Distracted Worship

We face a modern worship epidemic. Well-meaning believers gather with their church to worship the Lord, but they are distracted by their smart phones.

Is this a modern dilemma only? John 2:13-25 presents an occasion when Jesus entered the Temple in Jerusalem to worship during the Passover. Upon arrival, He noticed a serious distraction. No smart phones, but trade booths setup throughout the courtyard. Inside the Temple, merchants were selling sacrificial animals, exchanging currencies and collecting taxes.

How did Jesus respond? He grabbed a whip and chased them all away violently. By doing this, He did not condemn the practice of selling sacrificial animals, exchanging currencies or collecting taxes, all of which were necessary practices. But they belonged elsewhere. D.A. Carson observes:

Instead of solemn dignity and the murmur of prayer, there is the bellowing of cattle and the bleating of sheep. Instead of brokenness and contrition, holy adoration and prolonged petition, there is noisy commerce.*

And this draws our attention to the real problem – the money changers were doing their business (collecting taxes, exchanging coins and selling sacrificial animals) inside the Temple itself, and not outside in a separate and appropriate place like the Kidron Valley on the slopes of Mount Olives.

texting in churchSmartphones are not evil, but they can provide a serious distraction to worship. I don’t think we realize how the gravity of this problem. Jesus demands our undistracted worship.

When you worship together with your church family, are you focused on the Lord in wholehearted devotion? Or are you distracted by your smartphone? Like the money changing tables in the Temple, smartphone distraction (texting, emailing, social media and gaming) has no place in focused worship.

If the Lord Himself appeared in person at your next worship service (as He appeared in the Temple on the Passover), you would probably drop you smartphone on the spot. That we give so much attention to our smartphones betrays the fact that we are unaware of the Lord’s spiritual presence in our worship.

Consider these important questions regarding your approach to worship:

  • Do you participate in church worship on a regular basis, or only when you find it convenient?
  • Do you allow anything to distract you from joining your church to worship in the first place?
  • Do you approach your worship to God on the Lord’s Day (and any other church worship gatherings) with an undistracted approach?
  • Do you refrain from conducting business between one another?
  • Do you set aside phone, technology and gaming activities?
  • Do you sing from your heart, with a volume that reflects the nature of the song and the moment of the singing (whether praise or reflection)?
  • Do you disregard your limited talent for music and sing out anyway, since all God wants is a joyful heart?
  • Do you offer redundant prayers and predictable phrases when you pray aloud?
  • Do you pray aloud at all?
  • Do you listen carefully and follow along when you hear others praying?
  • Do you give undivided attention to Scripture reading, teaching and preaching?
  • Do you talk to your fellow believers about things that pertain to worship, focusing on God and what God is doing?
  • Do you express thanks to God and to others?
  • Do you complain about details, like who greets you and who ignores you, who smiles, how long the service goes, what the temperature is like in the auditorium, etc.

worship-modeIf Jesus walked into your next worship service at church, would He grab a whip and chase your smartphone out of the service? Why don’t you turn your cell phone off before you enter your church (and not just put your phone on vibrate). Focus on talking with fellow believers before and after the service, and worship the Lord with all of your heart. Perhaps you can wait until you get back to your home to turn your smartphone on.

And wouldn’t it be nice to have this option in your phone settings?



* The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 178-79.



6 replies
  1. Juan Santiago
    Juan Santiago says:

    We have to go back to the basics – an old fashioned service, no iPads or smart phones to read the Bible.

  2. Loretta Gill
    Loretta Gill says:

    I almost always take sermon notes (which can later be sorted, logged, searched, and retrieved wherever I am much more usefully as my old paper notes could be) on my iPhone (Evernote) and I do worry that people might think I’m momentarily texting or playing a game when I’m actually very much involved in the sermon. For this reason, I don’t use it in a handheld position that would draw the attention of others but rather laying flat on my open Bible as if it were a sheet of paper. I don’t do anything with it that I wouldn’t do with paper and pen. Also, in a church too small for more than one lady working the nursery, texting is how our nursery ladies can get word to a Mom that her little one needs her attention so our Moms leave their phones within eyeshot like Moms in bigger churches do with their baby buzzers. My husband has to keep his phone on when he’s on-call for work, much like firefighters used to have to do wih their pagers. For these reasons, I’m not sure a blanket “turn them off” is going to always work. Technology can be useful but we’ve got to be sure it’s an aide and not a distraction. Even in the old days of taking notes with paper and pen, one had to have discipline to refrain from doodling, scribbling notes to their neighbor, jotting their grocery list… Sermon distractions have always been a challenge and our day of smartphone prevalence very much creates an old problem with a new twist. People still have to be thoughtful about remaining focused and respectful and avoiding behaviors that would distract others. I think your article is a wonderful reminder for us all to review our habits in this area. I appreciate your writing it.

  3. TOvermiller
    TOvermiller says:

    A ‘no cell-phones whatsoever’ policy for every person in church may definitely be too rigid and simplistic. But it sure would be nice! The real issue is whether or not we are worshiping the Lord from an undistracted heart. Furthermore, 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 provides helpful perspective for using personal technology in worship settings. If honest reflection reveals that you can control it, maintaining wholehearted worship to God, and it doesn’t cause another believer to stumble in their wholehearted worship to God, then go for it. Thanks for sharing your real-world perspective!

  4. Loretta Gill
    Loretta Gill says:

    That’s a terrific text to keep in mind on this topic. Thank you so much, Pastor Overmiller. I really appreciate your insight. I’ve also been reading more of your blog entries now that I’ve found your website and I’m very much appreciating your work. Thank you so much for making this available. 🙂

  5. TOvermiller
    TOvermiller says:

    Glad you find the website helpful! If you or your husband have a Bible question you’d like to submit for a post, I welcome your input. Also, if you like audio, you can check out the Shepherd Thoughts podcast. New episodes post to this site and you will learn about them through email. Or, if you prefer, there are more listening options here. God bless you both.

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *