One of the unavoidable realities of corporate worship in this world is distraction. Our minds are already prone to wander completely apart from anything happening around us in that room. But anyone who’s been in church for more than a few minutes knows there are always more things going on than we can ignore. Unruly children, unresolved conflict, uninhibited personalities, untalented singers, unsilenced technology, and an unending list of other disturbances.
If you’re like me, those moments can be a real challenge. After all, I’ve come here to meet God, to hear from him and offer my worship to him. The movement, tensions, and noises are keeping me from him, right? They’re stealing my attention in some of the most precious minutes of the week. Distractions in church can quickly give rise to impatience, irritation,exasperation, and even anger.
Five Ways to Worship in the Wild
But I wonder if we’ve missed the point of the wildness in corporate worship. Yes, God mainly wants to speak to us through his word, but what if he has other things to say in less grammatical, less authoritative ways? What if God wants these unwanted distractions to show us more of himself and more about what it means to love his children than we could see alone at home with our Bibles?
Here are five ways God might just bless and inspire your worship in the wild, where you're really not sure what might happen next.
1. Screaming Babies or Unruly Infants
Any church with young families knows well the cries of new life. The little ones that are so adorable and beautiful before and after a service can temporarily become annoying or inconvenient when they speak up during the announcements or a sermon. But this is new life. If we realize what’s happening — a new human being added to our church family, a future man or woman, potentially a husband and father or a wife and mother — we would have every reason to be blown away by our creating God, rejoice in the gift of this baby girl or boy, and bear patiently with this screaming image-in-process.
2. Bad Singing
Some of you are this person, and you know it. Some of you are married to this person. Some of you sit a couple pews away from this person week after week. You’ve thought about a move, but that’s too big of a statement in a small church. Some people simply can’t sing very well. Despite the beautifully good heart, the ensuing sound would make more sense in the local zoo than the church's choir.
We’ve all been commanded to sing (Psalm 47:6–7), but we’ve not been equally gifted for it. The miracle, though, is that any of us, who once dead in our sin, would sing to our God at all. Each of us was made to image and worship God, but we all turned away from him, offended him, and earned his wrath. But God overwhelmed our rebellion to win our worship through Jesus.
Our hearts will always and only find their greatest satisfaction in God. That’s what worshipis. Our hymns and songs give voice to that happiness. God is not listening for pitch, but for heart in worship. Anyone singing to any tune, in any octave, with whatever rhythm to God is a stunning, miraculous, wonderful thing. We should be developing an attitude that rejoices in all the voices that are lifted to make much of him.
This may not be a typical Sunday experience for you, but lots of families in our churches are living with the realities of mental or physical disabilities. For sure, disabilities are not always a distraction in worship. Most of the time they are not. In some cases, though, a person may shout or groan or act in ways they can’t control, and it will cause a scene.
We believe disabilities are not an accident, punishment, or curse. They are suffering designed by God to unveil his surpassing worth and glory (John 9:3). It is especially important that disabled people — often so rejected in the rest of the world — feel welcome and loved in the family of God. By caring for them and their families, we declare the good news that any disability accompanied with faith in Jesus promises an eternity of health and happiness. This temporary strain is a means to prepare us all for God. Let the unexpected noises or activity remind you of the glorious purpose God has given these cherished children for the sake of the whole church.
4. Bad Musicians
Similar to singing, sometimes there are really bad musicians on our worship teams. Let’s face it, some people “learned” guitar or bass or drums for the sole purpose of serving on Sunday morning. And they’re bad. They’re untrained, inexperienced, and unmusical.
But whether a musician is gifted or not, simply by standing up there, they’re communicating a desire to serve and worship. They’re setting aside lots of time and energy and maybe much pride to try to play an instrument so that they’re family and friends can sing to their God. For some, it’s an unusually humble sacrifice. It should make us ask if we’re willing to go outside our comfort zones — where we might fail or embarrass ourselves — for the sake of the church's worship.
5. Even Cell Phones
Nobody wants his or her cell phone to ring in church. No one wants to interrupt corporate worship to introduce a couple hundred people to their latest ringtone. It’s happened to many of us and is almost always unintentional and embarrassing. So if the phone ringing threatens our attentiveness and engagement in worship, think about how it affects the poor offender. Between the surprise, guilt, and glares, they may not recover that morning.
Take that brief inconvenient moment to pray for them — and the rest of those around you — that their mind's attention and heart's affection would be preserved for and stirred toward worship despite the distraction. Satan would love for that stupid cell phone to undo the important work God is doing through his word and the fellowship of his people. We can spoil his evil desires for us by silencing our sinful inclinations toward pride, irritation, or judgment, and instead praying for our brothers and sisters in worship.
Love Limits and Embraces Distractions
It needs to be said that our moments together on Sunday morning are sacred and precious. We ought to do everything we can to make the most of those minutes and help others do the same. This will mean striving for excellence when we serve, not talking during the sermon, monitoring our children’s behavior and noise level, silencing our phones, and a hundred other loving courtesies.
But distractions will come, and far from being undone by them, God might mean for us to see them as unexpected opportunities to go deeper in worship. He may mean for us to worship him in ways that weren’t written into the worship order, ways that lovingly honor others and so give him greater glory.