Things I think about when I get bored at church

Let me say this: I get bored at church all the time, usually multiple times every Sunday. I don’t like sitting in meetings for three hours a day (with often an hour-long meeting before or after church). But I don’t think about how bored I am very often because when I am feeling that old ennui angst I chase it from my mind. This post explains why and how.

I bring this up because of this article, which seems to be getting a lot of positive attention. The author names five reasons Sacrament is dull. Let me make this clear, lest I be accused of criticizing the author: I agree with just about everything she writes. This post is not intended as a “take down” of her article. Instead, I simply share some thoughts that I have had when I am bored at church (which happens often, as I say).

1)You can’t let yourself be bored. I didn’t get baptized until I was in my ’30s, and one of the main reasons was I couldn’t imagine spending all that time in boring meetings when I could be going to the beach, watching football or going for a long run or bike ride followed by brunch. But I got an undeniable witness that the Church is true, followed by a long list of other personal testimonies. I have to go to Church on Sundays. I can either go with a good attitude or a bad attitude, and God wants me to have a good attitude. So if I start thinking about how bored I am I won’t have a good attitude. So it is I who must change (once again).

2)Sacrament meeting is not about me. We all know Sacrament meeting is about honoring the Savior and remembering Him and our covenants. But in addition to that, the often-boring talks are not about entertaining us (if it were, the whole experience sure would be different, wouldn’t it?). The talks are very often about a personal struggle that the speaker is going through. Have I thought about how difficult it was for her to prepare this talk or address this particular subject? Have I thought about how shy that young man is and how difficult it must be for him to get up in front of this group? Have I thought about the fact that this man’s wife just died of cancer two months ago and the struggle he must be going through? I find that when I think about things other than the subject matter and style of the talks I am less bored.

3)Repetition and calm repose seems to be among the things we’re supposed to learn at Church (for reasons I don’t completely understand). We are encouraged to go to the temple regularly. I have gone nearly every month since a year after my baptism. I could probably recite many passages of the endowment session from memory. I rarely have new feelings of blazing enlightenment at the temple anymore — but yet I still go every month. Why? Well, it seems to me there are many possible reasons, but at least one of them is that I personally need to learn patience and the ability to concentrate on The Big Things. The temple helps with that. Should I take that same feeling and carry it over to Sacrament meetings? Yes.

4)There must be a reason that the Church forces us parents through the torture of bringing our young kids to Church. There are churches that have separate rooms for kids during the equivalent of Sacrament meeting. Let’s face it: it is a pain dealing with young kids at Sacrament, both for the parents and the people around you. It interrupts worship and is sometimes noisy and annoying. Yet, we are expected to bring our kids to Sacrament (and hopefully take them out if they get out of control). Why are young kids in Sacrament? My personal feeling is that there is something they are supposed to learn about reverence. Being forced to sit quietly during a boring meeting is an important skill to learn (believe me, you’re going to need it when you are an adult sitting through boring talks!). I have noticed that my usually rowdy young boys are amazingly calm during Sacrament these days. Could it be they are actually taking in those lessons about reverence? It appears so.

5)If you are reading this, you are probably smarter than most people who give talks during Sacrament, so give them a break. I am on the lower end of Bloggernacle members when it comes to gospel knowledge but I am on the upper end when I compare myself to most people I know at Church. If I am bored, I find I am often thinking about how much better I could handle that subject and how much more knowledge I have. What a loser I am. If you have spent the time to read this post, you probably have more gospel knowledge than most people in your ward. Internalize that and just realize you are often bored because you know a lot. Humble yourself. I certainly need to.

6)You are bored at least in part because you are an electronic media geek and you are used to getting instant gratification. In the old days, people used to listen to Sidney Rigdon (a great speaker) and Joseph Smith (apparently not as great) talk for hours without getting bored. Why can’t I listen to my brothers and sisters talk for 20 minutes? At least one of the reasons is that all of this electronic media has trained us to get what we want fast and NOW! It takes time to get anything from a talk (if you get anything at all). I want instant entertainment and I get bored if I’m not getting it. What is happening to my brain?

