Friday, December 05, 2008

Pithy Pre-pastorate Pastoral Pointers

It occurred to me that, while I languish on the wilderness side of having a pulpit, now is the best time to share some of these thoughts.

Scope: I speak only for myself. Other pastors may demur, or say "Amen" if they dare.

Tone: you'd be badly mistaken to read these as imperious demands. Instead, pretend you'd asked, "Are there some things you think church members might not think of, that you as a pastor wish they did think of?" I'd shift around in my seat uncomfortably, decline at first... and then, when you really pressed me, I'd say:
  • For one: what would you think if a pastor turned up at your door, supposedly there to visit you and speak about spiritual and eternal matters — and he had iPod buds in his ear the whole time? And if he occasionally tapped his foot while you spoke, clearly listening at least partly to music and not you? Rude, eh? So, please: turn off your TV and radio and stereo when the pastor visits. Believe me, you won't miss anything essential.
  • Wouldn't it be weird if, while he was preaching and for no connected reason at all, the pastor did "air-guitar"? Distracting, no? So, please: spit out the gum before the service. Preaching to a roomful of dear, chawing souls is not unlike addressing a pasture-full of ruminating bovines. [Now, that is a request. If you get up to lead something in a service where I'm the pastor — music, announcements, reading, prayer, whatever — and you're chewing? We'll have a conversation.]
  • It's great that you have your itty-bitty kiddies in the service. Truly! They should indeed learn to be quiet and attend during worship. But keep others in mind, and do pursue the goal of not training your child overly at everyone else's expense. Towards that end, please bear with three tips, at no extra charge:
  1. Kids actually can be quiet, if they believe that you expect it of them.
  2. Kids (particularly little ones) need to hear simple, clear directions. Speak in absolutes. "Shh" or "Quiet" just means (if anything) that they should keep up a constant slightly quieter stream of sound. What you should say — and mean — is, "Don't talk." (Alternately, commenters suggest "Don't make noise" and "Don't be distracting.")
  3. If your cherub won't shush, it is thoughtful to remove him or her — but you must find a way to make sure (s)he doesn't think it's a pleasant and easy alternative to self-control, and thus the birth of a new and cherished regular tradition.
  • Encourage your teens (and self) to regulate liquid intake and output so that they can .actually retain their seat during a 35-55 minute sermon — as they (and you) surely do during a 90-120 minute movie.
  • If a rare emergency requires egress and ingress during the sermon, please do your best to shut the door quietly in both directions.
  • And for mercy's sake, turn off your cell phones. The White House can wait until the service is over. Really, they can!
Sum: for the most part, don't these just involve some common-sense application of Matthew 7:12?


RT said...

Your points are absolutely valid but I am amazed that you have to make them. Do people actually chew gum in church? Do they not have enough common courtesy to turn the television off upon the arrival of any visitor, let alone the pastor? Of course, in my home the television is rarely on in the first place. Now, about children (with whom, thankfully, I have little experience) my mother tells me that when I was little we sat on the front pew and when the sermon began I would habitually put my feet up on the pew and begin pounding away. She would, of course, immediately take me out; that is until she realized that she was essentially catering to my whim. The Sunday after she had this epiphany and I commenced my usual commentary on the sermon, she took me out as usual but this time she applied the hand of correction rather vigorously and brought me back into the sanctuary, where I have remained to this day a chastened, pious and attentive listener.

DJP said...

Oh, mercy, yes: not just attenders, but readers, pray-ers, singers, musicians. Sad, but true.

And no, I didn't make it up. My first pastorate, again and again when I'd call on folks, I'd eventually give up hope and just meekly ask if they'd please turn off the TV. The request always seemed to surprise them.

VcdeChagn said...

A couple of points:

1. The chewing gum thing. We have a woman who sings at our church who chews gum to keep saliva built up so her voice doesn't crack.

