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. Paul Oct 19, 2009 12:21 pm

    interesting comments and thoughts. have not thought of it that way before.

  2. Tim P. Oct 19, 2009 5:48 pm

    Wow. What an excellent post!

  3. Sophie Oct 19, 2009 6:06 pm

    I think what’s important is that people don’t replace Sunday morning worship with podcasts. I don’t think there is anything wrong with listening to a preacher online, sometimes when we go to the same church for many years (or if your pastor is also your dad, as is my case, your whole life) the preaching style is a little repetitive. And it’s not that what they’re saying isn’t biblical or helpful, sometimes you need to hear someone deliver it in a different way. Once again I’d like to repeat, a podcast shouldn’t replace Sunday morning church, but I think that listening on your own time could promote spiritual growth. I listen to John Piper and NT Wright and I’ve learned a lot from what they had to say even though they were not in the same room.

  4. Paul Oct 19, 2009 7:10 pm

    I’ve thought a little more about it…i have to say that this is a good post. Sophie, your comments are very helpful too. I do have one thought. I think it is great that people want to hear faithful preaching. HOwever, I can’t help but wonder if the populatiry of listening to sermons on ipods are a sign of hunger for God’s Word, or a sign of starvation from God’s Word because so many pastor’s sermons are so lacking in biblical content. Lets face it, most modern/young preachers don’t exegete and preach the text at all. Many ipod downloads are from older guys like PIper and Sproll. I can’t help but think the latter is the reason. I hope not.

  5. Anthony Oct 19, 2009 7:26 pm

    Duncan — good post! I dont listen to sermons on my ipod, not because I disagree with it but because I just dont have the time. I think your right about having the bible in some way or fashion with you(I have it on my blackberry 🙂 ) Like I said, good post! Everyone else has pretty much said everything that I wanted to point out! However, Paul, I disagree with your last point, saying that young preachers dont preach out of the Word much. Not just young preachers do this, I’ve seen older ones preach boring, unbiblical sermons as well! I dont think its fair to single out young ones, thats all! I know you are just opening conversation though so no harm no foul!

  6. KeithO Oct 19, 2009 8:44 pm

    As Sophie says, podcast preachers should not replace church. That’s why No. 7 is by far the most important reason from this post.

  7. chadwick Oct 19, 2009 9:43 pm


    Great Insight!

  8. Corner Coffee Oct 19, 2009 11:28 pm

    I like what you’re trying to say, and in large part I agree, but I don’t necessarily think that a “podcast preacher” as a replacement for physically being at the church is such a bad thing.

    I’m not one to do comparison charts, but I’d much rather have Matt Chandler via podcast than Reverend Such-and-Such from the first baptist church in person. God has blessed certain individuals in their communication abilities, and we’re lucky enough to live in a time where living 1000 miles away from a good church doesn’t have to stop you from “attending”.

    That’s not to say that there aren’t dangers (your 7 points are good examples of the dangers), but I have no problem if someone wants to replace their local church attendance with a podcast. I think it’s awesome that we even have the option!

  9. Simeon Oct 19, 2009 11:40 pm

    Oh – please don’t take that guilty pleasure away from me!

    As a *huge* fan of good preaching and listening to godly preachers such as Begg, Sinclair, Chandler et al, allow my defence (defence being a rarity on PP pages – just sayin’).

    1. No defence – happy to conceed.
    2. You can choose your sermons, but you shouldn’t. Just as picking at a meal will not provide the nutrients needed for physical development, neither with picking and choosing sermons lead to growth in Godly maturity and the deepening of biblical understanding. *Don’t* pick and choose.
    3. That’s true, however with two young children who aren’t barred from fellowship in the ‘sanctuary’, I often find listening to sermons alone on my iPod or with my wife on the stereo system *less distracting* than church.
    4. Why bother listening to podcast sermon to grow if you’re not going to open your bible? To grow we *must be reading our bibles*.
    5. Not necessarily. My wife will often listen to a sermon with me (see point 3).
    6. Disagree. I listen to the above-mentioned preachers because IMHO they exegete and preach the text well rather than proof-texting or speaking to ‘local’ issues. Because they’re opening God’s Word – it’s speaking to me.
    7. True – however redeeming the time by listening to a sermon while on a plane or bus is out of context – so be it.

