Who’s responsible for the attentiveness of listeners? Is it the listeners? After all, they choose to come to church, they should be able to focus on what is happening. Or is it the sound technician? That individual plays a huge role in removing certain distractions, but they cannot engineer attentiveness. What about life circumstances of the listeners? Surely God could make it so there was nothing going on in their lives in the days leading up to a Sunday? Of course we can point to the important role of sound technicians and the parents of crying children, but these can only remove distractions. Attentiveness is almost entirely up to the preacher.
Howard Hendricks, prof at Dallas Seminary, was devoted to the fact that the attention of his students was his responsibility. He would go to whatever lengths he could to arrest and maintain the attention of those in his class. He had ways of making you listen! Perhaps we should be the same? If so, this has several implications:
We must plan a message for attention – as well as planning a message that is biblical and clear, we must also endeavor to be interesting and relevant throughout.
We must be aware of our listeners – preaching is a form of two-way communication. Usually only one party ever speaks, us, but there is still continual feedback through body language, facial expression and so on. We must be careful never to get into a mode that is all about us.
We must be responsive to the situation – if there is an interruption or distraction, consider how best to overcome it. Sometimes ignoring it is the best or most sensitive approach, but often not. If others are aware of it but think you’re not, that is distracting.
Are they listening? That’s up to you.