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Things My Mom Taught Me About Church

I’m a preacher’s kid, so growing up, I sat on a church pew every time the doors were open (and they were hard wooden things back then.)  Mom was pretty strict about attending church, and I’ve sat through about a million worship services, weddings, funerals, Vacation Bible Schools, Sunday School classes, revivals, youth rallies, and more.  Along the way, my mom had some pretty tough rules that have mostly fallen out of fashion since those days.  But after a few decades, I’m wondering if they weren’t so bad after all.  Let me know if you think my mom was nuts, or maybe on to something:

1.  Dress Up: My mom felt that church was about honoring God, and looking right was a big part of that honor.  I had a whole collection of clip-on ties, and she made sure I was dressed up before I left the house.  Today, even pastors preach in jeans and t-shirts, and the truth is, I love being casual.  But attorneys and other professions have learned that how you dress impacts your attitude and perception.  As my mom said, it shouldn’t be about pride, it should be about honor.  Looking around the congregation these days, I just wonder if we could use an occasional dose of my mom’s advice.

2.  Pay Attention: I got slapped a lot in church for not paying attention.  Even as kids, my mom wouldn’t let us lay down on the church pew, draw in coloring books, or scribble on paper.  We had to pay attention – which, if you know how easily distracted I am, was like a personal nightmare.  But looking back, it taught me discipline, and a remarkable amount of Bible teaching.

3.  Send the Babies to the Nursery: Back in those days we didn’t have “Children’s Church.”  All we had was a nursery for the babies, and my mom thought they should go.  To her, there was nothing more rude than parents allowing a screaming baby to interrupt the worship of the congregation.  She knew babies weren’t getting anything out of the sermon, so get them out where they could have a little fun!  Please, leave us to worship in peace and quiet.  I thought about my mom last Sunday, sitting behind a young couple with a screaming baby who just sat there, and sat there, and sat there.  (You know the kind of parents that can’t POSSIBLY leave their children with anyone else?).  What did the pastor preach about?  I can’t remember….

4.  If You Show up Late, Sit in the Back: Mom thought church wasn’t the same as a movie, concert, or classroom.  It was Holy, and we need to respect that.  Although 99% of the time, our family sat on the front row, if we showed up late for any reason, we sat in the back.  She would never distract anyone from my dad’s message by walking down the aisle after the service had started.  By the way – I hope the lady who came in last week during our time of quiet reflection and walked to the front row apparently wearing tap shoes is reading this…

5.  Bring Your Bible: My mom’s motto was “Buy a Bible, read it, and underline it.”  She never understood how people could come to church without their Bible.  To her it was like showing up at a baseball game without a bat.  I’ve tried the “pew Bible” and Bible apps on my iPad, but for me, I can’t get my mom’s rule out of my head, so I bring the real thing – marked up and all.

6.  Sunday School Matters: Remarkably few churches have Sunday School programs anymore, and I’m often surprised at the number of church members who think a weekly sermon is enough.  Mom felt that we needed to go deeper, and Sunday School was that place.  Obviously, that was before many churches started to encourage small groups – although most small groups I’ve attended are more about “reflection,” “what’s new in my life,” and “sharing.”
My mom would probably puke.

At the time, I thought I’d been switched at birth and my mom was a evil witch, but now, I’m starting to see she might have been pretty smart.

Let me know what you think.  Crazy?  Smart?  Or something in-between?

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  1. About pastors preaching in jeans: I’d rather have them preach in jeans than in a suit they had custom made of extravagant fabric in a style never seen anywhere outside of a comedy club or a brothel.
    And here’s one your poor Mom probably never anticipated: don’t write the check for your offering during the sermon. (I guess this would fall under “Pay Attention”)
    And yes, that’s how we went to church when I was a kid, too. Food for thought, Phil. I think I’ll wear a tie on Sunday. Thanks.

  2. Are you sure you weren’t born in Scotland? Are we kin? My dad used to say…’if you were going to meet the would you dress?… Well, you are going to meet with the King of Kings..another one… ‘I don’t care what time church finishes..but we will start on time’.He caught me goofing around in church one night, stopped his sermon and said’Philip,get down front beside your mother..I will thrash you after church!’ I am who I am because my folks taught me to respect His presence..

  3. Great refection, Phil. We have lost respect in our culture as a whole. I especially like the idea of children learning respect and honor for the things of God, but I guess parents need to catch it first. We actually have parents who leave their children in three services a weekend so that they can alternate going to their health club, and then wonder why their kids get bored by third service and cause trouble. Wow, what would your mama say to that?

  4. I’m always tyring to balance the idea of respect with making new comers feel welcome and not out of place. That’s why our pastors wear khakis and collared shirts.

