Sunday, July 03, 2005

get a [preaching] life

Preachers take themselves far too seriously. I was at a conference, sitting at the back, listening and clearing my email. The visiting speaker tells me “I hope no-one ever treats you with that much dis-respect.”

It’s like get a life. It’s like have you never seen the back row of a youth service and watched everyone texting. It’s like have you never watched the way people watch TV, the way they tune in and out. Welcome to a culture in which people multi-track.

It might not be ideal, but it’s life. Get high and mighty, or work out ways to enculturate and participate in our multi-track culture. Earn the right to subvert.

Posted by steve at 08:59 PM


  1. Great comments Steve. Whenever I really want to listen to someone speaking, I play with my Palm Treo. I don’t do things that take brain power or concentration away, basically I keep my hands busy because I get very distracted when I try to just sit and listen. I never do that at any other time in my life, so why expect myself to be able to do it just because it is the done thing? Maybe I’ll try out your ‘get a life’ line on my uni lecturers …

    Comment by Tim — July 3, 2005 @ 10:44 pm

  2. yes, but mostly no, i don’t buy it. take it elsewhere i say. if people want to check your e-mail during a service then leave : that’s what i encourage my youth group to do : don’t write notes and giggle in the sanctuary, don’t txt inane messages during the communal time : respect your environments, there’s no shame in getting up and going into the foyer to have your conversation or multitracking, no-one is forcing anyone to stay here and express blatant disinterest. i don’t think i’m full of myself for asking for that…i just think some things are worth subverting and others are not : this one in my opinion is not.
    movie theaters don’t tolerate ‘multitracking’, why should churches?

    Comment by stu Mcgregor — July 3, 2005 @ 11:15 pm

  3. Of course, if you’re a kinaesthetic learner, then fidgiting while you are in a sermon is a sign that you’re still listening (or not!)

    However…. I’m not completely convinced, Steve, that the above line of argument isn’t a bit of an excuse for something else. I don’t particularly want to defend a monologue sermon, but the capacity to completely focus on something is probably essential in any proper listening. I often wonder if we’re all in a state of being reduced by technology, rather than expanded. Any serious relationship needs moments of serious, uncluttered listening and undistracted beholding. OK, so maybe the preachers of monologue sermons are being over-precious, but if humanity loses the capacity to focus, then I think we’ve lost something essential to the better part of our humanity. Imagine if Mary had been fiddling with a mobile phone while Gabriel was trying to tell her that she was highly favoured by God …

    Comment by Paul Roberts — July 4, 2005 @ 3:42 am

  4. Would we clear emails, programme an ipod, add things to our palm pilots, text etc if it was God/Jesus/ one of the disciples speaking up the front or would we do these things while we were praying?

    Speakers have a responsibility to use a variety of ways to keep everyone in the audience tuned in and be mindful that 15 minutes is a recognised max learning span for adults.

    Listeners have a responsibility to attend to the speaker. How would it be if a counsellor/pastor in the role of counsellor was checking emails/ doing the technology stuff when we as a client/member of the church needed them?

    Comment by Lynley — July 4, 2005 @ 4:59 pm

  5. So how would it be if 150 people are present and all 150 choose to ‘clear their email’?

    Would you seriously see that as an ok thing if you were communicating Steve?…

    You kinda expect young people in the back row to do what young people do… not adults who have learnt the mores of how groups function and who understand courtesy.

    Sorry pal – sounds like rudeness to me – maybe you need to hear what he was saying.

    Comment by hamo — July 4, 2005 @ 8:04 pm

  6. Hamo, If 150 were clearing their e-mail while I was speaking, I would take it as I was doing a terrible job speaking.

    For generations people did to-do lists, doodled, and wrote notes in church. We do it a lot more high tech now.

    As far as movies go, when they are really boring, we just walk out although one of the things hurting movies in North America has been people texting their friends from movie theatres telling them that this movie is terrible, even before the movie reviews are out.

    I don’t think Steve was being rude, I think the speaker just needs to accept things have changed.

