Attention! Whose Responsibility?

I remember, as a child, times when the preacher would rebuke distracted youths at the back of the church.  They were in church, so they should be listening.  Times may have changed a bit, but I suspect there is some confusion coming into play here.

The “should” is probably to do with how they should act toward others.  That is, it seems reasonable to expect people (whatever their age), to act in a manner that is not unloving and distracting to others when in a setting like a church meeting.  But is the onus on the listener when it comes to giving attention to the message?  On the one hand we have the argument from the parable of the soils in Mark 4 – the only variable in that parable is the state of the soil, representing the “listening” of the heart.  So there is a biblical concern for the responsibility and responsiveness of the listener.

On the other hand, the best teachers and preachers will always accept that a significant responsibility rests with them.  If you preach and people are thoroughly distracted or bored or miles away or disengaged, don’t pray for God to smite the listeners.  Pray for God to strike you with lightning or whatever it will take to be more engaging as a communicator!

I remember hearing of one now famous student of Howard Hendricks who wanted to test the Prof’s commitment to the importance of attention.  If you don’t have their attention, you can’t teach them.  So the Prof was a master of grabbing and holding attention.  So this student decided to test this.  He sat at the back, looked out of the window and resisted all inner urges to pick up his pen and take notes.  Hendricks seemed to sense he didn’t have one person with him, so he did all he could – another gripping story, bigger movement, stronger passion, etc.  Finally he snapped and stormed to the back of the class demanding to know what was so fascinating outside.

Most lecturers in higher education seem happy to get through their material whether the students engage with the drone or not.  Many preachers are the same.  But the best teachers, and the best preachers, know that you cannot teach anyone anything unless you first grab and hold their attention.

Let’s probe both the good and the bad ways to do that in the coming days . . .

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