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A Pastor’s Reflections: Sleeping in Church

September 3, 2013


In my time in the pastorate I only rebuked (gently, I believe) my congregation twice for sleeping. On two particular instances, one where we were administering the Lord’s Supper, there were an inordinate number of people dozing off. And especially in the case of the Lord’s Supper, I urged people not to take it if they had been sleeping. How can the sacrament be of benefit if you’ve slept through the preaching of the word?

There are a number of reasons why people sleep in church. Let’s set aside genuine excuses. Some people are on medication that makes them dreary—I’ve had really bad colds where my medication makes me feel like I’m in an astronaut’s helmet walking on the surface of the moon. I’ve felt downright loopy. So falling asleep in church might be excused. I also had a number of church members who were public safety personnel (fire or police). Some of them would come right off an all-night shift and arrive at church somewhat bleary-eyed, and understandably so. I always had (and do have) great respect for the public safety officer or medical personnel (works of necessity) who would still make an effort to come to church. The same can go for parents of young children. Sometimes small children can keep you up all night for various reasons, but I’ve seen parents drag themselves to church anyway. In these circumstances falling asleep in church is perfectly understandable, though undesirable.

There are those, however, who I saw sleeping in church because of a lack of what the Puritans used to call, “Sabbath preparation.” Some people look at Saturday night as a time to have fun, and understandably so. After a long workweek it’s nice to be able to rest and blow off some steam. But when fun rolls late into the night and then the wee hours of the morning, how might this impact your Sunday worship? If you can stay up late into the evening and early morning and still stay alert and awake during worship, then more power to you. Of course, I’m bypassing the important question of what you’re doing during those hours (i.e., are you filling your mind with garbage? That’s a subject for another post). But if you know that staying up late will impinge on your alertness in worship, then go to sleep!

If we truly understand what worship is, gathering in the presence of our holy triune God, and that the reading and preaching of the word, in conjunction with the sacraments, is God’s voice to his people, then we should certainly be alert and attentive. In the end, be diligent to make good preparation for Sunday. Get a good night’s rest.