Saturday, December 12, 2009


No one can question the dramatic rise in the use of sermon podcasts amongst Christians. It is a peculiar epidemic which has swept through the Christian world at an astonishing speed. The access to the most gifted preachers the western world has to offer is a great blessing to the church and no doubt for the cause of the gospel.

And yet there remains an undercurrent of negativity from many quarters towards such rampant use of podcasts. It has brought into question the relationship between the preaching of the word and the local congregation. It questions the way that the Bible is brought to bear on the lives of individuals. In one of the great ironies of the whole movement, preachers such as Mark Driscoll are lauded for their relevance to the hearers, despite preaching from a completely different context. Is this because if your hearers can put up with you speaking for an hour, you are able to say more things and thus appear to be more cued in to the listeners lives? Is it because most local preachers aren't thinking deeply on the context in which they are explaining the scriptures, and thus are preaching dry, dull sermons distant from the local situation and concerns? Is it simply a matter of giftedness, that if I could have Eric Clapton as my guitar teacher for free online, I probably would look less favourably upon the balding middle-aged failed rock musician down the road who charges $22.50 for a half hour lesson?

Should it concern me when I read blogs and notice that some people reflect deeply and often on what they have heard from Keller, Piper, and Driscoll and yet rarely mention their local minister? I understand why this happens. These men are great preachers. Personally, I learn a lot from these guys and they are inherently quotable. And it's not just because bloggers are particularly internet savvy and so more likely to listen to sermons online, the phenomenon of quoting from podcasts is common in conversations after church and in weekly small groups.

The jury is still out in my mind on how to approach the rise in Godcasting. Perhaps like so many things it is equal parts good and bad. Maybe it is an inherently good thing, and simply used unhelpfully.

Will it be long before we begin to hear public warnings as the word of God is preached in my local gathering, to beware of listening to too many online podcasts? No one wants to go there at the moment, because it looks as if the preacher is protecting his own little empire. And yet it might just be time to start reflecting upon the potential negative aspects of being overly pastored online. Then again, you might already be thinking "Unlikely. My minister is so culturally detached he wouldn't even be aware this might be a problem."


  1. I don't mention my local minister or church in my blog if I can help it, because I am trying to pretend that the potential axe murderers in cyberspace won't know where to find me if they come after me :).

  2. That's a fair point. There are certain assumptions I am making in this post such as the primary expression of a person on their blog will be generally reflective of what occupies their thoughts.

    Perhaps you're just much more thought out than me!

    Had my second blog to real world crossover on Friday. Still no axe-murderers. Then again, do axe-murderers politely email to request a coffee?

  3. I think they do. They are a new breed these days. Much more calculated.

    Interesting post, mate. It saddened me a bit to think that there would be criticism of these podcasts, when they've made such a HUGE difference to me over the past couple of years.

    I love my church, and enjoy the preaching, but to be honest, often find it pretty difficult to concentrate while sitting in a big room of people. That only worsened when the kids came along. So, it's still really valuable, but I think it's wise to get more on top of that if you can.

    So since getting into sermons online, I feel like I've grown heaps, and can now hear five or six sermons a week, and learn so much on top of what I do at church.

    I can understand that the local guy in the pulpit could be a little threatened by all this, but I think rationally, it's got to be seen as a good thing, and I can't see that that could not just be their own pride coming through.

    Their job is to help the congregation grow and mature, and really, these podcasts are giving them a big helping hand in that way.

    My advice is, if you can't beat them, join them. My church puts sermons up, and I listen to those as well. And rather than getting insecure, why not make it your responsibility to track down good sermons and speakers and recommend them from the pulpit, shepherding the church in that way.

    I think if ministers go the 'I'm your minister, listen to me, and me alone' approach, people are going to run a mile. Insecurity is not very attractive. Whereas if they seem relaxed and unthreatened, and are happy to encourage their congregation towards this and that, well I will immediately feel at ease, and know this is a humble guy without agendas.

  4. Thanks Benny. And to be clear, this post was not a veiled dig at you or any one person in particular, just some reflections in general and on myself personally. Someone somewhere recently posted on the question has podcasting replaced personal bible reading? For some I'd say yes, and this is I think a bad thing. Even for myself I think this is the case at time. Perhaps though there is a limit to the helpfulness of podcasts? All good things are corrupted in some ways. Anyways, it's obvious from your blog that you are thinking deeply on the scriptures including when you hear podcasts, and I have even listened to a number of your recommendations!