    Then there’s the argument that we are always in the presence of God. We go to church to learn and worship corporately. But we don’t meet God there. We bring Him with us.

  5. Good advice, all. Wearing jeans on the platform isn’t so bad, though I wish they wouldn’t; it is just that what they wear looks so terrible: holes, cuffsdragging on the floor, tattered, downright ugly, my music leader wears a jacket that makes him look like “Tiny Tim,” and none of it is necessary. Hasn’t anyone heard of Dockers? I wrote an editorial a couple years ago about not wearning demin on the platform, and it got the greatest number of responses ever in 6 years. You can’t tell me that wearing jeans makes new comers feel more at home than Dockers or nice slacks. It really is crazy.

    It is clearly an indication that church today is for the young, not for old folks like me, who get ignored in so many ways.

    the pastor of my youth was Brethren and German Baptist conservative, and he wore the clerical collar, and he often was mistaken for a Catholic priest when traveling. But he was bi-vocational and a banker by profession. At 3 pm he would walk the three blocks from the bank to the church and begin his church work on evenings and weekends. His church grew to some 700.

    My mom wasn’t quite as assertive as yours, but we did know how to behave at church and we went every Sunday. She passed away at age 95 the past Dec. 1.

    Ron Keener

  6. I think some of the way teaching pastors dress has to do with the types of people you’re trying to connect with… although I do think our society as a whole has lost a sense of respect for others in general.

    I’ve seen people show up at traffic court in sweatpants and dirty t-shirts [yes, I’ve been to traffic court many times. Keith is thrilled, believe me]. And I’ve also seen people in casual churches stay “casual” even for holiday services like Easter and Christmas, or look like they’ve just rolled out of bed for a funeral.

    Is our own sense of comfort greater than showing a little respect to others when the occasion warrants?

    Instead of bringing a physical Bible I do have YouVersion on my phone, which I love. But sometimes I wonder if it lacks the same impact on my daughter as carrying an actual Bible.

    Great post, Phil

  7. Even though I’ve never met her, I love your Mom, Phil! Call me old- fashioned, but she got it right. You might add her to your consulting staff! Church, either traditional or “culturally relevant,” should always be about worship and honoring God in all things, right down to the way we dress or where we sit, because everything we do reflects our attitude about God, Who He is and what we think of Him. Thanks for having the guts to print your Mom’s story. It’s both a vibrant testimony of spiritual maturity and an indictment against many churches today.

  8. I would say something in between. On point one, being rather new to the world of church I can say if the whole congregation was dressed up I would have felt very uncomfortable and perhaps not come back, however I do see the importance of the people on the platform dressing nice not super formal in tailored suits but in a tie at least for the guys and skirts for the girls. It sets a nice example that this isn’t just a place to come and relax it is a place to come to worship the lord. The other points are all spot on! It is very distracting when a baby starts crying in the middle of the service or people are walking past you to find a seat.

  9. I was berated for wearing jeans to church by another member. It was all I had to wear as my house burned down two days before. I didn’t have a bible with me as I lost mine in the fire. I have never forgotten that someone put me down because I wasn’t dressed up for church. Instead of judging people by what they wear to church, thank God that they are there at all.

    1. Hi stonzee,

      You were in a really difficult situation.

      Being old enough to have been in my late teens and early twenties during the Jesus People revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s, jeans were (are) normal in certain congregations.

      There are some unique groups, such as Christian motorcycle “bikers”, who would look funny “fellowshipping” in anything other than jeans.

  10. Let me be clear: Jeans as such aren’t so bad (especially the darker colors), but many of the people on the platform dress in jeans that make them look like bums; where is their pride and their honor of their Lord? Ever notice how the women singers on the praise team wear jeans but look dynamite in how they present themselves. It’s the guys who look like bums, and the church deserves better. Also, my gripe is more with the pastors and worship team who can’t seem to dress better; what they congregants wear is another argument.

  11. Another grievance is with the people in a larger congregation who believing the church service is almost over, rise and run for the doors to be the first out of the parking lots so as to not be caught in exiting traffic…before the benediction has been given.

    And, I am not comfortable with bringing drinks and snacks from the church’s food bar into the church auditorium, either.

    Hey folks, the church service is not a baseball game at Dodgers stadium.

    1. Come to Arizona and you have people who come in 10 and 15 minutes late…it seems habitual for congregants in this state. The sanctuary can seem half-empty at the hour the service begins, only to fill in the next 15 minutes.

  12. I agree with all except point 1, as I really don’t think it really matters. Honouring is not about what you wear, though if there are strict dress codes the rules should be honoured (I just won’t be going to that particular church!)

  13. Better to error on the side of respect than error on the side of disrespect. Your mom had wisdom in that day and age.

