A couple of months back, the podcast looked at the age-old question: Should Women Preach? Matt, Alastair, and Andrew are back to discuss sermons more broadly, rather than weighing in on who or who should not be preaching them.

If you enjoyed the show (AND ONLY IF), leave us a review at iTunes.  If you didn’t enjoy the show, let us know and we’ll work to make it better.  Or we’ll ignore you.  And if you want to subscribe by RSS, you can do that here.

Finally, as always, follow Alastair and Andrew for more tweet-sized brilliance.  And thanks to Timothy Motte for his sound editing work.

Posted by JF Arnold

  • Pingback: Podcast: Sermons | Alastair's Adversaria()

  • One might say this was a good sermon-length podcast…

  • Physiocrat

    I liked how you considered the nature of the form and not just the content. What would be an interesting future show would be to discuss the purpose of the Sunday worship service and where the sermon sits within it

  • Andrew_Z

    Matt – quick follow-up to your provocative thesis towards the end of the podcast about pastors never putting their sermons online (or password protecting them). You base that in part on a belief that the sermon ought to be closely tailored to the needs / issues that the pastor sees with their particular congregation. I’m all for a pastor speaking directly to his congregation and having that kind of locally prophetic voice, but isn’t that kind of particularity the exception in our experience? One might say that’s a serious failing of preachers, but I wonder whether we over-emphasize that as a goal of good preaching / pastoral care. The fact that we can read with tremendous benefit sermons from hundreds / thousands of years ago would lead me to believe that effective preaching is probably not typically focused on the idiosyncratic issues of the local congregation (again, just saying not typically). Similarly, Paul’s epistles didn’t come marked with “Confidential, Do not Distribute” despite their historical particularity.

    Is your main concern that online sermons lead people to denigrate their local pastor, and devalue the local church? If so, I agree – that’s a bad thing, but I’m not sure that killing the online sermon really addresses that. It’s also, of course, not a new thing at all to publish sermons (Augustine, Calvin, Spurgeon etc. etc.)- they’re just more widely available now. Doesn’t seem a bad thing overall to me, even if there are some negative side effects.

    • Andrew,

      Thanks for the comment. I didn’t get into my full justification for the position; it’s an intuition I have, but it definitely needs qualification and further argument before anyone should seriously adopt it. I

      I think you’ve closely articulated my ‘main concern.’ But I’d add more concerns: I worry about the way in which our pastors-in-training are being formed and developed, and I am concerned about the way the sermon is so readily and easily disconnected from the form of the worship ceremony itself. I don’t think most people who consume sermons via podcasts consciously think of them as extricable from the worship context–but that is what the form requires, and that kind of mentality shifts our understanding of what a sermon is and should be.

      Yes, all this is a side effect. No, no one means any harm. Yes, everyone has good intentions. But the problem is that historical practices which may have been relatively benign have taken on a new power in our contemporary age, and consequently the side-effects are vastly more pervasive than they ever were before. I think I used the language of ‘ecology’ on the podcast to refer to this feature, and I think it’s the right image: for the sake of the church, we need pastors who could do otherwise to simply abstain from a practice that otherwise might be fine. Just like we might need writers to abstain from certain forms of writing, and so on–not because those forms are themselves wrong or “problematic,” but because they exist in an unrestrained way and a society oversaturated by them is a diminished society. Leaders, especially prominent leaders, should do this–even if it means giving up their platforms and not ‘stewarding’ them in the way everyone expects. (And mainly the people who “expect” it are publishers–if you don’t podcast, you don’t become nationally known, and you don’t get to write books. It’s all of a piece.)

      But I’m not opposed to publishing sermons, and I’m certainly not going to tell anyone they shouldn’t read Augustine! The difference is that all the people you mentioned are long dead, and so there has been a sorting effect. They were, though, exceptions in their own day. Now it has become the norm, and that seems to generate a kind of hubris within our pastoral class. I mean, I’d think that I was already burdening them with enough mediocrity in a 20 minute address–why foster or support their interest in more? There’s only so much time in the day, and if I was a pastor, I’d be strenuously objecting to parishoners listening to sermons by Tim Keller when they could be reading Lewis….or Dickens, or George Eliot, or Edmund Spencer.

      We also didn’t talk about the economics of this trajectory (and I do think for most it is a trajectory–they didn’t get the podcasting idea from nowhere, and ideas inculcate tendencies in action….) So podcasting sermons is cheap–but the sound equipment isn’t necessarily cheap, and if it goes to video? I’ve seen churches spend oodles of cash doing that, which seems ludicrous. And I don’t mean to make a Judas argument here against spending money on the superfluous. Quite the opposite; they’re spending money on video cameras when their buildings lack any art, which seems to me entirely backwards.

      But my argument is a limited one, aimed at leaders and our celebrity class. It depends upon the premise that there is something very odd about the rampant consumption of sermon podcasts that seems to be going on, and it asks for abstention by the producers of such content, rather than simply admonishing the users to do it better. And that premise is simply grounded in the fact that morals exist in interdependent situations; most evangelicals are comfortable thinking about modesty in such a way, but they err by tying it too closely to forms of clothing and dress, rather than action. You can connect the dots from here to my mention of hubris above.

      Best,

      Matt

      • Andrew_Z

        Thanks for the clarification. My suspicion is that your remedy (no online sermons) is actually more rhetorical than real. You really don’t like pastors thinking of the sermon as as thirty minutes of air time where they can make their name great and become a pop evangelical /reformed pastoral celebrity. I think we’d all agree, that’s not good. I think your conclusion is splashy and provocative, but I wonder whether you might have to
        qualify it out of existence . . . .

