Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Not Here, Not Now, Here’s Why

But all things should be done decently and in order.
(1 Corinthians 14:40 – ESV)

One Sunday morning during the worship service, in the back row were a couple of young people, he was 16, she 14, and they were being distracted by one another. You see, they had decided they were a couple during the previous week at our church related summer camp. Not that we didn’t notice them always seeming to end up near each other, but during camp we can control that to an extent, and it isn’t as distracting as it would be in a church setting. Now, here they were, in church, sort of looking at each other, sitting next to each other, and talking, albeit quietly to each other.

Now this sort of thing is not necessarily bad in itself. What are we to say, that young people cannot even talk to the opposite gender until they are adults, or that they cannot begin to experience what these feelings are like and what they are for? No, that isn’t the right way, they need to begin to learn to process these sorts of things, and they must learn the ways of relating rightly to members of the opposite sex. Part of that has to do with learning when and where certain things are appropriate.

Of course, certain things are never appropriate for an unmarried couple, and certain things won’t be appropriate for teenagers, either. But the item in question here has to do with anyone, including married couples. So listen up.

You see the worship service is a sacred event, here God’s people gather together in community to sing praises, listen to God’s Word preached, and fellowship with one another in exhortation and edification. Within that context, and during the preaching especially, public displays of affection are not warranted. They are distracting to others, and they take the focus off of where it should be, and put it on one another, when we should be focusing on Christ and the Word of God as it is preached.

I had begun to preach, when this drama began to play itself out. Now I knew both of these kids, and they loved and respected me, as I did them. I began to speak about them and they didn’t even realize it, which was my cue, of course. I walked slowly from the pulpit and down the aisle, all the while continuing, not in an ugly way, but in a “aren’t you hearing me yet” sort of tone. When I had I nearly reached the back, they realized what was going on.

I simply told them, yes, loud enough for everyone else to hear, that I wasn’t mad at them, but that I needed them to separate for the rest of the service, and the boy would sit two rows up in front of her. They complied, and I walked back to the pulpit. I stated again that I wasn’t mad at either of them, and asked the congregation if they thought I was wrong, or if anyone had a problem with this, and that sort of thing. No one replied. That was the end of that.

The young man went to the bathroom later for a little while, but he did come back, and there was no more trouble, and they actually didn’t have too long of faces, mad looking, or anything like that. There was no more distraction, and everyone got into the message as usual.

Afterward, several adults came to me and thanked me for what I had done. Some said they wished others could understand that when we don’t do anything about issues like this there is no wonder they continue to learn disrespect. I agreed, and in talking with one of the men we realized something, that the event matched the sermon as an object lesson.

Now is when a pastor must move as the Spirit is directing; it was another one of these “teachable moments” that pastors must be ready to use whenever there is a chance. These type of things, when they come along, are one of the most effective training tools and lasting memories that you will have in your arsenal.

You see, Providentially, I was preaching on the Christian conception of God being the highest, from Romans 3:25-26. I explained to everyone I talked to after the service that sure, we needed to do something, but not out of respect for me, but out of respect for God, for church, for community, and for those kids. Our God takes sin so seriously because His holiness is so exalted. When we concentrate on His perfections He begins to perfect us. When we lower our regard for Him our lives are lowered, and our children’s are as well. When we devalue what God values, we devalue God in the eyes of those in our care.

We as Christian’s place the most value in our God, and God has ordained the worship service, and so it is very important. If we were to let this thing go on, then we are teaching our kids, and everyone else for that matter, that the worship service is not as important as it is. We downgrade its value, and our valuing of it to the eyes of those kids, and so God is downgraded in their eyes, and so we are downgraded, and their behavior is therefore downgraded. Can you see that?

I talked with several more parents about this and they got the message. I then went to the fellowship hall, as we were having a dinner after service, and talked to the kids in question, and told them this very thing. I explained how I did this out of concern for them, that they need to know how important I think this is, how much value God, and therefore I, place on the worship service, and why we had to do this “calling them out” thing.

I told them I knew for a fact that they were not consciously disrespecting me, I was more concerned about what I was teaching them about how much I value or don’t value what we do in church on Sunday. If I didn’t do anything, then I am saying it really isn’t that big of a deal, and that it really doesn’t matter. But it does, and I hoped that one day they would thank me as all the adults had, that they could grow and understand why this is such a big deal. It wasn’t that being together was all that wrong or that they hurt my personal feelings, it wasn’t about them and it wasn’t about me, it was about God. God considers the worship event a big deal, and this wasn’t the proper place for them to do the things they were doing.

