In the previous installment I discussed the importance of setting and managing our expectations for ourselves and our children in worship. Among those I mentioned was the expectation that “children over four-to-five years of age are ordinarily physically and emotionally capable of sitting in a chair, on their bottoms, facing forward, quietly, for the duration of the sermon.”
That may seem like one of those things that go without saying, but given the fact that I have seen adults talk to each other throughout the entire sermon, and have on many occasions seen grown people get up in the middle of a Scripture reading and wander around the building for some reason, perhaps this is not something we can take for granted.
The problem is that not only are those who are talking and moving not fully engaged in worship themselves, apparently, but that they are also disturbing others by repeatedly breaking their neighbor’s concentration with movement and noise. For many people, a room with constant visual and auditory interruptions creates an environment where they cannot focus or pay attention at all.
Perhaps you may have never thought of this before, but if you or your children get up and down repeatedly during worship, if you regularly talk or make unnecessary noise, if your school-aged children are not sitting on their bottoms, facing forward, quietly for the duration of the sermon then I can tell you without hesitation that you are distracting most of the people behind you and around you. Your behavior is making worship difficult for someone else.
As I have conceded so far, some distractions are unavoidable and accidents surely happen. We all have to do a good job of ignoring little things and we are all responsible to pay attention despite what is going on around us. But none of us love our brothers and sisters by putting on a three-ring circus in our pew every Sunday morning.
Here are a few practical considerations for minimizing distractions in worship:
- Make bathroom and water fountain stops before worship begins. Unless you have a medical condition or an illness, you and your children should be able to make it all the way to the benediction without getting up again. On occasion you may have to whisper directly into a little ear “you are going to have to hold it for fifteen more minutes.” Sometimes children just want to go to the bathroom because they are checked out and not engaged with what is going on. You need to be on top of that and correct that also.
- Take extra care to be still and quiet when God’s Word is being read aloud. This is critical. When the Scriptures are being read, God is speaking and we and our children must be very still and listen attentively. Do not move. This is never the time to wander off and get a drink of water or start a side conversation. Teach your children to respect God’s word. Show them how we come to attention and listen to the voice of our Lord.
- If you must move or make noise, wait for transition times in the service, if at all possible. Do it when we are all shuffling and moving from one thing to the next together.
- If you cannot avoid making noise, do it as quickly and discretely as possible and get it over with. Unwrap the mint for the child and do it fast. Don’t allow them to sit and wrinkle the wrapper for twenty minutes.
- With very small children, babies and toddlers, make a point of sitting in the back while you are training them. You know that they are going to make sounds and they are likely going to need to go in or out a few times during the service. That’s to be expected and it is all part of the blessing of having them in worship with us. When my children were small we always sat on the very back row so that when we had to excuse ourselves we did so with minimal distraction to people around us. But in order for us to be able to sit in the back we needed to have that space open. So then families with older kids (who are trained to sit on their bottoms, facing forward, quietly for the duration of the sermon), need to move toward the front and leave the back seats for families with infants and toddlers.
Church is not a museum or a concert hall. It isn’t a library or museum or mausoleum or monastery. We aren’t aiming for perfect silence and stillness. A crying baby or a dropped hymnal shouldn’t bring everything to a screeching halt while everyone gasps in horror. I don’t want anyone getting that idea at all. However, I do want us to aim for thoughtful behavior that loves all the big and little people around us by reducing distractions to the barest possible minimum.