Doesn’t Everyone Want A Front Row Seat?

I taught the high school class at church for years. No one sat in the front row. Why we even set up a front row of chairs is a mystery, but I suppose if we didn’t then the second row would be the front and no one would sit there either.

We never needed this many chairs, but if we had you can bet the row to the far right would be un-sat-in (Wikimedia)

We never needed this many chairs, but if we had you can bet the row to the far right would be un-sat-in
(Wikimedia)

That’s how I fixed things, by changing the second row to the front row. On a typical Sunday morning there would be games and singing and a couple announcements before it was time for the lesson. By then everyone who was going to show up had shown up and unless it was a particularly well-attended morning even late comers could find seats somewhere not in the front row.

It’s a bit disheartening to start speaking and see a row of empty chairs strung across the front like a battlement, separating me from the students as if I were an invading horde and they a helpless village I’d come to plunder. Then it came to me: what would an invading horde do?

They’d raze the battlement. So I did.

It was a Sunday like most, and the students were safely barricaded behind that front row of folding chairs as I got up to talk. I talked all right. I also folded. Chairs that is. I started at one end of the front row and folded those chairs and set them all to one side right down the line. The battlements were down, and I would have been the pride of even the best invading horde: Huns, Vandals, Goths – and I imagine Visigoths, too – would have cheered.

The second row was now the first row, and no battlement of chairs stood to interfere with me developing a rapport with the students (as much as can be done with teenagers early on a Sunday morning).

Moving On Up

It may be that the students were following Jesus’ advice:

“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:8-11.)

If they were modeling these humble guests, then that makes me the host of the banquet. Of course, this assumes that the front row is considered a place of honor in a youth group’s Sunday School class. I fear the comparison isn’t as apt as I’d like after all.

Heinrich Lutzelmann (Wikimedia)

Heinrich Lutzelmann
(Wikimedia)

Still, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded that when it comes to learning from Jesus – being with Jesus – he’s pleased when people come up close.

Think of young John reclining next to Jesus at the Last Supper, leaning his head right up against his leader, his teacher, his friend.

And Mary, not wanting to miss a word he was saying even though she knew she took a place traditionally reserved for a man, sitting at Jesus’ feet as he taught the guests who had gathered in her home.

Carl Heinrich Bloch (Wikimedia)

Carl Heinrich Bloch
(Wikimedia)

Jesus longed for this closeness with all of Jerusalem, to gather the city’s people together and hold them close, protecting them from harm as a hen protects her young.

And consider the children he gathered in his arms, taking time to pull them to himself and bless them as the adults stood and waited.

When it comes to Jesus, I think it’s not a matter of front row and back row but merely a matter of with: When you are with Jesus, you are truly with him. There is no separation, there is no distance, there is no row of chairs getting in the way.

There is only close as close can be. After all, Jesus is in you.

And as a preacher once told me, you can’t get closer than in.

***

[April Fiet recently came up with 9 Reasons Not To Sit In The Front Pew At Church. I think she’s on to something.]

***

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15 Responses to Doesn’t Everyone Want A Front Row Seat?

  1. Maureen says:

    My dad (back in the early 60’s with 3 little girls) decided that the front row was ‘our’ pew at our Catholic church. The Mass was in Latin and since we could not understand it, at least we could see it with no one blocking us. So when it changed to English, we were obviously molded into that pew and just stayed. As an evangelical protestant now, I still seek the front row.

    • Tim says:

      Your family’s spot at mass was probably noticed by the priests too. I bet they appreciated, and were tickled too, seeing you all there every Sunday.

  2. Erica M. says:

    When my dad was a pastor, everyone thought it was strange that Mom would sit us all in the backseat. (Insert your “backseat Baptist” joke here-we always did.) Shouldn’t the pastor’s wife have the front row? But it helped when you had two kids regularly asking to use the bathroom!

    Plus, Mom is the type to always sit with her back to a corner in a restaurant so no one is behind her, so I think it was just her thing. 😛

  3. You wrote “When it comes to Jesus, I think it’s not a matter of front row and back row but merely a matter of with.” So important. Skye Jethani emphasizes this is his book “With: Reimaging the Way You Relate to God,” published abut three years ago. He notes that living life FOR God means doing things for Him and others. Living life UNDER God is legalism. FROM God includes the prosperity gospel and a sugar daddy God. But WITH God makes us attentive to His direction. I want a front row seat.

    • Tim says:

      Those are great distinctions, Carol. Thanks for setting them out for us all here.

      • Jeannie says:

        I like those definitions too. I did a Beth Moore study this spring where she emphasized the difference between doing things for Jesus and doing things with Jesus. That really helped me in some issues I was dealing with. Thanks for this post, too, Tim. Very smart to move the seats after the kids had all sat down!

        • Tim says:

          Thanks, Jeannie. I think all those prepositions apply – in, for, with, under, etc. – but understanding how they apply is a great way to understand better the many aspects of our relationship with Jesus and how much he loves us.

  4. Pastor Bob says:

    The teacher (Youth Pastor) in me speaks, I would set the chairs up in semicircle. while this does not work in a large room, it did say something to the youth. Large rooms walk around and look at many. Somehow I think Jesus would do His best to communicate with us the same way, attempting to personalize the moment, eye contact.
    Great way to bring this out with a different perspective.

  5. Ruth says:

    We used to sit away from our parents, with our friends in our early teen years, about halfway up the building. Mum had a wonderful control mechanism in place. She would clear her throat….delicately into her handkerchief of course, and we knew what it meant! ‘I am watching you, stop it now, or face the front, or stop talking’, and so on. She was the sweetest woman that ever drew breath, but, one sound like that in church, and I still wonder for a moment what I’m doing that I shouldn’t be!
    She had awesome control simply because of her lovely personality.
    When our sons sat with their friends, it was only a matter of time before I was doing it too, without even realising it at first!
    As we were all asthmatics, who knew what we were doing? No one, unless I told them!
    My parents were great youth group leaders too. 🙂

    • Tim says:

      It sounds like your mother knew how to care for the family effectively even from a distance, Ruth, and now that you learned from the master you’ve taken on the same role for your sons. Family legacies can be awesome!

  6. Aimee Byrd says:

    Talk and fold. Brilliant.

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