The Downside of Technology and Sermon Prep

Sermon preparation does not require technology.  A Bible, maybe some paper and a pen, time and the Holy Spirit.  These seem to be the necessities (and it would be possible without the pen and paper, if necessary).  But this week I’ve been looking at various technological helps for sermon prep.  Undoubtedly all that has been mentioned has value and can be very helpful.  Yet it would be remiss to end the week without waving these four flags of caution:

Time – Using technology can undoubtedly save time.  Reorganizing a message using cut and paste is much quicker than rewriting the whole message.  Almost instant access to the right page in a commentary, or almost instant concordance searches are amazing innovations in our generation.  But technology can also sap time.  My mind immediately jumps to two, one of which I haven’t mentioned this week.  Social networking can be a massive time sapper.  So can preparing Powerpoint.  I haven’t mentioned Powerpoint because it is really a technology designed to help presentation, rather than preparation.  I will say this though – it is worth pondering whether the two or three hours (and more!) had been spent in improving the oral clarity of the message, would the message have been more compelling, gripping, clear, etc.?  In many cases, the answer is a definite yes in my opinion.  Anyway, I’ll leave powerpoint and similar for another series.

Distraction – Using technology offers instant access to so much, but it can also offer distraction from the task at hand.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t use computers (and alarm clocks, phones, etc.)  I am saying that we shouldn’t be naïve to the distraction that technology, especially the connected technologies online, can bring to our week.  Maybe it would be worth keeping an accurate time log to discover just how distracted you get in a typical week!

Booklessness – I mentioned this earlier in the week.  With all the benefits gained from online libraries and electronic books, etc., there does seem to be something lost when we don’t have a physical, tangible, real paper book on the desk before us.  It may be hard to explain, but there does seem to be something about actually looking at paper, rather than being gradually blinded by the screen.  There is something about actually retaining information, rather than merely being an expert in where to find it.

Prayerlessness – I pray when I’m working on the computer.  But not always.  Sometimes the combination of overwhelming information and the urgent though not always important needs, not to mention the noise of social media . . . well it can add up to seasons of prayerlessness.  Even if that season is an hour, it seems to me that that is too long.  If I weren’t using technology, would I be prayerless for an hour?  Our churches need preachers who are walking very closely with God, who pray, who read . . . people that used to be referred to as “divines.”  I don’t think it is just the label that has gone out of fashion.

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10 thoughts on “The Downside of Technology and Sermon Prep

  1. Hello all,

    Thanks very much for this blog, I find it very helpful.

    Just a point that you may find relevent, if it’s true:

    I have read that writing (pen and paper) greatly helps things to be committed to memory. Something to do with the tracing of the shapes of the letters/words with the hand.

    I certainly much prefer this method, its just a pain to restructure whereas this is simple on a pc.

    What do you think?

    • Makes sense to me, Ben. Actually, in terms of preparing for an exam, I find a hand written mind-map is the best way to creatively relate information and imprint it on the mind. I think there’s a lot to be said for sermon mapping … maybe I should go there sometime on the site.

  2. You are so right Peter. There are very real downside when connecting technologies and preaching. I have in my mind those who might like to cut and paste from commentaries and then then think that because they are giving accurate information about the text they are preaching well. This is an incredible danger. As those who regularly preach, we need to preach what God has given to us for the congregation, not what someone has written in a commentary. Our congregations need to have us bring fresh and relevant Holy Spirit inspired insights from the text. I have found that reading the commentaries give me ideas that might assist me to think along different paths than I might have personally come up with can be very valuable. But that said, unless I am personally soaking in the text and then connecting the text to the hearer in the way the Lord has directed by His Holy Spirit, I might be tempted to think that preaching is relaying information about the text to the congregation. I fear that there is way more of this going on than the Lord would want.

    • Steve, thanks for this – really helpful input. We don’t preach commentaries (but some do), and nor should we preach like a commentary (though some do). Cutting and pasting is a real danger. I would say a commentary only should be directly quoted if it has a particularly stunning turn of phrase (rare, even in the good ones!) While a commentary may be strong on explanation, it must of necessity be both cursory and general in its application. Our task is to do the best we can with the meaning of the text, and target that uniquely and specifically at our listeners (cut and paste simply can’t do that). Commentary use is a key issue, I’m pondering writing some blog posts on this matter.

  3. I hope you do address this topic further as I think it is a very real danger for many. There are a plethora of reasons people might be tempted in this way. I know that for several years, I found myself tempted to fall back upon what other good and godly men thought of the text but found that to be very shallow and extremely boring not only for the congregation but myself as I preached like I was giving a commentary of the text. There were a number of contributing factors for this, of which I won’t go into here, but imagine that many might have the same struggles. I want to encourage you to address this topic as we find ourselves having such an abundance of good resources so accessible. Thanks and keep up the good work:)

  4. I have also found that technology can, but not always, be a hindrance. I normally try to type a manuscript for my sermon and I find that typing (or writing) helps the flow of thought come naturally. From my manuscript I usually form my outline. I find that typing it out first always helps during the preaching of my outline because my mind goes back to what I had typed before.

    The only downside I have really found with technology is a loss of memory. I find that I often remember the place of a passage of Scripture if I look it up directly verses doing a word or phrase search on a computer.

    Great post! Thanks for the insight.

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