When I go to church, there’s a little social convention when looking for a seat within the sanctuary. If I’m running later than others, the available seats might be “inside”. That is, there is someone sitting between where I’m standing in the aisle and some open seats. Here, there’s kind of a social transaction, where I say something like, “Hey, can we sneak past you?”, or I give sort of an awkward gesture towards the open seats and a mumble.
Generally, the current occupants are kind, and either move their knees to one side, or stand up to let in my family and me. We side-shuffle past them, into the open spaces, and express our thanks.
Some might suggest that we should always fill rows (or pews) from the center, but I totally understand why some people sit on the end. There are those who need to get up and serve, or perhaps have an obligation that requires them to leave service early. Similarly, some people have ambulatory limitations, or may need to get up periodically during the service (like those caring for a small child!).
However, whether I’m sitting at the end of the row, or someone else is, there’s a little bit of responsibility in sitting there. In this privileged situation (typically acquired through arriving early), one must realize that other people may come in and need to get by, in order to find a seat. As long as we’re ready to let others in, sitting along the aisle isn’t necessarily a big deal.
But what if we weren’t? What if we crossed our arms, fixed a scowl on our face, and stoically refused to let anyone crawl over and around us, preventing them from finding a place to sit in the row that we “controlled”? Like a military blockade of a strategic port, road, channel, or mountain pass, we could prevent others from getting a chance to participate in the service. With our claim to specific seats, we could function as a wall, keeping others from getting by.
Auditorium manners are one thing, when we block others from getting through us for more important matters, the consequences are greater. Jesus made it clear (see Matthew 28:18-20) that we should share the word about Him. As we follow His example, though, we find that He was a door, rather than a wall:
So Jesus said to them again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
JOHN 10:7-10 NASB
To be clear, we are not the means by which people will be saved. Only Jesus, through His payment for our sins, can grant any of us a reconciliation back to God. However, we can be instruments of God’s plan, in sharing Jesus’ teachings – and showing His love – to others. We aren’t the ultimate door to peace with God, but we can be a sign showing the way.
So, whether someone needs to sidle by you as you sit at church, or if they need to learn from you about Jesus and the path to salvation that He offers, don’t be a wall! Invite others to find comfort and truth, or at least help them get to a good place where they can learn more.
After all, once we have spent time in fellowship with other believers, whether in a worship service or Bible study, we all need to file out from our seats (literally or metaphorically) and get out out into the world to serve. So, in addition to our Lord’s command to share the good news, there’s not much point in blocking others from getting in, since we’ll need to get up before long, anyway!