    I don’t have a problem with what people wear to church so much…except one- what I see many women AREN’T wearing…. clothes! I’ve heard many men, including my husband, talk about how they are bombarded by the visuals of women at church who are wearing very revealing night club attire. I see it often every Sunday and wonder where is the reverential fear of God in His house? We women need to be mindful of how we dress so we don’t deliberately tempt our brothers in Christ and cause them to stumble.

    1. Then women need to be talking to one another. On Easter Sunday, a young lady was wearing a very filmy blouse sans appropriate lingerie…it you catch my drift. Her button had “unbuttoned” and she was showing a LOT more than I’m sure she even bargained for. I very politely told her that her blouse was unbuttoned. She was flustered but buttoned up…one more than the “open’ one. What she was thinking was anyone’s guess but I also spoke to another young lady wearing very low cut jeans with her thong poking out on top. I asked her to please cover up before going inside. Sorry, but I did. There were a LOT of guys there and this is the kind of distraction that they do not need as they bow their heads.

      Modesty has come to equal prudishness…which is ridiculous. I still dress nicely for church because I want to be in a state of mind of being at my best for Jesus. A feeling of awe, a feeling of respect and a real regard for what holiness means is severely lacking today. But what does one expect when the society as a whole makes it the goal of most women to not be successful as much as they are to be sexy. And the church stays very quiet about this…Maybe pastors are afraid of an empty pew? I have found that when you expect the best from people, they try very hard to meet that expectation. When you don’t expect much…you don’t get much either.

      Phil, your mom and my mom would have gotten along well, I’m sure.

      1. I think there’s something to this. I do know one church that I’m uncomfortable in because in the contemporary service the women dress pretty provocatively. Certainly some of it comes from people who aren’t familiar with church. But truthfully, some of the more sexy attendees are the members… Definitely distracting…
        My mom would not approve…

      2. Women do need to be talking to each other… but what if your church doesn’t have women in high profile leadership roles? I wish someone would say something… it’s ridiculous to see the amount of woman walking around in street corner clothes in church. I think this message is over looked and men aren’t saying much from the platform… that irritates me to no end. Plus, what are we teaching our children as role models when we get dressed for church?

        We had a marriage conference at our church last year. The guest pastors are VERY high profile pastors from TX. The women were separated and were given a message from the guest pastor’s wife: “How to be a Sexy Wife”!!! It was all about your weight, your hair, makeup, dressing sexy; being sexy for your husband 24/7 ….I walked out. The speaker was a model of body enhancements & facial alterations……… what are we teaching/selling our women in the church?! We’re bombarded in the media to be young and sexy, and then go to a Christian marriage conference to hear the same message!!!!! We don’t get a break, do we?

  14. Why do people carry bibles to church? It’s a custom probably only a few hundred years old, the technology making it possible for people of modest means to own a personal bible is probably only about that old.

    Maybe the most important reason we do so is so that we can read the text being taught on. The benefit of this is that we can see that this is what it says and maybe also so that God can speak to us individually through the scripture, maybe even passing along something deeper than what is being taught.

    If we depend on requiring that everyone carry their own bible with them, we probably get 60-70% compliance at best. But with powerpoint technology, video projectors and laptops, we can have 100% of the congregation reading the same scripture in the same translation at the same time. That has to be a plus. The down side is that after a few weeks people realize there is no need to carry their bible any more so they quit doing so. But again if your goal is for the congregation to read the text for themselves, the good should outweigh the bad. Technology is causing people to change their habits.

    10 or 20 years from now will people carry bibles to church? Will people own a bible in book form? Will books go the way of 8 tracks, cassette tapes, etc. I am reading through my bible this year, as I did last year, and I also study it frequently to help with sermon preparation. I have yet to open a bible in book form this year. It is just far too convenient to do it on my laptop through the internet. Multiple translations, not to mention commentaries and study aids are a click away.

    In our church we don’t require that members faithfully carry their bible, but we do require that those who teach have their scriptures displayed for all to read and follow.

  15. I can truly relate, although let me begin by saying that my mother taught me more about Christ, but along the way, the indirect lessons I received were about church and the life of faith.

    As an African-American, we have a long history of dressing up for church out of the sense of wanting to put forth our best for God, particularly after working all week picking cotton, cooking and cleaning and being dusty and dirty. Many of our churches have adopted the “come as you are” mindset and that’s not all bad, particularly if it removes barriers for people who may have previously felt they weren’t good enough to come to church because their wardrobe was lacking. However, I still dress up myself; it’s just become my personal tradition.

