Distracted in Church

Distracted in Church

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I didn't have a chance to contribute during the Boundless ROCK THE BODY campaign, but I'd like to add a quick postscript. Throughout last week's clergy appreciation theme, we looked at a variety of ways that we can encourage and honor our pastors. We can be creative or remember all the little things. We can remember to guard our heart against a critical spirit.

All great suggestions, but I wonder if the process of honoring my own pastor begins with something a little ... well, smaller. I recently read an article on a site that serves pastors and church leaders. The article, "Eight Most Frequent Preaching Distractions," sparked a spirited follow-up discussion, with many pastors telling stories of how their sermons are interrupted or disrupted. There were the expected distractions (persistent coughing, crying babies, people getting up to use the restroom), the bizarrely disrespectful (loud gum chewing, clipping of fingernails, talking on phones) and the freakish rarities (cat running across stage, person vomiting in back row).

Reading through the discussion, I felt pretty good about my own church etiquette. Crying baby taken outside the room? Check. Pets and fingernail clippers left at home? Double-check.

But there were other distractions listed. Smartphone use was mentioned, with the author expressing dismay at the thought that many people “can’t go ten minutes without texting someone.” Although I don't own a mobile phone (Yeah, I know. Get with the times, Vance), this item struck a little closer to home. There have been quite a few sermons lately during which I've been anything but the attentive listener. I've daydreamed. I've doodled designs for a backyard shed. I've pulled my Kindle out to read — not the sermon text, either. And I’m pretty good at rationalizing this behavior to myself. I'm not an auditory learner, I'll think. Or I can't pay attention if I didn't sleep well. And then there's this gem: I'm pretty sure I already read the book that inspired this sermon.

It was helpful to see this habit from the other side of the pulpit, to consider the message I’m sending to a man who has spent a lot of time studying the Word and preparing a lesson for the people he's responsible for. If I truly want to honor and appreciate my pastor’s leadership, I need to start by avoiding the little things that distract and offend him. I'm never been one to shout an "Amen!" after a particularly grand point, but I know I can't forget the importance of a willing, teachable spirit — and to let my pastor see it.

How about your church experience? Does anything keep you looking down?

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  • --If you're single and your not paying attention to the message then it's probably more important for you to find a wife than to stress over other advice and trying to apply that too.

  • --I zoned out in church and mandatory chapel for years. Occasionally to the point where if someone had asked later the same day, "What songs were sung?" or "Tell me about the sermon," I would have had to think really hard to remember anything. This fall at my new church, it hasn't been /nearly/ as much of a problem. Not because the preaching is better, but I am just in a better place spiritually. And I can go to this church and give money without betraying the least of these. As an introvert, I like the worship service because it is heartfelt and low-key. At this church, I can let my guard down more, while still being cautious.

    "Soul Repair" is a great Christian book on different types of spiritual problems. It has a chapter on spiritual anorexia, and one of the main symptoms is frequently zoning out in church over many weeks or months. They call it "resistance to spiritual nurture." People shut down because they see spiritual nurture as dangerous or potentially toxic. Some feel like there is no way their needs will ever be met, so why ask.

    People usually feel this need to protect themselves because they have encountered some type of toxic spirituality in the past. My spiritual training as a child gave me the impression that God did not care about me. I became a Christian in middle school, and even though it was real, I was taught several toxic ideas, which led to a really bad case of spiritual addiction. When I couldn't take the crazy roller coaster anymore, I withdrew as far as I could. In college, I started slowly rebuilding my relationship with God. I still don't know what a close, healthy relationship with God looks like, but I am slowly learning.  

  • --I don't disagree that it's easy to be distracted in our culture when listening to a sermon in church, but I also have to wonder about whether we sometimes look at things people are doing as them being distracted when it's actually how they focus. Every person is different in how they process information coming in.

    The clearest example I have would be a family member of mine. If you were to just glance over their shoulder during a sermon you might assume they weren't paying any attention considering they're drawing something in a sketchbook. But if you were to ask them about it at the end of the sermon they could and would use the picture they drew to tell you what the sermon was about and how it had an impact in their life. They're not distracted because they're drawing. They're drawing based on what they're hearing so they stay focussed. There may not be lots of people who process information this way, but I wonder if there aren't more than we think because we've been told that the only way to attentively listen is to be looking directly at the pastor while they're preaching.

    So, I think we need to be careful how we look on being distracted during a sermon. No texting or doodling pictures of plans for something to do at home probably isn't the best was to stay focussed. But, we also have to be careful we don't make assumptions about other people's posture during a sermon and whether they're actually listening or not.

  • --"There were the expected distractions (persistent coughing..)"

