As a preacher, I try to avoid any distraction which steers my mental focus away from the message I have prepared each Sunday. I have done this for years. I carefully work at it. This is especially important to me because I usually preach without notes (from memory), but even when I use notes, it is still important. The Apostle Paul stresses the importance of such single-minded focus in Philippians 3:8-14.
I try to absorb the message (sermon) each week into my mind (and soul). I study and meditate upon it until my focus is completely upon the message. Then I do not want anything to distract me from the message. Nehemiah would not be distracted from the task before him.
On Sunday morning, I do read the newspaper and check news and sports online – but only briefly. I escape to my study as soon as I can on Sundays. It is important that I make my “rounds” and connect at church with various leaders on Sunday, such as our worship leader, media director, etc. But I try to avoid discussing “problems.” Unless it concerns today’s service, I do not want to be distracted. For example, I would not discuss the coming year’s church budget with the finance chairman – even informally – prior to a Sunday morning service. I generally do not check email or text messages before church on Saturday night or Sunday morning, unless I know the message pertains directly to the service. I do not want to be distracted with matters that can wait.
I read years ago where a famous preacher said he wished there was a tunnel from his study to the pulpit, so he would not risk being distracted from his message. I sometimes find myself wishing the same thing. And it has become a greater problem with the technology of our modern worship – where the pastor often sits in the front row of the church, rather than on the platform, because the words to the songs, etc., are all up on the screen. The pastor is more easily accessible to distractions on the front row than he was on the platform.
Despite the convenience of sitting on the front row, I have moved back to the platform because of distractions. Well-meaning people in the congregation will lean over my shoulder and update me on prayer requests, scheduled surgeries or issues which may later need my attention. When someone tells me during a church service about an up-coming surgery, I am immediately distracted from my message. I am concerned about their welfare, and I am also concerned that I remember this information later. And so I run the risk of losing my focus.
Pat Buchanan, an aide to President Richard Nixon, tells in his new book, The Greatest Comeback, that once in Oregon he interrupted President Nixon with breaking news just before a campaign speech, and it so jolted Nixon that he forgot the name of his party’s gubernatorial candidate that night in public. Buchanan blamed himself. He said the breaking news, which clearly distracted Nixon, could have waited until after the speech.
So, I try to avoid all distractions every Sunday. I am eager to see people and glad to greet them before church, but I try to avoid anything which would take my focus away from the message God has laid on my heart.