Those of us who preach on a regular basis have an interesting view of what goes on in the church pews in front of us. Over the years, I have seen people obviously engaged with the truths of God’s Word. You can almost see the wheels spinning in their mind and the Spirit shaping souls.
Of course, I have also seen people sleep soundly (at least until somebody’s elbow raps their ribs), share candy (especially the sort with a cellophane wrapper), write lengthy notes (or perhaps shopping lists or intense games of tic-tac-toe), enjoy a little too much PDA with their boyfriend or girlfriend, grin at every movement of the baby two rows up on the right or just stare blankly into space.
Now comes this new challenge:
AOL reports that the percentage of people (age 13 and up) who check their e-mail in church is increasing — from 12 percent last year to 15 percent this year — based on a 20-city survey it conducted.
Of its 10 “Most Addicted Email Cities,” Houston earned the designation for the place where people are most likely to miss a hymn or part of the sermon because of the distraction of e-mail: a whopping 30 percent of e-mail users polled in that city said they check their e-mail from church.
Others with significant percentages included New York (21 percent); Chicago (18 percent), Phoenix (17 percent); and Orlando, Fla. (16 percent).In four cities – San Francisco, Denver, Detroit, and Sacramento, Calif. – 13 percent of respondents admitted to the habit. Minneapolis, which had no one reporting that they checked e-mail messages in church in 2007, is now up to 10 percent.
Just this week, the Greater Tarrant County Pastors Association (Ft. Worth, TX), asked sports columnist David Thomas of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram to pass on this message: “Please refrain from using your iPhone to obtain last minute injury news and adjust your fantasy football starting line-ups during Sunday morning servcies.”
I don’t know if this trend has hit Lexington yet, but it is genuinely troubling. Blackberries are being fired up while the Bible is being held up. Spam is being deleted while the Scriptures are being exposited. Why? It’s disturbing and not just because preachers are boring. And no, I’m not being defensive because I’m one of the guys spending time preparing and delivering messages. Why?
Why? E-mail is checked in worship when…
…the temporal is valued over the eternal. E-mail may be one of the most ephemeral items on earth, yet it seems more compelling to some than an encounter with the weighty eternal realities and heavenly beauties. Values are flipped upside down values and price-tags are switched on what matters most.
…worship devolves into time merely spent in a special place, rather than time spent in a sacred Presence. This has nothing to do with liturgical or free traditions, traditional or contemporary worship styles. It has to do with a view of God as just another buddy whom I can put on hold for a bit, rather than as the blindingly Holy One, overwhelming in majesty, intense with sovereign and joyful Glory, Source of my every breath.
…the cross and gospel of Christ grows small. The only way we approach the throne is “through the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain, that is, His flesh” (Heb. 10:19). Christ and His gospel is the source of everything we call life for now and forever. Gratitude for His willing death and gladness for His resurrection alone is enough to occupy our minds and hearts for an hour—even if everything else is a wash.
…preaching is seen as words from a man about God instead of the Word of God given through a man. Christian proclamation is God’s means of capturing souls for Jesus and growing lives like Jesus. When a gospel-soaked preacher brings God’s Word with integrity, God Himself is pleased to speak through that message to His people. It’s not trivial.
So, next Lord’s Day morning when you gather for worship at church, “fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith” (Heb. 12:2) – and discipline your mind to lash even fleeting thoughts to Him. And remember that Jesus urged His followers: “consider carefully how you listen.” (Luke 8:18)