Thursday, March 16, 2006

Ah, the Life of the Preacher

As a teenager, I often spent church services in the back (overflow) of the sanctuary goofing off. Some of the antics I remember particularly included cooperative drawings (where one person begins a picture and the next person continues it -- ours always included at least one snake and various weaponry), writing the names (and logos) of every heavy metal band we could think of on the backs of the "friendship cards," hymnal warfare, and silly singing of the hymns (usually BobDylan and Willie Nelson would make appearances, but if you sang in falsetto, everyone else was permitted, even encouraged, to pummel you until you stopped). I won't even get into the "Jim Shoes" "friendship card" here, or the time someone brought a lighter...

Excepting the "Jim Shoes" incident, I was never called out from the pulpit. In fact, I can't remember seeing or hearing anyone called out directly from the pulpit (though when I was visiting friends at Chapel Hill, John read a "letter" about the teenagers in the back). I can remember parents coming out of the choir loft to respond to their children, but I can't remember a preacher directly singling out anyone for reprimand from the pulpit...

Until last night. And I was that preacher.

For Lent, we share Wednesday night services with the other church in town -- one week (last week) we host and Pastor Dave preaches, and the other week (yesterday) they host and I preach. I was partially through my sermon on fasting (I was going through what fasting isn't: that it's not a diet, that it's not a holy hunger strike, and that it's not just a hypocritical religious exercise), and these two boys were completely distracting me. What's worse: they were in the confirmation class, so they were (by requirement) sitting up front. I'd had a frustrating day on Tuesday and had a hard time getting myself mentally and spiritually prepared for this service, so I'm sure that contributed to what happened, but anyway, these two guys had been cutting up the whole service and they were annoying the people in front of them (including the wet willie I saw) and distracting everyone around... me included.

So I stopped, mid-sentance, I think, and I said to them something along the lines of Come on guys; you're distracting everyone. You're old enough to know better than what you're doing. You're completely distracting me and that cannot continue. I don't remember exactly what I said, but I said the same thing I would have said had we been in a youth group meeting and they'd been acting as they were.

It did the trick; they didn't so much as move the rest of the service. After the service Pastor Dave brought them up and made them apologize to me. Their confirmation teacher apologized to me and thanked me (I didn't blame her one bit for their behavior). I told the boys that I realize that it's tough to sit through confirmation class and then a service where it doesn't seem like things are relevant to them, but their job, especially as confirmands, is to pay attention and try to find out what does apply and how it does. And to come up with great questions to ask the preacher.

Later I had many people tell me that these two have been causing trouble together for years. That they have given their entire class a bad name, that they've been the reason for some not returning to teach VBS, and so forth. Everyone seemed glad that I did what I did (and the one boy's dad, who also apologized to me for his son's behavior, also reminded his son, "You've still got to go home after this..." I know that in my house, that would have been worse than any apology I had to write or give).

It's all in the life of the preacher, I guess. I was just glad that my youth ministry instincts kicked in.


nate said...


Excellent. I done similar things in youth group and in my youth worship service. One thing i have done is just stop, then when i have their attention i ask if there is something more important we need to be discussing other than the word of God.

I have also (when a crowd is particularly rambuctious) gone off on my famous, "then, when the aliens flew out of my butt and began sucking the brains out of..." That tends to bring them back too.

I actually did that at a youth ministers meeting when none of the leaders in the room were paying attention to my proposal, and it went on longer than I had ever gone on before. i had to start making stuff up on the spot. Funny but very frustrating.

Brian Eberly said...

Way to go! Once a youth pastor...always a youth pastor!

Big Mama said...

Not that you SHOULDN'T have been reprimanded from the pulpit! I once was and felt, besides being very embarrassed, somewhat pleased that someone cared enough to reprimand me. BUT I never, ever did it again! I do think Jim Schooze does need to be mentioned here though.

lisa said...

When confronted at the deli today and asked if "my pastor always did that" I (innocently) asked, "did what?" "Discipline kids in the middle of the sermon" I answered, "I don't know, we don't have kids that behave like that during church."