Is Video Preaching A Desecration of the Pastoral Vocation?

I saw a prominent pastor tweet a link to a CNN article on "virtual preaching." For him, it was a triumph. Look, even CNN recognizes this trend! So many pastors have uncritically embraced this trend that I think it's worth taking a closer look and asking ourselves some tougher questions.

The underlying assumption is that a pastor's role is simply to "communicate a message." Based on that premise it makes logical sense to say that whatever technology or tool enables us to broadcast the message to the greatest number of people at the least amount of cost must be the best choice. But is the premise a true one? Is the pastor's role simply to communicate a message?

Last week my friend and colleague, Aaron Stern, and I had the honor of spending a few days at Eugene Peterson's house, and while I cannot distill everything we talked about in a few blog posts, there were several things he said that spurred more examination on my part. Here are some things pertinent to the discussion of preaching and the pastoral role:

1. The Doctrine of the Trinity is Foundational for the Pastoral Vocation
God is, at His core, a relational being. We are invited into the communion that is taking place within Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are not signing up for a cause or a campaign. To be a Christian is to be in Christ, to be drawn into the most deeply personal thing there is. We don't have a message to spread; we have a Way to draw people into.

2. The More People, the Less Truth
This took me awhile to understand what Eugene meant. But I realize that when Jesus addressed the crowds, they either tried to make Him king by force, or kill him, or they missed the point of his talk altogether. Who were the ones who caught the truth of Christ's teachings? The ones who knew Him and walked with Him. So, "the more people, the less truth" because people are less likely to hear and understand and unpack the message in the right way when they are listening en masse. But it's also the case because the more people there are the less truthful preachers tend to be. The more they tend to generalize and hand out pithy truisms or magic formulas.

3. Both Jesus and Paul Communicated in Ways That Were Personal
Jesus avoided the mass arenas that Herod had built, arenas He could have easily tried to use to preach to the masses. Instead, He walked and taught in small fishing villages. I asked Eugene about Paul. Didn't he operate in large cities? He countered by asking if I'd ever been to Israel (I have not). Their "cities" are small towns. Furthermore, Eugene pointed out, Paul walked in the cities. It took him days to get to the center. And when he planted churches there it was as many as could fit in a home, about 30 or so. (There's nothing ideal about that number, and we had an interesting sidebar on the modern house church movement…which have problems of their own that can make them resemble cliques more than congregations…but I'll save that for another day.) When Paul wrote, most of the time he was writing to people he knew well. He had stayed with them for years not for a weekend of ministry. Notice all the names mentioned in Paul's letters– all the parts of the epistles we skip over!

4. Pastoral Preaching Is Formed by the Particularities of Their People
Preaching, Eugene told us, is about helping people integrate and incorporate their stories into the larger story of God in the Scriptures. But how can you do that if you don't know their stories? Pastors have long held that you cannot preach unless you are also sitting with your people. But it seems that is a forgotten art. Now we have effectively divorced "preaching" from "pastoral care." Were they separate in Paul? In Jesus? Again, Paul and Jesus learned to pay attention to the particularities of their people and then spoke to it. The charge Jesus gave Peter was to "feed my sheep." Since this was the era before feedlots and the industrialization of food (don't get me started on that!), feeding sheep is a high-contact activity. So should preaching. In pastoral preaching we are not simply disseminating information; we are inviting participating in the Story of God, in the community of the people of God. And as my friend Jared Anderson says, "The more people you're speaking to, the fewer people you're listening to." You can't listen to crowds of people. Pastoral preaching is built on listening and speaking.

5. Knowledge of God is Conveyed in Ways That Are Incarnational Not Presentational
When God decided on the ultimate way to reveal Himself, He did not send a message. He did not broadcast from Heaven to Earth. The climax of John 1 is not, "And the Word got written down." Instead, it is, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among them." God came into our world and lived among us. To call ourselves messengers of God's message but to ignore the very way God communicated His message is a desecration of our calling. God's way is incarnational. It's not broadcasting "principles" and "abstract truths." It's coming and living among us, walking among us, eating with us. What did God in Jesus do for His first 30 years in our world? He walked and ate and worked and wept with us. He didn't preach and broadcast and try to "reach people." He lived among the people. The pastor is nothing if not incarnational. He or she is to be God living among the people. Our message is not simply to be broadcasted; our message must be embodied in our ordinary living, a living that is to be witnessed by our congregation.

