Sometimes where one stands depends on where one sits. And again, sometimes where someone stands depends on where one stands.
As a pastor, who stands on a podium week after week often in various auditoriums I can tell you that matters of church etiquette may be dependent upon on which side of the pulpit one finds himself.
Ill admit to being a bit defensive and protective of the ministry of preaching. I try not to take myself too seriously. Im famous for making verbal faux pas due to the rapidity of my natural speaking pace and the fact that often my brain is traveling faster than my mouth. Just this week, while speaking at Baptist Bible College in Clark Summit I accidentally read the wrong text and momentarily had Enoch being caught up into heaven in a fiery chariot but I was under the influence of medications at the time. So, Im not afraid to laugh while preaching, poking at my own foilables and I really do enjoy connecting with an audience.
But I also take preaching very seriously. Our teens will tell you that I dont suffer goofing off during the preaching or prayer lightly. Once it is time to get into the meat of the Word, I become very focused on seeing it become real in the mind and heart of the listeners. Perhaps thats why I find some audience behavior annoying, distracting and at times, offensive.
Ive been in a sort of goofy mood this week. These poor BBC students probably think Ive been smoking and inhaling. Maybe its the time of the year or just my own appreciation for the Theatre of the Absurd but, this topic has been in my craw lately, so I thought Id give you a light-hearted perspective on this topic. So lacking anything truly substantive to blog about tonight, I offer my Top 10 List of Rude Audience Behavior.
Drum roll, please.
10. Coming in late
These are folks who think that a late entrance is spiritual or fashionable or better-than-not-showing up at all. Im not talking about the young single mother who is making sure her kids get to the nurseries or the occasional late-comer due to a traffic jam. Im talking about the chronically tardy whose lateness is a matter of character. By coming in late week after week, you are communicating to the pastor that the first two songs or first two points or first two whatever you miss, just arent really that important.
9. Incessant Coughing
Everybody gets a tickle once in a while or a lingering case of bronchitis. Theres also the sudden unannounced cough that shows up uninvited and catches everyone by surprise. But what Im talking about is the person who sounds like they are going to hark up a lung or are in some way related to the sea lion family. If you already know you have a cough, bring a cough suppressant, sit near the back, step into the lobby until the fit passes. But please, dont sit on the second row and bark until someone throws you a fish!
8. Cute and Not-so-cute Babies and Toddlers
Im 44 years oldthere is nothing cute about me at all. I simply cant compete with an adorable, cooing, curly-haired angel that wants to entertain three sections of pews with their absolutely darling antics. Please dont make me try. I will lose every time. I just cant compete with babies.
And then theres the screamers. Those kids, who when they get cranked up sound like a cross between a banshee and a 747 coming in for a short-runway landing. Interestingly, there is a correspondence in many cases between the volume of the screaming child and the cluelessness of the parent. Its like they think that its like a bit of gas it will pass in a few seconds and everything will be fine. Uhno, once some of these kids get going theres just no stopping them.
Look, Ive got four kids. I know they have to come into church eventually and that the training will require some difficult moments, squirming and even trips to the lobby. Thats OK. Its part of being a family. But one screaming child in a room of 1,000 people will distract the congregation and the pastor and in effect, ruin a sermon. But one screaming or rambunctious child in a church of 100 and you might as well dismiss the service. Dont let your kid wave at people, climb over and under pews, talk out loud, throw toys across the aisle and cause a disruption. The pastor has worked for hours and this is his lifes work. You do expect him to take it seriously, right? Then use the nursery and come in an listen respectfully.
Oh, this is a big one and Ill admit largely personal and petty. My wife thinks Im nuts for griping about this as she truly loves her gum. But from my perspective, (and it IS a farm-boys perspective) standing before a bunch of gum chewers reminds me of looking at a row of Hereford cows chewing their cud.
And if theres one thing that will absolutely send me over the edge crack it. Yes, thats a nice touch. Not only do we get to watch endless mastication, we also get to listen to it as well with punctuated clicks, pops and snaps. Bring a sandwich, eat Oreos, shoot set up your barbecue in the aisle and cooks some bratwursts, but please.NO GUM!
(Particularly if youre in the choir!)
