Sometimes I feel like the only preacher on the continent who isn't live-streaming and then podcasting his sermons. I'm starting to do it (a little half-heartedly) now. This is surprising to some of the people who know me, because I'm sort of a techie (I can do computer programming in several languages) and I love preaching. By one way of looking at it, I should've been putting my sermons on the Internet fifteen years ago. Here's why I haven't.
I'm not so sure there's much of an audience who (a) wants to hear my sermons and who (b) I care about hearing my sermons.
- I'm not trying to move anywhere. I've served FBC Farmersville for seventeen years, and I'm perfectly content to stay here until I'm too old for anyone to let me do this any more. If you have your cap set to go somewhere (and there's nothing wrong with that), then having sermons online helps search committees quite a bit, but there aren't any search committees anywhere whom I am trying to help.
- I'm not trying to get my preaching into the hands of the members of other churches. Your churches' members should be listening to you guys. I'm sure that they have some time left over to hear other preachers, but like I said before, every other preacher in North America already has sermons available online, so I'm not sure how big of a void there is to be filled. Also, to speak frankly, I'm not that sure how many of your members have any interest in hearing my sermons.
- I have zero interest in encouraging my members to stay at home on Sunday mornings and just catch the service online. For those who are unable to attend, we already take a DVD recording of the service to their homes. We've been doing that for years. I don't want those shut-ins to get the sermon off of the Internet; I want a real-life flesh-and-blood member of our church to talk to them on their doorsteps—or even in their living rooms! For those who are not shut-ins, I don't want to tempt them with the idea of "Oh, it'll be on the Internet tomorrow, so I'll just sleep in now and catch it then."
- Now, there is my mother. My mother would be delighted to have my preaching available online, and I'm interested in making it available to her. This is a great development for my mother. You're welcome, Mom.
- Perhaps there are some fellow-preacher-friends who would have an interest in hearing some of these sermons, but that leads me to my next point of inner angst:
My preaching is not my blogging. I've been writing online for ten years, give or take. I've gravitated toward several subject areas in my blogging and have developed a bit of an audience for my writing. Generally speaking, I do not preach about the same topics that I cover in my blogging. I aspire to preach text-driven sermons (although I'm better at achieving that in some genres than I am in others). This means that I don't really choose subject matter for my sermons; I take them where the text takes me.
So, if someone who likes what I write about…say…religious liberty looks and says, "Hey, there's Bart Barber's sermon podcast. I'll bet there is a whole lot of good material there on religious liberty," then that person is destined to disappointment. Religious liberty makes it into my preaching. Perhaps it makes it into my preaching more than the next guy's preaching. But most Sundays I'm not preaching about religious liberty.
This is all the more true because…
I believe that preaching is a congregational act. I haven't made my sermons available for you people because I DON'T PREACH FOR YOU PEOPLE (no offense intended). I preach for the people of the First Baptist Church of Farmersville, TX. I have them in mind when I write my sermons. I have them in view when I deliver my sermons. There are things that I would do differently when speaking for my blogging audience, and not sharing my sermons online has protected me from the temptation to do those things differently. I want to preach tailor-made sermons to fit my people, not off-the-rack, one-size-fits-all oratory for a generic online audience.
In a bizarre sense, if I hadn't managed to develop an online writing presence, I might have shared my sermons online a lot earlier (because then there wouldn't be any wider audience to worry about). But knowing the differences between Bart the Southern Baptist Blogger on the one hand and Bart the local church preacher on the other hand, I've made some effort to keep those two worlds from colliding. Not that there's anything in the one that is contradictory to the other, and not that they don't overlap a good bit. It's just that, to say it again in a slightly different way, I don't want the outside world intruding on the local intimacy of my pastoral relationships. I don't ever want to alter our church family's worship service even the slightest bit to accommodate the needs of people who are not in that room.
Incidentally, this is why I think television preaching isn't any more successful than it is. Yes, there are a few pastors who have managed to build large television ministries, but I wonder how much lasting impact those ministries have. I know that they have some impact—I'm not questioning that. I just wonder whether the television sermon comes anywhere close to exploiting the potential offered by the medium of television. I suspect not. Why not?
Because the sermon (and the other elements of a worship service) were designed and are empowered by God to be experienced live. The gathering of the body has something to do with the presence of Christ in His power. There's a mystical something missing, I think, when the incarnate sermon is reduced to electrons and phosphors. Made-for-TV programming, in my opinion, fares better. I think Sherwood Baptist's film ministry is the more effective model for screens, while the foolishness of preaching can never be toppled in the milieu for which God designed it: the live gathering of God's people.
You may think that I'm overthinking this. Perhaps that's true. I've finally capitulated to this (a bit begrudgingly) because I've discovered that some of the people in my congregation sometimes want to RE-listen to a sermon after they've heard it on Sunday. Also, some of my people want to share a sermon with a lost person in town. Finally, I know that there's a different kind of "search committee"—the local family searching for a church home. Although it seems pretty easy to me just to attend a service, I've seen convincing data suggesting that families are growing accustomed to checking out a sermon from home via the Internet first. I probably ought to accommodate that desire.
But I don't have to like it.