The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


A pastor’s confession: I use my phone during worship

Yes, that was me with my phone out during worship, tapping away. I may have even taken a photo or two (no flash — even I have limits). To be clear, I’m not confessing this to seek forgiveness. I’m acknowledging and declaring I did this and I’m not sorry. 

Sitting quietly and listening doesn’t work for me. In college and grad school I had to be engaged in the lecture (taking extensive notes or starting a lively discussion) for anything to stay with me.

The same is true in worship. If I just sit, attentively worshiping, I’ll certainly get something out of it. Worship has every chance of being uplifting, grace-filled and moving. But as soon as I leave the worship space, learning or insight evaporates.

If I engage — take notes on my bulletin, tweet what moved me in the sermon, or ask a question on Facebook provoked by the sermon — then more stays with me. I’ll carry it with me into my life. Isn’t that the point?

In our tradition we occasionally require just such behavior from worshipers. How many pastors have required confirmation students to take sermon or worship notes? Isn’t that the same sort of engagement that happens when someone uses social media during worship? 

Are there ways to do this that can be too distracting to other worshipers? Are there people just playing games on their phones? Absolutely. Just like a person writing on their bulletin may really be making a grocery list. Another bowing their head in prayer may actually be napping.

The fact is, no matter what we do some folks pay attention in worship and some don’t. And before you jump to conclusions, remember that some of us are able to listen better precisely because we’re using our phones.

David Hansen


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