    Comment by Jordon Cooper — July 5, 2005 @ 8:05 am

  7. OK, so I work part time, look after children, do voluntary work and am off to a conference that I am leading a seminar at and leading worship at.

    None of my work involvment pays me to prepare to be there. My voluntary involvements have me doing 3 major upfront things in the few days before this conference. And paid work wise, I have to work real hard in the week b4 to clear my desk enuff to be off.

    So I have a choice. Once I get to the conf I can either not attend so as to have time to prepare the worship stuff I need/want to do (that way I miss out on what is happening in the group, which makes shaping worship connective to the group a whole lot harder). Or I can work away on it quietly while I listen to what is happening around me. Or I can flag the preparation and do an unprepared monologue when my time comes.

    No, it is possibly not ideal, I would love to have time to just sit and listen, but that wasn’t one of my options (unless I go without sleep, or omit to take my 5 year old for the walk she desperately needs, or I could not talk with anyone during the conf). I am not (and Steve isn’t) talking about writing a thesis/doing stuff that requires a huge amount of brain, it is, as Jordan says, the doodling/to do list that used has always been part of our reality. Just with a laptop, this time.

    that is my reality. Not ideal. but real.

    Comment by lynne — July 5, 2005 @ 9:44 am

  8. Stu – tried to respond to your comment at the movies yesterday but couldn’t 🙂

    Paul, come now, you are mr.alt.worship, who floods people with multiple tracking images and who wrote a great recent post on the importance of aesthetics. Images and aesthetics,my how distracting is that?

    Lynley, Acts 20:7-11 – the cheek of someone who falls asleep listening to the apostle Paul go on and on.

    Comment by steve — July 5, 2005 @ 10:30 am

  9. I wanted to point out that a lot of commenters said that someone using a laptop or txting wasn’t listening, but as you said originally, Steve, it’s just about being able to multi-task.

    It’s also not a sign that a speaker is boring or unengaging. There is now very little usefulness in everyday life for sitting entirely still and doing nothing but listen for long periods of time. Why should we expect people to do so at church?

    I think it was Heal Your Church Website that had a big discussion of whether church offices should turn off their wifi during services (or maybe it was TSK). Either way, I think the speaker needs to both read it as a sign of the times and not take himself too seriously.

    Is it fair to draw a parallel between counselor/client and congregation/preacher? I think this implies that the congregation shows up for the psychological well-being and validation of the pastor :). I assume that was unintentional, but it does illustrate the high degree of preacher-centricity.

    Also, I think if God or Jesus showed up and started preaching, I would get out my laptop and start blogging everything he said. Not all “tuning out” is really tuning out. Sometimes people are taking notes (but again, they can’t be expected to do only one thing continuously for an extended period of time).

    Comment by Justin Baeder — July 5, 2005 @ 7:04 pm

  10. not convinced. what with the recent research that shows that cellphones are hazardous for driving because they engage too much of the brain away from the task of driving, i think it’s ok to assume that the person ‘multi-tasking’ is not fully engaged and is in fact distracted. taking notes, i.e. blogging Jesus, is a different thing altogether as the focus is still on the preacher’s address : still effectively mono-track. checking e-mail is bringing multiple worlds into collision with the primary input : multi-track. same parts of the brain engaging with different stimuli. i think you’d be hard pressed to convince me that you can read a novel and listen to a lecture at the same time.
    if steve were leading a discussion, and i was saying something but he was reading something, i wouldn’t think he was listening to me at all.
    we’re talking about disparate themes vying for brain-time here. all i ask is that you take your disinterest outside of the auditorium as a courtesy.
    arguably that’s what the guy who fell out the window did isn’t it? ; ) …. yeah that’s my keen sense of humour btw.
    there is a social contract when you go to hear a speaker. the way to opt out of it is to leave otherwise it’s expected that you’ll listen. i’m not sure if Steve would react well to people holding a conversation while he was lecturing…though i admit what he was doing was a private not-so-intrusive form of disengagement, but it was disengagement nonetheless that could have easily been taken elsewhere…
    “why would i bother critiquing this post?” i find myself asking. well, to be honest, it’s because steve’s comment has done nothing for his credibility. courtesy is a good thing.
    should the preacher in question confronted steve? yes and no. yes because it’s good to be transparent, no because it’s really not that big a deal.
    should steve have posted about it? i don’t think so, because it has made it into a bigger deal than it should’ve…
    and in the words of forrest gump : ‘and, that’s ’bout all i have to say about that.’

