...so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. ~ Isaiah 55:11
In this world of TikTok, fast food, and next-day delivery, the art of listening and paying attention is becoming more and more difficult to train and retain. Even more so in church where you cannot just swipe left when the Pastor isn't saying something engaging or exciting enough. It takes practice to listen properly, but it's not impossible.
Every church has a different setup, different possible distractions. Identify these. What caused your mind to wonder? What intruded on your focus? Then, where it is within your control, try to minimize these distractions. As an example, there is a lady in our church with two little ones. We do not have a children's church where the kids go off to during the service, so she admits that they can be distracting. Her action plan is to bring a bag with quiet toys, some non-messy snacks, and a blanket on the floor to give them an allowed space to move on. The chaos is contained, and the children are entertained, leaving her free to listen.
What action plan, perhaps out of the box, can you come up with for your distractions?
And this can take many forms; not only writing down keywords with pen and paper. Although this is a good start if you have never tried anything like this in church. The act of writing something down helps to reinforce a concept, making it stick better in the mind. Such notes can also serve as questions for deeper study later in your private study time. It can be a quote that you liked (why did you like it?), a memorable illustration (why did it resonate?), or just a verse reference (what is the context in the Bible?).
Perhaps the pastor said something you didn't understand or agree with, write it down!
Ask your questions
Hopefully, your pastor has an open-door policy for questions and comments that come up through his sermon. If there is something in the message you are unsure of or have questions about, simply listening over these, never to be answered or addressed, would discourage any attentive listening. However, knowing that you are able to find answers to questions that come up, especially through open communication directly with the speaker, will subconsciously encourage you to pay attention during sermons.
Start a Discussion
The conversation doesn't have to be with the pastor. Maybe it's with whoever is in the car with you on the way home. Perhaps you can start an interesting discussion with your question around the coffee table during fellowship time after the service. Opening up a conversation allows you to get fresh perspectives from others and teaches you to try and recall what you have heard from the Pastor, in your own words. This will further enforce the point of the message. The Bible was written for community engagement!
why listen at all?
What did God want to teach you or remind you of, with this sermon? You won't be able to answer if you are not paying attention.
These suggestions are meant to train your attention span - and eventually your general attitude toward hearing any sermon. Yes, it is something we can learn to do better. Do you realise God is using the shepherd behind that pulpit to feed the flock? This is part of why God made the church, for His Word to be preached and heard and processed by the sheep. Are you doing all that you can to eat? It starts by actually listening.