I’ll admit I laughed when I first read this question, sense it came to us on a Sunday when I encouraged everyone to text in their questions. Apparently this was not as new exercise for some of us.
As parents, we are constantly communicating to our children what is important. But, as I have said before, every message we relay has three components: our actual words (7%), our tone of voice (38%), and our non-verbal actions (55%). Confusion begins when the three components contradict each other. So, for example, we can say to our kids that worshiping regularly with our brothers and sisters in Christ is important, but if we are skipping out regularly to attend ball games or birthday parties, then our non-verbal actions will not only cause confusion, they will also hold more weight. In the same way, we can say to our children, “You need to listen to God’s word and put it into practice in your life”. But if that same child witnesses during the teaching time (in place of an open Bible and a note pad) a phone – that will not only cause confusion, but most likely negate whatever words we’ve said.
However, our actions within the worship service have implications beyond our own immediate family. I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. As we saw back in the spring, here was a community of Christ followers who were all about exercising their ‘freedom’. Paul reminds them, however, that just because you’re free to do something, doesn’t mean you should do it. In chapter 8, he warns them to be careful that the ‘exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block for the weak.’ (8.9). In chapter 9, he describes how he had given up some of his freedoms for their sake. In chapter 10, he says ‘Everything is permissible – but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible – but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.’ (10. 23-24). Paul’s point throughout the letter is that as followers of Jesus, we are characterized not by what we are ‘free to do’ but our sacrificial love and respect for others. So if Paul was alive today and he was addressing the issue of texting in the worship service, I believe he would say, “Your focus should not be on what you are free to do, but what do you need to sacrifice so as not to be a stumbling block for someone else. It’s sacrificing your freedoms for the sake of building up others. After all, that’s what it means to look more like Jesus. That’s the Calvary-shaped life.”
Is texting in worship a sin? No. Am I free to do it? Yes. Does texting in worship communicate the importance of worship to my children and build up my brothers and sisters in Christ? I’ll leave that one for you to decide.