  10. Sophie Oct 19, 2009 11:48 pm

    Clearly you don’t agree if you are willing to end your comment with “I have no problem if someone wants to replace their local church attendance with a podcast.” What was the point of commenting? We are called to fellowship together with other Christians, your comment goes deeper than hearing a sermon that has been recorded. You might be disappointed with your current pastor that you hear in person each week, but instead of giving up on going to church in general, why don’t you go to another church? Nobody said you had to stay at one church. Just because Matt Chandler has wisdom doesn’t mean that his words are the only ones that can nurture your soul.

  11. Corner Coffee Oct 20, 2009 12:14 am

    The point of commenting was to comment. This is the internet, where there is a world of pointless opportunities.

    Anyway, I agree that there are potential dangers. I don’t agree that replacing your local church with an online church is a bad thing. It’s not something I’ve chosen to do, but it’s a valid option.

    We are called to fellowship together with other Christians

    Can’t I do that without going to church? I hear Red Lobster is wicked tasty.

    your comment goes deeper than hearing a sermon that has been recorded


    You might be disappointed with your current pastor that you hear in person each week, but instead of giving up on going to church in general, why don’t you go to another church?

    I haven’t given up. I like my church. But if I (or someone else) found an online church that they felt was better for them, why wouldn’t I/they choose that?

    Nobody said you had to stay at one church

    Nobody said you had to physically attend church either.

    Just because Matt Chandler has wisdom doesn’t mean that his words are the only ones that can nurture your soul.

    True. But tell me how listening to his podcast is less beneficial than attending the local church in person … or physically attending the Village Church.

    I seriously didn’t want this to become an argument. I was trying to commend good points, with just one minor disagreement.

    Anyway, good post. I enjoyed it. It made me think, which is always good in my book. Sorry about the mess. I’ll try to clean it up.

  12. James Duncan Oct 20, 2009 12:28 am


    So we’ve gone all this time without any good defenses, and you think you have to be the guy. Thanks, bro.

    Sophie (and CC),

    I agree with you, Sophie. If you’re using podcasts to compensate for having a weak pastor, you need to find a new church–or go to seminary and start one yourself.

    If you listen to a podcast instead of going to church, you’re not going to church. Donate your iPod to a poor college student (or professor) and join a local congregation.

  13. Michael Oct 20, 2009 6:04 am

    While I agree with some of your thoughts, most of your logic isn’t consistent.

    What about Christians who are bed ridden and can’t hear a sermon on a sunday?

    What about training ministers who are interested in hearing what other’s have to say? Or should we not read Spurgeon’s collected sermons – isn’t that the same concept? Shouldn’t we be able to enjoy the gifts of other believers?

    podcasts are a gift from God because of the rarity of good solid preaching. don’t scoff that please. 🙂

  14. Simeon D Oct 20, 2009 6:56 am

    Hey – I only said I’d provide “a” defence, I never gave any undertaking it’d be good. I won’t pretend that I can mix it with the commentory from regular PP contributors. Just know that you’re still being read ‘down-under’. Perhaps that suggests that the issues raised in relation to NewSpring/Noble & TurnStyle/Furtick & SaddleBag/Warren are not unique to those churches but symptomatic of a new stream of ‘post-modern worship’. I think the discussions that go on on these pages shouldn’t be characterised as NS/PN bashing as the matters being addressed effect the wider church.

  15. James Duncan Oct 20, 2009 7:23 am


    No inconsistency. To quote myself, if I may: “There are obviously exceptions to all the points I’ve just made.”

    And, “Clearly, there is value in hearing the Word of God preached well by anyone.”

  16. Sophie Oct 20, 2009 9:22 am

    You can certainly fellowship with other Christians outside of the church, but there are certain things you wouldn’t do at a Red Lobster setting. What comes to mind would be music worship, the sacrament, affirmation of faith (reciting a creed), etc.
    What I meant by goes deeper is that if you skip church, you’re not just skipping the sermon. You’re skipping church like Duncan said. And that goes back to my first point. You won’t do certain “church” things in Red Lobster.
    Of course nobody said you had to physically attend church (if your referring to the Bible) because the church hadn’t been established… But I feel that’s been beaten to death in other posts.
    I’m not arguing, just engaging in discussion… Just like you said, it’s the internet and I’m just commenting on your “pointless opportunity.”

