“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31)

My daughter recently graduated from high school. As at most graduations, the normal plea to family and friends was given, “please hold your applause so each graduate’s name can be heard.” The school even gave an opportunity for everyone to clap, scream, and celebrate their particular graduate before the names were called. You would think that would suffice—NOT!

There were a few guests who did not adhere to the program protocol and yelled when their graduate’s name was called. Why do some people feel they are above the rules and the rules do not apply to them? Yes, your graduate probably has a past story that makes it necessary to let the trumpet sound; but when celebration impedes the family and friends of the next graduate it is just inconsiderate. This is such a serious matter that my daughter looked up in the stands as she proceeded to the stage. She made the gesture of the “hush sign” as if to say to our family, “Don’t you all embarrass me. Even you, Ms. Manners!” Well, we did not embarrass her. We followed the rules.

A fundamental principle of etiquette according to the Post Institute is respect. We show respect not just by what we refrain from doing but also by intentional acts, such as being on time, dressing appropriately, or giving our full attention to the person or people we’re with. The Golden Rule to treat people the way you want to be treated was adopted from Jesus’ teachings on love, appreciation, and respect: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).

I am understanding, sometimes, when people outside the church fail to do things “decently and in order,” but when rules of protocol are broken inside the church, I cringe. For example . . .

I can’t tell you how many times I have gone to a funeral, and there is time allotted for designated persons to share their reflections about the deceased. These persons are asked to limit their remarks to anywhere from two to five minutes. Yet, there is always that one person who feels they knew the deceased better than anyone else, and they decide they should be allotted more time to speak even if it goes against the family’s wishes. Or, what about that person who is not on the program and invites himself or herself to make remarks or to sing a song?

I recently had a conversation with a friend regarding a worship service we attended in which the speaker was asked to speak/preach for twenty minutes. As the twenty-minute mark came, then the thirty-minute mark, then forty (it is estimated the sermon went on for about an hour), I noticed that people in the pews began to squirm, frown, nod, and some even left. The preacher failed to follow the request of the host to speak no more than twenty minutes. As a result of the preachers long diatribe, he lost his listeners, the energy left the room, the program did not end as scheduled, and the Good News was not proclaimed!

When doing church ministry, I was always taught to do what you are asked to do (and no more) then sit down! Some will argue that there are times when the Spirit moves and takes over the program. No arguments from me if it is in fact the Spirit (not the flesh) guiding one’s actions. At any rate, unless you are given permission by the pastor or host to give remarks, sing a song, share a testimony . . . Don’t do it! It is bad manners to go against established protocol. Let’s show a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T as we lead worship. This is what it means to me!

C. Lynn Brinkley serves as the director of student services and alumni relations at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina. Lynn is also an adjunct professor at Campbell and an ordained minister at First Baptist Church in Clinton. For more information about proper attire in the pulpit, check out Lynn’s new book: Manners & Money: A Manual on Preaching Etiquette.