Wednesday, June 30, 2010

More on Distractions in Church

I certainly don't expect every church to function the way that our church functions. Every culture, every community, every target group is different, and therefore, every church should decide for for herself the best way to "do church". My thoughts and opinions come out of my own experiences, come from the purpose, vision and strategy of my own church.

"You're welcome at our church."

"You're not welcome to cause a distraction to others when you have the ability and maturity to control said distraction."

At NHC, these are two things that we communicate to people, both in word and action. We believe that these two statements are not contradictory. We believe that these two statements better allow us to fulfill our purpose as a church, to reach people to discover life in Christ.

We also believe that there is a HUGE difference between parents who don't care about the distraction they are allowing and those people who come to church because they want to know God but may cause a distraction to others because of their natural tendencies. There will always be something that could be a distraction to me during a church worship service. The lady behind me sings off-pitch, the guys beside me smells funny, the couple in front of me plays footsies. But, it's my responsibility to not allow the natural distractions around me to keep me from worshipping God.

But, it is also my responsibility to be aware of my own naturally distracting habits. I like to bounce my legs when I sit, I like to fiddle with things in my hands when I'm listening, I like to move when I sing. However, corporate worship is not about me...corporate worship is about US giving worship to GOD, and I realize that simply doing what I want to do (bouncing my legs, etc.) can be a hindrance to the worship of those around me.

On Sunday mornings, I want my worship to be pleasing to God AND unifying to those around me. This means that I've got to be willing to lay aside my personal preferences and attempt to subdue my naturally annoying habits so that I don't distract others in worship. I certainly hope that those around me do the same, but I also realize that the people around me represent the spectrum of the spiritual journey...those who are maybe in church and hearing about God for the first time, and those who have known God intimately for many years...other people may not always smell, or look or act in a way that I find pleasing, but again, I can't allow that to distract me from worship.

But, as a church leader, it is also my responsibility to address those who choose to be or allow a distraction that prohibits others from worshipping. Whether we want to admit it or not, there are distractions in church that are impossible to ignore. Children, to continue to use the example I wrote about before, are not a distraction. Noisy, energetic, unattended, ill-mannered children CAN be an unignorable distraction.

We seek to be proactive in avoiding any possible distractions in worship. We make our nursery and kids church highly visible to everyone who enters our building. We have greeters who target young families and inform them of the options for their children. We invite young families to sit near the back of our auditorium so that they can limit any distractions their children might cause, and so that they can exit easily if necessary. We inform families with young children early in the service that many of the topics we discuss on Sunday morning are sensitive issues (sex, addiction, etc.) and give them one last shot to make use of our Kids Zone.

Nobody looks down on any family who chooses to bring their children into the auditorium. Nobody gives them a guilt trip. We have never had a family communicate anything but appreciation for our commitment to helping their entire family worship God.

And, when a child (or anything for that matter) becomes an ignorable distraction during a service, our ushers quietly invite their parents to follow them to the lobby where the parents can allow their kids to vent some energy AND still listen to the service. We have never once had a family refuse to exit the auditorium OR become upset with us that we asked them to exit.

In fact, just this past Sunday, one of our ushers did just that, and ended up having a long conversation with the family. They are new to our area and were checking out our church for the first time. He gave them a tour of our building and our Kids Zone and explained to them why family is so important to NHC.

Bottom line...they felt welcomed and valued. Those still in the auditorium also felt welcomed and valued (as did our preacher). Our usher made a much deeper connection with this family than he ever would have if he had not invited them into the lobby. And, their kids were able to see what they were missing in our Kids Zone.

Again, there are many different ways that we can worship God in a corporate setting. And, at NHC, there are many opportunities for parents and children to worship God together, far beyond Sunday morning. But, for our church, Sunday morning worship in our auditorium is targeted at adults who are seeking to learn more about God and grow in Him. Any kind of ignorable distraction simply prohibits that from taking place.

You might think that we're unwelcoming and unfriendly to families, but until you understand our strategy from an experiential point of view, it's hard to make that call. I'd love to discuss this further with anyone, which is why I wrote this second post.



Working with students is incredibly fun, and incredibly challenging. Not that us adults are perfect, but one of the biggest frustrations I've dealt with in working with students in the lack of commitment. Although they might be passionate about the ministry, the lack of experience and maturity can cause some issues when it comes to making a commitment. Here are some things that I've been trying to teach our students to help them mature in their ability to commit.

1) Consider carefully before making a commitment.

Even if it seems like a simple, menial task, if you've committed to doing it, somebody (more than likely, somebodies) is going to depend on you to get it done, so don't commit to something unless you know for certain (short of a real emergency) that you'll be able to do it.