7)You might want to try sitting in the front row. If your ward is like mine, the back row if the first one to fill up, but nobody ever seems to like sitting in the front row. The interesting thing about sitting in the front row is you have to concentrate on the speaker because there is very little else to look at. Every time I sit in the front row I find myself less bored because I am actually paying attention to the person speaking and thinking about the things I mention above.

8)Complaining about how bored I am is not going to change anything and it will probably make me more bored. This is somewhat related to point 1 above. Personally, I think the Sacrament format is done that way for a reason. My complaining about it is not going to change the format in any way. And I have found that if I spend my time thinking about how bored I am, I get more bored. So I try to think about other things, some of which I have mentioned above.

Again, the article I linked above makes some great points. This post is NOT a criticism of that article. For example, I agree that a training program for Sacrament speakers would be a great idea. I hope you were not bored reading this post.

This entry was posted in General by Geoff B.. Bookmark the permalink.

About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

19 thoughts on “Things I think about when I get bored at church

  1. Not bored reading this at all, Geoff. You make some good points. I sit on the second row for reasons of poor eyesight; that’s almost as good as the front row, but with a bench in front of me so I can relax a little and not worry about my knees. 🙂 You not only focus more on the speaker because there’s nothing else but the faces of the bishopric to look at, but you are — or at least I am — conscious that the bishopric and the speaker are also looking at me. Dozing would be obvious and extremely rude.

    I admit that I’m seldom engaged by the talks but I try not to show it unless somebody is just clowning around, as occasionally happens. If it’s a sincere talk, I try to pay attention. A talk that someone has written out and is reading requires additional attention, since people seldom write in a conversational, easily-grasped-by-the-hearer style. Knowing that, I figure that a failure to take away something, or even merely to understand the talk, is at least as much my fault as that of the speaker.

    I’ll try thinking about some of your other points. Not this week, because I know at least one speaker will be dynamic, engaging, thought-provoking, interesting, entertaining, and highly spiritual (and boastful, clearly), but the week after.

  2. Thank for the well-written post, Geoff. When I attend Church, I try to go with a spirit of worshipping the Lord. Although I’m more successful some Sundays than others (if I sit by close friends or visa versa, it’s easy to become distracted and want to visit), if I truly seek to remember the Savior and find ways to love and honor Him, Church attendance becomes more fulfilling.

    Because of some health challenges I’m experiencing, three hours of sitting is difficult. I wonder how many others find three hours more than they can physically handle. I wish the Church would go to a 2 1/2 hour block, shorten each meeting and break by 5 minutes. Many of us, including the children who become so restless, tired, and hungry, would benefit from a shorter meeting schedule.

    I’ve been studying Buddhist for the past couple of years and have discovered the power of mindfulness. It helps me appreciate each moment of my life, including the blessings of Church attendance. Sometimes, it’s easy as Church members to become so overwhelmed with callings, family responsibilities, and Church meeting attendance, that we forget to enjoy the opportunities and blessings that we enoy.

    Thanks again for your post.

  3. Pingback: Tweets that mention » Things I think about when I get bored at church The Millennial Star --

  4. Very insightful.

    One of the things that I tell myself, is that we are commanded to receive the Holy Ghost. It isn’t given us. It is our responsibility to invite the Spirit into our Sacrament experience and not for the speaker, Bishop, or Choir to do.

  5. You and Sister Riess (in the linked article) make some good points, and you both present your points well.

    To your list, I might add: take notes. That sometimes helps me to concentrate on the speaker.

    I like what President Hinckley supposedly said to Gladys Knight when she said something about our Sunday music, to go ahead and do something. She started doing firesides and created Saints United Voices.

    I think wards and stakes could do something along those lines. Maybe once a month, on a Friday or Saturday evening, have some kind of a less formal service. Not with the sacrament though. But one that involved more moving music, perhaps a couple of choir numbers, and even more numbers where the whole congregation could sing something more moving than our standard hymns. Or perhaps sing our standard hymns at a faster tempo than the Utah-dirge-tempo. (Whenever I visit another ward, I can tell if the organist/pianist/director is from Utah.)

    Perhaps the two or three wards that meet in a chapel could have a combined meeting along those lines.

    One of my convert friends often used to lament our music. She called for a “gospel sing” kind of meeting, just singing, for those converts who miss the music from their previous churches.

