At my church in Australia we have a saying: “Account for CST.” No, it’s not the name for the Aussie system of mandatory taxes (that’s GST if you’re interested). This ambiguous acronym is all about time — Christian Standard Time.
Have you ever shown up at church right when the service starts? No? It’s incredible, because there are spare seats everywhere. Sometimes I look around during the first song and wonder if there was a train accident or 90-percent-off sale that I wasn’t told about. However, I close my eyes, sing a couple songs and then sit down — sometimes on top of someone. Seriously! Where there once had been holes like Swiss cheese, we’re now packed like a Bangkok traffic jam — which, for those of you who might not know, is very, very bad.
Never witnessed this? That probably puts you in the 80 percent or so majority of Christians who are late and not just to a church service. Small groups, youth groups, lunches, dinners, even dates! (*Gasp) The list is as long as someone’s schedule, and it’s a terrible habit.
Why? Well, punctuality is about respect. Time is the only resource in the world that’s constant but non-renewable. Sure, there will be eternity in heaven, but on earth, those five minutes spent waiting can only be spent once. The other person has put aside what he could be, or should be, doing to meet with you, and now he has nothing to show for it. I mean, how many of us are regularly late for meetings with our boss or professor? That’s just not acceptable, right? Why is that not cool? Because it’s a sign of disrespect.
Yet even beyond cultural disrespect, a lack of punctuality stems from selfishness. When we’re late for a meeting, a church service, or even a catch up with someone, we’re essentially saying we think our time is more valuable than theirs, and that’s not godly. Our call to put others ahead of ourselves includes valuing other people’s resources above our own, and that includes their time. Just like we generally try not to go around begging for five dollars from everyone we meet, we should respect the time of our friends, colleagues and family, thus being a good witness of Jesus Christ.
This is an especially effective way to witness in our generation. Procrastination has become the norm, creating a culture of young adults leaving everything to the last minute and rushing to get stuff done. Although dropping a message saying, “I’ll be 10 minutes late”, has become so common as to be acceptable in our smartphone wielding society, such behavior is still rooted in selfishness.
If you’re single, listen up: Learning, or even wanting, to be on time (or gasp — five minutes early) is a great exercise in self-sacrifice that could pay big dividends in the future. It will force you to learn better schedule management and also to be more aware of others. At the very least, it’ll make you look good for your next date — as long as it’s just five minutes early. Let’s not be creepy, OK?
I’ve found that the best and simplest way to do this is to live with margins (I’m sure someone’s written a book on this somewhere). Give yourself a bit of free time on either side of your meetings. If you have a 7 p.m. dinner with a 30-minute travel time, leave at 6:20 instead of 6:32. If you have a one-hour meeting at 3 p.m., don’t take bookings for your next meeting until 4:30. Add some white space around your appointments so that you’re not always rushing around five minutes late to everything. And make an effort to do what you say.
This principle can apply to your time, your budget, and just about any resource you possess. Plan for just a little bit more so that if you have a need, it’s there, and if not, you’re still prepared. Let’s use this tendency of our generation as an opportunity to live counter-culturally and so glorify the name of Jesus.
My hope is that we can change the meaning of CST. Currently, it means 15 minutes late, but I look forward to a day when everyone shows up for church early enough to greet some visitors, use the bathroom, and read that bulletin before the countdown even starts.
So what do you think? What’s the CST time variation in your church? Do you think that being 10 minutes late is all that big of deal? Let us know in the comments below.