Thinking Out Loud

November 7, 2017

The Downside of Sermon Podcasts

My name is Paul, and I’m a sermon podcastaholic.* On Sundays I’ve been known to listen to as many as five of them, though that doesn’t happen often. But three is not unusual.

Read Schuchardt, a professor of media ecology at Wheaton College was a recent guest on The Phil Vischer Podcast. He has ten kids, no TV, no cell phone, and no internet. After discussing technology and culture, at the very end of the discussion, Skye Jethani asked Read about the implications for the church with respect to the things they had talked about…

Skye Jethani: The basic economy of why people go to church, or why people have gone to church for five centuries, has changed. Most pastors I talk to about this don’t want to change that model. But they’re angry or upset or frustrated that a generation is now around that doesn’t show up on Sunday.

Read Schuchardt: Yeah, I’ve had this conversation with various pastors. One of the things I say is, “Look if value really is a function of scarcity, why are you giving away your weekly sermons for free on the internet which is just an invitation to not come?” Why not just say, “It’s live, it’s here, it’s one day of the week only. You’ve got to be there to get it.”

Skye: It’s the same reason your students won’t read a book.

Read: In other words, if you’ll camp out all night to get those tickets to see that concert of that one singer live…

Skye: Don’t you think that it’s because most pastors know they’re not that good?

Read: No, I think it’s because they are sincerely trying to help further and spread their message and also reach their elderly and shut-ins out of Christian love and concern. But they don’t realize that it’s also simultaneously under cutting the over-all “Why would I go there?”

Skye: Yeah, but when I talk to a young person, they might admire their pastor, think they’re great, whatever. But they also realize, “Well, I’m going to listen to these other five celebrity pastors because they’re so entertaining.” And the average pastor, as faithful and good and doctrinally sound as they may be are not as entertaining. So they’re competing in this media environment in which they can’t really compete.

Read: Yeah, but as soon as you say ‘entertainment’, that’s not a focus on Scripture. That’s a focus on television.

Honestly, I hadn’t thought about that. The words, “If value is really is a function of scarcity…” leave me asking if we’ve devalued sermons and preaching by making them ubiquitous.

There had been some earlier discussion about how modern Evangelical church now consists of simply singing some songs and listening to the sermon. Little or nothing else. There is no particular compelling need to be physically present for this if you can buy or download the worship team’s album and listen to the messages at home.

I reminded my wife, who was getting ready to lead worship on Sunday** how important it is for her to continue to provide the interactive worship elements that she always incorporates in her part of the service. I thought of another area pastor who always includes a weekly discussion question where people break up into groups of 2-4 people. Or maybe you still are in a smaller church that takes prayer requests, or at least as a “pastoral prayer” for needs in the congregation and the community.

Absent those elements, you’re left with just the sermon and, like the man said, you’re giving “an invitation not to come.”


*We prefer the term sermon junkie.
**She also typed today’s interview transcript for me.

3 Comments »

  1. I listened to this podcast too and I was surprised by what they, and you, did not mention. If you go to a liturgical church–Roman Catholic, Anglican/Episcopalian, Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox–or if you go to a few other protestant churches such as Plymouth Brethren then you go for Communion/Eucharist/Breaking of Bread. I can get great sermons online. I can listen to much better hymn singing or modern christian songs digitally recorded. I can only participate in Eucharist in person.

    Comment by Beth — November 7, 2017 @ 2:09 pm

    • You are absolutely right. The focus of the podcast is decidedly Evangelical. In the Evangelical movement the sermon is the centerpiece of the church service. In the mainline Protestant churches and Roman Catholic churches the liturgy is the focus. Furthermore some Catholic and Lutheran sermons are only 10 minutes long.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — November 7, 2017 @ 3:17 pm

      • Yes. And Christ didn’t tell us to get together to listen to a preacher. He told us to come together to remember him, and then He left us a way to do it.

        Comment by Beth — November 7, 2017 @ 3:30 pm


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