  6. Cmon Ardis, our bishop dozes off every Sunday (granted, I love him for it). Also, are you speaking this Sunday?

    as for point 2: granted I should be more considerate of the people, but if it’s a bad talk there’s only so much one can do. It’s like excusing a kid’s incorrect answers on a test because they didn’t get to eat breakfast that morning (there are better analogies, but I’m short on ideas atm). Yeah life sucks, but we can’t use it to excuse low quality. However, inasmuch as you suggest being considerate of them I agree (just no excuses).

    as for point 5: I think it speaks more to how much we need to improve Gospel literacy in general. Still, I recognize it as my cross to bear, and yes I do need to be more humble.

  7. Spencer Kimball also made some remarks on this. I forget what work or talk it was. Anyone have a link, or some keywords to search with?

    Anyway, what I remember, is that the worship, and the blessing/benefit coming in the opposite direction, is between the congregant and the Lord, through the Spirit. The Lord and the Spirit are powerful enough to use anyone, even a poor speaker to bless and uplift us.

    That said, sometimes I use a fraction of a caffeine tablet to keep awake.

    Andrew: our local leaders, at ward and stake level, do a pretty good job of keeping attentive, mostly looking right at the speaker when they are on the stand.

  8. I can’t do it yet, but would like to do what an elderly couple did in my previous ward. They both listened to every speaker with so much attention that it actually changed the experience for the persons giving the talk. Whenever I spoke I felt like they thought what I had to say was extremely important. When I was put in the bishopric, I saw that they made everyone feel that way. If I were to become loving enough, I would solve my boredom problem that way.

  9. This prompted a lot of thoughts from me. In no particular order:

    When my first mission president was a bishop, his method for staying awake in sacrament meetings was to hold one of his feet about an inch above the floor until the tiredness went away. (If you try it and are still tired, keep trying!) Only someone staring at your foot would notice, and it saved him from embarrassment during a few long meetings.

    Our practice of singing congregational hymns finds its roots in Martin Luther, who wanted everyone to participate in making music, not just trained musicians. I think we can do better by both helping each other understand why our music is the way it is, and by becoming better trained in music.

    My wife has fibromyalgia, and I’m convinced her body is hardwired to Australian time. Between the two, it’s a really good week when she has it in her to sit through just sacrament meeting. For me it means I’m double-teamed by our nursery-aged kids, but that’s just one more way for me to exercise patience. The most helpful thing for me in that field is something President Kimball said once when he observed some young parents struggling to keep their children reverent–counsel to the effect that these children have giant spirits in little tiny bodies, so they need some room to move around. (I just hope everyone around me looks at the little darlings from a similar perspective.)

    To Geoff’s point #6, I’m reminded of a historian who credited Lincoln with inventing the sound byte through the Gettysburg Address. Orators spent hours delivering their messages; the trend since then has been to shorten the content, until now when a speaker’s most persuasive statements have to be confined to the length of a TV commercial if they’re to have any chance at sticking. Unfortunately, the most effective way to overcome such ADD is by learning patience.

    Another thing is that we don’t have to wait for an order from higher up in the chain of command to start changing something. When I think back to the different programs the Church has adopted over the years, almost all of them started with a member on the frontlines who saw something they could do and did it. Relief Society, primary, welfare, Sunday school, missionary discussions, seminary, single adult organizations–all of them started on the local level and were incorporated into the Church’s organizational structure when the brethren saw what was going on and liked what they saw. Young Women’s is about the only auxiliary Church program I can think of that was conceived by the prophet first instead of by the lay members. So to reiterate, if we can see proper ways to introduce more engaging worship practices, we don’t have to wait for a commandment from higher up to do it.

  10. If I’m in a meeting without my little kids I find it helpful to doodle or work on some small craft project — giving my hands something to do helps me concentrate on the speaker so much better.

  11. Witteafval, #8: Somewhere I read or heard that changes to sacrament meeting are highly regulated so as not to create “local traditions”. Sure, you can do little things, which usually come from a pre-approved list, like primary programs, a program of all youth speakers, special musical numbers, doing the sacrament portion after the speakers when no one brought bread, etc.

    But if a bishop makes too much of a change, or makes a minor change into a ward tradition, he’ll eventually as I undersand it) have the idea nixed by the stake presidency.