Other adults spoke to other kids of the same thing, and many questions were answered. The two realized that they had become an object lesson from the sermon, that even though they didn’t initially realize it, they were devaluing God, and that I was right to do something, right toward God, and right toward them. I told them that I loved them, and that if perhaps one day they did stay together and I was looking at them in the middle, you know, in a marriage ceremony, that they would remember this as an important part of their lives, and we would all be thankful to God it happened, all of it. They really did “get it”, they weren’t mad at all, and the other kids all seemed to realize something that day.

That night, the boy’s family and my wife and I went out to dinner and had a grand old time, laughing and carrying on as if nothing had ever happened. In reality, the only thing that happened to all of us was mature growth. That is why we all have a role to play in each other’s spiritual growth, even when we are the ones who did the bad thing. Don’t let them off the hook; you’re just letting them down. Keep their worth high by keeping God’s worth high.

Right here, right now, that’s why.


donsands said...

It's all about God. It's all about Christ, because He is worthy.

JD, your such a fine pastor. And your fear of the Lord over man is a great testimony, and encouraging.

Anonymous said...

Pastor-Shepherd Hatfield -

Thank you for the way you love and take care of your sheep! Baaaaa

Taliesin said...


I think this is something positive for the spiritual growth of these kids and your congregation. May God continue to give you boldness and a gentle spirit.

Even So... said...

Yeah, it was one of those situations that could have gone wrong any number of ways, but God took it and used it for His glory, and the growth of His children, both young and old...

Praise His Name!

Garry Weaver said...

I think you handled that very well.
I find that one of my most difficult tasks, is to get my people to understand that when we come together for congregational worship, that we have come into the very presence of God. That we shouldn't say anything, sing anything, do anything or even think anything that is unworthy of Him.When I say that, they agree, but many (most?) of them don't really understand. I think that is why your object lesson was so important.

May God continue to use you to not only preach the truth, but demonstrate the truth.

Even So... said...

Thanks Garry...yes, it is an ongoing thing, isn't it?...

jazzycat said...

Great example of not just talking about discipline, but carrying it out with love.

Marcian said...

I am very glad to hear that this kind of "shepherding" continues to happen, and I hope it continues until the Lord returns. Discipline and correction are so important. When it isn't carried out, many wrong turns can be taken. Discipline IS love. To not do so would be deceptive, and deceit is unloving. I thought about this much this weekend as I was vacationing with my boss's family. They have two young children, and I watched how they guided them and disciplined them, and felt like there was much lacking, perhaps to keep things as "smooth" as possible at the present moment. It made me reflect on how and why I would discipline my own children, and what short-term "inconveniences" I would have to bear for long-term results. Having someone in your charge (and for you, a whole congregation) isn't any small matter.

Jim said...

JD, that is very encouraging to hear, keep up the godly posts.

Daniel said...

JD - dude. You did right. ;-)

Kim said...

You are a parent's dream! I think that was just a great way to handle things.

My daughter has a "special friend" who often sits with us during services, but he takes notes during the sermon to keep himself focused on the sermon. One of my daughter's girlfriends once began sending notes to our daughter during the service, and afterward, I told my daughter that if the friend didn't stop doing it, I'd tell her to stop doing it.

Even So... said...

Thanks for the support...we must all come together in community and let our young people know they aren't alone, we are there to help guide them through the maze of extraordinary feelings and circumstances they are in and going through...we should be doing this for all those of all ages in our church family...oh, and BTW, just one more reson we MUST be connected to a local church....

Callmeteem said...

Thank you for that lesson. I'm touched and encouraged.
You clearly love your people.

Halfmom said...

Thanks for taking a stand - it makes youth leaders everywhere stand up and cheer. In fact, my 23yr old daughter has been helping out in Sr High at our church this summer and such behavior in Sunday School and Youth group is very discouraging for her. It is always wonder to see or hear of male leadership taking its appropriate role and how much easier for your youth leaders to say, now what did Pastor JD remind us about.... rather than always being the "bad guys" themselves - Preach on to all of us about the holiness of God and the reverence He requires.

Sista Cala said...

This post took me back, waaayyy back. I never had the particular problem of PDA, but talking and note passing was right up my alley.
My pastor then was an old man (I thought) and very forthright. He didn't even hint around. He would just end the sentence, say, "young man" or "young lady", "you need to be quiet and listen to the Word."
It only took once for me. My mother switched me good after church; and I believe I was 15 at the time. For a long time afterwards I voluntarily sat w/my granny. I knew I would not be tempted in anyway to disturb the service.