Before you make a commitment, here are three key factors you should consider:
a) Check your calendar and check your spouse's/parents' calendar. If you don't keep a calendar, you shouldn't be committing to anything.
b) Ask questions and get all of the facts before you commit. Do I know all of the info? What time, energy, preparation will this require of me?
c) Is this something I really want to do? There are times when we SHOULD do things that we don't exactly want to do...BUT, people tend to be much more committed to the things that they sincerely are excited about participating in.

It's OK to say "no" sometimes. It's not OK to stretch yourself thin because you say "yes" to everything...which leads us to our second point.

2) Remember your priorities.

Do you have a list of the priorities in your life? My priority list, starting with the most important, looks something like: God, Family, Friends, Church, etc. If I'm asked to do something that doesn't match up with my priorities, I probably don't need to make that commitment. For example, if I'm asked to do something related to church that forces me to miss out on the quality time I need with my family, I'll want to consider that commitment carefully. If I'm invited to participate in something with my friends that will cause my relationship with God to suffer, that's a commitment I probably shouldn't make.

3) Stick to it.

The definition of "commitment" is: a pledge or promise; and obligation.

I'm not crazy about committing to things that I know I won't enjoy, but sometimes, you've got to do what you've got to do. Even when a commitment becomes an obligation, it's still honoring of God to follow through, with a good attitude. Any commitment you make to another person is a commitment you're making to God. have heard that it was said to the people long ago, "Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord." Simply let your "Yes" be "Yes," and your "No" be "No"; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
Matthew 5:37

There are very few things that will either build up or tear down your reputation and witness than your level of commitment. What you commit to says a whole lot about your priorities, about your character, about your faith. As do the commitments you break.

My favorite people to serve alongside in ministry are not always the people with the prettiest face or the most favorite people are those who I can count on, those people who are dependable.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Question for the Parents

To all parents of young children, I ask you this question:

What is of greater importance to you? That you teach your children to be in church every Sunday, or that you teach your children to love God?

I'm not saying that those two priorities can't coexist. Certainly both are important. But, it is very easy to give church attendance the greater priority and end up with a grown child who neither attends church nor loves God.

Too often at Nags Head Church, I observe parents who refuse to allow their young children to either be cared for by our brilliant nursery staff or be taught by our awesome Kids Zone staff...instead, these parents bring their kids into the worship center with the adults, and, nine times out of ten, neither the children nor the parents (nor any of the others around them) get much of anything out of the worship gathering.

Let's be many kids under the age of 12 do you know who are engaged by 30+ minutes of adult teaching on a Sunday morning? How many parents of those same kids do you know who can sit with their kids in an adult worship setting and stay focused on the message? How many people do you know who enjoy sitting in a worship gathering with a crying child nearby?

I don't know about you, but when I was ten, I couldn't behave myself in an adult worship gathering for more than about fifteen minutes. As a parent of a highly energetic 2.5 year old, there's no way I'd be focused on anything but keeping her entertained and quiet. As an adult, I simply cannot focus on worship when another person's child is unable to contain his/her energy.

Please, understand that I'm not bashing on are kids, and even the most well behaved, well trained children simply cannot engage in a meaningful way with much of what takes place in a Sunday morning, adult worship gathering. And, that's OK. What's not OK is parents who don't seem to understand how selfish it is to force their children into that situation.

From what I've observed, the vast majority of parents would do better for themselves and their kids (and the others attending church) if they would just stay at home and lead their family in their own little worship time than to bring their kids to church and not take advantage of the nursery and kids church that has been provided to them. just doesn't make any sense to me.

My point is this...if your going to take the time to get up on a Sunday morning, get everyone fed and dressed and into the car and onto church, why not actually make it mean something more than a religious ritual? If you're going to make it a priority to teach your children the importance of attending church, why not allow them to attend a worship gathering that is geared for their age group?

If you can't trust other adults to care for and teach your kids for a short period of time, please, stay home this Sunday.
If you can't bear the thought of leaving your child in a nursery or class room for an hour on Sunday morning, please, stay at home this Sunday.
If you think that your young kids are better behaved than that and won't cause a distraction, please, stay at home this Sunday.
If you've convinced yourself that others in church really won't mind if your kids run around the back of the worship center during the sermon, please, stay at home this Sunday.

I love attending my church, and I want my child to love attending my church with me...even more, I want her participation in my church to be something that motivates her to love God. That isn't going to happen if I try and force her to "sit still and be quiet" in "big church" with me.

I want my daughter to be cared for and have fun in the nursery, learning to play with other kids her age. When she's a few years older, I want her to be engaged in authentic worship and taught by adults who have been given the tools and training to help her understand and love God more. And, when she's ready, I want her to join me in an adult setting so that we can worship God together on Sunday morning.

Because, if, at the end of Sunday morning all you can say is, "We attended church", you've truly accomplished nothing more than that.