For whatever reason, over the past three months God has entrusted Oklahoma City area Pastors with the task of navigating snowy Sundays. I know . . . as I type this, anyone who lives north of Salina is rolling their eyes . . . but for Sooner state Spiritual Leaders, the past few months have been full of white weekends.
Starting the Sunday before Thanksgiving, it was either snowing or snow covered every other Sunday through the month of December. After a brief break in January, this morning brought 3 more inches of snow on Sunday morning between the hours of 9-12. For a church administrator, days like today can be a headache as difficult decisions have to be made:
- Do we remain open and risk people getting hurt making their way to the church?
- Do we cancel the early service with hopes that the extra hour will help thaw the iceberg?
- Do we cancel everything and deal with the insecurities such a decision brings? (Do we not worship due to weather?)
My perspective is only one half of this drama. I know that in homes across Norman this morning, families were watching David Payne on News 9 while deciding if they were going to brave the elements and drive to church. No doubt your options went like this:
- Do we drive to church and risk a car accident?
- Do we tune in online to LifeChurch.tv or have a version of “home church”?
- Do we sleep in and catch the early pre game for the Super Bowl?
We all had these decisions to make today.
Given this matrix (and another forecast this week that looks like the ice planet Hoth), I thought I would share a few thoughts tonight to help us in making a decision on days like today.
Church attendance is important (regardless of the weather). It is important for believers in Jesus Christ to gather together regularly for worship, fellowship, and teaching. We need to be reminded of the Truth, given a regular opportunity to publicly and corporately proclaim God’s enormous Worth, and be around people that help us keep spiritual “inertia,” moving toward Jesus instead of away from Him. We all attend things that are important to us when the weather is bad. Green Bay fans filled Lambeau in dangerously cold weather to watch an 8-7-1 Packers team play a playoff game last month. Why? Because the Packers are important to them. People drove all over town to Super Bowl parties this afternoon. Why? Because the experience was important to them. This morning a number of people got up all over OKC and headed to worship services. Why? Because worshipping Jesus in community is important to followers of Christ.
Church attendance is not of ultimate importance (regardless of the weather.) While church attendance IS important, it is not necessary every time the doors open. We do not earn our salvation by attending church on inclement weather days. God is not “more impressed” with us when we have to use 4 wheel drive to get to the sanctuary. This is a basic, but important point. There are 1,000 reasons why someone cannot make it to church on a bad weather day: only owning rear wheel drive cars (or no car at all), being in a real danger to fall on the ice due to health concerns, living in a neighborhood that is inaccessible when slick, significant fears of icy roads based on past experience, etc. In any of these situations (or even more), God is not upset with you if you stayed home today. We have freedom in Christ! Our salvation is not impacted by the barometric pressure.
Stop playing the comparison game (because no one else is . . . or should be.) Let me share with you my insecurities. If we canceled our services but another church in town doesn’t, I feel terrible. “They must love Jesus more than us (I say in my head.)” “If we cancel services, I wonder what the rest of my staff will think? What about the Elders? The congregation?” These are the thoughts I deal with on mornings like this. Sound familiar? You may have similar thoughts in your head. “If I don’t show up will the Pastor think less of me?” “If I fail to man my post in the children’s ministry will the staff think I am less than spiritual?” These are the thoughts we have in our heads. They are just modified versions of the “Spiritual Curve” grading system our flesh pushes on us 12 months a year. I understand these feelings. We all do. So let’s just give it a rest. I did not take attendance this morning at Wildwood. I didn’t judge you. Stop judging yourself.
With these thoughts, here are a few suggestions for all of us:
Make a decision right now to make regularly worshipping Jesus the default decision of your life. I don’t know why we get so bent out of shape on snow days about our worship service attendance. Even in an active winter year (like this one), you will only have snow impact your decision process 3 or 4 times a year. That leaves 48 other Sundays where your decision matters. If worship is important, then make it your plan and pattern. Even if circumstances keep you home on days like today, decide now what you will do next week . . . and the week after that.
Feel the freedom to make the best decision for you. As a Pastor, one of the most difficult parts of the “should we meet this Sunday in spite of the weather” decision is that a decision to keep calm and carry on seemingly obligates scores of volunteers to attend. This morning demonstrated that at Wildwood. Our attendance was down today by nearly 70%, and many of those who did come were people who had a serving role somewhere in our building today. Seriously, I agonize over this decision because I do not want any of our leaders to slip and fall, have a car accident, etc. trying to make their commitment at the church. Here is how I reconcile our decision to meet, however: I am trusting our people to make the best decision for them. Sometimes the best decision is to come, other times it is to not come. Either way, I want to trust the Spirit of God inside our people to lead them in this decision. Knowing people have the freedom to say “no” helps me in saying “yes, we will have church on a snow day.” If you are one of our volunteers, know that we think your role is valuable every week . . . but we also want to give you the freedom to not feel coerced into getting out when you feel led to stay home.
Be consistent. You have the freedom to attend services or stay home. Just be consistent with your decision making process. Don’t stay home from church because the roads are bad then go to a movie or out to lunch instead. If the roads are what are keeping you from worshipping at a church, then the roads will probably also keep you from other activities.
Worship Anywhere. In John 4, Jesus makes an amazing statement. He says that true worship is done in Spirit and in truth and is NOT location specific. This means that you can worship Jesus even if you are in your living room instead of in a church building. If you stay home due to weather, take the chance to worship at home that day. Pray with family or roommates. Read Scripture together. Listen to a sermon online. Sing songs acapella, around the family piano or through a spotify playlist. You don’t have to be in a “holy place” to worship the One who is Holy.
Unusual days lead to serving opportunities. The snow today allowed me to see God at work through the hands and feet of many in our body:
- The speed and joy demonstrated by the professional crew that showed up spreading ice melt and plowing the parking lot before people arrived at 9:30.
- An Elder that showed up early to make coffee, then left to pick up two members of the worship team so they could lead us in worship.
- An Adult Sunday School Teacher who (after finishing his class) went to the parking lot and cleaned the windshields of dozens of cars.
- A team of men who volunteered without coercion to spend time all morning clearing sidewalks to make getting in and out of the building as easy as possible.
- A fellow staff member who cleaned the snow off my car despite the cold weather and a tired body after a long morning.
- The countless volunteers who showed up to work children’s ministry, greeting, etc. God used you today!
There you go friends. My hope is to put on paper some of the things I deal with on days like today. Hopefully it is helpful for you as well. At one level, it feels shallow to reflect on these things. This morning believers in the majority world were risking far more than a fender bender as they gathered to worship. However, just because a decision is not of ultimate importance, does not mean we don’t have to make a decision about it . . . and today many of us were faced with the same decision. That’s why I decided to write about it tonight . . . that, and the fact that the Super Bowl was terrible. 🙂