    Your comments on the insecurity of the minister is a valid one - and perhaps why I have heard few people speaking against the podcast. But I wonder if this supposed conflict of interest has somewhat stifled the conversation on the potential dangers associated with sermon overdose? More thought required.

  5. I chucked in my two cents in a post here.

    "Someone somewhere recently posted on the question has podcasting replaced personal bible reading? For some I'd say yes, and this is I think a bad thing."

    I'm on the fence here - while I've mentioned the issues created when people rely on one particular interpretation (Macarthur's) on all parts of Scripture, I think it can be healthy to rely on the gifting of others to understand the Bible.

    I'm not sure about "quiet times" where Christianity becomes a solo exercise in personal growth... the Biblical picture of quiet times, as far as I can tell (and feel free to prove me wrong) mostly involve lots of prayer.

    I think "personal Bible reading" should be secondary to "interpersonal Bible reading" where mature Christians serve young Christians by leading them through God's word.

    I know this is generally seen as a bad thing - but the church did alright when literacy levels were low and when access to the Bible was limited (think early church rather than corrupt Roman Catholics). I would think there's a fair bit of oral tradition in shaping people's understanding of the Bible.

  6. Hi Izaac,

    I just came back past here, and I don't know how you possibly reached the conclusion that I was perhaps more thought out than you, if the "primary expression of a person on their blog will be generally reflective of what occupies their thoughts" (Yikes!).

    Anyway, I am with Benny on the benefits of podcasts, and I don't think it is necessarily true that the minister of your congregation is bringing the message to bear on your life, or preaching to your context, any more than the guy is the North America. For example, I go to a church in the suburbs where 98% of people are married, and we had a three-week sermon series on marriage, marriage seminars on weekends etc, and not a thing on singleness. So I go online and listen to Tim Keller preaching to single people in Manhattan, and it actually seems like he is talking to my situation more than my local church. Anyway, that's just an example - I don't think the whole world is a binary between single and married people as the only relevant issue, but the point is if I want to listen to something encouraging on singleness, I get it elsewhere.

  7. I should have said, the point there is, that I think sometimes, when it comes to particularities of life (eg marriage/singleness) the local minister just aims for the majority, so there will always be people who aren't in that majority, who can benefit from a few podcasts.

  8. Thanks Ali. I concur with your thoughts regarding the difficulty of preaching to everyone in their particularities of life. Though perhaps what you are highlighting is (though I would never expect you to use these words) some deficiency in preaching as local pastors fail to adequately address all the people consistently enough. This is difficult when there are only a handful of singles in the congregation.

    This reminds me of a time at Uni Church when there were only two couples who were dating of which Sarah and I were one, and the rest of the congregation were single or married. When the preacher had an application for those who were dating, it was clear who it was directed towards! Actually, I think the other couple may even have been away that week. But I digress. Sure, there is truth in preaching to the majority but preachers need to regularly hit everyone where they're at. I have spent the past two years attached to a morning congregation which had a handful of singles amongst the vast majority of married folks. My particular solution where possible was to use family illustrations from the point of a child to their parents (of which we all are at some level) rather than from the perspective of being parents (which I am not, even though most of the congregation were).

    I hope to post early next year on Keller and his approach to application which at some point in preparation envisages a list of people types who are in the congregation. He then asks which kinds of people can particularly be addressed through this exegesis. This should ensure that though not everyone will be targeted each week, everyone should consistently be hit specifically.

    Sounds good in theory.

  9. Izaac and Ali- I like the liberties you are both taking in calling me Benny. You've joined an exclusive club.

  10. Is this club increasing in exclusivity as the members are slowly picked off "slasher film style"?

    If so, I think I picked it up from Nathan.

  11. I shall neither confirm nor deny this supposition. Nevertheless, you may be advised to watch your back.

  12. "Benny!"

    *Looks around for a bloke in a black robe and a white mask that was held too close to the fire for a minute or two*






    *passes out*

  13. Thanks for your response Izaac. I only just realised that obviously I didn't subscribe by email to this and so just came back. I like your thoughts! (I've just returned from hols and no internet so I am doing some kind of mop-up around the place and will leave it there, at least for now.)

    Benny, yes I don't know quite what it is with that. I wouldn't call you Benny to your face, if that makes you feel better.

  14. I believe my Benny is different. I don't think I'd presume to be so familiar with someone I only know virtually...

    So there...