Following a couple of reported incidents recently, in one of them a young man with cerebal palsy was asked to leave a service and sit in the creche room, because his uncontrolled “Amen” was putting people off their worship, the US publication “Christianity Today” asked for church leader’s views on this.
A few took the line that they try to preserve a calm, peaceful atmosphere at all times, so hive groups like children and young people off into other venues, so as to preserve the atmosphere for people to concentrate on the preaching of the Word.
I was please to also read a few more theologically and humanly balanced pieces from people who saw the bigger picture, from God’s perspective, as it were:
“I’m all for good manners—I shush my kids like crazy during church. And I’m all for cry rooms and church nursery and children’s church. But churches that put a ton of energy into avoiding disruptions at all costs bug me. Partly because I’m not sure God cares all that much about disruptions (he has a long history of disrupting things himself). But also because I think God’s more concerned with us welcoming folks into his house—and extending love and grace—than he is about making sure people mind their p’s and q’s perfectly while they’re there. It seems these churches we hear about that shuttle disrupters out of a service care more about the comfort of the people in the pews than they do about the glory of God.”
“People shouldn’t be viewed as disruptions. Disrupting moments provide opportunities to demonstrate patience and gentleness. People must be treated with dignity and respect. How leaders respond in the moment can speak louder than any prepared sermon. We must learn to navigate the fine nuances between discouragement, distraction, disruption, and danger in a service.”
Mark DeYmaz, directional leader, Mosaic Church
“Usually disruptions in services are regarded as coming from children. I really appreciate churches that regard the typical children noise as holy noise. One church I visited has taken cries of a child and said to the congregation, ‘Turn that cry into a prayer that you’re praying for the underserved people of the world whose needs are not being met.’ But if a disturbance comes from someone in a tantrum, a child is having a tantrum, then I think that child needs to be removed from the service so that child is not embarrassed by their out-of-control behavior. So it depends on the nature of the disturbance, but to say there should be no disturbances in a worship service creates a very Western, cognitive-oriented worship service. Holy noise that is even sometimes distracting can be a great, beautiful sound to our God.”
Scottie May, associate professor, Wheaton College
“The apostle Paul insisted that worship be done ‘decently and in order,’ because God is a God of order. In the context of his rebuke of the Corinthian church’s practice of communion (1 Corinthians 11), he is particularly upset with the narcissistic attitude of those who attend the agape meal thinking only of themselves (e.g., cutting to the front of the buffet line, showing up drunk). I suspect he would say much the same to many of our contemporary churches that have taken their cues from modernism’s emphasis on the individual to the point that, with capitalistic salesmanship, we encourage folks to seek out their preferred style of worship and their favorite preacher in the same manner in which they scour the grocery aisle for their favorite brand of cereal. So it’s no wonder that some find their preferences upset by a child with special needs (who actually may have been the visitation of Christ among them, a la Matthew 25), or show up and leave when they want based on musical tastes. The willingness to be shaped by a community into which God has called us—to be formed into Christ’s likeness by folks we’d not have chosen to be with if it had been up to us—is lacking in the lives of those whose preferences in worship are disturbed by their preferences. And that is what seems to have happened at Elevation Church and NewSpring. So when Jesus shows up with cerebral palsy, let him stay; and insist that the folks around him stay with him, even if the preacher or the music isn’t to their liking (unless, of course, they’re hemorrhaging or the building is on fire), because disruptions due to individualistic preferences (such as getting up in the middle of worship to get a latte) are precisely the kinds of actions that Paul reprimands in Corinth.”
Dennis Okholm, professor of theology, Azusa Pacific University