  17. Corner Coffee Oct 20, 2009 9:57 am

    I’m not arguing, just engaging in discussion… Just like you said, it’s the internet and I’m just commenting on your “pointless opportunity.”

    Ahh, perhaps I overreacted then. My apologies.

    there are certain things you wouldn’t do at a Red Lobster setting. What comes to mind would be music worship, the sacrament, affirmation of faith (reciting a creed), etc.

    I think this is the crux of your argument for attendance at a local church. But I would contend that I can do any one of these things by myself and get as much or more value out of them that way. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that a shy person would worship more openly and freely when no one is around?

    To me, the pressure induced by a crowd can sometimes (and to some people) be a hindrance to responding to Christ.

    • James Duncan Oct 20, 2009 10:48 am


      You can’t be a Christian and avoid Christ’s church. If you insist on worshipping alone, you are not a worshipper.

  18. Corner Coffee Oct 20, 2009 11:21 am

    Do you mean a person can’t be a Christian and avoid the Church building?

    I’m curious to see what scripture you have to prove that a person cannot be a Christian if he doesn’t routinely visit the church building, or that worship alone is inferior to worship with others.

    • James Duncan Oct 20, 2009 3:31 pm


      Pretty much, yes. Unless you live in the tropics, church is going to almost always meet in a building. This is ground that PP has covered many times. You might start your journey on this subject here.

      Again, yes, worship alone is definitely inferior to corporate worship. Do you suppose we’ll be worshipping alone in Heaven? For a related discussion on that, you might look here.

  19. Andy Oct 20, 2009 3:24 pm

    From my point of view I agree with the points made but for me over the last while podcasts and online resources have been the only thing feeding me since the church that I am in is not feeding me and it’s not because I’m not receptive. I agree that we can pick and choose what we listen to but I find that whatever I listen to podcast-sermon-wise, I learn more about God, realise areas of sin I need to repent of and am built up.

    For me, podcasts with good solid expository teaching has been the only thing feeding me for a while and I praise God for that resource and ask Him to help me find a church where I can fully engage with God and the church.

  20. Sylvia Oct 20, 2009 3:35 pm

    One thing that strikes me right away as something that cannot be done at Red Lobster is ministering to the poor in the body.(Gal 6:10). If my friends started having fellowship at Red Lobster, I would do my best to bow out gracefully. I don’t have anywhere near that kind of money.
    I like to go to fun places with Christian friends when I can, but, edifying as it may be, it is not the same as going to church where there are poor people, sick people, old people, babies… “Friends” and “family” are not exactly the same thing.
    When I visit with my friends, I eat food I like with people that make me comfortable. When I gather with family, I get unwanted hugs, I eat some “hot dish” lovingly prepared for the crowd, I watch TV that I would never choose for myself, and hang out with people with whom I don’t share even basic experiences like college, e-mail, lattes, podcasts. People will be smoking; people will be dissing my candidate, or worse, my football team. If you were to ask me if I’d be more comfortable eating turkey and watching a ballgame at home, there would be no question. But somehow, we instinctively know that we belong to each other, that we should love each other, and that we really need each other.
    Sometimes people are kept out of fellowship. Around the world, there are Christians in prisons for their faith, and there are people too sick to leave their beds. Should they listen to podcasts? Sure, I like podcasts, I would recommend them to anyone. I just don’t think that podcasts have anything to do with being part of a church. There are seasons that some of us find ourselves churchless, no doubt about it. God allows that. This does not mean that there is a suitable substitute. Many of us are motherless, or fatherless in our youth, or childless in our old age. God’s grace works in these situations, God provides in greater ways than we can imagine, and yet, all of us kind of know that there is no actual substitute for a mother, father, or child. I think that the church is, likewise, a unique entity that we can never really synthesize by our own efforts.

  21. Chris Oct 20, 2009 5:01 pm

    Rather than send a line by line response I thought I would share how God was able to speak to me through a sermon I was listening to

    I was moved by this this morning, please take a moment to watch/listen, or at least read below.

    I almost missed it, I almost slept though the appointment set for me.

    I was back in my bed at 4:57 planning skipping my run on sleeping in till 6:30 and rushing into work, but something compelled me to get out of bed and start my day.

