Several years ago on a Sunday afternoon, after the worship service was over at the United Methodist church I served, I walked across the road to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion church. The two churches shared a long history going back to colonial days in America. The church I served had been founded as a congregation of the Church of England in 1762. During the height of the Revolutionary War, the congregation broke from the Church of England and joined with the fledgling Methodist movement. In 1784 it was one of the original churches in the newly formed denomination called the Methodist Episcopal Church. Here whites and blacks would gather weekly for worship, although the African American slaves would not be allowed to come inside; they would have to listen in on the service from outside. From what I understand, after the Civil War, land was granted for the newly freed slaves to build their own church, which became part of the AMEZ denomination.
I walked over there that day to meet their new pastor. Most of the congregation knew me already because I had preached there, and their previous pastor had preached at our church. That was the first time one of their pastors had preached in the church that some of their ancestors were not even allowed to enter for worship. We had also worshiped and fellowshiped together during holy week before.
When I walked in around 20 after noon, I was greeted and welcomed by one of their faithful attendants. Their new pastor was in the midst of prayer. After he finished praying, someone told him who I was, the pastor of the UM church across the road. Later in the service, now about 1:00 o’clock, he sent word via one of the attendants to ask me if I would like to speak to the congregation. Initially I said: “No, that’s okay. I know you all have been here a long time already.” The gracious attendant said, “Pastor, that really doesn’t matter, ’cause we don’t put a time limit on the Lord here.”
United Methodist Bishop Will Willimon had a similar experience when he preached at an African American church. After the service, he asked the pastor why they take so long to worship. The pastor said they need a good two hours each week to counteract the lies of the world that tells his people they are nothing all week with the message that they are royalty as God’s very own people, bought with the precious redemption price of God’s very own Son. He said it takes that long “get their heads straight” (book Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry, p. 73). In light of the demise of Christendom in America, and the fact that the church can no longer rely on the culture, if it ever could or should have, to help inculcate a Christian ethos, Willimon says he suspects “that more of us pastors will need more time to get our congregations’ heads straight.”
Indeed, one has to wonder how an hour on Sunday, sometimes only once every four to six weeks for an increasing number of attendees, can counteract the effects of secular bombardment through popular culture, media, entertainment, and public education, which is often subtly if not openly hostile to Christianity. We really need to give God more time to work with us, to transform our hearts, and renew our minds.
Romans 12:1-2 says:
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
In worship we are called to present ourselves as a living sacrifice. We offer ourselves to God placing our lives in God’s hands to be transformed into a masterpiece of divine workmanship. To give God more of ourselves, we must also give him more of our time, to work with us. When we offer God more of ourselves, we receive more and more of him as we are conformed more and more into the image of his Son (Romans 8:29).
If we are going to be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19) we can’t allow our schedules to be so full that we have very little time left to offer ourselves fully to God. The one who gives us eternal life through Jesus Christ, asks for a little more of our time, for our good and his glory. To quote Chairman of the Board, perhaps God is saying to his bride, the church, “give me just a little more time, and our love will surely grow.”