6. The drawn out candy wrapper
My grandmother was a great one at this. Shed bring those little Brach cinnamon disks that are so good, but have the noisy plastic wrappers around them. She was always worried about causing a stir so shed try to unwrap it sslloooowwllyy but what she really did was prolong the agony. Instead of quickly ripping it off in 1.2 seconds, it would take her 3 minutes of little crinkles and wrinkles until everyone was ready to scream, PLEASE, for the sake of all our sanity! Just unwrap the stupid thing!
I also enjoy those who try to unwrap candy in their pockets and purses which doesnt really muffle the noise but gives the impression that youre about to pull out a revolver at any second. Thats a little nerve-wracking also.
5. The Thimble-Sized Bladder/Camel-Sized Thirst Syndrome
You know what I meanthe folks that just cant make it through a 90-minute service without hitting the restroom and/or the water fountain at least once, sometimes more. My favorite was the rather large lady who sat up in front and would sneak sips from her Diet Coke can and then would waddle out mid-way through the service. Hello??? Lay off the coke and you wont have to visit the little girls room plus, is this a church or the movie theatre? What are you going to want next? Cup holders? While that example is a decade or more old, Ive recently seen folks smuggling water bottles and coffee cups with them into various services. Seriously, if you are that thirsty you might need to visit your doctor.
If you cant make it more than an hour without visiting the restroom, heres another idea Depends.
4. The Mega-Sneeze
This of course is the malady of the individual who didnt get enough attention when they were a child so they periodically have to let loose with a roaring sneeze that will blow the wig off the person sitting in front of them. Often, it sounds more like someone dropped an ice cube down their back or they are just entering into some sort of Charismatic fit and has the equivalent response of firing off a shotgun mid service. This half shriek, half howl sneeze is guaranteed to disrupt a preachers focus and cadence while people peel themselves off the ceiling and titter embarrassingly for a few moments. By that time, the preacher has moved through 2 more points.
There additional versions of the “mega-sneeze” that includes sounds that run the gamut from whistles, to a tourette’s whoop, to the sound that a mouse might make if you step on it. Just do a polite “achoo” and be done with it, OK?
3. The Inappropriate Amen-er
A personal favorite here. The inappropriate Amener is often the person who uses a very loud Amen to announce some sort of personal problem. The preacher makes a statement like A wife should support her husbands effort to lead the home spiritually when all of a sudden, some guy rips off a bellaring, Welp, AMEN!. A lot of people snicker, the wife turns red, the kids roll their eyes and he feels like hes had his say. Yep, he said something alrighthe just announced, Im an idiot.
2. The Early Departer
This person is VERY, VERY important. They are SO IMPORTANT that they cant honestly be expected to wait until the benediction or the conclusion of the invitation or the final hymn. Oh nothey HAVE to be the first one out of the parking lot, first one in line at the nursery, first one at the Ryans Buffet or some other vital appointment. Usually these folks enjoy sitting near the front to give the impression that to respond to the invitation you go backwards, not forwards. Sometimes they have the look of a salmon swimming up stream as they dodge people who are coming forward to do business with the Lord.
1. CELL PHONES
OKThis is my number one pet peeve. Rarely does a service go by without someone having a cell phone go off. This in spite of the fact that every church I know today has powerpoint signs, bulletin announcements, even verbal reminders to Turn Off Your Cell Phone. I particularly appreciate those who have a ringer that plays a rendition of Livin La Vida Loca or Ebony and Ivory. Yes, that truly promotes a spirit of Worship.
Every phone I know of has both an off switch AND a vibrate setting. Ive literally watched people answer their phones in the service and act like they are whispering as they carry on the conversation as they exit. What is SO important that it cant wait a few more minutes? What did people do way back in the 1990s when cell phones were a luxury, not part of ones anatomy? Unless you work for the President or are a transplant surgeon, dont you think it could probably be wait? Heres a tipwhen you turn the phone off, the voice mail will record your message and you can retrieve it as you sit in traffic waiting to leave the parking lot.
Unless, of course, you are an early departer.
Now, Ive written this with tongue firmly in cheek. If you think you recognize yourself in this list, I wasnt thinking about you. Really. No, I mean that. I promiseit ISNT you!
Im not trying to come off as a prima donna or a legalist or some sort of retentive preacher/tyrant. But I do hope youll consider that the audience is really an audience in a true worship service. They are a part of the worship, the process, the presentation. Each of us in the body have different responsibilities as we worship together. Lets all take our parts seriously.