I really feel sorry for Eutychus. It was bad enough for the fella to fall asleep in church while Paul was preaching . . . he even fell out the window to his death three stories below! But then, of all things, Dr. Luke included the incident for all the world to read down through the centuries. Think of that! The only time Eutychus got his name in Scripture was when he died while sleeping in church. Makes you glad the Bible is complete, doesn’t it?
Listen to the story:
On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered together. And there was a young man named Eutychus sitting on the window sill, sinking into a deep sleep; and as Paul kept on talking, he was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor and was picked up dead. (Acts 20:7-9)
If the same thing happened to sleepers today, every church would have to build a morgue in the basement. There isn’t an experienced preacher who hasn’t faced the most incredible (sometimes hilarious) slumbering saints in the pew. I’ve seen them bump their heads on the back of the pew in front of them . . . snore out loud . . . stay seated when everyone else stood up . . . drool on their Bible . . . and even drop their hymnbook, then jump when it hit the floor.
I’ve watched couples nod in magnificent rhythm, perfect timing. One student used to come to a church I formerly pastored and sit right down front . . . and be sound asleep in a matter of seconds. He was there every Sunday, resting his eyes. I honestly used to wonder why he bothered to get dressed and come to church in the first place. And then there was the lady who had the strangest wheeze and smile when she exhaled while snoring—a shrill, stutter-like sound that reminded you of a chattering chimpanzee. She kinda looked like one when she slept, come to think of it.
Why? Now there’s the question worth answering. Why do people sleep in church? Let me suggest several reasons.
Tradition. That’s right. We are often trained to do it. As children we stretched out on the pew beside our parents and were encouraged to sleep rather than make a disturbance. Habits are hard to break.
Physical factors. Occasionally a church is not well ventilated or gets too warm and stuffy, almost “cozy.” This was part of the problem Eutychus had. The flickering lamps brought warmth up where he was sitting plus a hypnotizing “spell” in the room. Poor lighting and obstructions of vision are additional causes.
Personal factors. Lack of sufficient sleep during the week—or especially Saturday night—creates drowsiness on Sunday. Some medication makes us sleepy . . . as well as low-thyroid problems or low blood sugar. Concentration is broken and soon our minds start to drift and doze.
Indifference. Although it would be pleasant to ignore this, it is nevertheless another real reason. People are sometimes turned off spiritually. Sleep allows them to tune out the input. Carnality—or lack of salvation entirely—creates an indifferent attitude.
Dull, boring messenger. We preachers can be guilty of not organizing our material clearly and concisely. This leads to rambling and mumbling . . . unnecessary details not essential to the message. A failure to present the Word of God with genuine enthusiasm accompanied by fresh, specific illustrations and set forth in an unpredictable yet appropriate manner can cause boredom. A monotonous voice only adds another dose of Sominex to those fighting the battle of the eyelids. In all honesty, the messenger can be as guilty as the hearer, sometimes more.
So much for diagnosis . . . what about a prescription to overcome “the slumbers”?
It must be a team effort. Three parts must work together. The building must be comfortable and conducive to worship . . . yet altogether unlike a funeral parlor. That’s so important. Then the listener must be prepared—physically, spiritually, emotionally—for worship. It takes good habits of health to cultivate a spiritual appetite. Last, the speaker must be alert and sensitive. Not a clown or a candidate for head cheerleader—but ever aware of the most effective ways to combat plainness, sameness, and tameness.
Think it over. See you Sunday. If you sit in the balcony and get sleepy, watch out! Eutychus, “being dead, yet speaketh.”