Will video venues eventually mean the death of preaching? This is the provocative idea argued by Bob Hyatt on his bob.blog.
Hyatt cites Shane Hipps in his book Flickering Pixels, who suggests that “every medium when pushed to an extreme, will reverse on itself, revealing unintended consequences.” The car, for example, eased our mobility, but too many cars results in injury, death, and environmental damage. The internet speeds communications and reduces ignorance, but too much information leads to greater confusion. “Surveillance cameras, when there are too many that see too far, reverse into an invasion of privacy,” says Hipps.
“In other words,” Hyatt writes, “what was originally meant to make us go fast now slows us down, what was meant to make us smart now increases our ignorance and what was meant to make us feel safe now makes us feel exposed.” The rule, he says, is that “technology, taken too far, creates the opposite of what it was intended to create.”
Hyatt applies this theory to preaching. Microphones were intended to increase our range. Tapes, television, podcasts, and vodcasts all serve to continue to extend the reach of our preaching. The problem, he says, is that now through technology we’re not only recording the sermon, but we’re broadcasting it so that the preaching gift of one person not only has the “ability to reach the back row, but the next town, state, continent.” “And we’re not just talking about Spurgeon publishing his sermons,” he continues, “or Schuller putting his on TV or Driscoll putting his on iTunes… Now we’re talking about not just influencing local preachers by making the ‘best’ communicator’s sermons available… we’re talking about replacing those local teaching elders.” The technology, he says, is reversing on itself.
Hyatt envisions a soon future where every city will have, among others, the Driscoll franchise, the Andy Stanley franchise, and perhaps two or three of each. “Sure, smaller churches will still exist, but in fewer and fewer numbers as dying churches are replaced not by vibrant church plants full of people forced to build a community from the ground up and so learn all the lessons along the way, but by video venue franchises – prepackaged church-in-a-box. And I’m telling you – there will be fewer and fewer men and women (most certainly fewer women) who ever learn to preach, who ever get the experience of working with others to discern what God is saying to their local body through Spirit and Word and prayerfully struggle through how they can creatively communicate that as well over the course of weeks, months and years of life together.”
“We’re talking about the death of preaching in evangelicalism by all but a small handful of Celebrity Communicators who have little knowledge about those they teach from such far distances.”
Of course, we’ve heard this kind of thing before. People have been announcing the end of preaching for as long as can remember. I suspect that the video venue phenomenon will continue and increase in influence, but I’m suspicious of this movement’s ability to completely overtake the church. As a friend of mine put it, you are I on an average day are better than the video preachers on their best day.
I don’t doubt the effect of large screen preaching by specially gifted communicators. These days, we all know the power of the big screen. What I am thinking about, however, is the pastoral nature of preaching. Whether or not we listen once a week to the celebrity preacher, we will still need someone in our midst who knows us and who walks with us.
Besides, preaching happens throughout the church, in multiple venues and many different ways, practiced by a variety of people. To say that preaching is dying, is frankly, laughable. Of course, if we only see preaching as the privilege of a single person, set apart for this special purpose, then we might as well begin connecting to the satellites and enlarging the screen size in our sanctuaries.
Preaching will never be the privilege of only just a handful. Preaching is the task of all of us. May it live long and prosper.