    So at 5:45am I parked on the north side of Greenlake, turn on my iPod to Mark Driscoll’s sermon from Luke 1, and started an 8mile run down Revenna, Cowan Park, to the Burke Gillman Trail by the U Village, Husky Stadium, UW Med Center, and back up though campus. I neared the north end of campus after 40 minutes of running and listening to historical info about the time of Jesus and the narrative of Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist.

    This portion of the sermon linked above started a few yards from the apartment that my girlfriend in college lived when we were dating. The one that we, really she, spent a day and night cramping, crying, and bleeding, after I had driven her to the Kenmore Plan Parenthood so she could take some pills to end our six week pregnancy, because I didn’t want to try to make it work. Because I didn’t want be tied for the rest of my life to a woman I wasn’t sure I wanted to marry but I was ok with sleeping with for 2 years. Because, a kid could affect my career, keep me from being able to afford the ’97 Lexus ES 300 I had seen on Lake City Way. I, I, I, I, my, me, I.

    The clip continued as I ran by Sigma Nu where I had gone to drink with some of my brothers and some freshman sorority girls that night because I couldn’t stand facing the pain and reality of what I had done. Like a coward, I Ieft her with her roommate to suffer without me so I could self medicate and pretend that everything was fine even though this was a day that would define me for several years to come.

    I ran away from the greek system labored.

    On the west sidewalk of Ravenna north of 55th is when he talked about the moment of an abortion, he says “He can save that baby, hold that baby, because He is a Father”. I fell to the ground, not because I tripped, but because I felt the weight of sin and His saving Grace. I laid on the side walk, arms and legs spread, sobbing as tears fell on the old cracked sidewalk.

    I was there for minutes, unable to rise, mourning the life that I was responsible for ending, as I felt the depth of my brokenness before a perfect, loving, powerful, Creator.

    I am not known for my humility, most of you know me as prideful and arrogant, but God humbled me this morning as my face was pressed into the concrete.

    I was only able to get back up and stand as I mediated on the Cross, that Jesus paid the penalty for my sin with his shed blood, and that I could sand before God, even as a selfish, rebellious, murderer, because of what Jesus did. The because he rose again, I can rise as well and am no longer defined by who I am and what I’ve done, but by faith in Him I am defined by who Jesus is and what he’s done.

    I spent most of the remaining 3 miles holding back more tears, not of pain, but of joy, as I thought God’s sovereignty over salvation and why I believe it.

    I believe it because I see it all over the Bible. I believe it because, I need it to be true!

    I need God to be sovereign over salvation as much as I need salvation, because a loving, gracious, God who saves though Christ, is the only hope I have to meet him face to face blameless at the end of my days and having Him introduce me to the child that He loved from before the beginning of time, but that I did find worthy of inconveniencing any of “my” limited days that God has been gracious to afford me. At that time God can reconcile us to each other, and us to Him, because he is in the business of reconcilation through Christ and the Cross.

    I study the Bible and doctrine, because at the center of it is Jesus, and with Jesus there is life. My prayer is that all of you would have Life through faith in Christ, his death on the Cross, and his Ressurection.

    I praise God for waking me up to meet with Him this morning.

    I love each of you dearly.


  22. Chris Oct 20, 2009 5:10 pm

    For the record, I am an active member in a church and am big proponent of live preaching and actually pastoring a flock. Christianity is meant to be lived out in community with other christians, and “internet campus” is not the same thing as being an active member of a local expression of Christ Church. Others have made great points about redeeming time, it’s better than talk radio, and getting a depth and diversity of teaching in addition to local church. It’s also helpful for those that are disconnected from community ie:military guys overseas.

    Podcast are no a replacement for Church, but don’t get legalistic and try to teather the Word of God preached and sent out either, by podcast, radio, blog, book, etc.

  23. Corner Coffee Oct 20, 2009 5:44 pm

    BTW, I’m not claiming that a podcast is a replacement for the church experience, but I am saying that you could potentially replace the suite of experiences you get from church by other independent experiences.

    Live preaching = Podcast
    Corporate Worship/Music = Private Worship with music
    Fellowship at the Church building = Fellowship in your home

    Still waiting on some scripture that could come close to confirming your claim that not going to church = not being a Christian and worship alone is inferior to worship together. Your blog posts are lacking in both substance and scripture.

  24. James Downing Oct 20, 2009 8:08 pm

    Chris – thank you for sharing that. Very touching.

    Andy – Will be praying for your situation. I have definitely been there. Do what you gotta do.

