Be careful how you sleep in church


Several years ago, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran a story about Los Angeles juror number 2386. This man had faithfully reported for jury duty, but had been sitting in the courtroom for two days, waiting to be interviewed by lawyers.

Suddenly, he let out a loud yawn.

Superior Court Judge Craig Veals said, “You yawned rather audibly there. As a matter of fact, it was to the point that it was contemptuous.”

“I’m sorry, but I’m really bored,” the juror replied.

“I’m sorry?” the judge responded, and the juror repeated his statement.

The judge called his attitude “lousy,” and said, “Your boredom just cost you $1,000. I’m finding you in contempt. Are you quite bored now?”

After the juror balked at paying $1,000, Veals slashed the fine to $100, but not before the juror spent nearly two hours detained in a jury assembly room.

Some thought the judge overreacted, but one witness said the juror “yawned very noticeably and waved his arms around and made quite a show of the yawning process.”

I got to wondering if I could get away with this in church: not the yawning, but the fining. Every now and then, I’m preaching my heart out and my eyes fall on a yawning worshipper. Some try to suppress the yawn and make all sorts of facial contortions. Others open wide and let it rip, though silently. Some cover their mouths, while others don’t attempt to hide their yawn.

Can’t you picture it? I stop my sermon, and say, “you there, in the middle section on the back row, in the yellow dress, I fine you $100 for that yawn!”

“In the balcony, I see that yawn. Your boredom costs you $100 that will go towards this summer’s mission trip.” Get ten or twelve of those a Sunday and that sure beats putting on a car wash.

I guess yawning is not as bad as sleeping. Sleeping in church can be embarrassing, especially if you snore. I heard about one lady who fell asleep in the waiting room of the dentist office in front of several other patients waiting their turn to be called.

Her preschool daughter finally looked up from playing and, seeing her mom’s chin on her chest and her eyes closed, ran up to her, shook her and said, “Mommy, Mommy, wake up. You’re not in church!” The truth comes out.

Another embarrassed woman apologized to the preacher at the end of the service.

“Please don’t take it personally that my husband walked out during your sermon,” she said. “It wasn’t out of disrespect. Fred’s been walking in his sleep since childhood.”

Sleeping in church may be embarrassing, but it can also be downright dangerous. Acts 20:7-10 records the story of Paul’s preaching in Troas. He got carried away delivering his sermon and preached until midnight. A young man named Eutychus was sitting in an open window, fell asleep and fell three stories to his death.

So sleeping in church was a problem even in biblical times. Maybe people doze off because they’re getting a head start on their Sunday afternoon nap. Or maybe they’re sleeping because many churches begin their service at 11 o’clock sharp and end at 12 o’clock dull. They’re bored, and preachers keep circling instead of bringing it in for a landing.

Like Paul, we get into our message and lose track of time. One preacher prayed, “Lord, fill my mouth with worthwhile stuff, and poke me when I’ve said enough. Amen.”

Worship should not be boring, but should be the happiest hour of the week. Too many are happy when it’s over.

At least Eutychus had a happy ending. Scripture records that after his three-story fall, Paul embraced him, God’s supernatural power fell on him, and Eutychus came back to life.

Many sleepy worshippers do the same. When the final prayer is prayed, like Eutychus, they appear to rise from the dead, or at least from slumber. And they’re never too sleepy to find their way to the cafeteria.

Maybe we should close our worship with Paul’s words recorded in Ephesians 5:14:

“Awake, you who sleep,

Arise from the dead,

And Christ will give you light.”

Dr. David L. Chancey is pastor of McDonough Road Baptist Church in Fayetteville. The church family gathers at 352 McDonough Road, just past the driver’s license office. Join them this Sunday for Bible study at 9:45 a.m. and worship at 10:55 a.m. Visit them on the web at