Tuesday, June 30, 2009

iPreachers and the Podcast Pulpit

I think preaching is really important. Paul's final chapter of the New Testament centres on a charge to 'preach the word'. The preached word is the heartbeat of a local church life, as God comes to address his people.

Today we can download Piper, Driscoll etc and spend our weeks listening to their sermons. My guess is that there are some (young/male) Christians who spend all week working through the archives of these guys, and then whole loads more who've never done that. I used to listen to quite a lot of their mp3s but I think I can probably count on one hand the number I've listened to this year. I still download sermons to aid my own sermon preparation, either to help with my exegesis, as a form of audio commentary, or to help with my communication skills by exposing me to different ways of preaching. I also download for more educational reasons from Theology Network, Bethinking etc, but a Sunday sermon is surely meant for something more. Something special goes on when God commissions this preacher to bring this word to this people on this occasion, Christ coming to his people in the power of the Spirit so that they can once again believe the gospel.

The temptation is to either blindly embrace the benefits of this new technology or be highly suspicious of it. My take on technology is that it's a good servant and a bad master. I blog, I like writing it but it's no big deal to me. I've tied my blog in with Twitter and Facebook to make it accessible to those who might want to read it, such technology makes life easier. On the positive side of new technology I can get access to gifted teachers who can help me to love Jesus more, just as in previous generations I could have read the sermons of a Spurgeon or a Lloyd-Jones alongside commentaries and other Christian books. On the negative side, it's easy enough to be a sermon junkie who is ever listening and never responding to the preached word. The technology simply makes such things available easily, and on balance that's probably good for the church (though there's inevitably more tosh out there than good stuff).

I've cut back because it's hard enough for me to really wrestle with Sunday's sermon from my own church, a word prepared and ordained for our local church at this time. It takes time to apply it with my wife and with our home group. It's very easy to get to next Sunday and realise that I never really took to heart last week's word let alone being ready to receive again. The other difficulty is that I might expect the preachers at our church to be Piper&co when God made them to be who they are for the good of our church. No harm in downloading some supplements but nothing can beat being in the room with God's people as the word is preached.

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post Dave, I think you are spot on. I blogged on something very similar just a few weeks back regarding the 'cult of the iPod' (June 15 2009)

    In our consumption culture the tendency is to swallow more and more sermons/podcasts and just assume subsequent growth. Also in our somewhat superficial culture, where we only really ever skim the surface of anything, Christians should be those who grapple, meditate and excavate the the Word.

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  2. Amen, amen. I think your emphasis on God's providential hand providing the right preacher for the right congregation on the right Sunday is helpful and accurate (my summary of your words, slightly exaggerated for effect!).

    One other tendency I've noticed linked to the ease of access to many sermons is the tendency to imitate other preachers (has value within certain limits - we all learn from those more able than us), and to nick other people's sermons (umm, just plain wrong). Surrounded by such a range of great sermons on any passage, it takes a real commitment to the belief not only in the sufficiency of Scripture and the powerful personal work of the HS (2 Tim 2v7), but also in God's providential placing of you as the preacher at this time and in this place, to resist the temptation to steal/borrow others' work.

    Enjoying the blog!

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  3. Thanks for this, Dave. I feel I might come into the category of young, male Christians who listen to more sermons on podcast than they do at their church on Sunday and as such I'm increasingly aware of the need to be careful not to compare preachers unfavorably, or to be passively listening without allowing the Spirit to challenge me through what is said. Not all the podcasts I listen to are the evangelical megastars; I like to keep up with one or two "normal" vicars/ministers from time to time, but even so I need to be reminded that God has given me the minister(s) at the church I attend!
    One of the things which I've noticed about podcast sermons is the ease by which they can be impersonal - the preacher doesn't know me, and isn't speaking (directly) to me so it becomes easier to shrug off a challenge to change my attitudes or behaviour. I can't go and speak to the preacher after the sermon to ask for clarification or prayer. Most of the time I can't discuss it with friends. It even becomes possible for me to thoughtlessly press "skip" if I don't like the sermon, whereas walking out of a church service has relational consequences! The internet and the global village has brought us closer together in important and positive ways, but it can also facilitate distanciation and passivity in ways which the face-to-face stuff overcomes.

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  4. Great comment. One major downside for any preacher, especially new ones, is to assume that it is impossible to "match" what we hear online. Or that to be a "good sermon" it has to compete with the best that people can download. This is to miss what the Holy Spirit is able to do in the word preached and very likely to make junior (and not so junior!) preachers go to the web to listen before doing any Bible work. This makes us worse preachers (who just happen to imitate Mark Driscoll, Don Carson, et al) not better ones.

    A friend's wife said to me recently "your preaching reminds me of Don Carson's." My head swelled - too quickly as it happened. She went on "when you get excited you squeak just like he does." Great! As squeaky as Carson. One thing I hope - that I haven't inadvertantly picked up his style just from knowing and listening to him. But its possible. Let's all take care to be the people God has made us to be, the preachers God wants US to be (not John Piper to be), preaching the biblical messages God gives for our congregations for the specific time at hand

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