3 Tips for Using Smart Phones in Corporate Worship

First off you have to know that I’m perhaps the worst person in the world to write a blog post about smart-phone etiquette in church. Simply put, I’ve broken all the rules. I’m the pastor who heard a phone go off while he was speaking, eyeballed the crowd in a judgmental manner, only to realize that it was MY phone going off, and sheepishly reminded everyone to turn their phones to “off” or “silent”… I’m that guy! I was once caught using Instagram FROM the baptismal pool… ok, I was just kidding on that one, but you get the picture… I’m bad. On the other hand, I am a pastor and I care about people. I care about you.  I want you to experience and enjoy a real and meaningful relationship with God. That’s not just my job, it’s my calling. So while etiquette usually takes into account the feelings and perceptions of those around us the aim of this post is to help us think deeply about our use of, or abstinence from, smart phones in worship. Rather than listing out a series of “best practices” I thought it most practical to lay our some basic guidelines that keep loving God and loving our neighbor at the center of our thoughts on the issue.

3 tips for using Smart Phones in Corporate Worship

Phones are just tools and as tools they can either help us or hurt us, but it really depends on how we use them. To ban phones all together might be oversimplifying the issue and cause us to miss a few real blessings along the way, however to use them incessantly to record events or interact with others who are not in the room may cause us to miss everything entirely.

Be Fully Present. However you use your phone, when it comes to worship, be fully there. If you find that you are distracted by your phone turn it off, on silent, or leave it in the car. However, if the bible app helps you fully engage or if your pastor posts interactive notes on line or even if you take notes with an app that allows you to write notes and record audio to be played back later… use it. The key is how you use your phone. If it takes you to another place mentally, then leave it behind.

Be Respectful of Others. You’re not the only one there. If you choose to use the technology on your phone in a way that helps you be fully present, make sure your presence doesn’t become a distraction to others. If at all possible turn your phone to off or silent. Ask the people sitting beside you if they mind if you take notes on your smart phone or tablet. If someone tells you that they are distracted by your device or you notice the children in your section are peering over trying to see what you are doing, you will want to accommodate others and put up your device or move to a less kid friendly section. If you need to use your phone to call a friend who was supposed to meet you at the service, step out into the foyer or perhaps even outside so as not to be a distraction to others.

Don’t Judge How Other People Use Their Phone. It’s easy to judge others for how they use their phones. We tend to be harsher on others for their bad manners than we are on ourselves. The truth is we seldom have the whole story. Unless you know for a fact that someone is playing a game on their phone, assume they have a legitimate reason for having their phone out, such as taking notes, reading a bible app, looking up words they don’t understand, etc.. If you are distracted by someone’s use of a phone, either politely ask them to refrain from using it or to use it elsewhere, “Excuse me sir, I can’t hear the pastor while you are talking on your phone, can you take your call in the foyer or outside please?” (Wish I was kidding).  Or perhaps you could change sections. Obviously if it’s your kids who are using the phone in church you have a lot more leeway in sequestering phone use and dictating what is acceptable and what isn’t.

A few books that have helped my thinking on this issue are Emily Post’s Manners in a Digital World: Living Well Online and Teaching Generation Text: Using Cell Phones to Enhance Learning which is a book geared towards educators but has significant crossover into the ministry world and of course The Bible which should be our ultimate guide when understanding how to approach God and encourage one another. I’m also greatly indebted to about a dozen folks who took time to comment on  Facebook post in which I asked the question “What about smartphone use at church? Can I check in on FB? Tweet? Use my Bible App? Etc. what’s acceptable and what’s not?” As I glanced back over this article I couldn’t help but notice how several of their comments had slipped into my own thought process on this issue and made their way into this post.

What did I miss? What are some of the apps or practices you use to help engage in the worship service? What are some of the biggest distractions and pitfalls with using smart phones in church? Your comments and suggestions are welcome.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

7 Keys to A Better Sunday Morning Family Worship Experience

So, we’ve all been there. That long and awkward drive to church where you have been fighting with the kids all morning, feeling rushed. Because of the rushed feeling tensions are high between you and your spouse. Your kid asks a simple and innocent enough question and you lash out something like, “Just Be Quiet! We are on our way to church!

Perhaps you feel like a hypocrite as soon as you say it, or maybe you just chalk it up to Satan trying to foil your Sunday morning experience. Either way you feel guilty. But as soon as you pull in the parking lot you feel compelled to put on a smile and pretend everything is all right. Now you really do feel like a hypocrite. They are singing “Enter the Gates with Thanksgiving in your Heart” but right now you feel resentment toward your spouse, toward your kids, and perhaps you even project your own insecurities on some of the cheery looking people around you as you call them a hypocrite under your breath.

But let’s rewind the scenario and see what might have caused this terrible start to a Sunday Morning Worship experience. The night before you stayed up later than usual to catch up on SNL. You hit the snooze buttons a few times to catch up on sleep and before you know it you are running late. All of the sudden realize that you washed everything but what you were hoping to wear today (or it’s still at the cleaners), so you scramble to put some other outfit together. The kids are up and asking about something to eat, you are trying to iron a shirt that you think might be a tad too small and your spouse just hopped in the shower which means you will have to wait for them before you can hop in.

