At this stage in my life, I have been in full-time ministry for a little over 12 years and for a decade before that, I served the church in the context of preaching pulpit supply. Over that time, I have filled a lot of pulpits, preached more than a thousand sermons, have taught more Bible studies than I can shake a stick at, and have given oodles of announcements. And, I am still relatively young.
What strikes me is how rarely people pay close attention to what is said. I can’t tell you how often I hear adults saying, “What? I didn’t know that such and such was happening! You should have let us know.” And then I stand there thinking, “Hmmm… it has been in the church newsletter, announced in several bulletins, has been verbally announced during our announcements time at the beginning of the service, and has even been mentioned from the pulpit…What more do you want, a personalized invitation?” And yeah, I have gone and done that too. More often than I would like to admit, things go in one ear and out the other, and it is not simply matters of announcements, but often it is Biblical truth as well.
As a parent and as a former High School teacher, I have often lamented about kids daydreaming instead of paying attention. But, when you are an adult, you are supposed to put away those childish ways, aren’t you? Think about it, if your boss at work had to give you a personalized invitation any time he wanted you to do something, you would soon find yourself seeking new employment with a not-so-good job reference to follow you around. If after 20 years…heck, if after 2 weeks at a new job, if you had not gained some proficiency at what you are doing, then people would be asking questions about your future at the firm. There is an expectation in the business world that the longer you work in a given job or trade, the more proficient you will become. That’s the world around us; but why not the church as well?
While I can perhaps give the youth a little leeway, you adults should know better. You know that the only way to learn is to listen carefully, take notes of things you want to go back to, and then ask good questions when there are things you don’t understand. But, what percentage of a church does this describe? I estimate that in the last 22 years, I have filled the pulpits of about three dozen churches, and as I think back, only two of those churches come to mind as places where more than 10% of people took notes during the sermons. Interesting…telling…and if you look at the state of the church in America today, well, it is no wonder.
Why do I give the youth a little more leeway? Well, if they are not being given good examples by the adults around them, what do you expect they will do? Very few will take the initiative to learn if they do not see it modeled and valued by their parents…more importantly, if it is not taught to them by their parents. And, of course, this does not just apply in church, but it applies to personal devotions and Bible study at home and applying the truths of God into our lives. And, while our jobs may depend on how closely we listen to our earthly bosses; your growth in faith depends on how closely you listen to and understand the Word of Christ, your eternal King. How much more weighty the latter is than the former.
So, folks, it’s not just kids who often don’t pay attention in church services; its adults. It’s not just a kids’ problem, its a sinful-people problem that we need to put to death. The good news is that the solution is the same no matter how young or old you are: pay close attention and take good notes. Over the years, I have often been accused of “preaching over people’s heads.” The wonderful thing that I have found is that those who start paying close attention and taking notes always come back to me and say, “I understand so much more of what you are talking about now that I am doing this.”
One more thing… Peter writes that gaining knowledge is part of our sanctification process (2 Peter 1:5), so as we learn, we grow more and more into the character of Christ. So, why wouldn’t we apply ourselves even more greatly to learning the deep things of God than the fleeting things of this earth? Sanctification is a good and desirable thing…isn’t it?