Sunday, February 19, 2012

Ten Things You Aren't Supposed To "Be" In Church

I missed church this morning due to my ongoing chest cold (seven days and counting, wahoo!). I hated not being there, but I simply didn't feel well enough to go.

This got me thinking (something always does -- fortunately or unfortunately for you, Reader). What are some general "shouldn't" rules regarding church services? I'm not talking legalism -- I abhor it. I'm not talking about "The Ten Commandments" -- I'm pretty sure Somebody already wrote those a long time ago.

I'm talking common sense and common decency. If you won't refrain from these things for your own sake, at least don't do them for your pastor's sake. He works hard to prepare each week -- he deserves nothing less than your full participation in the service. And if you won't refrain from doing them for your pastor's sake, then at least refrain from doing them for God's sake! (No, I'm not swearing -- go back and read it again, in context this time.) He deserves nothing less than your best in everything.

So, without further ado, the ten things you aren't supposed to "BE" in church...

1)  Bored.  If you're bored in church, one of three things is the problem. You're not really listening, you don't really care, or you have a bad pastor. Chances are, it's one of the first two, and you need to handle your business. But if you do happen to have a bad pastor, you should consider going somewhere else. If you're not being fed spiritually, then maybe that's not where God wants you to be. But it may just be that you just don't want to eat what they're serving. Look in the mirror before you do anything rash.

2)  Sleepy.  Chances are, you know what days you are having church well in advance. So, knowing that, you might want to plan ahead and get a good night's sleep. Now maybe you've just gotten off work, and you're worn out. I get that. If you've come straight from work, and you're dead tired, but you're still there, that's admirable on your part. But do your best to stay awake as much as is possible. And, for heaven's sake, get to bed at a decent hour! (I'm speaking to myself on this one as much as I am anybody else.)

3)  Excessively Hungry.  This is one that can also be avoided by planning ahead. If you know what time church is going to be -- and chances are, you do know in advance -- then you should probably grab a bite to eat shortly before you come to church, or at least have a snack. Maybe you are coming straight from work -- again, that's admirable of you -- on days like those, perhaps try to take a later lunch break if possible. Ultimately, what you're trying to avoid here is that embarrassing gurgle-gurgle-gurgle which often happens right when the pastor is taking a dramatic pause for emphasis. And you have to give that uncomfortable smile to your neighbor, or maybe take that gentle elbow in the ribs from your significant other. And basically, you've just caused ten or twelve people in your immediate vicinity to stop listening to the pastor and think about their next meal. (I'm also guilty of this one, both of being hungry and of being distracted by others' hunger.)

4)  Flatulent.  This is perhaps one of the most embarrassing of the things that you ought not "be", as it can disrupt not only you but people four or five rows behind or in front of you. Maybe you ate Mexican food last night, or maybe you just have unresolved gastrointestinal issues. Whatever it is, you might want to take care of that. If you know you are prone to this unwelcome behavior, you may want to keep a bottle of Beano handy. This is also one of those things which can lead to other unacceptable behavior, like lying in church (shame on you!). If your neighbor happens to catch a whiff of something unpleasant, and scrunches up his or her nose in your direction, and you -- the guilty party -- simply shrug your shoulders or maybe even -- gasp! -- shake your head to say "no, it wasn't me" -- then you've just compounded your issues. Take the necessary steps to make sure this doesn't happen. And if you feel as though it's unavoidable, at least step outside for a moment and spare those around you from any unnecessary agony.

5)  Under The Influence.  This one should go without saying, but these days you never know. If you're wondering if it's okay to show up for church plastered or stoned -- no it's not. They probably won't turn you away, but they probably won't sit you in the front row either. And you might not personally get much out of the service, so you may as well stay at home. Also, there is the outside chance that you may suddenly feel the urge to stand up and shout, "Whoa, is it me or are these chandeliers spinning?" which would not, in fact, be an appropriate substitute for "Amen, brother!"

