Last week, Sports Illustrated reported that the coach of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, Kliff Kingsbury, has decided to provide “cellphone breaks” during team meetings in order to help his players maintain their concentration and attention. Kingsbury, who previously coached the Texas Tech football team, was noticing what could only be described as withdrawal symptoms (twitching hands and shaking legs) if he went longer than about twenty minutes. His solution was to give them the opportunity to hop on their phones, get a “social media fix,” and (hopefully) come back focused on the task at hand.
Much has been made about the increasingly shorter attention spans among younger generations. Several factors have been blamed for this trend, and there is no doubt that many people today – of all generations – seem to be conditioned to pay attention for short periods of time. In my observations as a collegiate instructor and a preacher, however, it is not so much that people are unable to pay attention to things for longer than twenty minutes, but rather that most people simply do not exert the effort to pay attention to anything that does not really interest them. They may be willing to give a few cursory moments to things they may begrudgingly believe to be important, but they have not developed the self-discipline (and among many of the younger generation, they have not been taught it) to remain focused on matters of importance. Purdue University recently launched a pilot program that blocked video and music streaming services as well as online gaming from lecture halls and labs during class hours. Some students shared that they engaged in all sorts of nonacademic online activity when they were “bored.”
The same underlying issue can come up in the Church, as well. As someone who regularly preaches on average for about forty-five minutes, I have heard and considered all the arguments against spending a “long” time preaching. Often, the short attention span of the modern person is presented as an argument for short homilies. Other times, and this is perhaps the saddest reason, pastors are encouraged to preach short sermons because the congregation will not endure (or is thought to be unable to understand) deeper truths from Scripture that often accompany “longer” sermons. “The mind can only absorb what the posterior can endure,” is a popular refrain along this line of reasoning.
I might be inclined to agree with that sentiment if I were not aware of how much folks’ posteriors endure at sporting events, movie theaters, concerts, in front of the TV, on social media…I think you get my point. What’s more, I also know that people are willing to dig deep into those things that truly interest them. Have you ever talked to someone who really loves cars, or hunting and fishing, or Marvel movies, or college football, or…again, I think I’ve made my point. We spend time studying, researching, and learning about that which we love, yet we often approach the study of God’s Word and time spent with Him like a teenager going to do their assigned chores. Our hands and legs twitch during our devotions and prayers, when our minds drift to the myriad other things we’d rather be doing. Imagine what a church could accomplish, whose members’ hands and legs twitched during the week as their minds drifted to thoughts of being in the Word and with the Body. Just something to think about…