Listen, friends. My goal is not to be critical of the Church. It is to challenge pastors to recover the sacredness of our vocation. I suppose there may be nothing wrong with using tools of mass communication. I'm doing it right now. But that is not truly pastoral work. So, either pastors recover what it means to preach in a pastoral way or abandon the title of pastor. Call yourself a communicator or a CEO or whatever else you'd like. But don't call yourself a pastor. Don't call what you do preaching. And don't call the people who come and spectate, church.

Advertisements

20 thoughts on “Is Video Preaching A Desecration of the Pastoral Vocation?

  1. Great thoughts Glenn!
    I have been thinking about that first link you put out on twitter for a little while. It reminds me that we have a strong tendency to be more personality driven then (Biblical) principle driven. How many times do we boast that we are using the culture to “reach more people”, when in reality we have become just like our culture? And if we have become just like our culture are we really being a witness? Are we really being the church?
    Again, great thoughts. We need to ask ourselves more of the hard questions.

    Like

  2. Glen, I’m’ just not sure this is a very balanced. Saying that you’re goal is not to be critical doesn’t make critical comments less critical.
    You’re underlying assumption is that communicating is the only thing that these pastors do. I’m sure it’s not. I’m sure that many of them are equipping their staff to do the work of ministry that they cannot personally do.
    The idea of sitting with people and connecting personally is immensely important. With that, I agree with you. But whether a pastor communicates via video remotely, via video within the same room (some churches are pretty large – you know this firsthand) or without any video aid, has little correlation to how much time they spend with the people they pastor. In many ways, a video based, multi-site approach can actually foster more pastoral interaction because many of the churches that use this approach employ campus pastors at each location whose primary role is to create those connections. A senior pastor of a church with 2,000 people total has a big challenge trying to personally connect with everyone. A senior pastor, with 2,000 people across 4 locations with 4 campus pastors has a much higher chance of having a pastor personally connect with the congregation.
    Paul certainly used very personal forms of communication, but he also used some more impersonal, generally directed forms of communication (e.g. the letters he wrote, often to entire churches or groups of people, some suspect not always even by his own hand and certainly not delivered personally). I don’t think we can say Paul wouldn’t have taken advantage of technology, though I think we can say, that technology wouldn’t have been a curtain for him to hide behind and avoid personal interaction.
    To me, the root cause of your argument seems rooted in church size, not the means of communication. I suspect (though I haven’t tried), that I’d be just as likely to truly personally connect with Brady Boyd as I would Ed Young or Craig Groeschel, which is to say, not very likely.

    Like

  3. I almost forgot, my last post is just my opinion. I wish that more folks in ministry would use the word “opinion” when it applies to something they are writing or saying. To that end, I appreciate your opinion and we don’t have to see eye to eye on it. Love you and the impact that you and New Life have on the Kingdom.

    Like

  4. Ben, thanks for the thoughts. I agree. It’s not balanced. And, yes, somewhere in this, size is the problem…but rather than take aim at “large churches”, I thought I’d begin by attempting to subvert our unquestioned embrace of video campuses. And, yes, we have these challenges at New Life…and though we can’t unscramble this egg, we are thinking of ways to subvert, to reform from within…The smaller, quais-liturgical service we do on Sunday Nights is just one response…The journey is on-going. And so is the wrestling. I wish we’d all wrestle with it more.

