10 ways for active minds to stay focused during church. To go straight to the steps, skip to 2 minutes in on the audio.
It is now time for me to take a deep breath and admit one of my life long struggles to the readership. If left unchecked–that is, without using a few of my techniques below, I am highly likely to space out during church. I have embarrassing memories from college, when friends from other churches would ask what my pastor talked about that Sunday, and unable to recall any specific details, I would stumble over my words, turn pink and come up with something, like “oh, you know, grace, life, and faith.” I never dreamed of actually telling them that I simply failed to pay full attention, because I thought people would accuse me of having an apathetic heart and unintelligent mind. I secretly wished for a plain and ordinary mind, that could think in a nice linear fashion, like neat rows of corn in Iowa. Everyone else seemed to just sit there like a motionless sponge, listening, and soaking up revelation through Holy Spirit osmosis, while I was sort of there, and sort of off on another planet.
Later, once I learned more about how my mind worked, I realized it was never an issue of apathy nor a lack of love for Jesus. Ryan Gossling could have been speaking on the benefits of dark chocolate and trail running, and I still may have lost track along the way in a sub-thought. I have learned that humans by nature possess creativity, but in order for it to work for us, rather than against us, it must be channeled. I have a tendency to collect, connect, and juggle many ideas at once. Thus in order to stay present, it is imperative to interact and keep my mind engaged. Practicing the ten steps below has helped change my focus level on good days from that of an attention deficit monkey to an on-task laser beam.
Part I Before And During service
- Switch your phone to “do not disturb mode.” In this setting, you can still access your Bible app, but calls and texts will be silenced. Know your tech tendencies! If constant incoming buzzes will tempt you, then shut off notifications for the hour. Technology can be a great tool; but if misused, the interruptions will divert your attention and leave you feeling frazzled.
- Open a new note and begin with bullet points. Caution, avoid copying large chunks of information word for word unless there is a key take home phrase that the pastor repeats several times. While you might feel great about your ability to busily transcribe the entire sermon with your thumbs, the translating verbatim process can easily kick start mental autopilot.
- Revive your second language- Did you spend hours studying French during high school but now regret that your parents ever hired the tutor to help you? Don’t despair! Even if your Parisian travel hopes remain in the distant future, your French can still serve you well in church. I take about 25% of my sermon notes in Spanish, and here’s why: Not only does the act of translation require higher focus, but my limited Spanish language vocabulary, prevents me from getting lost in a sea of unnecessary verbiage. Sometimes simpler is better. Jesus Christo es Rey! Feliz Navidad!
- Use emojis- Peppering your notes with emoticons can capture reactions without having to describe them in detail. For example, instead of saying–Wow, I feel like the fire of Pentecost has fallen inside of my heart, and I need to check cross references on this passage later– simply insert a lightning bolt ⚡️, next to the astonished face😱, and later, go back to review them.
- No question gets left behind– So maybe something doesn’t quite make sense with your previous understanding of the character of God; don’t gloss over it. Whenever I hit an ambiguity or something that stirs uncomfortably in me, I mark it with a capital Q. Not only does God love to give wisdom to those who ask, but asking other people keeps us connected on our quest for Truth.
- Screenshot scripture – If Matthew 5 pops up on the big screen, and your first instinct is to furiously scribble down the whole passage by hand, consider an alternative. Open your Bible app of choice (I use the gateway), highlight the passage, and take a screenshot. Then throughout the next week, you can meditate on that scripture with your fresh lens of perspective.
Part II The post service ripple effect: The pastor’s teaching need not end in a stagnant pool of information after the members file out to mingle over donuts. Like a living and active seed that’s cast in a pond, the ripples can spread if we choose to make waves.
- Give genuine encouragement– We tend to assume that our church leaders get up on stage week after week, feeling awesome about themselves,with a deep sense that they are truly making an impact–and maybe they do–but it might be hard for them to read the minds of their congregation if we never tell them. If the message inspired you, tell the pastor; if you the pianist made your soul dance with their melodious rendition of Amazing Grace, shoot them a text. Even if you don’t really know them, we should never feel too cool to encourage.
- Coffee and controversy-One of the beauties of a flourishing community is that organic growth continues outside of the structured walls of the weekly service. With that in mind, those mid-week heart to heart coffee chats, can serve as a great time to bring up the questions you had earlier. And don’t be afraid to get a little controversial either. Part of actively engaging in the word, and in the world, involves integrating input with our pre-existing framework of beliefs and allowing new truths to penetrate our hearts. Disagreement, with safe people, is okay. As a lifelong seeker of harmony, I still find this difficult, but I am learning that challenge makes us grow.
- Teach someone from outside your circle- Internally grasping a concept for our own self-knowledge is one thing, but to simplify, articulate, and then teach it to another is a slightly more difficult feat. However, it comes with excitement as you watch the ripples carry out. Resist the urge to try and summarize the entire sermon in an essay format during a family reunion, and just share some of your favorite points with an eager listener. At this point, my sisters are rather used to emails from me with the subject line of “want to hear my latest thoughts!!??”
- Pray– Even if you forget the first 9 steps, never neglect step 10. Before church, pray that the Truth of God’s word will take root in your heart. Declare the understanding you have already been given. Pray that Holy spirit will highlight things in your life and transform you in a lasting way. Pray for your community.