In all our moving from place to place, I’ve noticed that church people usually sit in the middle rows or at the back. Only in a couple churches did they fill the front rows. In one of those congregations, people even saved seats there so they could be closer to the speaker.
From the perspective of those facing the congregation, I’ve stood up front to give announcements or readings. I felt awkward speaking to rows of empty chairs. I’m sure that pastors feel the same way when everyone sits in the back rows. They want their congregation close to them. Instead, they need to project their voices or purchase sound equipment to be heard. Perhaps they also wonder if the people are sending some sort of message to them by their distance.
Sitting up front in church is not quite the same as sitting up close to the head table at a banquet or wedding. Everyone wants those seats and will arrive early so they can get them. Some folks feel more important if they can sit with those whom they think are important.
In the days of Jesus, some seats were the honored places to sit, grabbed up by those who wanted to be considered as special guests.
Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:7–11)
As I read these words from Jesus, it seems obvious that where a person sits is more about the attitude of their heart in choosing that seat rather than the choice made. I could sit up front to be noticed. I could sit in the back because I didn’t want to be noticed. I could sit up front to honor the speaker. I could sit in the back as a way of expressing that I did not want to be part of the crowd (unless they were all sitting in the back).
While He was talking about a wedding and not church, Jesus knows the heart. He also knows how human sinfulness will jockey for position wanting honor and prominence. Where we sit isn’t as important as why we sit there.
At my first writer’s conference, the well-known speakers, authors and editors were told to mingle with the crowd of attendees during meals. Of course everyone wanted to sit with the main speaker or their editor of choice. As a newbie, I didn’t have a clue what most of those people even looked like so got the idea to sit at an empty table and wait to see who came to sit with me. It was the most interesting experience. I met people that blessed my heart and enriched my experience.
Since then, this has become a practice when I’m alone or with others. We select the empty table and ask God to put those He wants in those empty chairs. From this, I’ve sat with famous ‘stars’ in the Christian world, and with ordinary folks who have a story to tell. One time we wound up with a group of much younger folks. My husband asked them about their dreams and ambitions and we were blessed by their stories.
Jesus warns about exalting myself. This can happen in choosing a place to sit, but also in the conversation at that place. I can be prideful in the attitude of my heart no matter where I sit. If I think appropriately about myself, God can move me where He wants me to be, or He might keep me in that lowly place. More importantly, He wants me to keep a lowly attitude, no matter where He puts me.