        First, I think that the reasons for putting sermons online (which may be slightly different than the reasons for setting up a recurring podcast), are often more mundane than you suggest. I grew up in a church with a significant percentage of elderly members – some of whom were convalescing in a nursing home. Each week we would record a video of the service and bring that to the nursing home. Obviously that’s not a primary motivation for podcasting, but recording sermons (with video even) has been part of the practice of many churches for a long time, and there are plenty of uncontroversial justifications for investing in a/v equipment (which can be pretty cheap anyway these days). More recently, we were part of a church plant where we put sermon audio online very early on simply as a way to give a taste of the church to those who were interested, but hadn’t yet visited. I think that’s pretty common also. So I don’t think it’s obvious (or likely) that the primary motivation or effect of putting sermons online is an unhealthy self aggrandizing one. I’m not sure that putting sermons online materially changes how pastors think about the task of preaching (sometimes perhaps, but probably not enough to justify getting rid of the online sermon).

        Secondly, you also note your concern that podcasting sermons can lead people to see the sermons as “disconnected from the form of the worship ceremony itself” and “extricable from the worship context.” I may not understand your point here. I’d be inclined to say that of course the sermon is “extricable from the worship context” in the same way that hymns are extricable from the worship context, and the reading of creeds, confessions, etc. All these things may be most beneficially heard, practiced, experienced within the context of the gathered church’s worship, but it’s hard to deny that they all can benefit the believer even when removed from such gatherings. I think it’s probably good to remind people that a sermon heard outside of a worship service is hearing it outside it’s intended context, but I don’t think that gets you to your conclusion that we shouldn’t have sermons podcast or online (and as an aside, I couldn’t tell whether the podcast was especially problematic in your mind, or just putting sermons online for all the world to see / hear).

        Finally, I do think that the reality is that reasonably sound preaching (not rhetorically impressive or theologically exacting, but reasonably sound) is far rarer than one would hope. The options can be particularly difficult when you live outside a city. It’s good to say to believers that we should be easily edified, but I think that the “consumption” of podcasts is often more about a hunger for sound teaching than it is about the changeable whims of sermon “consumers.” I’d want to guard against the same sorts of things that your concerned
        about (devaluing the local church, elevating the sermon so that the rest of the service seems like an afterthought, etc., etc.), but I’m inclined to think that sound biblical teaching is good, and the ready availability of sound biblical teaching online is very good – even if there are some unintended consequences that we’d want to guard against.

        Quick disclosure: I neither preach, nor podcast, nor “consume” (many) online sermons – though perhaps I should more regularly.

        Thanks,

        Andrew

        • Sorry for the delay.

          No, I don’t think I have to qualify it out of existence. I think the one qualification I’ve given–putting them under lock and key so that only members can get to them–is sufficient, and I’m not yet persuaded that any of the ‘good effects’ are in fact worth the kind of collateral damage that’s currently afoot.

          As to shutins, they would fall under the example above. I’d also note that moving this to podcasts and simply putting them online causes us to miss out on potentially MUCH more worthwhile forms of interaction, namely by dropping a handwritten note in the mail along with the sermon tape as a way of personalizing the delivery. For prospective guests, I don’t see any reason to include more than one sermon. And, I’d want some actual hard evidence (any!) that prospective guests either listened to such sermons on a regular basis and that it was a factor for them in coming to the church.

          It’s true that everything is extricable from the context of the worship service. However, I think the commodofication of hymns through doing so is just as weird, off-putting, and potentially as harmful as how we treat our sermons.

          And, of course sound preaching is good! But every good needs its context, and the environmental conditions for podcasts and preaching are such that we need a lot less of this particular good and a lot more modesty on the part of those who tend to exploit their talents for fame and glory underneath the guise and rhetoric of “stewarding a platform…”

          Best,

          Matt

          • Andrew_Z

            Thanks, Matt. Probably not too much farther we can go here. We both agree there are potential and real goods, potential and real evils here, and I think we even agree about what the goods / evils are, but we weigh their extent and gravity differently.

            You’re also obviously criticizing the practice because of it’s abuse – which is fair enough if the abuse is so extensive as to outweigh the limited value of it’s proper use. Again – that’s a cost/benefit question that’s difficult to argue about without data or even more anecdotal evidence.

            Curious what you mean by commodification of hymns. Not disagreeing, just genuinely not sure what you mean there.

            As for listening to sermons in advance of visiting a church – perhaps that’s not common practice, but that’s definitely what I have done.

            I realize you said that you haven’t fleshed out the argument yet, so I look forward to reading that if you ever get that chance. Anyway, thanks for your attention to this.

            Andrew

          • Yeah, I think there’s not much more to say. I will note, however, that I don’t think that the argument is a simple suggestion that ‘abuse invalidates proper use.’ That’s a fallacy I’ve written against many, many other places in many other contexts. Rather, it’s requires a more subtle argument about the way in which a media ecology inevitably functions (pace McLuhan, Ellul, etc.) and the particular responsibilities producers have in such an environment, rather than placing all the burden for ‘appropriate use’ on the consumers. So my argument would be that podcasting sermons pastors simply *is* an invalid use of the medium.

            My point about the commodification of hymns is simply that the evangelical publishing world hymns and ‘worship’ has become huge moneymakers, and the actual practice of singing them has (I think) been correspondingly degraded. But, I’m less committed to this claim than I am that no pastor should podcast in the ways I’ve described.

            Best,

            Matt