2. As to the kids, might I suggest Don't make noise. That is, unless you don't have any children that take you literally (you can borrow mine for a taste of that experience if you like).

3. I agree about not making getting taken out of the service a pleasant experience. My personal solution is for the offending child (or children) to stand in the center of the nursery with their hands on their heads, absolutely silent. Facing away from other children if necessary (more than one offender)....until the portion of service (singing, etc) is over.

Great points..though I'm not too sure I agree with the gun chewing one. I honestly don't care (as someone who has been given the pulpit a few times) but I do see your point.

hand of correction...

Is that what they call it ;)

DJP said...

Good point. I may revise the "Don't talk." I was aiming at brevity.

As to the other:

The beauty of my phrasing, however, is that you can't disagree with me!

Unless you're saying that I really don't find gum-chewing distracting and bovinous.

Rachael Starke said...

The phrase we've used with our kids is "Don't be distracting."

This covers talking, squirming, shuffling the papers they're coloring on, asking too loudly for help spelling "propitiation."

DJP said...

Well, I'm sure you're right, R - but as a preacher, it might make my day to hear a li'l tike even attempt to spell "propitiation." (Though I'd probably put it on my outline.)

John said...

Good admonitions, except for the gum-chewing. Granted, no bubble-blowing, or snapping or popping, but I have a chronic cough, and about the only thing that keeps it quiet is chewing gum. I do chew quietly, and sit in the back, so hopefully it is not too distracting. (^8

DJP said...

Unless there's a health epidemic I haven't heard of yet, I doubt that intractable throat issues (irremediable by peppermints) accounts for the full tonnage of gum I've seen chewed.

Rachael Starke said...


:) Personally, I'm equally thrilled that we have pastor that actually preaches about it!

They haven't asked that yet, but I vivdly remember the Sunday Mike preached before communion on how Jesus fulfilled each of the covenants - Adamics, Noahic, etc., and how that related to communion.

My 7 y.o. proceeded to draw a page (with a little Mommy help) depicting each of the covenants- Davidic was a man with a crown, Noahic was a rainbow, etc. And then she presented them to him after the service.

We'd only been at the church a little while, but it was one of those defining "I love my pastor and my girl" moments I won't soon forget.

threegirldad said...

I had a college professor who banned gum-chewing on the grounds that the motion involved had a hypnotic effect on him. You should add that to your list.

DJP said...

Well yes, that's exactly right. Like in the field, you just see the jaw go 'round... and 'round... and 'round....

Mike Westfall said...

Well, you wouldn't like my church, where the coffee and snacks are put out before the service, and everybody who wants any gets theirs and brings it with them to consume during the service. The teenagers go back for 2nds and 3rds, and... all during the service.

Just one of the many reasons why I don't like the church I'm in.

Rachael Starke said...

Is there any other country in the world that has such a love affair with gum???!! Seriously, it's bad for you jaw, bad for your teeth, unnecessary when you go to any drug store and view the myriad of options for breath cleansing, throat soothing and smoking liberation...

When I was growing up in Australia, whenever someone wanted to pretend to be an American in a skit or on T.V., right after their (hilariously bad) attempt at the accent was the wad of gum.

Doug Hibbard said...

I seem to recall, and have been told about it by my folks, that back when I was about 4 or 5, we were in chapel service at Clark Air Base, Philippines (dad was Air Force), and I acted up. Dad took me out. After the service, I had to go up to the Chaplain/Lt. Colonel/Very Intimidating Person Wearing Robe Over Uniform(generic Protestant service) and APOLOGIZE!!! I don't think I acted up in church again until I was the pastor.

Point being: Mom and Dad had expectations. We kids had little 'quiet books' that we could fidget with during the sermon, but we were expected to sing with the hymns, and not disturb the sermon. So, we learned to do it.

Side funny: Why is it important to be quiet during the sermon? Because people are sleeping!!!

DJP said...

