by Stan Mitchell
You may know her as “Miss Manners.” Her real name is Judith Martin. She is an American journalist and author. She has been offering advice on etiquette for decades for all kinds of situations – how to behave at an office party, how to write a “thank you” note, how to behave toward an employer and so on.
For those of us who lack a little civilization, her advice is unfailingly reasonable and helpful. She addresses her questioners with her unfailing good manners as “Gentle Reader.”
I am not aware of a “Miss Manners” manual on worship. If she has one, that would make very interesting reading.
It seems to me that there are two areas where behavior in worship should be considered. The first is the behavior that God requires. That, of course, is by a galaxy the most important.
God calls on us to be respectful in his presence:
“O come let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our maker” (Psalm 95:6, ESV).
We should worship in humility before him:
“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).
If we are truly in the presence of the incomparably great God, nothing short of the profoundest respect is in order.
There is a second consideration, however. How does our behavior affect those around us? If we are to be reverent before God, is there a case for our being considerate toward each other?
I believe there is. I do not mean to offend, but perhaps make us think. So here Goes: Gentle Reader:
* I am thrilled that your children are in worship with us. There is no place I would rather them be. When they begin to cry, or act up, most of us are understanding. They are kids. Please, however, take them as quickly as you can to the cry room (most every church has one).
* If they are old enough to know better, however, make sure that being out of worship is less pleasant for them than being in worship. Draw your own conclusions here. I imagine the typical four year-old would prefer to play on the nursery floor with toys than sit in worship. Please don’t let them learn the valuable lesson that acting out brings the pleasure of play.
* Bring them back in to worship when they have settled down. This is necessary training.
* Please do not carry on a conversation continually during worship. It distracts those who are trying to honor God, it teaches our children the wrong lesson and it discourages those who lead in worship.
* Please consult your ipad or iphone only for purposes of looking up and reading scripture. Turn the ring off. When you have forgotten to do this, find the phone quickly and turn it off. Please never answer it! (You would think this does not need to be said, but apparently not.).
* When the sermon is being delivered, listen, participate, look up scriptures, take notes.
* The Lord’s Supper is not valuable checkbook balancing time. It is a precious moment of communion with God and each other.
* Sing the songs, whether they are your favorite or not. That song you don’t particularly like might be the one that inspires and nourishes your sister in Christ. Allow her to benefit from it by singing.
* When the preacher begins to wind his message down and it is clear the invitation is coming soon, please do not loudly close your Bible, zip the cover, or reach for the hymnbook in the shelf. Your brother in Christ the preacher is trying to salvage a lost soul, bring a sinner back, to affect his eternal destiny. He is closing the deal. Lay your Bible ever so gently in the pew and wait for him to complete the task.
* Afterwards, please pick up gum wrappers, Cheerios and so on. While most congregations have a custodian, it is still nice to have the building in the evening look as fresh and clean for visitors as it did in the morning, and it is considerate toward the custodian who is, after all, not your personal slave but a brother in Christ.
Remember Paul’s declaration that “love is not rude” (1 Corinthians 13:5). That means that love is considerate, mannerly and thoughtful toward others.
Dear Reader, thank you.