But is there a better way? I propose there is. What if we prepared for Sunday on Saturday?  Here are a few tips for preparing Saturday night for a good experience on Sunday.

  • Give the kids a bath the night before.
  • Go to bed early or at least on time.
  • Lay out your clothes for the next day (as well as for the kids).
  • Discuss a shower schedule with your spouse.
  • Have a brief time of prayer with your family asking God to make the next Sunday Special, Pray for your pastor, worship leader, life group leaders, etc.
  • Plan a light breakfast with protein in it.
  • Set your alarm and plan to wake up on time

Soon you will find that not everyone at church with a cheery face is faking it. A good Sunday morning experience begins with a little Saturday night preparation. What other tips can you offer to help make for a good Sunday morning experience?

Is Sunday Morning for Discipleship or Evangelism?

When a pastor stands in the pulpit to presents a message a lot of work has gone into preparation of the sermon.  He stands for one brief moment to draw our attention to the very Word of God.  He stands there as a messenger.  God has spoken and we should hear and respond to God in an appropriate way.

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So during the weeks and months leading up to a message the pastor is engaged in reading, understanding, praying over and discerning the actual text of the sermon.  He might employ his training the Greek or Hebrew language to help pull out the meaning of a text.  He will do a study in geography and historical context when necessary.  In short, He will do as much research as necessary to determine that he accurately opens up God’s Word before us.

A pastor, however, will also study the culture in which he presents the message.  It is not enough to know the Truth… the Truth must also be applied.  Application can be summed up as How someone should properly respond to the message. The application will take on nuances according to the culture in which the pastor is presenting the message. Will there be hearer’s present who are post-modern thinkers?  Will there be audience members struggling with finances? How does the average hearer treat their children? What percentage of the congregation is single?  How many profess a relationship with Jesus Christ?  How many came just because it is Mother’s Day?  How many came because of special circumstances in their lives?  All these and more are questions a pastor may ask when preparing a sermon. (To know the right kind of questions to ask about culture in sermon preparation a pastor will spend a great deal of time during the week with people; both those inside the church and those outside the church).

Now comes the million dollar question:  Will the pastor tailor the message for insiders (the people who are there week to week)? or will he prep the message for outsiders (the people who may be present for the very first time)?  In essence will he be discipleship oriented or evangelistic?

I think we have convinced ourselves that the pastor can’t preach one sermon that is equally as relevant to both major types of people in the audience. The reason is a faulty paradigm that has entered into the Christian sub-culture. Many have rightly pictured the gospel as necessary for salvation, but have failed to also picture the gospel as necessary for sanctification (growth in Christ).  In essence, we are saved by grace, but work “on our own” after salvation to be more like Christ. While few would blatantly claim this to be true, it is non-the-less a prevalent thought in the way many practice and preach Christianity.

The outworking of such thought is an unfortunate side-stepping of the gospel in favor of a “moral of the story.”  In essence, the sermon becomes more like a fable than a message.  The scriptures are read with a deep desire to get straight to some sort of application like, “you shouldn’t lust” or “give to the poor.”  While there are many lessons to be learned from examples given us in scripture, we set people up for failure when we divorce the “moral” from the gospel message (in fact the outworking of this thought is legalism).

You see the gospel is actually everywhere in the Bible (The Old Testament included)!  Yet often we moralize the message and call it “meat.”  Don’t get me wrong.  The morals are there, but they aren’t there to show us how to live as much as how much we don’t live like we should.  The analogy to “face your giants” is actually just an expose on how you don’t face your giant like you should or the call to “get out of the boat” reveals that you are still in the boat.

So just because there is a moral to the story doesn’t mean that you can live up to it apart from Christ.  That is why believers need the gospel every sermon as much as unbelievers.  We tend to forget that Jesus left heaven for us and that the only way we will ever be able to fulfill the moral to the story is by faith in the only one who has ever perfectly fulfilled the moral of the story.  The truth is that no matter how hard you try you don’t have the power to conquire lust, greed, unforgiveness or any other sin in your life.  The moral just reflects how you have failed and even if you set out to achieve the moral you have to admit that you are starting from a position of failure.  You haven’t had the faith to face your giants in the past, how could you face them now with 3 easy points from the life of David?  This is self-help and it isn’t Biblical.  The gospel (and the Biblical message) is about God-help.  You can’t face your giants until you understand the one who stood in your place and faced the only real giant that could ever really kill you!  The gospel message is the only way that you will ever be able to have victory in your life.  It is the hope of “Christ in you” that gives you any kind of chance to actually overcome the sin in your life.

You can’t fight the sin in your life without the gospel. Don’t pretend that you have out grown it.  We need the gospel every day.  It is good for a pastor to sound more like an evangelist than an in-depth Bible teacher,  he maybe proclaiming what mature believers as well as unbelievers need to hear. If you think that you have moved beyond a need to hear the gospel in every sermon, you may want to reevaluate your motives… are you like those mentioned in I Corinthians 3 and 1 Timothy 1? The gospel continues to be good news long after we have first believed in Christ and it is what separates the Christian message from religion and other fables.