    Like

  5. love, love, loooooove it!!!! So good, Glenn! I agree 150%. I’m excited for you and Aaron that you got to glean first-hand from one of your respected influential authors. Keep on keeping it real for those who want what they don’t understand in ministry. Thank God for his relational example as He walked this earth. He wasn’t popular among those that would make sense for Him to be popular with. He was in fact despised by religious circles. But he called out the unlikely and discipled on the hillsides and spoke of 12 specifically that he poured his life into. That’s my Jesus. =)

    Like

  6. I say, no. I think any other kind of teaching/preaching through mass media is OK….with the necessary cautions and regular questions/wrestlings. The reason is that pastoral work must be personal. Arguably, so does prophetic work (all the prophets knew the people they mainly addressed…but not all). For example, a wonderful teacher like a Beth Moore…I’m glad she packs out arenas and does simulcasts. I’m also glad she doesn’t claim to be pastoring a church or being a pastor to those people. I’m arguing for a recovery of the sacredness of the pastoral vocation…In to take it seriously, we must do things in a different way.

    Like

  7. I very much like what you said. I am suspicious of the use of a visual, tv-like, medium to spread the Gospel because that medium shuts down a lot of brain activity. (See “Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television”) Congregants tend to become even more passive in a “church” setting, and will become even more susceptible to the sophistry-without-substance kind of public speaking.
    The Article said:
    “”we live in an audio-visual society.”
    Yes we do. But why must all audio-visual media be another way to emphasis the pomp of preaching?

    Like

  8. Glenn, I want to thank you for the excellent and insightful post. Thank you for thinking this through in such a thoughtful and caring way. The cultural tide has the church flowing with it and not against it and so much has not been thought through carefully enough. What you have said here with Eugene is gospel truth and I hope people considering ministry; in ministry and trying to do ministry will read, discuss and reflect on that which you have said so, so well. I applaud your courage and your heart in this.

    Like

  9. Well done as always, Glenn.
    I especially like the point about our message, or rather way or experience, as being incarnational. The Church has always been sacramental. Our Western theologians have often disgarded the Church both as sacrament and as having its primary mission in the world being that of sacrament (this idea is especially guarded by the Eastern Orthodox). Sacrament is a “transforming” of our world into the Kingdom of God by the act of the Holy Spirit – i.e. incarnational. This idea has been all but abolished in the West.
    Not sure exactly how we can bring it back except to attempt to destroy one very serious false dichotomy: that one must choose between the Church as sacrament or the Church as dissiminator of the Word. We must realize that the preaching of the Word is entirely sacramental, in that it transforms the words written by men into the gospel of Christ, and transforms both speaker and hearer.
    Also, the idea that preaching and pastoring can be divorced is about as ridiculous as come in terms of modern attempts at innovating the faith.
    Anyway, just some immediate ideas from reading the blog. Great job, bro!

    Like

  10. Hi Glenn…Shepherds are told to know well the condition of their flocks…I take this literally as one who esteems to look well over the ways of her household, and manages a barn full of critters. I don’t know how sheep can get to know their shepherd unless he lives and moves among them. I take great delight in the Chief Shepherd who watches over me and never slumbers. People and animals have become so disposable in our society….As I understand my relationship with the Lord, I must count all things as loss for the sake of knowing HIm….this means up close and personal…I believe a model that Jesus lived out for us…and one we must emulate. I pray for you shepherds of the flock regularly…..it is a high calling, and you all are to be highly esteemed for the care and teaching you provide. Be blessed, and may God grant every Pastor in this city understanding and wisdom in shepherding the flock…and a deep love for those they shepherd.

    Like

  11. One more note on the protest that Paul’s letters were “church in a box” in the 1st-century….
    The argument has one fatal, yet obvious, flaw: Paul’s letters were read ONCE to a congregation, not every week as their service. Use a video sermon once for a special occasion…sure. To make the mode of pastoral preaching is to corrupt the pastoral vocation.

