1. Sit respectfully and alertly
Things such as leaning on your elbows with your head down and chewing gum send signals that you are not interested in what the preacher is saying. Remember that others are watching you and being influenced by you. Your attitude and bodily posture affects the preacher, those sitting around you, and the entire atmosphere of the service.
Young people should not be allowed to sit together unless they are spiritually-minded and serious about seeking the Lord, because they will distract one another as well as others. We have many spiritually-minded young people in our church who sit together and encourage one another to listen carefully and to take notes from the preaching, but when young people are only in church because they are forced to be and don’t have a heart for the truth, they should not be allowed to sit together. This is for their sake, for the sake of the other young people who are influenced by their example, and for the sake of the entire congregation.
One reader wrote about teenage boys who sit together and play a video game during the service. “As one plays, the boy on either side watches until it is his turn.”
Another reader described two young men who played video games on their phones the entire service, even when the congregation was standing and singing. The father of these young men was in the service and sitting on the same pew, but he didn’t do anything.
This is a sad thing, and one wonders about the parents. In the case of a parent who would sit in a church service and allow his children to play games, where is his head! Such a parent is on the proverbial “cloud 9”! Like Eli, he honors his sons more than God and God’s Word (1 Sam. 2:29; 3:13).
And why doesn’t the pastor put a stop to it? What kind of pastor would allow people to play games in the house of God when the congregation is supposedly worshiping God? For a pastor to allow such a thing is not fair to those who are there to worship God and hear His Word. Such a thing is a great dishonor to Jesus Christ who owns the church and walks in the midst of the churches (Rev. 2:1). Who does this pastor really honor? Who does he fear?
The adults might be afraid of “losing them” if they apply discipline, but they have “lost them” already. The bodies of such young people might still be in church, but their hearts are solidly in the world.
At least the adults can break up this unholy cabal and make the service conducive for others to hear God’s Word without the distraction of these foolish boys and their games. And who knows, if this cabal were broken up and these young people were required to sit quietly during the singing and preaching, God might get hold of their hearts and they would repent of their disrespect of holy things and be born again before it is too late.
Along this line, the church must make sure that young people are not hiding out somewhere and playing. I have seen young men in the sound room and sound booth talking and playing games during the services. Only spiritually-minded young people should be involved in such ministries. Otherwise, this is the type of thing that happens.
2. Don’t distract others
Examples of things that distract others are talking and writing notes back and forth between persons, texting, and playing video games, making noise (i.e., cracking your fingers, stretching and moaning), picnicking (eating and drinking and passing around candy and gum), playing with babies, children gawking at the people behind them, and children running back and forth in the pew when the congregation is standing to sing. Parents need to be aware of what their children are doing and make certain that they are not distracting someone.
One reader wrote, “Some families spread the pew with mounds of candy and other snacks, sticky and otherwise, and the children gorge themselves. Then of course, it’s not long before parent or grandparent will take each child, one at a time, back and forth to the restroom to wash sticky hands, etc. And no, they do not sit in the back.”
Another example is leaving the service to go to the restroom. Parents should make sure that their children don’t develop this distracting habit. The child quickly learns that it can control the mother by asking to go to the restroom after the service starts. It is the all-too-common case of the child training the parents. This practice is extremely dishonoring to the Word of God being preached. There is plenty of time to go to the bathroom before and after the services. Of course, if a baby is involved or if an individual has a medical or health problem that requires him or her to leave the service, that is a different matter altogether. But such a person should sit in the back and slip in and out quietly.
One reader gave the following feedback after reading an earlier edition of this report:
“The section regarding ‘Don’t Distract Others’ really hit home to me. I prefer to sit up front ‘near the action’; however, because of my work, I am on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and there are occasional calls on Sundays, so I sit at the back so that I may slip out should I receive a call. However, I have seen others that sit near the front and walk all the way to the back for one reason or the other, and, upon their return, walk all the way back to the front. It is human custom to watch movement. I have tried my best to train myself to pay attention to the preaching and to not be distracted by people moving around. When I was young, we were taught that in any group, if one had to leave, one sits near the back, and even if one is sitting up front and needs to leave, upon returning, a seat should be taken in the back. I don’t know why people aren’t taught this (rather basic) group courtesy.”
3. Listen well
LISTEN WITH COMPASSION TOWARD THE PREACHER. God uses all kinds of men and not all are powerful, fascinating speakers. It appears that Paul wasn’t (2 Cor. 10:10). Jonathan Edwards preached one of the most famous of sermons, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” but Edwards was not a great speaker. In fact, he simply read the sermon. The preacher who was instrumental in the conversion of Charles Spurgeon was not a mighty speaker. Spurgeon described him as a very simple, uninteresting speaker, yet how greatly God used him! Remember that God can use weak men. An example is Solomon. He had some serious issues, but God used him to write three important books of the Bible, including the book of Proverbs, which is the book of wisdom. Our eyes must be upon God and not upon the preacher. Listen to the preacher as you would want people to listen to you. Avoid a critical attitude.
LISTEN PRAYERFULLY. Nothing significant is accomplished apart from prayer (Rom. 12:12; Eph. 6:18; Col. 4:2; 1 The. 5:17). Pray for yourself. Pray for the preacher. Pray for others who are in attendance.
LISTEN ATTENTIVELY. Listen as if Jesus Christ were speaking. The preacher is to preach as the oracles of God (God’s mouthpiece), and the people should listen to him as the oracles of God (1 Pet. 4:11). If you listen carefully and seek something from the Lord, you can be edified even from a seemingly boring message. See also Luke 8:18; Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22. Lazy minds don’t learn and grow. Don’t let your mind wander to other things. Don’t do something else when you should be listening to the preaching. I have seen people read novels in church! More often they read the hymnal or pass notes or other such things. You won’t get anything from the preaching if you don’t listen attentively.
LISTEN WITH AN OPEN, SUBMISSIVE HEART. God’s invitation is extended throughout the message and not merely at the end. Let God speak to you, reprove, rebuke, and exhort you. Don’t think that the preaching is for someone else. Don’t make excuses for your sins and faults.
LISTEN WITH FAITH (Heb. 4:1-2). The Word of God is ineffective unless it is “mixed with faith.” Some listen to preaching as a form of entertainment. They enjoy it but they don’t believe it enough to change how they live. This was how the Jews were listening to the prophet Ezekiel: “And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness. And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not” (Ezek. 33:31-32).
LISTEN DISCERNINGLY. The Bible warns that we must not put our trust in man (Jer. 17:5). We must carefully test all preaching by the Word of God (Acts 17:11; 1 Cor. 14:29; 1 The. 5:21).
LISTEN STUDIOUSLY (2 Tim. 2:15). Have paper and pen ready so that you can capture something from the message. Write things in your Bible (important things, such as cross references, definitions, important thoughts, what God is saying to you through the message). By the way, you should have your own Bible rather than merely looking on with someone else. Take notes of the important points. Write down things to study later, things to check later, and things to share with others. This will help you remember what is preached. If you are studious during the preaching, you will be a good example to others. I remember fondly a young man in the first church I joined. He was always there in his place with his big study Bible and his notebook and his pens and pencils, ready to capture something from the preaching.
4. Treat the invitation seriously
Respond to the invitation as Lord leads, and pray for others.
It is important to be quiet until the the last prayer is finished. Some people are so spiritually insensitive that they start preparing to leave during the invitation and final prayer, shuffling around, folding papers, zipping up Bible cases, putting on jackets, digging keys out of purses, etc. This is very distracting to those to whom the Lord might be ministering.
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