Distracted in Church

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?