Second only to baptisms in frequency and hilarity, funny church stories often concern people who fell asleep in church. A man I knew from little Bethabara Baptist Church of my childhood went to church one winter morning. More than the real estate market, wintertime seating in that church building was all about location, location, and location. Too close to one of the Dearborn heaters meant you would roast; too far away meant you would freeze. Crook Hurdle (I grew up there, and the nicknames don’t seem strange to me at all) had chosen wisely—optimum range. He sat on the outside seat of the pew, just three rows forward from the heater on that blustery day. Time came for prayer. All stood. Crook leaned up against the wall, basking in perfect warmth. The prayer overflowed, and then overflowed some more. After the lengthy oration was complete (no, it wasn’t me!), everyone sat back down. Everyone, that is, except for Crook Hurdle. He, leaning up against the wall, was sound asleep standing up.
I’ve been in churches where there were some people who reliably fell asleep every week during the sermon. We all knew who they were. When I was a teenager, my friends and I would joke about them sometimes.
Now I’m no longer a teenager; I’m a pastor. For many years, this has been my approach to the sleeping saints:
I show appreciation toward those who fall asleep during the service. From time to time I’ll say, “If you’ve been around here for very long you already know this, but I love people who fall asleep during church.” The first time people hear this, I get the strangest looks. Nobody expects the pastor to say this. I continue, “You see, most people who are that tired are at home. They didn’t come today. But you, in spite of being so fatigued, came to church anyway. You’re my hero. I love people who fall asleep in church.”
I do not take anyone’s lapse into slumber as commentary about the quality of my sermon. I once fell asleep during a Peter Jackson film. That didn’t mean ANYTHING about how much I liked or did not like “The Desolation of Smaug.” It just meant that I was tired. Period. A great many people are sleep-deprived. Don’t take it personally.
Falling asleep during a church meeting is biblical. Eutychus did it in Acts 20. If you find in that passage any disdain toward him for his somnolence, then you’re reading it differently than I do. In fact, it was only because of his fall and his need for healing that the incident is mentioned at all, not because he was asleep. The early church did not, as far as we know, have nurseries. I imagine Pauline worship services as gatherings in which mothers were rocking babies, people were shifting about in makeshift seating or on the floor, etc. I’m guessing that people fell asleep quite a bit, especially in gatherings that lasted all day or into the night.
So, give a break to the poor guy who’s snoring on the fourth pew. And give a break to yourself if there are a few people nodding during your hard-fought exposition of Colossians 1. Sleep happens. We’re a family. Love one another and move on.
This is a very brief post for me, but I don’t want you to get bored and…