It doesn’t bother me anymore to hear a phone ringing during a church service. It’s part of life in the 21st century. But I’ll admit I was shocked last month when I heard a ringtone while I was preaching—and a woman seated in the third row pulled her phone out of her purse and began a lengthy conversation as if she were in the waiting room of a beauty parlor.
That incident prompted me to post a question on Facebook the next day. I asked my friends to share their own stories of rudeness in church. That triggered an avalanche of pent-up frustration about crinkly peppermint wrappers, loud music, smelly feet (yes, someone took off their shoes during the service), unruly children, coffee-sipping saints and parishioners who try to finish their pastors’ sentences during sermons.
When I tallied the responses, I came up with this list of the rudest things people do in church:
1. Talking during a service.
2. Texting or surfing the web during a service. (One person mentioned seeing people playing video games on their phones).
3. Sleeping—or snoring!—during a sermon.
4. Clipping fingernails during church. (I was amazed at how many people listed this offense. One person said his church’s sound technician clipped his nails routinely during the sermon, and it was amplified over the loud speaker.)
5. Answering a ringing phone in church.
6. Constantly getting up and leaving the auditorium, presumably to use the restroom.
7. Walking out of a service early, especially during a prayer.
8. Letting babies cry incessantly in the service.
9. Chewing or smacking gum. (One friend from Puerto Rico said he is particularly annoyed when people “chew gum like a goat.”)
10. Public display of affection. (One person complained about a man and wife who enjoy giving each other back rubs during worship.)
Those were the most common replies. Other infractions mentioned in my unscientific poll included (1) “Pushing people to the floor while praying for them”; (2) “Saying ‘Amen’ 100 times during the sermon”; (3) “Taking change from the offering plate”; (4) “Swearing in church” (I didn’t ask for the details on that!); and (5) “Drinking beverages during the entire service.”
But as I mused over these replies, I couldn’t help but wonder: What does God consider rude?
I’m not bashing technology. But we could lose the art of discipleship if we don’t reclaim the habit of careful listening. That means when we come to church, especially, we should not just turn off our phones but also tune out all other distractions so we can focus on what God is saying to us—through the preacher, the worship songs, the prayers and the Holy Spirit’s still, small voice.
Please don’t be rude to God. Don’t just go to church. Go and hear the word of the Lord. Don’t talk, text, sleep or take calls when He is speaking. Listen as if your life depended on it.
This piece was written by J. Lee Grady, the former editor of Charisma and the director of the Mordecai Project (themordecaiproject.org).