    You definitely had to pay attention in church because in my family you came home and talked about the sermon and Sunday school lesson. In fact, church was not an option and it was a treat to be able to finally reach the age where you could sit in the balcony apart from your parents. However, you were within eye shot so you better be attentive and not goofing off. And don’t even think about cutting out during church to go to the store or play outside–you’re parents would surely find out. Before I was old enough for Sunday school, I can remember laying in my mother’s lap. It’s a wonder that nowadays churches orchestrate their services and programming around whether or not there’s childcare available. Again, it’s good to have children’s church if it removes another barrier for people to come to our churches, but by all means we should not come to a standstill if childcare is not available (but I’ve seen it happen. It’s like, “we won’t have childcare that evening; what are we going to do?” Here’s a novel idea, have the children in the service. Are no children disciplined to sit through various types of programs anymore?)

    Definitely, if you were late, you didn’t strut down the middle aisle and crawl over people. In fact, there was a time in the service you had to wait in the back until it was “time” to seat people and then you were ushered to your seat. Nowadays ushers are often relegated to greeting and handing out bulletins and people walk on and find their own seat.

    We also brought our Bibles to church and I’m still in the habit of doing that. I like to read out of my own version what the text is saying. But again, another barrier removed if people do not have Bibles. In fact, at my church, people are encouraged to take the pew Bible if they do not own one. Also, with technology, scripture is often put up on the screen for people to read. To encourage Bible study, direct people to Sunday school or small groups and encourage personal Bible study. Often if the pastor preaches in such a way to make the gospel engaging, people will be encouraged to go further in their study.

    I’d say something else I was taught was just a reverence that equated to quietness in the sanctuary usually signaled by a prelude. There is benefit though to the chatter before service if it allows people to experience community with those they haven’t seen all week. It also allows for an opportunity to meet visitors and to make them feel welcome.

    Sorry to almost write a blog myself, but I can really relate to this post and could probably go on and on.

  16. My, oh my. How I wish Christians would get their butts (whether in jeans or slacks) out if church pews (whether hardwood or padded) and shed the love of Christ in their communities, workplaces and streets.

    This post is the Apex of “missing the point.” You ARE the church. Who cares what you’re wearing? God sees straight into the heart. He DOESN’T care how you come. Just shine for Him.

  17. Sorry to the writer that this isn’t a response to you. It’s more of an extension that I felt like venting.

    Stumbled upon this blog after listening to attire etiquette in my praise team meeting. It was never an issue for the past 6 years I’ve been on the team until a couple of months ago. They keep saying that there is a difference in leading worship on Sundays than Fridays. It doesn’t make sense to me, and every time I voice my opinion and reasoning to team, the leaders do not listen to what I’m saying. To clarify, I mean, they hear me, but they don’t understand me. It’s really frustrating that they continually ask us to let them know what we are thinking when it’s like they are refusing to understand my point of view.

    It started with the issue of wearing jeans. After that one incident of some person, who’s been at the church for so long, even longer than I’ve been playing on the team, complaining one Sunday morning, we all agreed to stopped wearing jeans. It’s been over 2 months since this happened, but our leader and the deacons keep talking about it for some reason. It’s really driving me insane. Today, our leader told us she had a meeting with the deacons, and they decided on extra things that the praise team needs to adhere to in the dress code policy.

    Their reasoning for dressing up “more properly” is because it could be stumbling one person, but what about me?!! I know it’s being selfish, but for them to say that the way I’m dressing is causing someone to stumble has actually, in turn, caused me to start judging them! Why does it have to be only Sundays that they dress up? Why can’t they dress up on Friday nights? Why can’t they dress up every time they pray? Sure, leading the congregation is a big thing, but for them to say that Sunday is more important than any other day is blasphemy.

    By the way, If you are a 7th-day adventist, don’t reply to this. There’s so much I can say, but I’ll leave it here for comments.

  18. Thanks for reminding us of the basic values and principles of worshipping. We forget so easily.  Come as you are is very different from come as you please.  Respect for God’s house has taken a modern meaning at the expense of decreasing values.  Not a judgement call but just an observation. Ever tried to enter a function which stipulated wear a tie? …….The largest percentage of ‘offenders’ are the adults and parents in church.

  19. I really enjoyed reading this. Something else to add… Pappaw taught: “if your head leaks, it won”t swell”  (tears). 20 years ago everything felt a little more sincere. I hear it said a lot “come as you are” I AGREE, but the church needs to be full of love to the point “you will leave better than you came”.
    I have an expression at our church “are you fully engaged”? This will define if we live in victory or doubt. regardless of clothing bible etc.. If you are fully engaged in God/your church you will succeed and enjoy the experience so much more

  20. I enjoyed reading this. It is so true that we have gotten away from these basic principles. I have 6 children and I am old school. this was a great article! I fully agree with all te points you made!

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