By Pat Jones
After 17 years of preaching, I have noticed that there are several things which can create a distraction at a worship service. In each case the reaction of the audience is the same. All eyes are focused on what is going on instead of the lesson. They are not hearing what is said.
First, I have observed that when a group sitting together begins to whisper, grin, laugh, etc. it will create a distraction not only for themselves, but for those around them. Often teenagers have been guilty of this, but, believe it or not, I have watched grown-ups do it, too. In either case, those causing this disturbance are old enough to know better and should stop it.
A second thing that distracts concerns small children. When little ones are allowed to constantly talk out, make excessive noise or roam about or when a baby which persistently cries is kept in the auditorium, the attention of the congregation is going to be badly affected.
Let me say that I very much appreciate young parents who are trying to be faithful to attend and bring their children. I don’t want to discourage anyone from doing that. As a parent of young children, I realize that all will at some point give trouble. I don’t think it is fair to be unduly harsh on those with this sometimes frustrating responsibility. But there are some guidelines to follow that will help us tend to children with a minimum of distraction.
All babies are going to cry during a worship service. That is why we provide a nursery or cry-room at the back of the auditorium. I realize the embarrassment a parent goes through wondering at what point to take a fussy baby out. I would suggest that from what I see up in the pulpit, after a minute of crying much of the audience now has their eyes directed at the noise. Also by this time, most parents are getting tense and frustrated with trying to calm the baby. Certainly, no one will think badly of any parent who takes the baby on out. On the other hand, to keep trying to “fight the battle” in the auditorium will only keep the disruption growing.
As children grow out of the baby stage, there is a trap that parents can be led into. Misbehaving is sometimes a child’s ticket out of the auditorium to go visit the water fountain, nursery or just to walk around. When we have to take them out, let’s make sure through whatever means of punishment is appropriate to their age that their unruly behavior will not be rewarded.
A third problem of disturbance is when there is too much wandering about of adults and young people. Trips to the restroom, to the water fountain, to the telephone, to go do this and do that when most all these things could be taken care of before or after services are distracting. There are, no doubt, cases of health problems that require this, but we need to limit such unless absolutely necessary.
A suggestion: Even when the things recommended in this article have been followed, there will still be occasional disturbances. To the distracted I want to make a plea: There are plenty of seats down front. Get nearer the front and you will not be as prone to have your attention wander.
A final thing I want to mention that may not be distracting to the audience, but certainly is to the preacher is the problem of sleeping members. While it is often passed off as almost comical, the truth is it’s a very bad habit. The sleep-prone Christian can combat this by taking notes, turning to the verses in their Bible and by working harder to concentrate on what’s being said. Rightly considered, we surely know that going to sleep at worship is disrespectful to God and discourteous to the speaker.
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 21, p. 655
November 1, 1990