A few years back I was a co-pastor at a church that prided itself in having the most uncomfortable pews in Christendom. Their pride was 100% warranted; the pews were barely sit-able. (Believe me, we never had difficulty recruiting worship leaders as, for one thing, they got to sit in cushioned armchairs in the chancel.) But why be glad in such a thing?
Here are a few of the gospel benefits of an uncomfortable pew:
An uncomfortable pew means that you will be uncomfortable in worship. Maybe you feel uncomfortable if people weep or shout “amen.” Maybe the noise of the children makes you uncomfortable. Maybe the kids in worship bother you. Maybe singing unfamiliar songs makes you uncomfortable. Maybe some of the people who don’t look like you make you uncomfortable. That’s ok. It’s not about you. It’s about the whole Body of Christ. Some congregations intentionally practice the 75%/25% rule; no one should be comfortable with any more than 75% of what happens in worship. If you’re comfortable with more than 75% it more than likely means that your congregation is a wee bit too homogenous.
An uncomfortable pew means that you may well hear something from the pulpit that makes you very uncomfortable (or even angry?). Preachers are to interpret the Word of God as they honestly, diligently understand it. If they do that faithfully you are bound to hear an uncomfortable word because the Bible says a lot of challenging things, and that’s not even counting the things Jesus said and did! The Word of God is a loving critique of every age as it puts before us a vision of life, not in the kingdoms of this world, but in the Kingdom of God. On earth as it is in Heaven. (Preachers, this is a great privilege and a great responsibility so do please remember that, as Fred Craddock puts it, “Preaching is, at its very least, a Christian act.”)
An uncomfortable pew helps to insure that you not get too cozy in the sheltering walls of the sanctuary. Yes, we all need comfort, spiritual feeding, an uplifting moment in the very real struggles of life. But not as an end in itself. Being enrolled into God in baptism is to be enrolled into God’s mission which certainly includes you but is not limited to you. Your spiritual fulfillment and growth is a good and wonderful thing and praise be to God for granting that. Yet, even so, it is not the end point. The end point is God’s redemption of the whole world – a work into which you are called.
And, finally, an uncomfortable pew means that you won’t want to sit in it for too long. You’ll want to get up, move around, maybe even move right on out the door. Which happens to be the arena into which your baptismal vocation calls you. Many churches have a sign at the exit to the sanctuary which reads, “You are now entering the mission field.” Your home, your immediate neighborhood, your workplace, your city. Wherever you are. That is the mission field into which you are called to befriend a hurting and broken world.