Saturday, 7 January 2012

Wandering Attention in Sermons

It is a sad day, Dear Readers.

I have come out to Catthorpe to say a sad farewell to the old M6 viaduct, which is being demolished this weekend. One of my favourite motorway viaducts in the South Midlands.

Still, as Drayton very kindly drove me up here I "redeemed the time" as he kept referring to it, by completing my analysis of the differing expectations and actualities in where preachers and their congregations are focussing their thoughts and attention during a sermon. I hope the following diagrams make this clear.

Preacher's Focus - As the Congregation Expect it

The preacher is spending a good part of his or her time focussing on the congregation - although also paying plenty of attention to the text, thus staying on course and honouring the time spent during the week / last night / in the loo before the service writing the sermon. The preacher is also staying alert to the Holy Spirit (golden arrow) so as to be responsive to both the congregation and the text.

Congregation's Focus - as the Preacher expects it

We will pay little attention to our old friends "A" and "B", as we know where their attention is.
The other people in the other side of the congregation, however, should be splitting their attention between what the preacher has to say, and the "still small voice".

The preacher's focus - reality

 What can actually happen is that the preacher gets hung up on the relationship with the congregation - are they all watching me? Are they looking out for me to fail? Have I got a spot on my nose? Am I making a fool of myself....?

Congregational Focus - Reality

Whereas in fact, of course, the congregation aren't thinking any such things. In fact, they are splitting their attention between the wall-hangings, the trouble at work last Friday, the baby in the back row that sounds like it might be about to cry, the attractive person in the row behind, and a serious consideration of what's for lunch. Every now and then they'll notice someone at the front still appears to be talking - and occasionally ask God whether he can make it stop. Or, for I would not want to appear overly-cynical, they accidentally catch something inspirational and/or controversial, and refer it to God for adjudication.

So my conclusion, Dear Readers, is this. Preachers pay too much attention to themselves because they worry what the congregations think about them. But they shouldn't because, on the whole, the congregations don't worry that much. In fact, they'd quite like the preachers to do well. I think there's the start of a virtuous circle here, but best not draw too much attention or we'd all start looking at the wrong things again.


  1. Many thanks for your reassuring message. I agreed to take the end of the month service without checking the text(Mark 1:21-28)Demon possession is not a subject I would have chosen. "Isn't there an alternative reading?" I pleaded. "Not on the fifth Sunday." replied the churchwarden.
    What's needed is the reverse of a biblical miracle and all hearing aids to fail for the duration.

  2. Don't focus on the demon possession, then, Pidge. Take it as read and focus on what the power of Jesus wis all about. That's what matters.

  3. Thanks for the kind advice, I fully intend to fluff that bit and go for a poor imitation of N. T. Wright.
    My favourite tales of interrupted services are also likely to get an airing starting with the pig in the church during the sermon and leading to the sad tale of Rev. Blower who overwhelmed by Elizabeth I turning up in the village church greeted 'her Royal Majesty' effusively only to refer to 'her Noble Majesty' during the sermon at which she was heard to say in a stage whisper,
    "What! Am I worth ten groats less than I was previously."
    He was a vicar for 67 years but never preached again.


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