I will never forget it. It was in the tiny, old sanctuary of the first church I pastored in Amite, Louisiana. A young boy was acting up in the middle of the sermon. I was preaching away, doing my best to press through, and leaving it to mom and dad to handle the young lad’s obvious misbehavior. Dad handled it alright. In the middle of the sermon, the dad stood, grabbed his son by the arm, and yanked the now terrified boy out of his pew. The two went down the aisle and out the back of the sanctuary.
But neither one went quietly. The boy was screaming for help while dad—pulling off his belt with one arm, holding his son with the other—informed his son that “he was ’bout to get it.” The back wooden door of the sanctuary opened quickly and closed with authority. Everyone could hear the “discipline” that was taking place on the other side.
Needless to say, no one—not even the preacher—had any interest or clue about the subject matter related to the sermon. Everyone was distracted, especially me.
If you preach long enough (I’m talking weeks and years here, not length of sermon), you are guaranteed to experience distractions. I promise.
Blood levels falling.
And, oh yeah, dads punishing.
What is a preacher to do when these things happen? You have worked incredibly hard all week long to present this eternal information to your people. The slightest sneeze can distract from a key moment. How can the preacher navigate through distractions?
Here are four rules of thumb to keep in mind (if you can):
First, expect them.
There’s no way around it. Disctractions will come. You can pray against them (which I highly recommend). You can set up boundaries. But at the end of the day, you cannot prevent certain things from happening. I can guarantee something will cause a distraction more often than not when you are preaching. A huge way to deal with them is to go into the sermon assuming they will be present.
Second, ignore 90% of them.
Most of the distractions that occur will not need any extra attention. Sneezes, coughs, text dings, etc. need to be left alone. Saying something, stopping the message, etc. will only bring more attention to it and will probably embarrass the perpetrator even more. Expect distractions to happen and press through most of them.
Third, discern the 10% needing platform attention.
There will be the rare occasion when you need to pause and recognize from the platform what is going on. Usually this is when the entire room is distracted. Cell phones that continue to ring. A baby that refuses to quit crying. Snoring that gets louder and louder and louder. A medical emergency. Children or teenagers continuously talking or giggling. When something or someone continuously causes others around them to be distracted, it needs to be pointed out. Sometimes someone genuinely cannot hear their cell phone. Sometimes the gentleman snoring takes medicine and cannot help it. There are times when you need to pause and call attention to the distraction. It is okay to ask someone to nudge a snorer. When everyone is distracted, gracefully call attention to it and move on.
Finally, when in doubt, pause to pray.
If you aren’t sure what to do, stop the sermon and pray. Definitely do this if there is a medical emergency. But sometimes a new mom is too embarrassed to get up and needs everyone to close their eyes. Sometimes someone needs to get up and get a cough drop and some water when no one is looking. There are times you need to just stop, call the congregation to pray, pray for renewed focus, and finish the sermon. Not only will it help the disctractor, but it allows God the opportunity to answer a prayer everyone can experience together.
What about you? What distractions have you experienced while preaching? How have you dealt with them?