Texting and other annoyances during sermon.

Posted: June 26, 2011 in Behavior

Okay.  I’ll be the first to admit.  I’ve texted during the sermon.  Guilty as charged.  There are others I have witnessed using their mobile devices to text, tweet, or otherwise communicate during church service as well, even very godly men and women, including visiting pastors!  But what were they doing really?  When is it, if ever, acceptable to text or access your mobile device during sermon?

In my church, like many churches across the nation, being relevant to the community we serve is very important.  But at what cost?  Is there a point at which making people feel comfortable is too high a price to pay?

Here are two scenarios to consider, and then an analysis of each.

  1. A family walks into the church who has never been there before.  Since I’m in the Praise Band, I notice that their high school aged daughter keeps texting during the music, and then every once in a while, I notice her doing it during the sermon.
  2. A student who has been at the church since they were in diapers sits in a dark crevice of the sanctuary just texting away.  Then he pops in his iPod earphones and lays back and at one point during the music, I’m pretty sure he dozed off.

Both of these scenarios have actually happened.  Look:  Our pastor, Jeff Heim, is one of the most dynamic and interesting pastors in the known universe (although I hear Pastor Gumduk of the planet Snarlog in the Delta quadrant gives him a run for his money). 

Obviously, you treat these scenarios differently.  If the people haven’t been to church before, probably aren’t Christians, and their kid is addicted to texting, you probably don’t want to look at “symptoms of sin” or “rudeness” right off the bat.  Love them, be gracious, and win them to Christ as the Holy Spirit leads.

But, if you’ve been in church for longer than a year, you know better.

So, if it isn’t just a droning, boring sermon that causes lack of interest or such distraction, what is it?

Well.  I was a youth once.  We sat in the front rows of the church, and we got pretty much annihilated by parents or adults sitting near us if we passed notes or talked during service.  For those teens reading this right now, text messaging didn’t exist when I was in youth.  Yep.  I’m pretty old.  But “passing notes” in church is when you take a piece of paper, that you undoubtably pretended was for notes on the sermon, and write a note to your friend, and have it passed down to them.

But, this didn’t happen that often.  Students today are in a society where entertainment surrounds them.  Easy grab information at the tips of their fingers, easy communication pretty much whenever they want, and rarely any discipline if they participate in these activities in church.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a software engineer.  Arguably, I’m one of “those guys” that have helped make mobile devices so popular and the software so accessible.  I’m not a Luddite by any means.  I love technology.  But like anything, it can be used for bad.

So, what to do?  Like I said earlier, I’ve sent a text during the sermon.  But it was usually something to the effect of “in church. ct. ttyl.” – for those of you who don’t speak texting speak, that means “I’m in church, I can’t talk.  I’ll talk to you later.”  Something like this is probably a potentially acceptable text to send, especially if you notice your phone vibrating a lot.  “are you there?”  “where are you?”  “why aren’t you texting?”

Okay, so when is it a problem to text during service?  The answer:  almost all of the time.  In our anything goes culture, we’ve forgotten that although church can be fun, enjoyable, interesting, educational, and spirit-moving all wrapped up into a sermon and baked until golden brown, it seems we’ve forgotten about some aspects of our worship services.

First of all:  It’s a distraction.  The problem arises when your focus is not on God, it’s not on the sermon, it’s not on the music meant for God’s worship, but instead it’s on your friend Billy who wants to know if you want to go to the skatepark in an hour, or Sam who wants to go to the movies, or Jimmy who wants to know if you want to play Call of Duty: Black Ops when you get home, or Laura who thinks you’re super cute and have nice muscles.

Secondly:  What’s arguably even worse than distracting yourself and stunting your own spiritual growth?  What if someone wandered in from outside the church community and is really down and depressed, and God’s doing a work in them during the service, but then they start to notice what rude teenagers the church has.  Or maybe they keep noticing you moving your fingers and miss the most important part of the sermon.  What then?  Then, you’ve caused a distraction for someone else.  Even if it’s another Christian, you’ve caused that person to get distracted and perhaps miss something that God really wanted them to hear.

Thirdly:  It’s disrespectful.  Look.  If your church is like mine, the sermon is fun.  It’s exillerating, there are a lot of goofy and wild acting characters sitting in the pews throughout the sanctuary.  Yes, that’s right, I said sanctuary.  In our postmodern culture, we’ve unfortunately named that place you worship on Sundays “the auditorium”.  Now, I don’t mind necessarily people calling it the auditorium, but there are ramifications from that.  It gives the impression that unlike the sancturary of old, where respect was expected and appreciated, and discipline existed if this was violated, that instead you’re there to be entertained, not to worship and learn about God.

It seems after being approached about being rude in the church, you get what I call “Christian backtalk” in which someone says, “Oh, but we’re the church.  The building isn’t the church.”  Great.  That’s awesome that you recognize this.  But what this means is:  You are the church.  This means, “Act like you’re the church even when you’re not in the church building.”  Do not interpret this as, “Act like the world when you’re in the church building.”

There is a dramatic distinction.

So what to do?  How do you proceed and correct poor behavior in yourself, your children, or others?

If it’s your kids, even if they’re teenagers, make them sit with you if you think they’re screwing around.  Take their iPod and phone away *gasp*.  If they can’t act like a grown-up, they don’t need a grown-up “toy” like a cell phone.  However, don’t go crazy on them, and do give them the opportunity to behave.  Explain to them, from Scripture, why it is important to respect God, the building, and the pastor, as well as the others around you.  Then, once it’s explained, tell them you’ll let them keep the phone on them.  The iPod or other MP3 player seems a little bit silly to bring to church, especially if your kid listens to Lil’ Wayne, Lady Gaga, Eminem, or Green Day, doesn’t it?… that’s a whole other blog post for sure though.  I digress.

What if you let your kids sit elsewhere, but want to know if they paid attention during the sermon?  Ask them questions about the sermon.  If they can’t answer them, they get to sit with you next week.  You’re their parent, not their good ol’ buddy.  Be a parent.

If it’s you, pray that God gives you focus.  It’s very easy to get distracted.

Okay, so here’s the deal:  Read the following, pray for guidance, and in love and kindness, implement what God shows you to, in your own family and your own life.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be

tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation

he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. – 1 Corinthians 7:35

  1. Tracy says:

    Agreed!! Well said. Btw, hope it wasn’t my guys! Someone needs to sit between Mark and Morgan to make them behave!! 😉 ~Love your blog!

    • No it wasn’t your guys as far as I could tell! They sat behind me during service and were quite gentlemanly. At least as gentlemanly as Brendesauruses and Morgasauruses can be. :o) 😉

  2. Guest says:

    good stuff

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