Sleep-deprived Sunday morning services.

When I was a kid, I liked church. My friends were there, the pastor was a decent preacher, and the Sunday school classes were interesting. (The music wasn’t so great; as an adult I went to churches with way better music.) But even so, some Sunday mornings I really didn’t care to go.

’Cause sleep. I wanted to sleep.

I stayed up way too late the night before. Usually because I watched Saturday Night Live, or Doctor Who reruns on public television, or some other late-night movie or show. I’d be up till 1 a.m.; usually 2. Yeah, television is a lousy excuse for being exhausted the next morning. But in college, I hung out with friends till very late Saturday night—and that’s no better of an excuse.

So come Sunday morning, when Mom trying to get us out the door so we could be at church by 9, church was the very last thing I wanted to do that morning. I wanted sleep. Needed sleep. What good was church gonna do me if I dozed off during the sermon? You know, like my other friends. And half the adults.

I discovered this handy trick: Open your bible on your lap. If you felt yourself drifting, just bow your head so it looks like you’re reading your bible. And no, this technique fools no one. Especially if you drool in your sleep, and the onionskin paper they use on thin bibles does not handle liquids well.

In seminary, same problem. Saturday nights were spent with friends; Sunday mornings I was dead tired, tempted to sleep in. But lo and behold, I found a solution: Evening services! There was a church in Santa Cruz whose worship service began at 6 p.m. Sundays. So that’s where I went.

Sunday mornings I slept in like a pagan. Woke around 10, dragged my bones to brunch, did homework, had dinner, then went to church. And for the first time in the longest time, I was fully awake for Sunday church, and better able to appreciate it.

And then I graduated, and moved to where there was nothing but Sunday morning services. Ugh.

In any event I totally understand why so many people, Christians and pagans alike, are loath to give up their Sunday mornings for church. I’ve been there. Some mornings I’m still there: I rarely do anything Sunday nights, but sometimes I’ll have an uncomfortable night’s sleep, and be in no mood for Sunday morning church.

I’m not a morning person anyway. King David was, so it’s his fault we have this in our bibles:

Psalm 5.3 KJV
My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.

Gee thanks David. That, plus Jesus rising from the dead before dawn, Jn 20.1-2 has most of us Christians insisting upon morning services. Sometimes sunrise services. It’s like a test to see whether we appreciate God more than sleep. Whether we do or not, it still feels way too much like punishment.

Priorities.

Yeah, y’might argue, “What’re you doing up late on a Saturday when you know you have church in the morning?” You’d be right to. My nocturnal habits in my teens and 20s were because I gave Sunday morning church services a lower priority than television or friends. And this is true for a lot of people: They wanna have their fun on Saturday night, and are willing to skip Sundays… or show up to church semi-conscious. Which means the worship is gonna be half-hearted, and the lessons half-learned.

If we’re going to love the LORD our God with all our mind, Lk 10.27 we gotta bring him an awake mind. God deserves better than brain-dead worship. The people of our churches likewise oughta deal with us, not a hypercaffeinated somnambulant zombie who yawns through the singing and naps through the message. If you’re too tired to go to church, don’t go this week. Next week, make sure you’re well-rested.

But what if you can’t come well-rested? It’s a fair question. Some of us have Saturday night obligations. My last job required me to work overnight Saturdays, 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.—and you’d think this’d make our Sunday morning services feel to me like evening services, but our services were late in the morning. Imagine working a full eight hours, then going to church at 9 p.m. You’d be dragging through the last hour. I certainly was.

Might be social functions we can’t easily get out of. If you never see your friends all week, and Saturday night is really the only time you can see them, does God want us to deprive ourselves of all our relationships just so we can be awake Sunday mornings? Legalists will insist yes. And of course God comes before all… but going to bed early on Sunday nights isn’t our only option, y’know. What about taking a nap Saturday afternoon? Or Sunday afternoon? Or worship services other than Sunday mornings?

Really we just have to be self-disciplined, and manage our time effectively and responsibly. I didn’t when I was younger. I do now.

Alternate church service times.

When I first started at that evening church, I casually mentioned it to a family friend… who was horrified. “You go to evening services?” he asked. “No no no. You’re supposed to go to morning services. Sunday morning. That’s when Jesus arose from the dead; that’s when Christians are supposed to worship.”

Says him. And if you wanna be literal about when Jesus arose from the dead, Christians should only meet for sunrise services.

But it’s only a custom to have Sunday morning worship services. Nowhere in the bible is it mandated. Churches can worship whenever it’s convenient. The first Christians met daily in temple, and ate meals together; Ac 2.46 most of our churches meet nowhere near that often, but clearly we oughta hold more services than just Sunday mornings.

Remember, many people have to work Sundays. Or they can’t make it for other reasons: In my town, the buses don’t run Sundays, so the poor either have to walk to church, or get rides, or can’t come, or won’t come. Very few of the churches in town have a bus ministry, and a lot more of us should. We need to think about what hardships might prevent people from making it to church, and try to eliminate these problems as best we can.

If Sunday mornings just don’t work for you, consider an alternate service: Wednesday evenings, Friday evenings, Saturday mornings, Saturday evenings, or Sunday evenings. If your church doesn’t offer any of those alternate times, you may have to consider another church who does. Because why settle for a church where you can never attend, or whose services are always held at an inconvenient time? Find a church which considers its people’s needs, not impractical Christian traditions.

Hey, it may very well be that the reason these alternate service times suit you best, is because God wants you at that particular church. True, it may not be. But go find out.