Us and Our Memes

Do you know what a meme is? (pronounced meem) Thanks to the Internet it’s becoming more common in our vocabulary, and one definition is “a practice that becomes common and no one is sure where it came from.” Kind of like a tradition. Shaking hands as a greeting might be an example. It is thought that you approached someone and extended your right hand to assure them you were friendly and didn’t have a sword in it. Is that where it started? You may have never thought to ask.

Another meme is that church begins at 11:00 am. We’ve gone to church all over the world and it’s true most everywhere. Did you ever ask why? Do you know of anything else that begins at 11:00am? Well, in our agrarian society it gave the farmers time to get the cows milked, get cleaned up and get to church. Not a high percentage of American Christians milk cows anymore before coming to church, but we’ve left the time pretty much unchanged. That’s a meme.

I was reading recently about a Sunday School in New England that begins at 9:42 each Sunday morning. One day a visitor asked why the unusual starting time. Some of the old-timers began to reflect that when the church was founded the street car stopped outside the church at 9:40 on Sunday morning; that gave them two minutes to get inside and begin the service. There has not been a streetcar near the church in a hundred years but the starting time is still 9:42. That’s a meme.

Any memes in your church? Like the deacons taking up the offering, for instance. It’s not a bad idea, it’s just not a biblical idea, but I assure you that if you change it some will be offended. That qualifies as a meme. How about having the deaconesses remove the cloth that covers the elements at the Communion service. That’s not a bad idea either, it’s just not a biblical idea. In some churches that is the only assignment given to the deaconesses. Meme?

Where I’m going with this is to challenge us to prayerfully rethink what we do in church to make sure it has spiritual significance and is not simply a deeply ingrained (aka boring) tradition. May I put the “closing song” on that list. Would a time of quiet reflection on the message just preached be more effective? At least on occasion?

And then there’s the “Morning Prayer.” Does it come from a passionate heart, from a pastoral sensitivity? Does it lead the worshipers into a sense of the presence of God? Is it filled with praise and adoration and worship and thanksgiving? Have the elders met together to pray about what to pray about? Is there forgiveness in it? Intercession for the lost? Pleading for the sins of our nation? And our congregation? Every prayer ought to change your church. Otherwise, it qualifies as a meme.

-By Don Jacobsen (

Written by Diane Levy


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