The Best Seat in the House

By Ryan Sanders

I love getting good seats — courstide, ringside, box seats, on the glass. When you have good seats the action seems faster, the music sounds better, the actors’ faces are more expressive. And you can stretch your legs. 

I’m guessing you share my love of good seats. It’s why better seats cost more. It’s why we get to the movie theater early. It’s why we board our Southwest flight with Group A even though our boarding pass says Group B. (Don’t look at me like that. I know you’ve done it.)

But there’s one place I don’t seek out the best seat — at home. When Christine and I have friends over for dinner, we don’t jockey for the best seats; we offer them to our guests. 

The difference is simple: on a Southwest flight, I’m a customer. In my home, I’m a host. 

I’ve been thinking of all this seat-taking and how it relates to church. When we walk into an auditorium with stadium seating, something in our consumer-trained brains clicks and we start to look for the best seats — the ones on the aisle, or the ones along that front-row modesty panel that makes a handy table for our coffee (you know what I’m talking about). We scout the auditorium and circle the parking lot looking for the best spots because that’s what we’re used to doing in parking lots and auditoriums.

But shouldn’t it be different at church? After all, I'm not there to see a show; I'm there to commune with God. I’m not a consumer; I’m a worshipper. And the guy sitting next to me isn’t just competition for the armrest; he is a member of the body of Christ. 

For those of us who are at church every Sunday, it can be easy for forget how daunting a new church can be. You visit the website, find the address, and navigate the crowded parking lot. Then you have to find the right entrance (you don’t want to accidentally use the “members only” door), and then find information for first-time guests. You have to set up a digital profile for your family and talk to a stranger about the security of your children who, by the way, are crying because they’re scared of all this new. After you finally take a deep breath and let those strangers wheel away your crying baby, whispering to yourself that it’ll be ok, then you walk into a dark room of other strangers for a “spiritual experience” about which, you realize only too late, all your assumptions might be fantastically wrong. 

For those of us who are at church every Sunday, it can be easy for forget how daunting a new church can be.

It’s hard visiting a church. And yet people visit IBC every Sunday. I know because I see their visitor cards. What if we could reward them for making it to the service? What if we made room for one another at church in ways that people don’t in the world? 

Jesus had some thoughts about seating. He taught his followers to take the worst seats for themselves. 

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “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 14:7-11). 

If we are serious about following Jesus’ teaching; if we are the body of Christ, not consumers of religious programming; if we have any compassion for our guests, then I think Jesus’ instructions apply at church as well as at banquets, and so I’ve started observing a new policy. On Sundays, I park my car across the street and park my keister in the middle of a row. I look around for people who could use a smile or a hand with their stroller. I step out of line to let someone else get their coffee faster. 

Will you try this policy with me? You may not like it at first because we’ll be giving up the best seats. But something tells me that doing so might just get us front row seats to God’s work in our church. And that’s a seat I don’t want to give up. 

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