Pastors: Hear God's Word; Tweet Later

Many pastors and church leaders have nothing against Twittering and see it as a useful tool for Christians. But when it comes to weekend worship services, some are telling churchgoers to keep their thumbs still.

"[W]hen you are in corporate worship, Worship!" says John Piper, a prominent evangelical pastor and author. "There is a difference between communion with God and commenting on communion with God."

Since its launch in 2006, Twitter has grown to 32 million users, including an active following of pastors and churchgoers. The microblogging service is touted as the fastest growing social networking site. Just a year ago, Twitter traffic was at 2 million.

Considering the popularity, especially among young adults and youths, some churches have embraced the technological and cultural phenomenon and incorporated it into their worship services.

An earlier Time magazine article cited, among other churches, Westwinds Community Church in Jackson, Mich., where worshippers' Tweets during worship are flashed on large video screens.

But reports of Twittering in church have sparked a debate among pastors and Christians on whether it is appropriate.

"While I personally enjoy Twitter and find it to be a useful tool for sharing and receiving information, I'm not excited about encouraging people to use Twitter during the Sunday meeting," Josh Harris, senior pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md., wrote in his blog.

One of the reasons why Harris won't be encouraging his congregation to Twitter during worship is that it will likely be distracting. Twitterers may be tempted to check their e-mail or read their Twitter feed during a sermon. Their mind may also focus on what to Tweet rather than on worship. Moreover, the minutes they take to Tweet would be minutes in which they weren't actively listening to the sermon.

"The most important thing I can do while I'm sitting under the preaching of God's word is to listen to what God is saying to me," Harris, who is also on the council of The Gospel Coalition, noted. "I need to actively engage my heart and mind to receive."

"When God is speaking again through his word, we should all be silent – and so should our Twitter feeds," he stressed.

He's not a Twitter hater, he wrote. He even encourages congregants to Tweet about the sermon or worship experience after church and sees it as a potential witnessing tool to friends who follow them on Twitter.

"But it's also a good witness for them to see that something so important, so essential, so holy happens on Sunday morning when God's church gathers that Twitter takes a back seat," the Gaithersburg pastor stated.

Backing Harris' points, evangelical pastor Piper of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minn., says churchgoers should focus only on hearing and engaging the Word of God.

"Don't tweet while having sex. Don't tweet while praying with the dying. Don't tweet when your wife is telling you about the kids. There's a season for everything," Piper pointed out. "Multitasking only makes sense when none of the tasks requires heart-engaged, loving attention."

And even though Twitter may be incredibly popular in the culture, that doesn't give reason to accommodate it in worship, the pastors say.

"Lost people in this world don't need to see that we're current with the latest trend, they need to hear God's unchanging truth," Harris said on his blog. "They need to understand that God's word makes a demand on their life.

"And they should see from us a reverence and holy awe in the presence of God and his word that points them to the fact that what happens in a Christian church is completely different than anything happening in the world."

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