6)  Talkative.  If you are over the age of four, and you are sitting in church, you ought to know better than to carry on a conversation with your neighbor, yourself, or your pencil during a church service. It's not only disruptive, it's terribly annoying. Now maybe you go to a church where vocal responses to what the pastor is saying are not only acceptable but encouraged. That's a different story altogether. I'm not talking about an interactive worship experience -- that's all well and good, and often appropriate. I'm talking about conversation. Conversation that could be had after church (in the case of your neighbor), or internally (in the case of yourself), or never (in the case of your pencil). It's conversation that should be avoided. Have some respect. Incidentally, if you are under the age of four, you are off the hook for this one, because you likely aren't old enough to know better, or to fully understand the reasons for this "shouldn't" rule. Also, if you are under the age of four, you're probably not reading this anyway, so never mind.

7)  Overly Amused.  So, maybe your pastor likes to start off his message with a joke. Maybe it's not that funny, or maybe it truly is. And you chuckle. If your pastor is particularly witty, you might even laugh out loud, maybe even slap your knee. That's perfectly fine -- these are genuine human responses, for which there is nothing to be ashamed of. But what you probably shouldn't do is cackle uncontrollably at something that has either been said or done near you, or at some random thought which has suddenly crossed your mind. I will give you an example from my personal history. I was in Adult Sunday School in my old church. I can't remember why I wasn't in Children's Church, but it probably had something to do with my social awkwardness (what's new there?). Anyway, the Sunday School, encompassing all ages of adults, was held in the main sanctuary of the church. An older gentleman was the speaker that morning, and he began his lesson by relaying a story from his childhood (much as I am doing right now). He began his story, which was about his dad, by saying, "I died when my daddy was five."  Go back and read that again. Um, yeah. So, imagine being ten years old, being the only kid in a room full of somber adults, and trying to suppress your mirth. Yep, it was pretty near impossible. I started by covering my mouth, but the laughs kept seeping out. Then I buried my head in my chest, but my heaving shoulders gave me away. My fair skin turning beet red  everywhere it was exposed also betrayed me. Hiding under the pew didn't help, either -- the laughs simply echoed. Let's face it -- I ruined the Sunday School lesson. But I couldn't help it. Why my parents didn't suggest that I step outside till I regained my composure, I don't know. It would have likely been for the best. But I didn't. I laughed till it hurt. And that was bad. So, um, learn from my example. Don't do it. Even if your pastor, or elderly Sunday School teacher, does tell you that he passed away when his father was merely five years old. Just don't do it.

8)  Absent (In Body Or In Mind).  So, obviously, I'm guilty of this one today, but I did have valid reasons. The point here is that you should not be absent if you know you could be present. And if you are present, be present. Try not to let your mind wander unabated. Like I said before, the pastor has worked hard to prepare his message, and he deserves your attention. Not to mention the fact that God might have something life-changing He needs you to hear -- so listen, and be open to what He has to say.

9)  Sexy.  Yes, I said don't be sexy at church. I know some of you can't help the way you look -- God blessed you with beauty, and you feel as though you ought to be able to show it off. But please, leave more to the imagination. I'm speaking, from a guy's perspective, mainly of the ladies here. I'm a happily married man, but I have eyes, and they can see what's in front of them. If you're showing a little too much skin, or wearing clothes that are a little bit too tight, I can't help but to see you. Now what I do or don't do from there is on me. I can choose to look away, or I can choose to keep looking. And what I choose is my fault, or conversely, is to my credit. But for heaven's sake, don't tempt me to look by the way that you dress. Especially if you, too, are a married woman. What kind of message is that sending to your husband? And if you are an unmarried woman, what kind of message is that sending to your prospective mate? Think about it, and choose what you wear wisely. It really does matter more than you may think.

10)  On Facebook (Or Any Other Social Media For That Matter).  Again, this is a respect thing. And a "being present" thing. You can update your status later. You can see what So-And-So said about what you said when you commented on What's-Her-Name's wall after church. You can play FarmVille when you get home. You don't need to tweet to your many (or not so many) followers: "Hey, I'm in church, where are you at?". That's not exactly an ideal way to witness to your friends and family. Just turn your device off for the time being -- whether it's a phone, or a tablet, or whatever other kind of gadget that connects you to the outside world. Let the outside world stay outside, at least for an hour or so. This is worship time. It should take precedence over anything else.

Okay, I'll step down off my soapbox now. I'm not just talking to you, Reader. I'm pointing fingers at myself as well. I'm guilty of several of these, and I own that. But I'm working on it. Maybe you need to too. Think about it.

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