In his biography on Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Iain Murray writes about the seriousness and attentiveness that surrounded the preaching at Westminster Chapel in London during Lloyd-Jones’ ministry:
Silence prevailed in the large congregation. The stillness generally deepened as the service proceeded… There were certain arrangements designed to encourage quietness. For the first part of the service ushers always stood at the doors and no one was allowed to enter while prayer or the reading of Scripture was in progress. A crèche was provided for babies and infants. From about the age of three, children were usually in the church for the whole service, but if they could not be quiet the parent and child were expected to remove speedily to a rear hall where the service could be heard by relay. Any failure to depart could earn an intimidating look from the pulpit!
Some preachers are really good at preaching through distractions, while others really struggle to keep focus. Sadly, I am clearly in the second category and have many times struggled through portions of a sermon due to distractions in the congregation. In those moments, I hate that about myself and pray for grace—but I have not yet been delivered from the struggle.
Some of the more extreme distractions have been being told there is a woman in the balcony who has taken her shirt off (just before stepping on stage), seeing someone pass out in the middle of an aisle, a self-proclaimed prophetess standing up and debating a point of mine, a Spanish soap opera suddenly playing on the screens behind me, a man with a megaphone outside predicting a tsunami would strike Miami, and the sound system making sounds that can only be compared to someone passing gas. It is hard to plan for those. And policies should not be developed around the extreme.
The most common distractions are crying kids, cell phones ringing, and people moving around—particularly people moving in and out of the front sections.
Of course, distractions do not merely impact the one speaking. They also pull people’s attention away from the message at a critical moment and may disrupt the focus on the Word. Because it takes time for attention to be regained, even small distractions are not a small matter.
I have noticed, as I have spoken in different places, that some churches, like Westminster Chapel, do a great job of creating a culture or an expectation of listening and focus and thus minimizing distractions. As the speaker/preacher, the difference is quite noticeable. Here are four common practices I have observed in those churches:
This article was originally published at EricGeiger.com, May 1, 2014. Eric Geiger serves as one of the Vice Presidents at Lifeway Christian Resources, leading the Church Resources Division. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary. He is also a teaching pastor and a frequent speaker and consultant on church mission and strategy. Eric has authored or co-authored several books including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church. Eric is married to Kaye, and they have two daughters: Eden and Evie. During his free time, Eric enjoys dating his wife, playing with his daughters, and shooting basketball. Eric can be found on Twitter @RealEricGeiger and at Facebook.com/RealEricGeiger.