Does Preaching Via Technology Fall Short

A good friend Josh commented on the site with this question.  What do you think?

I recently heard at a pastors conference, and the speaker admitted it was controversial, that true effective preaching can only be done in the presence of the hearers. Connecting deeply, not just with their ears, but with the personal interaction that occurs during preaching. In effect, he suggested that preaching via TV, radio, listening to a sermon online (live or a replay) etc. fell short of the essence of preaching. What do you think?

I’ll give a couple of thoughts, but I’d like to hear other peoples’ opinions on this too.

I’m inclined to agree.  True preaching should be the true meaning of the text, communicated effectively by the speaker with applied relevance to the listeners.  Just yesterday I was teaching on the importance of earthing applications as specifically as possible.  This is a good habit in personal Bible study and in preaching to others.  The difficulty in preaching via media is that application may remain slightly generic.  Furthermore it reduces the interpersonal connection which occurs through multiple channels, not just the ear, as mentioned.  (Some preachers preach as if only to the ear, even in person . . . an unfortunate over-simplification of true preaching.)  So media preaching seems to undermine both “effective communication” and “applied relevance” in my understanding of preaching.

On the other hand, this was probably not the speaker’s intent, but I would be somewhat careful before criticising preaching through media.  We live in a day of incredible opportunities via electronic media.  People in inaccessible countries are hearing the gospel via radio (traditional and online) and coming to salvation.  Ministry can be multiplied, including good quality ministry.  I suspect the conference may have made CDs available, so his teaching may be accessed in the months and years ahead by people who could not be at the conference.  Nursery workers in churches are able to serve the church and its parents by watching the children and then hearing the sermon later.  We live in a day of tremendous technological possibilities.

I agree that preaching via media falls slightly short of the ideal, but at the same time I’m thankful for media that allows people access to “slightly short of the ideal” ministry, when the alternative is either none at all, or only face to face preaching that falls far short of the ideal in other ways.  Media preaching should never replace true in-person preaching of whatever standard, but it can be a blessing as a supplement, or for some, as genuinely the only option.

The readers of this site are a good group of people, what do you think about this?

2 thoughts on “Does Preaching Via Technology Fall Short

  1. I love listening to good preaching and conferences and technology make that possible.

    It is interesting that while good preaching involves more than just a voice, I would much rather listen to an MP3 message than watch a sermon on video. Nothing worse, in fact, than a “talking head” video!

    Yet there is something qualitatively different about being together with God’s people hearing God’s Word. Perhaps the presence of the Lord when His people gather?

  2. I ran across your blog by following the link to your post about the word expository, and decided to poke around a bit.

    I had a couple of thoughts about preaching via technology.

    1) People often fault technology for failing to do something it is not equipped to do. I could fault my toaster for failing to puree vegetables, but that would hardly be fair, would it?

    When you use technology, you must match your medium to your message.

    Last year I attended an online “interactive” Bible study. The pastor had everyone wait at their computers for 13 minutes , looking at a blank screen while he chatted with one person he knew.

    When the study started, the leader read a Bible passage, while we looked at a screen containing the outline for the evening. Afterward he asked one person for a reaction.
    The rest of us sat.

    Then he read another passage. We sat. He asked one question. One person answered. The rest of us sat.

    That was the way the entire session went.

    The study ran way over time because we had been forced to wait for latecomers. At the end, the preacher thanked us for stimulating discussion.

    I’m sure the gentleman means well, but he has no clue how to facilitate an interactive online study. He would be boring in person. Online, he’s deadly.

    If you doubt that a TV presentation can connect with listeners, watch an hour of a home shopping network. I have learned more about teaching via technology from watching QVC than I learned in my graduate courses in instructional design.

    2) May I suggest that the “personal interaction” that occurs during preaching is not so much between the preacher and the listener but between the Holy Spirit and the listener?

    Linda Aragoni

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