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.


glenn harm said...


R. Stewart said...

What he said:)

BTW, I started blogging again. Just couldn't stay away forever.

Hopefully it'll give me a place to channel my energies so I won't risk being arrested after disrupting church with my distracting nature;-)

Jenn said...

Very well said. I especially appreciated the line "But what we expect is an attitude of not wallowing in one's self." So, so true. The internal distractions come in so easily: "Oh, I forgot to thaw the hamburger for lunch," "I wonder if doing lesson plans on Sunday breaks the Sabbath," or "My toenail polish is chipping."

I have an awesome pastor and he preaches a mean sermon....there is no cause for my thoughts to wander. But they do. I've noticed that he repeats lines quite frequently and I am so glad. This seems to break through my cloud and help me gather my thoughts when I wander. Also, it gives time to write down those key sentences when I'm not wandering.

But your above quote is a necessary reminder that distractions, whether external or internal, are not excuses....they are examples of me putting self before God.

Thank you!

Callmeteem said...

I enjoyed that post. The preacher always knows who is asleep, who is focussed and who is not.
Children can be distracting but I like children in my church. For all the distractions they bring I love having them around.

lindsay said...

Stumbled upon your blog linked off another (Amy's Humble Musings). I enjoyed your post. I'm trying to get my husband turned on to this blogging thang. I think he will enjoy your perspective...

Douglas said...

Tagging you with the "eight random facts" meme...


John said...

I've only been a pastor for 2.5 months, so I haven't had a snorer yet. Or a serious disruption. But I once visited a church and there was a loud snorer in the pews. Fortunately he was quiet enough that we could ignore him.

Anonymous said...

Seriously! We almost called police recently to church to break up a fight between two young teens. The kids were already on probation for disrupting the Sunday School class and worship services. The pastor had to stop his sermons and beg kids to be quiet.
One parent said he would not allow his kids to attend our church if we continued to allow the misbehavior of aggressive kids.
We told the long-time offenders to find another church and warned them of trespassing laws should they return. Now we hope to get back some of the families who have left because of the disrupters.
Jesus didn't enter the Temple telling jokes or trying to cleverly impress the money-changers. He made a whip and drove them out.
Churches should return to being houses of prayer, not venues of religious entertainment.