    I know this isn't the point of the post at all, but some people (the author of the article you linked to, for example) should consider that a persistent cough is a lot more annoying and distracting for the person who has it, And it doesn't always mean that a person has contagious germs and should have stayed at home.

    Sorry, just not the first time I've seen people criticised for coming to church with a cough on the internet and it bugs me!

  • --@JosieJo, I agree.

    @Tamara, I agree because I know a number of people who can listen better when they are doodling or drawing. But I agree that drawing plans for a shed would probably be more distracting since it takes more mental energy.

    If Kindles or phones are distracting, then don't bring them or turn them off. There are little Bibles people can carry if they don't want to carry the bulky heavier ones. I have seen people texting while speakers were sharing personal testimonies, and it is so rude! It is also rude during sermons of course. Now some people might be using their phones to look at Scripture, but that's probably not all they are doing. I refuse to get a Dumbphone because my attention span is short enough as it is, and people throw away so much money on them, especially when people constantly upgrade every couple of years. I did get a basic cellphone after I was essentially forced to (college canceled phone lines and traveling), and it is convenient and inexpensive.      

  • --Yeah, I zone out a bit. Alyson is on the money with it sometimes being a reaction to bad teaching in the past.

  • --What a great reminder!  I think part of the problem, if you will, is that people are not being taught to respect others as they once were.    

    Yes, if I'm in the service I will be paying attention with my ears and eyes to what the pastor is saying.  I bring my Bible to church each week, and I've chosen not to use a Bible app on my phone during church.  My church has new Bibles at the end of each row.  The leadership encourage people to use one of those Bibles during the service, if someone did not bring his/her own, and take it home if they don't own a Bible.  My church does still put the scriptures being referenced during the sermon on the screen, but there is great encouragement to use an actual Bible.

    One thing that used to be frustrating was when people would walk across the front of the auditorium!  There are exit doors in each section of our auditorium.  Did some people not get taught manners?  A family (parents were in their 40's) with about three children would sit on the front row and constantly get up during the time of singing and sermon.  They would walk in front of the pastor to the door on the opposite side (rather than going down the aisle just next to where they were seated).  Since the sermons started being recorded with videography about a year ago, I guess someone talked with that family since they've stopped walking across the front.

    The article mentioned crying babies.  Yes, parents, please be aware.  There's a reason the nursery/children's center "cry room" (available to fathers too, & separate from the nursing mothers' room) are advertised.  If you have a three month old who becomes very vocal during the service, or a toddler who is flexing his/her obstinate will, using one of those avenues is probably a good idea.  :)

    A few weeks ago, a woman and her daughter sat next to me.  During the sermon the mother was reading Facebook posts.  I can hear someone cry, "don't judge!"  Okay, I won't.  If you need to use your smart phone during the service, our church's café has chairs and a sound system that has a live feed from the sanctuary.

  • --I do use a bible app. Phone sounds gets turned off, and I have sufficient self-control to not be constantly checking SMS or farcebook.

    OTOH, how rivetted do you expect me to be when the speaker is specificaly addressing women, or parents, or some group or issue that has nothing to do with me?

  • --I will admit that I at times get distracted just seeing a guy that I have a crush on. Its one thing that I try focus the way I am looking to prevent me from getting distracted. Also I don't bring my phone, or it stays in my purse with the ringer off because I am purposefully choosing what I value.

    For everyone just think about what is happening, not all things are the same. I know I do children's ministry and the guitar guys are sick/not there so we send one of the kiddos in to grab a different guitar gal. Also our men who preach may only be able to listen to the last 30 minutes of church and they will go in at the end.

    One great lesson we were teaching the kiddos this week is that if they are non-believers (which very well may include may in church) "I love you, I see this problem in your life and here is Jesus". Because we don't want to create moral/well mannored people heading to HELL.

  • --You pulled out your Kindle???  :p  

    I think the thing that upsets me the most is when people are on smart phones or obviously reading something that is in no way related to the Sermon.  If you're that bored, read your Bible.  

    My phone always gets switched off and not touched in church.  To me, it's the height of rudeness to even look at it.  

  • --Wow texting in church?? I can't believe it. I know some people might have Bible apps or a kindle to read God's word but texting or browsing Facebook...we really are addicts, aren't we?? :P

    My church is in  second language, so I have to pay attention very carefully or I completely lose the thread and meaning of what's being talked about. It happens. When it does, I read the day's Bible passage(s) in my Bible in my own language. Growing up, we weren't allowed to bring any toy into church and doodling was discouraged. That training has stayed with me I guess. I've never dreamed of taking out my cellphone...:P

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