    Things like overhead projectors were nixed (church-wide) long time ago, likely because one reason is they could not be done consistently from ward to ward. Same thing with the recent prohibition (via 1st presidency letter) of visual aids.

    Some things I’d _like_ to see, but very likely won’t, is for a speaker to use a hand-mike and move around a bit. But some people would take it to an extreme, and bob and weave a bit like an evangelical.

  12. Hence my use of the word “proper” in the last sentence. During World War II a number of branches in Europe added such things to their worship services as candles and vestments for the priesthood leaders. Following the war there were a number of excommunications and a number of people who took the correction that came from the chain of command. But that’s an extreme example; most Church units aren’t forcibly isolated from direct contact with the prophet for six years these days.

    And I’m all for the ban on visual aids. One ward I was in had a number of bad talks made worse by visual aids. (Well, one of the talks might have been good in content, but the flannel board was so distracting that nothing the sister said made it into my ears.) There was the high council speaker who used a fishing rod as a visual aid and poked a kid on the front row with it (that’ll teach them to sit so close!), or the numerous games of “Simon says” that speakers used to begin their talks, or the same high counselor who talked the bishop into giving him all the time and then used that time to play song after song of kitschy gospel pop songs (if you’ll excuse the redundancy) on a tape recorder.

    We have the guidelines and standards we have for a reason, and I’m not suggesting we fight those. Probably the best way to improve meetings in the Church as it is, is to improve our skills in public speaking and music. But even if our organizations make an institutionalized effort to train people in those things, each individual member has to learn them on their own, so it will be a very slow process if it happens at all. My original point, that we don’t have to wait for the prophet before any changes can happen within the Church, doesn’t mean all changes we think of are appropriate or an improvement over what we have now. The programs we have now didn’t all come into being at once, or even during the administration of any single prophet. But they came about to fill a specific need. And if someone can think of a different way to better meet the needs of those who listen to the messages of a sacrament meeting than what we’re already doing, changes will happen. But we all grow at different rates, and we all need to learn more patience, so I don’t anticipate many significant changes in this area during my lifetime.

  13. Geoff- Thank you for your post. It has given me a lot to think about. I do nothowever, offer much in the way of solutions or new ideas. I have spent the last 22 years wrangling kids in Sacrament Mtg. I rarely can listen to all the talks.

    I do have suggestions/wishes 🙂 for revamping our church servies. I think we (as a chruch) could/should worship as a family thru the passing of the Sacrament and then dismiss the children for Primary. I also think Church should be no more than two hours. I also would like to see our hymns added to with upbeat selections. I do not see a solution in regards to “boring” speakers. If we continue to keep with the status quo of a lay ministry ( which I agree) with congregants giving the sermons; you get what you get.

  14. On further reflection I realized that one thing Ms. Riess said resonates with me, which is that concerning music at church. It has been many years since I attended an LDS sacrament meeting, so I can’t comment on the present state of music in LDS churches. But since the 1960s, music at Catholic masses has bored me to tears. That, of course, was when certain people decided the Church needed to be modernized, and basically tossed out everything that predated 1962.

    So of course we have been treated to nothing but hymns written in the 1960s or later, largely in the style of 1960s folk music, complete with guitars and bongos. OK, they are not always played on guitars and bongos; fairly often they are played on the organ, but that doesn’t improve them much.

    When I attend the Traditional Latin Mass (which was said universally in Roman Rite churches for about 500 years before 1962, and widely though not universally for several hundred years before that), which I have been doing regularly for the past couple years, I am *never* bored. I attribute this to a lot of things, but in no small part to the music, which can range from Gregorian chant to Mozart. Once in a while you get some insipid hymn from the 19th century or later, but those are not so bad when used sparingly.

    So, at the risk of assisting the enemy, I would suggest heeding Ms. Riess’s advice and opening the repertoire to include sacred music from “the gorgeous offerings of sacred music through the ages”.

  15. Well, “rival” then. You know, competitor. You try to win over people from my Church, we try to win over people from yours (or back to ours). That’s all I meant. I shouldn’t be giving you guys hints that might give you a competitive advantage. I meant it in jest.

Comments are closed.