Talk to any engaged 20-something Christian these days, and you’ll likely find that they can rattle off a list of their favorite podcast preachers. For some, a quick scan of their iPod will probably tell you more about their doctrinal commitments than their local church membership. The relatively recent phenomenon of being able to carry your favorite preacher with you as you’re on the go changes the way we listen to the preached Word of God.
The sermon you hear on your iPod is significantly inferior to the preaching you hear at your local church on Sunday morning. Here’s why:
- The preacher doesn’t know you. Although preaching is not the only aspect of shepherding, ideally preaching and shepherding should go together. A preacher feeds his flock the Word of God, though always presenting it in a way that’s meaningful for that particular congregation. To your pastor, you’re a known family member sitting around the (metaphorical) table; to your podcast preacher, you’re a hit, an anonymous number.
- You can choose your sermons. Podcasts are perfect for people with itching ears (that’s all of us). Each sermon is labeled and invites us to download or delete it. When I go to my local church on Sunday, I usually don’t know the details of the pastor’s sermon. He commits to preach the Word of God as it’s written, and I commit to listen, test and obey the preached Word as I hear it. Dodging difficult messages is harder when you don’t see them coming.
- You can listen while distracted. When you listen to a preacher while driving down the interstate eating your lunch, you’re probably not going to be able to concentrate quite as well as if you were sitting in church. The very value of podcasting is that we can take our preachers with us, so the assumption is that we’ll be multitasking when we listen. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with multitasking, but it’s not worship.
- You can listen without your Bible. Although this is possible to do in church, the on-the-go multitasking quality of podcast audiences makes this much more likely. Having a Bible on hand as we listen lets us see as well as hear the Word; it also lets us quickly check the context of a verse and engage in on-the-fly testing of the preacher’s message.
- You’re alone. In church I am both encouraged and challenged by the fact that I see my Christian family worshipping with me. Fellowship with God is accompanied by fellowship with his family. Although podcasting and Internet participation carry with them the idea of a virtual community, it’s still only virtual. I know there may be thousands of other believers sharing the podcast with me, but I don’t know who they are. Neither will they know me.
- He’s always preaching to someone else. When we listen to a podcast preacher, it’s almost always someone else’s preacher. When the preacher challenges his congregation, it’s always someone else who’s being challenged, not me. Not only am I anonymous and unaccountable, the preacher isn’t even expecting me to be accountable.
- It’s usually out of context. Sermons are an integral part of church worship, which usually includes other elements like singing, prayer, confession, communion and giving. To take the sermon out of that context deprives it of the participation and preparation that is a valuable part of the in-church sermon.
I’m not saying that we need to delete all of our podcast subscriptions. There are obviously exceptions to all the points I’ve just made.
Clearly, there is value in hearing the Word of God preached well by anyone, but our primary source of spiritual sustenance, beyond our own Bible study and prayer, should come through membership in a local church with a preacher that faithfully preaches God’s Word.
Everything else is gravy. Tasty, but not filling.