Listening to Sermons

Today, I was reading Christopher Ash’s little book Listen Up! It is excellent and I would recommend it to everyone. I take his word for it, but he said that there has been plenty written on preaching sermons but nothing on listening to sermons since Charles Simeon 200 years ago.

There are lots of quotable passages in Ash’s book but I came across this:

“When we listen to an MP3 recording of a sermon, we are not listening to preaching, but to an echo of preaching that happened in the past. Listening on my own to a recording can never be more than a poor second-best to actually being there with the people of God in a local church.”

It struck a chord with me so here are a few comments about it:

1) It is a reminder the “online church”, such as has been necessary over the last few months, is not and never will be an adequate substitute for assembling together as the church to hear the word of God.

Certainly, from my perspective as a preacher the experience has been wholly unsatisfying. Feedback from some hearers indicates the same.

Preaching to a live congregation is interactive. People are responding to the preacher and vice versa. Preaching to a camera, even though you know people are watching, cuts off the feedback loop. The whole thing is so much more dull for both sides.

2) For me a growing bee in my bonnet is that even in normal times, too many Christians live on a diet of “second-best” sermon podcasts to the detriment of their hearing of the word of God in their own church, and to the detriment of their spiritual maturity.

There are some great preachers out there. I wish I could sit under their ministry week after week! I used to listen to a lot of them. Now I don’t. A few years ago I realised I was falling into a trap of using sermons in the same way I might use music or have the TV news on in the house. Background. A sound, a voice, a distraction. But as such it washes over and runs away. Nothing learned. Nothing remembered. A bad habit that had developed and was ready for when I actually went to worship and heard a sermon. A sound, a voice, a distraction. Nothing learned. Nothing remembered.

It may seem like an extreme conclusion, but the deadening effect of listening to sermons while walking or driving or filling any available gap was doing nothing to aid my spiritual growth and maturity.

3) Too many preachers wish their podcasted sermons would be considered as worthy if not better when compared with a listening Christian’s own pastor.

Well, it’s a vast extrapolation! I only know my own heart, so the “too many” above is actually only one that I know of. But it is one too many. And I often think that if it is true of me, then it will be true of some others.

My job is not to have an internet ministry, but to have a real ministry with the real people God has given me. I remember when I first started in ministry some 13 years ago now, I came across a great preacher (who shall remain nameless) who had real reservations about putting his sermons online. There were a couple of sample sermons on his church’s website but no regular podcasting. He could have had much wider “reach”, I thought, but he wasn’t interested. What respect I now have for such an approach! It has not damaged his ministry one bit, nor his “reach”. He has kept focus on the task he had been given and been a rich blessing to his people.

Listening to Sermons