DougI don't think I acted up in church again until I was the pastor

...and then you started acting up again!

candy said...

Our church is such a blessing. The kids are in the sanctuary with parents, and I have not experienced a quieter group elsewhere. I love that our church is reverent and respectful during services.

We visit churches occasionally that are closer to our home, and I get irritated when people saunter in late, and when people converse during the singing time. Gum chewing is also annoying at times.

trogdor said...

Where does "get there on time" rank on this list? I know it's a huge one for my pastor (who occasionally talks about locking the doors once the service starts) and for my wife - which was utterly convicting for me. Why, exactly, did I have trouble getting there on time? Is it too much to ask that we not come rushing in late, and instead get there, settle in, and get prepared to actually worship? What was more important than preparing for church?

It seems like I should treat God with at least as much respect as my employer (Mal 1) - and habitually showing up late and distracted doesn't seem like it would cut it at work.

DJP said...

Yes, indeed that's a good one too.

threegirldad said...

Rachael Starke,

In at least some parts of this fair land, I reckon that the love affair is with chewing more than chewing gum.

Now, social convention and health concerns are all fine and dandy, but at the end of the day, us country folks, well, we're a gonna chew somethin'. It'll either be gum, or it'll be this. You pick.


Rachael Starke said...

3GD -


No wonder the terrorists hate us. :)

P.D. Nelson said...

Dan with regards to your first point I had a pastor that liked to turn up unannounced at homes usually with a very embarrassed elder/deacon in tow. Now I love to have the pastor visit but I would appreciate if he would let people know that he was planning on visiting.

This allows me to remove all distractions and focus on the conversation.

Anonymous said...

Love this Dan. And you're right, for some reason it's easier for a non-pastor or elder to state these obvious things. The noisy kiddies is a real issue in our church. We have a fantastic nursery and workers and kids worship for the slightly older ones, that go almost unused. I think it has to do with the idolization young parents today seem to apply to their children.

A humorous (not at the time) anecdote on these lines. When our oldest was only about 5 (he's 23 now and a senior at TMC, headed for seminary) he was making a lot of noise in church one Sunday. So I gave him the "dad is displeased with your noise" look. To which he replied, loud enough for everyone in the place to hear, "No Dad, don't hit me again!"

David said...

Excellent points, and may I suggest that they be applied to every situation in which you should be giving someone your attention, including casual conversations? It's just good manners, showing respect. How much more so, then, in a formal setting such as a worship service.

neur0n said...

Gentlemen, (ahem)
Please take your hat off in the building.
Thank you.

Jennifer said...

At what age does your "no noise" rule apply? From birth, age 1, 2, 3?

I have two under two and I have been given the "evil eye" when my 6-month old is making happy noises, even if briefly.

Is there consideration for a toddler who is quiet yet won't sit still?

Where's the grace for us parents who are doing the best we can but feel sometimes it would be better to not come than to show up and get the looks from people which say, "Oh, no! Here's comes that family with the children. I hate when they make ANY noise at all."

Connie said...

I'm just now catching up on some blog reading and had to comment on this post.

Regarding the matters of "regulating liquid intake & output", as well as "egress and ingress", I say, "preach it Dan!" :-)

In recent years I've been seriously shocked at the steady stream of humanity coming and going DURING worship services! Yes, there are legitimate needs that may arrise--so by all means please go. But I'm firmly convinced that this is more reflective of our sheer disregard for God's Word and the increasingly CASUAL attitude among professing Christians toward God and worship.

Add to that the contemporary and 'hip' habit (dare I say addiction) of our culture to constantly 'nurse' a tall travel mug of our beloved coffee, chai, or designer bottled water. I greatly enjoy all of those beverages, but can easily live without them long enough to focus my attention on worship. HSAT, I do realize that at times those beverages can be soothing to a sore throat, etc.--but please, can we not 'wean' ourselves once or twice a week for maybe an hour and a half at a time? {rant over} :-)