Struggling with distractions in worship
Distractions are real when it comes to worship. They are one of our biggest struggles. One of the people who shared their struggles with me in a survey about worship last month said that one of their biggest distractions in worship was people using their phones - the lights from them and that they were the centre of focus. It reminded me of one prayer meeting I had attended in the States - I was shocked (and distracted!) to see all these leaders staring at their phones during worship until Mark informed me that they had an app they were all using with the words to the songs!
On Monday night we had worship practice as we do many a Monday night. During October, as part of our worship-focused month we have been spending time worshipping together (as opposed to learning new songs, hearing teaching about worship or discussing worship ‘issues’.) Monday night one of the team had brought their family along. We had discussed this month being more open and allowing others to join us if they wanted to, so this wasn’t inappropriate. But there was an inconvenience: the children the team member had brought along were young and distracting. Super distracting. They started off playing in the garden outside but then proceeded to shout through the window to get attention. The parents spent time attending to them and for a good half an hour they were calm and then distracting again. After a while they were brought into the room and in their own way they began to worship too. It was a mixture of engaging then being silly. I have children who I know have been distracting at times, and we have a general policy of including children as much as possible in our prayer and worship times, but I wasn’t comfortable with it this time to be honest (probably because I wasn’t expecting it). At the same time, however, I didn’t want them to just be removed from the room - I wanted them to be included and welcome.
There are some helpful ways we have found to minimize (notice the word ‘minimize’, not ‘eliminate’ here!) disturbance from young children in our community during worship evenings:
- having pens and paper available for them to draw with,
- a box of toys,
- musical instruments,
- ribbons etc
but no such provisions had been made on this unexpected occasion. Recognizing it was not the time right then to suggest ways to help the children engage / not be so much of a distraction, I started instead to be thankful. I started thanking God for these children and for the unique ways they worshipped God. I started to thank Him that children were welcome in our community and for God to help me to worship Him with these distractions.
Reading Richard Forster’s Celebration of Discipline this morning, I saw that thankfulness was also his suggestion for dealing with distractions:
At the end of that worship time we all shared reflections and another member of the team spoke up. Knowing him, I imagine he had also struggled with the distractions during the evening but he didn’t show it in what he said. Instead he said:
‘I love how the children engaged with worship by using their shirts as flags. That was a beautiful way to worship God and I loved seeing them do that!’
Thankfulness conquered the distractions and ultimately God was worshipped. Not as we had imagined perhaps, but still worship.
I want to leave the article here, but I know if I do that some people will comment or at least think something to the vain of: ‘sure there are daily distractions but some things actually need to be dealt with not just ignored or absorbed with thankfulness’. And that is of course true. Daily distractions (people who are coming in late or children being children) are one thing which can be prepared for and managed to a certain degree - I will have pens and paper ready for the next worship session with those particular children aforementioned!), but then there are also unexpected interruptions. What about those? Well a healthy mixture of discernment and patience and understanding is usually needed, also known as prayer and thankfulness. Often we just don’t know how to respond when a person we want to feel welcome is super distracting or if a child is fussing. There isn’t a one-size fits all solution except to pray and ask God to still our hearts and give us discernment in how to respond, and thankfulness to diffuse the potential stress of the situation.
Finally I want to say to parents with children - your children are probably much more distracting to you than to other people. Of all the people I surveyed in September on worship, no one said they were distracted by other people’ children more than ‘rarely’ and it was more likely that people were distracted by their own children than others' children. Whilst we of course want to be considerate, I think we can relax more than we tend to think we can! And you never know, your children might be God’s way of teaching other people patience and thankfulness!
Would you like some ideas to help you meet with God this week? I have put together a short guide with 8 ways to connect with God in 10 minutes or less. Many of these ideas can be adapted for use with children too! Just click the image below for your copy!