Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Church Discipline

To be honest, I was never one of those bratty kids sitting in the back pew at church. I've seen them before -- laughing and giggling at the most inopportune times, punching each other, wriggling like they're about to start an old-fashioned wrestling match. The back row boys at my church aren't bad. They pay attention as well as many of the adults. But I've watched the unwatched children (often offspring of the pastors, elders and deacons) as they distracted half the congregation with their antics.

I was reading through an old newspaper account dating back to 1877. The article was about the opening of a new church in the community. Surely it must have been a grand event -- so grand that the newspaper editor thought it would be a good idea for a reporter to write up a story about the crowd and the services on opening Sunday. Allow me to present to you my favorite line -- the last line of the piece:

In the back seats were a number of boys who created much annoyance by
giggling, laughing, and throwing paper, etc., during the time of prayer. If such
acts are again indulged in, arrests should be made and punishment follow.

Yup, you read that right. "Arrests should be made..." Yikes! Now, that's church discipline! I have to really stretch my imagination to envision police officers hauling out pre-teen boys for shooting spitwads and snickering during a prayer. Yet at the same time, I understand the sentiment. When I'm the guy behind the pulpit, I can see everyone's facial expressions, their level of being awake, and the things that distract them. I am consistently amazed by the attention span of the kids vs. the attention span of the adults. With some adults, they might as well be 13 years old.

When I sat in the pews every Sunday, I can't say I was never distracted. Occasionally there was a cute baby in front of me. Often I sat with my own young boys, who used the time to draw cars and robots all over the church bulletin. But I tried to not let my mind wander from the true purpose of the hour.

Only once in ten years have I had a snorer during my sermon. Of course it was an adult -- a visitor, no less! He had come with a buddy who was a rare attender as an adult. It appeared the pair had spent the evening with plenty of alcohol, and now the urge to sleep was just too strong. And to be truthful, that didn't bother me too much. But the snoring was loud. Nobody could pay attention, not even me.

So I decided to preach while strolling the aisles. A sudden burst of my loud voice near the snorer's ears did little to quell the noise. Finally, his buddy got the hint and gently nudged him until the snoring stopped. The sleepy-eyed guest looked around to see if anyone had noticed he had been asleep. A few giggles and stares surely clued him into what had happened. I'm sure his friend probably filled him in riding home after the service.

That visitor never visited again at our church. It's a shame, really. Although had he lit up a smoke during the sermon, the end result would likely have been the same.

We expect certain behavior during a service. Not necessarily silence. Not necessarily loud shouts. But what we expect is an attitude of not wallowing in one's self. The attention is to be God's. When a person isn't paying any attention in a service, it's not an insult to me, it's an insult to God. Sure, there are distractions, but for those who are busy making out a grocery list or reading a newsletter or staring out the window with no interest in the service, you're stealing time away from your Creator. And when your actions distract others, that's inconsiderate.

At our church there are plenty of infants. And I like that. When a child gets too fussy, parents are usually very good about taking them out to quiet them down. Still, even a happy one-year-old is a distraction for the two or three rows behind him. But at the same time, last Sunday, I had just finished saying that Jesus had won the victory when a small, one-year-old voice chimed in out of the quiet, "Yay!"

"That's right!" I told the crowd. "If that doesn't deserve a 'Yay!' then what does?" It took the person who can often be a distraction to pull our focus back where it belongs.

Perhaps they shouldn't be arresting those boys in the back pew after all.

Monday, April 09, 2007

It's Over

Well, it's over -- Easter, that is. I've always been much more of an "Easter guy" than a "Christmas guy". Maybe I just like candy more than toys, I don't know. But it seems to me that there is so much more to the Lenten season, so many layers, so much emotion.

I've always looked forward to Easter, and Holy Week in particular. This year I knew I'd end up having a tough time. My secular jobs were running hot and heavy, and of course there are all kinds of demands put upon pastors at this time of year. On top of that, baseball season has begun in the house, and none of the kids can drive himself to practice just yet. (One more year!) Somehow I knew this Holy Week wouldn't be the same.

It wasn't. I didn't have the devotional time I wanted. It was hard enough to find time when my mind was unfogged so I could do my sermon study. While the significant events of the week passed, I struggled to catch up.

Perhaps knowing my week would turn out this way, I implored my congregation on Palm Sunday not to let the week slip by without realizing the significance. Now, it's gone.

There are times when being a bi-vocational (or in my case, tri-vocational) pastor really stinks.

Still, I am blessed in knowing that it's not over. Sure the Easter candy is all on sale at the Big Box Store, but the message of Easter is eternal.

In December, I always seem to hear Elvis Presley sing, "If Everyday was Like Christmas." In the song, the king laments the lack of Christmas spirit during the rest of the year as if in December everyone is actually acting out of love instead of greed or obligation. It's really beyond idealistic drivel.

Yet the "Easter spirit" is actually alive and well 365 1/4 days a year. The Gospel message is timeless.

On the radio this morning, I heard a man arguing increduously that Christians must be idiots to believe that a man could rise from the dead because there was no natural way it could happen. He was missing the point. Christ's resurrection wasn't natural. It was miraculous. If it weren't, why would we celebrate? Why would we care?

The miracle of the Resurrection isn't seasonal. Thank God.