    Comment by stu Mcgregor — July 5, 2005 @ 11:20 pm

  11. haha, i knew 2 seconds into reading it that this last post was yours stu. i agree definitely with the point that this has been made a big deal, but i can also see from a broader perspective.. perhaps the point that steve is alluding to…. that the technology now reflects in a more potent and visible way that there has always been this danger of the listener in disconnect. ..

    that being said…hmmmm. that being said nothing. I think i am confused about my opinion because I can agree with both parts.

    Comment by tash — July 5, 2005 @ 11:59 pm

  12. i think there’s another layer beyond respect to all of this though – something about how our presence transforms a group, even if we’re not the speaker. you can tell when you’re running something and a group is completely present – it goes off. for that to happen it requires all of us to be completely present, though, not just the speaker.

    i can multitask with the best of them – and i do. but i know that my energy / presence is then split between the group and the other things i’m doing. it’s a choice i have to make.

    Comment by ella — July 6, 2005 @ 12:35 am

  13. We talked about this a bit last night at Espresso and I realised that I consider there is a difference between “monologue” and “dialogue” doing other stuff. I would consider I was rude if I talked extensively or downloaded email(* see below) or txted in a situation where the expectation was that i would be listening, as that is two way engagement – like the talking on a cell phone thing while drving. But a one way, no interaction, not rude to “stop” suddenly and focus all attention on the speaker suddenly thing then i still say it is ok.

    No, I can’t talk on the phone whilst driving but I am perfectly capable of planning dinner, or further reflecting on worship, or nutting out a work challenge, cos it is simply part of what I do.

    Not sure about Stu’s logic that it has been made into a bigger deal than it is, it seems that sone buttons have been pushed, and this is and will be an increasing reality into our future…

    (* steve was ditching emails out of his inbox, not downloading new stuff, which i think is what stu assumed in his 1st post… stu also gave examples of two-way interaction things, which in my head are different.

    Also i think context makes a difference. diff between session at a seminar and a church worshiup service (and indeed the context of that service itself)

    anyway, enuff already. work to do.

    Comment by lynne — July 6, 2005 @ 9:30 am

  14. my point in this post was not to become infamous by earning the title “Steve is disrespectful” on coops blog ( my point was to reflect on the impact of new technologies on speaking. strange how so many of us want to be missional and incarnational, yet seem to wrap a sermon/speaker in a luddite blanket.

    Comment by steve — July 6, 2005 @ 10:06 am

  15. Coming back a day after originally commenting, I still feel the same way. All the examples people gave of when it would definitely be disrespectful are in very non-parallel situations, such as a personal conversation.

    I do agree that there is a certain expectation (call it a social contract if you like) when you attend a public event with a speaker. But I think what Steve is saying is correct – times have changed, and people cannot be expected to sit and listen to a monologue without doing anything else.

    Again, it’s not fair to compare a sermon to a discussion (because it’s non-interactive) or to a movie (because, frankly, movies are a heck of a lot more engaging).

    Comment by Justin Baeder — July 6, 2005 @ 3:55 pm

  16. hamo,
    just reading your comment. i observe that you assume the visiting speaker was male. interesting assumption.


    Comment by steve — July 6, 2005 @ 4:16 pm

  17. I don’t know if this diologue is or should still be going on,(will talking about ettiquite save Africa) but I was pondering on the viewpoints at work.(self employd manual worker- so I can work with my hands and mind at the same time if Iwant to)And felt it all depended on the ownership of the space.’He who pays the piper calls the tunes’.Although we are free we choose to respect.

    Comment by Vance — July 6, 2005 @ 5:06 pm

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