Almost every church publishes audio recordings of its sermons on the web. Many post videos of their sermons (or entire service) online. It is, no doubt, a blessing. Christians have access to great sermons on every conceivable topic and on every Bible passage.
And, as a minister, having access to so many online sermons have helped me develop as a minister. I can listen to almost any preacher I want with just a few mouse clicks. In general, online sermons make it easier for preachers and ministers to learn their craft, since ministers can hear so many examples of good preaching.
But I think the massive availability of online sermons can also hurt preachers. Why? Here are a few reasons:
1. Low Confidence in Their Own Abilities
It can be discouraging to listen to great preachers and compare the quality of their sermons to your sermons. The very reason that you know about most of these preachers is because they are some of the best. Before sermons could be recorded and circulated so easily, it was not easy to hear the “best” preachers. Now that is easy and common, and the pressure and self-criticism that arises from this is enormous.
2. Tougher to Find Their Own Voice and Style
It can make it difficult to find your own voice and style. Preaching is “truth mediated through personality.” One needs to find a style and voice that flows from your own personality. Some people are not as witty as a Mark Driscoll or a Francis Chan. Some people are not as serious-minded as Mark Dever. Some people don’t convey passion as well as John Piper does. But these are all aspects of their personalities. But many of us listen to hours of these preachers, and we try to emulate aspects of their preaching which come from the unique personalities. We need to find our own voice and our own style. Other preachers can be a midwife to our own voice and style, but we cannot substitute their voice for ours.
3. Too Easy to Follow Fads
Listening to other preachers can sway you to focus on themes that your congregation doesn’t need. Very simply: do your sermon ideas come from what your congregation needs to hear? Or do they come from what you’ve heard other preachers talk about? It’s very easy to listen to hours of recorded sermons and start preaching about subjects you’ve heard other ministers talk about.
The more I’ve listened to John Piper, the more I talk about the glory of God and finding pleasure in serving God. The more I listen to Mark Dever, the more I talk about the importance of the local church.
Of course, some of this is helpful. But it is too easy to get stuck on the favorite themes of your favorite preachers rather than discerning what your congregations needs to hear.
4. The Congregation’s Expectations are Raised
Finally, the congregation comes to expect more. When many in the congregation are listening to great preachers, the standard of preaching is set high. Is the delivery as polished as John Ortberg? Are his points as deep as Piper’s? Is he as passionate as Chan? Is he as intelligent as Keller? Again, imagine the average Christian one hundred years ago. They would not have been to hear the best preachers around. Some might have, but probably only a couple of times in their lives. The quality of the great preachers would not set the expectations for the average, local preacher. Greatness becomes the norm rather than the exception. And the congregants become restless and dissatisfied with their “boring” preacher.
I am not advocating that we should stop listening to audio sermons. We should simply be aware of the dangers. If we are not aware of the pitfalls, we are more likely to fall into them.
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