About 10 years ago, I was sitting in church on a Sunday morning. I was using the Bible app on my phone to follow the preacher, when a voice beside me asked: “Why did you bring your phone to church?” When I turned I saw an older man, old enough to be my father. So I politely told him that using a phone was more convenient. It enabled me to flip between different Bible translations and even read commentaries as the service was going on. He replied: “Your phone will distract you, don’t bring it to church”. So I smiled, mumbled something inaudible, and the conversation ended.
However, after that conversation, I started to notice Sunday after Sunday that my neighbour was right. I was distracted when I had my phone in church. A notification would grab my attention and I would click on it. Five minutes later I came down from the clouds and returned my attention to the sermon. Becoming aware of this, I started to look out for what people were doing on their phones during service. And, more often than not, they were not reading the Bible. They were doing things that had nothing to do with the service they were supposedly attending.
Bible apps were primarily designed for personal Bible study, not for Sunday morning services.
The truth is Bible apps were primarily designed for personal Bible study, not for Sunday morning services. These apps are created to produce a deep absorption experience, drawing you in with beautiful graphics and study guides. However, in church, your focus is meant to be on the speaker in front of you.
So I decided to listen to my wise neighbour and I stopped taking my phone to church. It has now been 10 years of phone free church attendance. In this article I want to explain to you why this has probably been the most profitable spiritual decision I have made in the last decade. “Spiritual decision” you say? Let me give you the three reasons why I can make this claim.
1. Your Phone is Hungry for Your Attention
We Protestants rightfully regard the Sunday service as the spiritual highlight of the week. It is when we all come together as a church family to worship God together in song, word, and deed. It is so important an occasion that typically the preacher would have spent most of the week preparing a message requiring only 40 minutes to deliver.
One of my favourite hymns is Isaac Watt’s interpretation of Psalm 122, a psalm of ascent. The 1st stanza describes the Christian’s joy at gathering with God’s people in his presence on Sunday mornings. Pay attention to the imagery:
How pleased and blest was I
To hear the people cry,
‘Come, let us seek our God today!’
Yes, with a cheerful zeal
We haste to Zion’s hill,
And there our vows and homage pay.
As pilgrims seeking God, we should come to church with undivided attention. We must avoid anything that distracts us from paying full attention to the gospel being heralded to us.
We must avoid anything that distracts us from paying full attention to the gospel being heralded to us.
It is true that I may be able to access a free Bible on my phone. But it is also true that, for most of us, we can afford to buy a physical Bible. For every benefit of reading the Bible on the phone, there are ten temptations alongside. Yes, we have Christian freedom to decide whether to bring our phone to church. But as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 10:23, “’All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up”.
2. We Must Focus on Community
As an introvert, my default posture after church service is to avoid interactions. Instead I pretend to be busy, looking at something on my phone. Not having this crutch to lean on means I have to engage with other Christians. Being without my phone means there are fewer distractions, interruptions to quality conversations. Therefore I am free to find out how others are faring in their lives and faith.
Not having this crutch to lean on means I have to engage with other Christians.
You may not be the type of person that avoids conversations. But having a phone can still be distracting. You may come out of the service and see 25 notifications. And while checking them a visitor walks by and that door of ministry is missed.
There are so many opportunities for Christian fellowship on Sundays after service. Therefore let us work hard at being not only physically present, but also mentally and spiritually alert to every opportunity. Gathering with other Christians affords us countless chances to be a blessing others. Don’t spurn these opportunities by staring at your phone.
3. Set Sunday Mornings Apart
Even for those of us who are not Sabbatarians, we should still regard Sundays highly. It is a day that should be focused on rest and worship to God. This should be clear to the people that we regularly interact with. And one of the ways we can communicate the significance of Sundays is by being unavailable on our phones.
Perhaps the most common question I get from people when I tell them that I never bring my phone to church is: “What if there is an emergency?” But in ten years, there has been fewer than five genuine emergencies on a Sunday morning. However, the issues have never been anything that could not be fixed later. If you are a doctor or an emergency worker, you may need to keep your phone close. But if we are honest, most messages can wait until we get home.
One of the ways we can communicate the significance of Sundays is by being unavailable on our phones.
Recently I ended up at church with my phone. I had come to church from an errand via taxi. So I quietly asked someone if I could place my phone in their backpack until after the service. A teenager nearby remarked: “I thought you didn’t own a phone”. I had never had a conversation with him about this topic. Yet he had noticed prior to that day that he had never seen me with a phone. We are teaching the coming generation what is normal by how we behave. Are we teaching them the importance of bringing our full attention to church on Sunday morning?
Leave Your Phone at Home
Ultimately, there is no verse of the Bible that says: “Thou shall not use thy phone during church”. However, a sign of Christian maturity is the deepening desire to remove every impediment from our worship of God. For too many of us our phone has become that impediment.
A sign of Christian maturity is the deepening desire to remove every impediment from our worship of God.
Earlier I said the decision not to take a phone to church was perhaps the most profitable spiritual decision I made in the last ten years. My point is not that the action itself was spiritual. Rather, this decision has freed me to focus on God and my neighbours on Sundays like no other. And as Jesus taught, that is the whole point of our faith (Matthew 22:36-40).