The Challenges of Live Stream Preaching

* This post is for my fellow pastors who are faithfully preaching during the COVID19 pandemic.

At the time of writing, our local church has not physically met for worship for 7 weeks. Obviously, this would not be the case under normal circumstances. The spread of the Corona virus has caused many churches and other public gatherings to cease for the time being. This hiatus has many Christians missing and longing for the next gathering. It should only be natural for God’s people to feel this way. The Bible describes the church as the household of God (1 Tim 3:14–16) and so we ought to miss being around our brothers and sisters in the Lord. 

Personally, I am saddened by the separation but understand the church has had to make adjustments to the ministry in order to form some kind of continuity. In addition to personal contact with members, our church has aimed to provide a chapel service on Sundays (if you’re wondering why we call it “chapel” see this article by Challies in which we whole-heartedly agree). Still, despite the fact that the physical gathering cannot be replicated, we do see the value in providing continuity in teaching in a weekly chapel as a way to minister to the body, other Christians, and hopefully many non-Christians across the internet. 

Our church’s attempt to provide a streaming chapel service has specifically put me, the regular preaching pastor, in a unique position. After several reps of “online preaching” I have four challenges on this new phenomenon of live stream preaching that I am currently working through.

 

#1: The Challenge of (Congregational) Non-Verbal Communication. In my context, I am either physically preaching in front of one person (our associate pastor) or to no one. In that sense it is weird because I never realized how much I, as the preacher, feed off the interaction of those in attendance (whether it’s 1 or 100). Although preaching is basically a monologue, that does not mean that the non-verbal communication of those listening has no impact.

There are a lot of things I notice as a preacher. A simple head nod of agreement can be reassuring that a concept is sticking. Watching people rush their note taking can be an indication to slow down. A confusing look can tell me that an illustration did not land or was not well received. Many of these things are gone when preaching to a lens.

Preaching to a lens is straight up weird. I look forward to the day when I can preach before the congregation and have that kind of personal interaction with the flock. 

 

#2: The Challenge of Presentation (Not Content). The truths of Scripture are always true regardless of time and place. The content of our preaching never changes and so our exegetical conclusions remain the same. Still, there is a shift the preacher makes from exegesis to exposition. This is why great preachers may not always produce great commentaries and vice versa.

Biblical exposition must consider the listener. Preachers labor for clarity in their preaching so that the Word of God may be healthily received by those listening. Oftentimes, the culinary world serves as an illustration of this principle. Chefs labor to both cook a great meal and present it in an appetizing way. 

As the regular preacher at my local church, this means that I think and pray about those in attendance and how they will receive the Word. I know most, if not all, the people who are in attendance. This is not the case in live stream preaching. The net is cast far more wide than those attending our local church gathering. As a preacher, this presents an internal struggle with how I present the timeless truths of Scripture. 

 

#3: The Challenge of a Digital Attention Span. This is just the reality of doing things over the internet and being in the comfort of your own home. When a TV is primarily used to watch shows, movies, sports, documentaries, etc. it is easy for a streaming chapel service to get lumped in with the bunch. It doesn’t take much before the live stream can turn into the white noise you play as you clean your house or tend to other matters (and I say this out of personal experience).

On the other hand, real life preaching eliminates many of those distractions. Isolating your time and specifically devoting it to driving, attending, participating, listening, and fellowshipping is just completely different from the live stream experience. On top of that, the physical dynamic of listening to real life preaching is far better than the live stream. Hearing the preacher’s dynamics, tone, rate, pitch, etc. in real time is just different. It’s the difference between watching a documentary on the Grand Canyon and actually hiking the Grand Canyon.

Therefore, as a preacher, I’ve tried to shorten my sermons. Normally, I would preach anywhere between 45–55 minutes on a given Sunday. During these live streams I’ve aimed for shorter sermons (30–40 min). 

 

#4: The Challenge of Follow-Up. Good preaching will exhort God-centered living. In real life preaching, what happens after the service is just as important as what happens before or during. In the physical gathering, conversations after the service are helpful to clarify or further discuss the content of the sermon. While digital follow-up is possible through video chats, texts, or phone calls, they are much less organic than in real life (just read this article). Having genuine and immediately follow-up is so different over the internet than it is in real life.

Even more important is how to follow-up with non-members who listened to the live stream? How do you follow-up with an unbeliever who just listened? Or how about a Christian looking for a church in your area? What about a non-Christian halfway across the globe who stumbled upon your life stream? Sometimes in our live streams people will comment and we’re not entirely sure how they got connected to our small local church. While I’m glad they got to hear the gospel, I wonder about their spiritual health and how we can be of better service to them.

 

Well, these are some of the challenges I am personally facing as someone who is preaching regularly via live stream or pre-recorded broadcast. I am blessed for the technology that allows continuity in publicly teaching the local church, but struggle with these items. What do you find as some of the challenges in preaching during this pandemic? If you’re not a preacher, what do you find challenging as a listener? 


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