By Trevin Wax
It’s never been easier to access good preaching. For hundreds of years, pastors have published sermons in books and pamphlets.
In the past century, many pastors expanded their influence and spread their preaching to large numbers through radio broadcasts and cassette-tape ministries.
Today, it’s even easier to hear good preaching. You can find popular pastors on the podcast app on your smartphone, or look up their sermons on YouTube or Vimeo.
Never before in the history of Christianity has it been so easy to listen to preaching from some of the most popular pastors of our day.
I’m grateful for this blessing. I enjoy listening to sermons from some of my favorite preachers. I enjoy catching up on what happened at my own church, whenever I’m out of town or have nursery duty.
The ability to listen to sermons online or through my phone is a blessing I don’t want to take for granted.
But as with all technological advances, potential dangers accompany the benefits. Church leaders should encourage their congregation to take advantage of this amazing opportunity, but help them consider these three cautions:
1. Don’t devalue the power of preaching in your local congregation.
The church gathers to hear to the Word preached. Yes, we can benefit from sermons when we are scattered throughout the city, but there’s something powerful about a preacher addressing a particular congregation in a particular place.
Iconic 20th-century British pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones famously refused to release his sermons via audio (only now, decades after his death, is the audio available!). He believed the sermon experience was irreplaceable.
There is no way to capture all of a sermon’s power in a soundbite or through audio recording. As much as we might benefit from these technologies, we cannot replace (nor should we try) the preaching event itself.
Your church probably doesn’t need to go as far as Lloyd-Jones. Make the sermons available, but stress to your people that the shared sermon experience is special and cannot be duplicated outside of the local body.
2. Sermon podcasts are optional; gathering with the Church is not.
How would you respond if someone in your congregation said: If it’s easier to download a podcast or watch the sermon live online from the comfort of my bed on a Sunday morning, who’s to judge?
This person seems to think the only thing going on at church is the delivery of information from one brain to another. As long as I get the message, I’m just fine. What an anemic understanding of what happens when the congregation gathers together!
Help the people in your church understand we are not simply receptacles receiving biblical information once a week. The entire experience of worship is formative.
We are formed through the songs we sing, our interactions with and service to other believers, our seeing one another together in submission to the Word of God, and our coming together to the Lord’s Table.
None of those can be done in isolation. If we grow, we grow together, not apart from one another.
Don’t let your people get this backward. Listening to sermons online is optional for the Christian. Gathering with the church is not.
Switch those around and we are left with a discipleship process that is information-heavy and tailored only to our own preferences, desires, and routine.
3. Churches should love their pastor who ministers personally.
Teach your congregation to not dismiss the pastors who know and love them, just because their preaching may not rise to the lofty standard of the most famous in our day.
It’s not self-serving for any current pastor to help a congregation grasp this lesson. It’s a valuable lesson for the congregation that will extend to future pastors.
We can be grateful for the gifts God has given others without downplaying the power of ordinary pastors leading ordinary churches filled with ordinary people.
The church needs pastors and leaders and shepherds who sit down across from us and know us, love us, and challenge us. Make being that type of leader your priority.
Not every pastor will have the gift of Charles Spurgeon. That’s OK because God didn’t call Charles Spurgeon to your church. God does His sanctifying work through pastors who have multiple gifts.
We don’t need great preaching every week, but we do need good, biblical preaching.
Never forget the Spirit of God does His work through churches of all sizes, through pastors of all talents, and through believers who desire to see God bring fruit from their lives.
We can be grateful for podcasts and sermons online. Church leaders should be encouraged that members of their congregation are looking for more opportunities to hear the Bible preached.
But let’s be sure our people see these sermons as a supplement—not a replacement—for the steady, faithful routine of gathering with God’s people, listening to God’s Word, and supporting the shepherd that God has placed before you.
A podcast is not a pastor.
TREVIN WAX (@TrevinWax) is the Bible and Reference Publisher of Lifeway Christian Resources.