let’s wind down those prayers and move on to our next topic for prayer.” The dramatic pray-er has used up all the time. I don’t want to discourage people from praying out loud – it does take some courage – but let’s remember that God is concerned more with our hearts and our faith than the length and wordiness of our prayers. Sometimes a 10-word prayer will do.
5) Consistently being late for every meeting
This one could upset a few people, I know. And I know I’ve had phases of being guilty of this, but I am trying. It’s hard when you grew up with parents who were always late for everything. (Yep, dentist appointments, airline check-ins, family events, school meetings, the lot.)
While I believe strongly in grace, I think some of us think that means God doesn’t care if I’m late all the time. In fact, some people who wouldn’t dream of showing up to work late or being late to collect a child from school think it’s ok to nonchalantly turn up several minutes late to all sorts of church meetings, often interrupting the flow of things. Think: home group meeting where everyone’s finished their hot drinks, shared minutiae as well as important notices, and then in swings The Latecomer. And the leader feels obliged to fill them in on everything they’ve missed.
I’m not talking about legitimate reasons for tardiness – flat tyre, kid being sick on you, being delayed at work with an unexpected crisis – of course. Usually those types of circumstances have already been relayed to others in the group, and they’re expecting you to arrive late. No, I’m referring to simply showing up late because you’re disorganised.
As an offender of this myself, I’ve learnt that it’s disrespectful of others to be consistently late. You’re effectively saying: “I’m so important that it doesn’t matter if I’m late. Everyone can either wait for me or be disrupted when I roll up late.” I’ve begun to realise that if I care about other people, I’ll begin to do my best to get places on time. For people like me, that means aiming to arrive 10 minutes early.
Do you agree with this list? What have you learned, through bitter experience, are faux pas in church?