The church and cell phones

Michael J. Brooks

Note: This is an opinion column.

Years ago when home visits were more common, I remember countless visits for the church when I competed with blaring televisions. One training program many of us took in the day suggested trying to sit between the person and the television, or saying, “I’m interrupting your program—can I come back later?” Now, of course, a viewer can click “pause” or “record” and not miss anything.

But we have new competition today—the cell phone. Stats say 96 percent of Americans own one. No one is ready to return to the wall phone or the party line, but it’s sad that common courtesy is often elusive.

Public schools have instituted cell phone policies. For example, one local high school decrees cell phones mustn’t be visible in class unless teachers give permission for research. And for good reason. We’ve seen the diminishing of verbal skills among our youth. It was announced lately that for the first time Americans communicate more online than face-to-face. Research shows people are prone to be more direct, often angrier and less grammatically precise online than in person. In this way, online communication can be like an anonymous survey. Another open question is how the present generation will fare in job interviews if unskilled in interpersonal communication and good eye contact.

Many churches have instituted policies, too, posting announcements in their programs about turning off electronic devices or asking ministers to request this. Funeral directors make this request also before services in their chapels. I conducted a funeral last year in which an attendee’s phone rang three separate times before he got the idea to switch it off.

However, cell phone use is hard to police in churches. Many use cell phones as their scripture, enjoying 30 or more translations and larger font with a single click. But it’s wrong to frivolously text or visit Facebook while hymns of praise are sung, and the word of God proclaimed. Remember the nursery rhyme about the pussycat who “went to London-town to see the queen,” but ended up chasing a mouse instead? Priorities askew.

Recently I visited with a lady recuperating in the hospital from a very serious illness. While she told me about what she’d faced and how God brought her through, one of her adult children never looked up from her phone. As I prepared to offer prayer I wondered if I should, for the first time ever, ask the daughter to put her phone away so we could pray. It reminded me of the times we used to say, “Can we turn the television off so we can pray together?”

Cell phones are wonderful tools, but like other tools, must be used courteously and responsibly.

Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster. The church’s website is Siluriabaptist.com.