By Dr. Audrey Davidheiser, Crosswalk.com
Today’s church culture can make it seem like we’re there for professional musicians and twentysomething singers to serenade us with their talents. Some houses of worship go so far as to treat their congregations to twinkling light shows and a fog machine. Others build their pews like theater seats, gently sloping up toward the back.
I can’t blame anyone who mistakes churchgoing for an outing. Like attending a concert.
The thing is, despite superficial similarities between them, these activities cannot be more different.
My grandmother deserves the credit for imparting to me the primacy of church attendance. This prayer warrior sang in the choir and went to church multiple times a week.
Growing up, summers were largely spent with her and my mom’s family in Indonesia.
Some of life’s most memorable moments emerge among mundane activities. It was during a dusty pedicab ride to church—dodging motorcycles and their exhaust, with deafening car honks all around—that my grandmother handed me a pearl of wisdom.
“I don’t want to be late to church because Jesus is already there. I never want to make Him wait for me.”
Here are three eye-openers we experience when there are loud Christians in the service:
1. Loss of Reverence
So much has changed since her confession. My godly grandmother went to be with the Lord almost two decades ago.
I’m not sure it’s still legal for her townsfolk to hail a pedicab.
But because her words have burrowed their way into a corner of my heart, they’ve nestled there all this time, shaping my attitude of God’s house.
I’m not at church to impress anyone with bling or brand-name outfits.
I’m not there to earn pious points, either.
I’m there because Jesus is there, and since He has won my heart, I want to be where He is.
And because Jesus is Lord, His reign exceeds anything I can name. I shouldn’t pause my praise to chat with fellow pew-sitters about the latest on Harry and Meghan.
When churchgoers chitchat during service, the sustained noise has the unfortunate effect of pulling everyone’s focus away from Jesus.
Which brings me to this question.
Have we, as the body of Christ, strayed so far from Jesus’ identity—that He’s the most majestic Royal there ever was? Scripture hails Jesus as the King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Timothy 6:15, Revelation 17:14, Revelation 19:16), and as such, His presence deserves our utmost respect. King Jesus self-sacrificed while we were still His enemies (Romans 5:8).
So different than every other overlord.
Because how else can we explain the casual way in which we elbow each other—while Jesus is seated on the throne (Psalm 22:3)—and carry on with it, as though interrupting a lovefest for the Prince of life (Acts 3:15, NKJV) were no biggie?
2. Concentrated Presence
Some claim they can commune with God while fishing. Or hiking. The idea being since God is omnipresent, there is no need to seek Him at a special place such as a church service.
True. God is everywhere all at once.
But, as my mom once taught me, we experience more of His presence at church. “When I buy you a new dress,” she instructed my little-girl self, “wear it to church. Show it to Jesus first.”
She was right. There are reasons why the church provides an ideal atmosphere for the Lord to visit.
- The quorum is met: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20).
- Attendees come expecting: “He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things” (Psalm 107:9, ESV).
- Praise prevails (Psalm 100:4).
In other words, God’s supernatural presence falls when congregants come hungry, latching their minds on nothing but Jesus, lips letting loose songs of praise.
That kind of atmosphere is the birthplace of miracles—of healed diseases and restored marriages and renewed hope.
(I’ve been in church services where a woman hollered so loud the pastor asked her to explain. It turns out God healed her eyes so she could now see. Others glorified God for healing them from arthritis, cancer, back pain, and many different ailments. Suicidal people abandoned their earlier plan to kill themselves.)
When I find myself in such an atmosphere, I don’t want to miss anything.
When I find loud Christians in such an atmosphere, I don’t want them to miss anything, either. The Lord commands me to love them like myself (Mark 12:31). Since I strive to absorb as much from the Lord as I can, I’d like the same for them.
To escape the loud group behind me, I scooted to several rows behind the commotion—only to acquire an unobstructed view of these churchgoers’ phones clutched in their hands.
My spirit sinks. Often it is smartphones—not the minister’s sermon—that captivate our attention.
But why do you need to watch a movie clip at church?
A sage saying of Jesus from Matthew 26:11 comes to mind, paraphrased for context: “You will always have YouTube, but you will not always have Me.”
3. An Open Invitation
Please hear me. I respect that these people come to church in person. Ever since the body of Christ learned to lean on live streams to survive the pandemic, some seem to loathe returning to church in the flesh, even though technology can’t fully transmit everything that happens in vivo.
So, thumbs up to all who can make it to church in person.
But if you’re willing to go to the trouble of swapping PJs for your Sunday best and guzzling up your car (despite today’s inflated prices), then why would you arrive at church only to eyeball your smartphone during service?
Isn’t that like reserving a table at a Michelin-starred restaurant only to nibble on the leftover casserole you smuggled from home?
I imagine someone responding with a reference to multitasking. Can’t you listen to a sermon and also watch a movie?
Not really. The concept may seem convenient for our too-busy culture, but multitasking doesn’t work—not when the tasks utilize complex mental faculties.
What we deem to be multitasking is, in actuality, switching our attention back and forth. But because God crafted our brains to focus on one thing at a time, going from one task to another to yet another will make it more likely for us to miss important elements.
It’s like another one of Jesus’ sayings, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24).
Translation: At first, you might seem to juggle both the sermon and movie just fine. However, as time goes on, you’ll either be devoted to the sermon and ignore the movie or the other way around.
I don’t aspire to plant a stumbling block on anyone’s path. So, if you disagree with anything I say, let’s connect. I want to hear your response to my observations.
God warns us against ditching fellowshipping (Hebrews 10:25) because this is how we sharpen our mutual faith. To quote Paul, “When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours” (Romans 1:12, NLT).
I’m convinced Paul didn’t mean for us to engage in this mutual encouragement during church.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Kadirdemir
Audrey Davidheiser, PhD is a California licensed psychologist, certified Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapist, and IFSI-approved clinical consultant. After founding and directing a counseling center for the Los Angeles Dream Center, she now devotes her practice to survivors of trauma—including spiritual abuse. If you need her advice, visit her on www.aimforbreakthrough.com