Preventing problems with podcast preachers 36

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

(Full disclosure. My own podcast list, in order of most listened to, is Sinclair Furguson, Alistair Begg, and RC Sproul.)

36 thoughts on “Preventing problems with podcast preachers

  1. Corner Coffee Oct 21, 2009 12:44 pm

    Duncan,
    I’m not reading into anything. This is exactly what you said:

    You can’t be a Christian and avoid Christ’s church.

    But you have clarified that now, and I accept that you didn’t actually mean that a person who doesn’t go to church is not a Christian. You just believe that such action warrants suspicion of their title.

    Sylvia,
    In large part, you’re absolutely right in your comment. I don’t necessarily believe you (or Duncan) are correct in assuming that the NT is clear about what God expects from his church concerning corporate gatherings of believers for the express purpose of singing, preaching, and fellowship, but we can agree that it certainly happened.

    I’m not even necessarily recommending that one SHOULD abandon a church gathering and replace it with other means. I haven’t chosen to do so, so I obviously find value in church gatherings.

    How much more important, then should it be that a church be a place that ugly, sick, annoying,dirty people—-even those who have been born again–can come and worship without having to be “chosen” or “invited” by anyone other than Christ?

    A person choosing to not attend a church gathering does not prevent someone who needs a church gathering from attending. If anything, it frees up a seat.

    As I said, I’m not against church gatherings. But in a day where people have the option to either meet at a church gathering or replicate the church experience through other means, isn’t it our personal responsibility to decide what works best for us, absent a mandate from scripture to do one or the other?

    My mind isn’t closed to the idea that there is sometimes a good reason. The problem is that the reasons are often fleshly and self centered, and I can’t help but think that the more someone does church his own way, the more self-satisfying his Christianity can become.

    Potentially, and this is a very good point. If a person does choose to do church differently, they do need to be careful. But robbing them of the option by claiming one is superior to the other just to make sure the selfish and the lazy don’t take advantage of the new option is like cutting off your nose to spite your face.

    To me, the chief advantage (if you can call it that) of a church gathering over personal church is that a church gathering gives people control over people, to an extent. If a person decides to skip, people notice. If a person isn’t singing, people notice. Etc. But this all relies on the application of peer pressure to “do right”. And oftentimes (in my experience) this can lead to a very false religion where too much emphasis is placed on the outward.

    If this becomes the purpose of church, to force people to do right (at least once a week), then I’d rather avoid it.

    • James Duncan Oct 21, 2009 12:53 pm

      CC, you say, “If this becomes the purpose of church, to force people to do right (at least once a week), then I’d rather avoid it.”

      I’ve got to throw a flag on that one. Church elders do have the responsibility to “force people to do right,” and they serve as legitimate instruments of God’s discipline and restoration in our lives.

      If you’re freelancing your faith, you remove yourself from this benefit.

  2. Sylvia Oct 21, 2009 1:43 pm

    “A person choosing to not attend a church gathering does not prevent someone who needs a church gathering from attending. If anything, it frees up a seat.”

    True, it doesn’t, but then, he may be in need of your unique gifts the same way that you may be in need of his.
    Also, if it is good enough for them, why isn’t it good enough for you?(the figurative “you”
    ,not you you) When we choose something, we choose it because it is in some way better. Would it not be better to submit yourself to a congregation and avail this person,(and others) of your gifts, than to let this person join a congregation that you, yourself would not choose? If there is a good local assembly, why not go? If there truly is not, then you NEED to be inviting these other people to whatever home fellowship meeting you attend rather than just leaving them a seat at an apostate church.

    I am having a hard time believing that it is possible to “take advantage of the new option” without your own flesh having too much control. I don’t think that this is just a danger to the most selfish and lazy of us, I think that it kinda comes with the territory. By choosing self-directed Christianity over joining a worthy shepherded and eldered congregation (assuming,in this case, that one does exist), aren’t we already taking the first step in doing it our own way? Haven’t we already made the self-serving choice?

    If a small group of Christians really did do all of the things that were required of them in the New Testament, then they would, in fact, BE a church, and there would be not argument here. “Church discipline: check. widows: working on it… ” If they are somehow not a church, but a group of friends who listen to their respective podcasts, well, there it is.

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