    Like

  12. Glenn this is great to chew on. I am very blessed to be a part of the Boulder Street team and what a difference it makes to see our pastors walk among the people, know them, care about them and teach relevant messages that impact each of us in a personal way and then as the messages impact us we can carry the truth of those messages out into our spheres of influence. Relationship is key. I have had the true joy of visiting Israel twice and looked at the city from the rampart walls and saw how far away places mentioned in the Bible truly are from one another and how as Jesus walked relationship was built with those that traveled with him, sometimes walking for days or weeks at a time. He built deep relationship with His disciples and you are right He knew those who He was teaching, not just the disciples but His relationship with His Father brought deeper knowledge of those who He was reaching out to in the Bible. He also equipped His disciples as pastors equip staff members/leaders. A pastor doesn’t have a “job” they have a “calling” as Shepherds. Sheep know their shepherds……

    Like

  13. I think I see where you are with this, Glenn, and I wouldn’t disagree. I think what you are saying is that pastors must have that front and center. I do think however, that all forms of Christian work must have a pastoral component to them By that I mean a personal touch – a heart for God’s people.
    Makes me wonder whether some who carry the title of pastor and who like these methods of communication might not be out of their sphere. We tend to call all Christian leaders “pastor” whether that is what they are or not. Serving in that position may not be the best for the local church or the person.

    Like

  14. Nice and thoughtfully written. And I think Ben made a very good point too that lets us dig deeper…
    I have to agree that video church is definitely a great way for outsiders to learn and hear the word of God in a “safe” setting. And there are definitely some valid exceptions where such a method makes sense.
    But my contention is that, If a campus pastor is present, why can’t the campus pastors’ themselves do the teaching? Isn’t he more “in tune” with the local congregation?

    Like

  15. Holy freaking cow. You spent “a few days” at Eugene Peterson’s house? You spent A FEW DAYS AT EUGENE PETERSON’S HOUSE!!!!! I’m sorry. Everyone else is making great comments and additional observations, and those are not lost on me. It’s just this other large part of my brain that’s stuck back on the “few days at Eugene Peterson’s house” thing. Oh the grand blessings our God does bestow on us. He invites us to come… rest… think deeply… be filled… and “spend a few days at Eugene Peterson’s house.” =^) So glad that I get to benefit from your time there, too, via this blog.

    Like

  16. Glenn,
    I love this! May I suggest a few related puzzles?
    1) On audience size: Jesus would be a non-fundable loser by today’s Church Metrics. Audience went from thousands (feeding) to hundreds to a dozen disciples. And they abandoned Him. Stop on Good Friday and this guy’s a bum.
    2) On Paul’s letters. They had the technology back then — a hundred scribes could have pumped out copies of his letters. It’s no different today. We’re discovering the best way to connect with people is not by email, phone, texting or letter. If I want to be sure to connect, I drive four hours and knock on their door. Nobody ever turns me down.
    3) On incarnational media. For years in the ’90s we ran an email prayer team for supporters around the world. Two months after switching to a phone group (because some grandmas involved didn’t grok email) it hit me: we just spent five minutes in silence together before the Lord. WOW!
    Spending time in silence together is one of the most incarnational ways of communing / communicating. It will never happen in email. It will never happen in video, nor on the radio. (When I asked a radio rep about having a time of silence in a proposed radio show, he turned white as a sheet. “Impossible! In 15 seconds we’ll start to get phone calls. In 30 seconds, our engineer’s beeper will go off because silence indicates the most serious technical problem!”)
    Glenn, if you don’t mind, I’ll include some of your points in a conversation we’re soon having with ministry leaders…

    Like

  17. glenn, you stirred up some stuff didn’t you? we have not met, but we may have a few mutual connections. i love your fixation on the relational requirements of the pastoral grace and i commend you on your presentation, well done. some of your language was a bit exclusive, and that was annoying to some of you commentors. i don’t know if you did it for effect or if you really believe that “no knowledge of god can be relayed in presentation” but, regardless, i loved the central theme. i might add, and only as a footnote, that if we could let teachers teach, and pastors nurture, and apostles father, and evangelists win, and prophets prophecy…without trying to slap the positional language of “pastor” on them we might all be better off, and we might make some more steps toward understanding how your article could be a celebration of the limitations of our graces, rather than reduction of any one of them. thanks.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s