The church posted a message on Facebook on Sunday to help members focus their attention in church, quoting a talk by Bishop Dean Davies. This post has gotten a few people in online communities asking questions.
Some of the questions I’ve heard in response to this post are:
- Who’s responsible for boring talks and lessons?
- Does this mean the church is acknowledging that our meetings are boring?
- Is the onus entirely on the listener or is this blaming the victim for their bad attitude?
- Is “shaming” people an appropriate tactic? 
Pres. Uchtdorf’s opening talk at the Saturday morning session of General Conference addressed this question also. He spoke of the spiritual experiences we’ve had that brought us to church in the first place and asked, quoting Alma 5:26: “Can ye feel so now?”
Thinking over my own church experience of nearly 50 years, my honest answer to that question is “Depends.” Sometimes I can “feel so,” but sometimes I simply don’t have it in me. Life is long. They wouldn’t call it “enduring” to the end if it was non-stop enjoyment. So yes, when a lesson or talk is boring, partly that’s because I’m just not feeling it right then. As Pres. Uchtdorf says (to my condemnation):
Considering all of this, how could it ever be possible that we of all people would not be excited about attending our Church worship services? Or get tired of reading the holy scriptures? I suppose this could be possible only if our hearts were past feeling to experience gratitude and awe for the sacred and sublime gifts God has granted us. Life-changing truths are before our eyes and at our fingertips, but sometimes we sleepwalk on the path of discipleship. Too often we let ourselves be distracted by the imperfections of our fellow members instead of following the example of our Master. We tread a path covered with diamonds, but we can scarcely distinguish them from ordinary pebbles.
Fine, I suck. Actually, I’m not sure how much control I actually have on my suckitude. There are times when I can nudge myself over the line into good-attitude-land, but there are other times when I feel a sense of dread going to church, like I’m about to board a really long flight in coach.
At other times, I tend to think a specific lesson or talk just isn’t for me. Not everything has to be tailor-made for me. I don’t like every book I read, every movie I watch, every topic of conversation people bring up, or every political candidate who gets nominated (*cough, cough*). But there might be someone else for whom that talk or lesson is really important and just the right thing for them at the moment.  It doesn’t have to mean I am a spiritual low-life just because that talk or lesson wasn’t my cup of (herbal) tea.
For example, I was talking to someone about the poor preparation of a Gospel Doctrine teacher that week at church, and that person empathized and contrasted the unprepared teacher with their own glowing view of a different Gospel Doctrine teacher, someone I particularly disliked because of that person’s self-aggrandizing, bombastic style. I can see that bombastic puts some butts in seats–it’s not boring at least. I prefer more scholarly lessons, but there are plenty of people who might find that boring or a turn-off like I find a loud, lecturing style with little classroom discussion a snooze. We don’t all like the same things. While lack of preparation might be a universal turn-off, maybe it’s not. Maybe some people would adore the ramblings of an absent-minded professor and find that self-deprecation charming. Perhaps it’s most charitable to shrug and say, “Hey, that wasn’t for me, but I’m sure someone else got what they needed. Bully for them.”
It’s interesting that the picture in the post shows two people who are both potentially not paying attention. While the woman is focused on the talk being boring (criticizing the speaker?) the man is thinking about gratitude for the Savior. It’s ambiguous whether his thoughts have anything to do with the actual talk being presented. Musing on the atonement rather than focusing on the speaker or teacher seems to be better than dissing on the poor quality of the talk, particularly since we don’t have professional clergy addressing our congregations. A measure of charity can’t be a bad thing. But let’s have a measure of charity for the listeners, too, eh? We showed up.
There’s another factor that can contribute to the soul-crushing boredom of some of our talks and lessons aside from the jaded listeners, the untrained speakers and teachers, and the threadbare topics, and that’s the lesson manuals themselves. Unlike some other Christian churches that just use the scriptures and the pastor’s discretion, we have a centrally written curriculum. Teachers are required to follow the lesson plans, and in most wards are discouraged from bringing in any outside materials (other than scriptures or lds.org) in creating their lessons or talks. That greatly restricts the intellectual curiosity of speakers and teachers as well as class members. In most lessons, it seems like we continually ask the exact same questions and get the exact same “official” answers over and over. It reminds me of the chanting in some high churches where the priest chants one line, and the congregation responds with the scripted answer, back and forth. Good thing we dislike vain repetition.
That’s why ward members need to keep it real. People need to speak up and discuss things in fresh new ways. The lesson manuals may be correlated, but the contents of our heads and lives are unique! If you say something that’s unusual, challenging or authentic–but hopefully still on point–you’ll find that you have people coming out of the woodwork to thank you for saying it. People you wouldn’t expect, even. People who might not ever do so themselves. We are starved for anything to shake us out of our stupor, or so it seems.
Or we can daydream the time away when the lesson’s a stinker.
 It’s church, people. Shaming is our bread and butter.
 The same cannot be said for every political nominee.