  25. JT Oct 20, 2009 11:28 pm

    Heb. 10:24-25

  26. Corner Coffee Oct 20, 2009 11:48 pm

    I can meet together with other believers for the purpose of doing all the things mentioned in those verses without ever stepping foot in a church building, no?

    And despite Duncan’s cunning attempt 🙂 to equate “assembling together” with a church service in a church building, the equation only exists in the words of the blog post.

    Reading “church building”, “corporate worship”, and “live sermons” into the *recommendation* that we “assemble together” is silly.

    • James Duncan Oct 21, 2009 12:57 am


      Only God can judge whether someone is saved, but as far as I could tell, I would assume that someone who resisted meeting and worshipping with Christians was not a Christian him or herself.

      I think the church has worked on that assumption for thousands of years, so ours is not a novel position.

  27. Corner Coffee Oct 21, 2009 10:53 am

    While we’re making assumptions, I’ll just assume (from your answer) that you’ve got zero scriptural support for that position, since I specifically asked for it twice and you’ve avoided providing it after both requests.

  28. JT Oct 21, 2009 11:15 am

    >>Coffee: “I can meet together with other believers for the purpose of doing all the things mentioned in those verses without ever stepping foot in a church building, no?”


    However, a church building is probably one of the most convenient places to accomplish the assembling together mandate. But I do not hold the position that a church building is inherently sacred. Fellowship at home is certainly an appropriate way to worship God.

  29. James Duncan Oct 21, 2009 11:58 am

    I don’t know that I can satisfy you, CC.

    I think the article I pointed you to had a pretty good dose of scripture, including the one that JT referenced for you. Might I cite just about every character in the New Testament as showing that a characteristic of Christians is a love for the church and an insistence on being there whenever people gather. I might also throw in most of the Old Testament as evidence of the burning desire of true believers to build or rebuild the Tabernacle or Temple as a central gathering point for worship.

    Here’s the other thing, though. You seem to be reading absolute statements into my argument where they’ve been pretty carefully qualified. Going to a church building (that would include houses) does not make one a Christian, and some Christians are unable to attend.

    What I’m saying is that the rejection of an organized, assembled church is a pretty good clue that someone is not a Christian. Not proof positive, but a pretty good indication.

  30. Sylvia Oct 21, 2009 12:02 pm

    You’re not going to find scripture saying that it’s a sin to not go to Sunday meetings, or to worship with recorded preaching or anything like that. As I’ve mentioned, the physical world is way more complicated than that. There are seasons when things go differently. I’m sure there are underground churches around the world, that, for a season, have no qualified teacher save an Mp3 device.
    Still, the Scriptures have a lot to say about the physical, corporate, count-the-offerings, feed-the-widows church. The New Testament is loaded with instructions and admonitions for local assemblies, including Paul’s letters, and Jesus’ words to the churches in Revelation. All of these are God-breathed. Paul gives instructions for selecting Bishops. Where do bishops, and elders, and widows fit in to worship at home with friends? I mention widows, because the Bible speaks of them not merely in terms of poor people at whom we throw food and clothing, but as having an assumed meaningful place in every congregation. I know that home Bible studies with our friends CAN include widows, lonesome old women, struggling young women; mourning, sickly, frequently needing a babysitter, but DO THEY? Seriously? Do they? I’ll be honest, when I’m “fellowshipping” with my friends, I really want to talk about my favorite podcasts and what big important thing I think God is showing ME. My flesh makes it severely difficult for me to choose hear a prolonged “prayer request” over a possibly upcoming hip surgery, or the second year mourning from a woman incapable of even reading the book I’d recommend. I’m glad I don’t have to choose my family, because I would definitely choose selfishly.
    A church doesn’t need to be a building. Clearly, It cannot always be that. Mr Coffee, you have defended Perry Noble’s efforts to make the church a place where unbelievers can walk in and be put at ease somewhat as they hear the message, yes? 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?
    So, I think the question is not whether not going to Sunday meetings, or listening to piped-in sermons is a sin. I think the question is why, with the availability of a congregation like the ones Paul and the apostles clearly had in mind, would a believer choose to “do church” another way? 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. Having already rejected the opportunity to be part of a Christian congregation, could one be shutting off opportunities for God to place him in fellowship with exactly the kind of Christians(diverse members of the body) that He, in His wisdom, knows that the believer needs in order to grow?

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