Are video recordings of famous men, used in corporate worship services, the true preaching of God's Word...

(Tim) This post was a comment by son Joseph under a previous post titled "Beware of Despising Preaching." I thought it should be a post of its own.

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Let's start with a book of sermons by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. These are actual sermons that he preached and were recorded onto paper. You read one of them. Is it a real sermon? Yes. Did M.L. Jones preach it? Yes. Was it the proper preaching of the Word when he delivered the sermon? Yes. Did he preach it to you? No. Therefore, you have not been "under" the preaching of the Word. You have indeed read a written record of the proper preaching of the Word, and it is more than likely to be beneficial to you, but not in the way that you would be benefited had you been present in the congregation when he originally preached the sermon. And similarly, although it might have been infinitely better preaching, reading it is not going to benefit you as much as attending a real church where you are a member, submitted to the authority of the pastor preaching *to* you.

Now let's move to radio/mp3 sermons. The same thing can be said. You've heard an audio recording of a real sermon, but it wasn't preached to you. There is a big difference between the two. (I will ignore radio "sermons"  that are "preached" to a studio microphone instead of a congregation as they are not even preaching in my mind.)

Now what about public video recordings (as opposed to private video feeds, which I will address next)? Here I would make the same argument. Watching a recording of somebody preaching is not the same thing as them preaching to you. And yet there is a big difference between audio and video, isn't there? One difference is that video makes you *think* and *feel* that the person is addressing you directly, much more effectively than audio does. Why?

Because he can look into your eyes, just by glancing at the camera once in a while. But who is he preaching to? He's preaching to the camera, and not you. So video recordings are all the more seductive to us, because we feel that we have been dealt with intimately by a man of God. And yet we never had to look him in the eye, and he can't see or respond in any way when we nod or wince or sneer or click "next" to avoid the sermon we don't want to hear.

The problems with video feeds are similar to all of the above instances. Who is Mark Driscoll preaching to when his tele-church in Phoenix tunes in? Would you really say that they have been preached to in any fundamentally different way than if we wrote down what he said and emailed it to all of them? Is it a question of medium? Is it that if we record it onto video, we can see his facial expressions and hear his tone of voice, and so it drives the point home better than if we were to simply write the sermon out on paper? Surely not. We can't make a utilitarian argument like that while we are Christians. Plus, the Bible was written and seems to be plenty effective.

Maybe it is the timing? If we hear and see him at exactly the same time as the people actually watching him in person, does that change anything? There is no difference. Who cares whether it is happening now, or last week or 2 years ago? We are watching it now. And that's the problem. What you are doing is "watching it". Nothing more than that. The Holy Spirit is pleased to use the preaching of His Word in our lives. Ask yourself if you are being preached to or are watching a sermon. The difference is the difference between a church and not a church.

Can books, mp3s, videos of sermons be helpful? Obviously they can. But that doesn't mean that you are being preached to.
Now let's move to Corinthians. We need to be careful here, because there are two things going on. First, Paul is writing a letter to a particular congregation. Second, he is being used by the Holy Spirit to write part of the Bible. So, could we say that when the letter was read to the Corinthian church that Paul was preaching to them? I don't think so, but even if you disagree, ask yourself this. When you read Corinthians at home alone is Paul preaching to you? Of course not. When it is read out loud to your church tomorrow will Paul be preaching to your church? Don't be silly.

Finally, let's look at the major objection, which is that there are generally men present who have been given the responsibility of shepherding the congregation that is being fed by a video. This is simply begging the question. If the right preaching of the word is not happening, the fact that Pastor Joe is in charge at the remote location doesn't impact anything. Regardless, the most important point has already been made in this respect. How can those men who are not preaching be considered to be taking care of the sheep? If they are to feed the sheep, why don't they preach? If they aren't capable of doing that, why would we think they can sit facing the same direction as all of those being "preached to" by a video and afterwards, care for those who are present? In other words, if he is the pastor, let him preach. If he isn't the pastor, then the pastor isn't present, and isn't preaching to those who are.

Wow. That was long, and I don't have time to read it and see if it makes sense. I've got to prepare to preach tomorrow to... you know... my church.


Very helpful. I agree whole heartedly. I had no idea they had campuses outside their city or that it streamed to other sites. That's clearly umm, weird, to put it nicely.

Good post.

I listened to quite a number of Tim Bayly's sermons on long car trips before attending his church and hearing them live. Both are good things to do, but quite different. This is not just because I am now in Tim's flock. If I am out of town, it is better for me to go to a strange church and hear live preaching (at least if its general quality is adequate) than to listen to my home church's sermon in the car while driving home. There's something about live presence, full attention, and having lots of other Christians listening with you that helps.

Another case. What if a sermon is read out loud in a church service? The Church of England in the 1500s put together The Book of Homilies for that purpose-- so if a church didn't have someone who could preach an original sermon, he could read from a quality-controlled list of sermons on various topics (scripture-reading, prayer, marriage, etc.)

Eric: Wesley did the same thing for his circuit-riders. He put down on paper some of his sermons so the circuit-riders could preach them.

Tim: This was excellent.

[NOTE FROM TIM: Actually, I'd forgotten to note this is not by me, but son Joseph. He wrote it as a comment under the "Beware of despising preaching" post, and I promoted it to be a post of its own. Sorry, David.]

There are other things that factor in here that you could have spoken about.

In preaching, you have to listen to this specific preacher, whom you know, and not some clean-machine, holy man, like Piper or MLJ. You know him and his weaknesses and his strengths. That is part of the offense of preaching. To be exhorted and encouraged and rebuked, right there in front of you, by a fellow sinner, and not a generic fellow sinner, but one whom you know and who knows you. He can look at you, in your eyes and he knows what lies behind your eyes. And you return the look, and you look into his eyes and you know that they are his eyes and what lies behind them.

Lloyd-Jones has a section on this, on the limitations of reading, in his sermons on Romans chapter ten. Excellent teaching, but don't substitute reading his sermons for corporate worship at a real church with a real live preacher on the loose in front of you, looking into your eyes.


I think what I've read is an argument that live preaching is better than recorded or video preaching, that there's more nuance, more connection, more passion, more relationship, but I don't see that anyone has made a case that recorded/video preaching isn't preaching.

If a believer despises the public preaching in a local congregation in favor of cherry-picking sermons off the web or elsewhere as a substitute, then he errs and it's a significant error. I think on this we're agreed.

As to Corinthians, I guess when I read the Scriptures, I do think they're written to me (and if not me in particular, then God's people through all generations), though in a different sense than they were written to the Corinthian church. When it's read aloud on Sunday morning, I do believe it is at least God speaking to us but its also the saints of old under the power of the Holy Spirit speaking to us today too. Whether that speaking is considered preaching, I haven't thought about it before.

I'm reminded of growing up listening to J. Vernon McGee on the radio. After he finished preaching, sometimes he'd read letters from believers around the world. The ones I remember are the ones from Muslim countries where believers were grateful for hearing the word preached through the miracle of radio when they had no or little opportunity to hear live preaching in a local congregation. I still think they heard the word preached.


>I don't see that anyone has made a case that recorded/video preaching isn't preaching

A machine cannot perform the role of a man in corporate worship.

Eric, you said: "There's something about live presence, full attention, and having lots of other Christians listening with you that helps."

Although I agree with what you wrote, it conveys somewhat less than I was trying to communicate. At its essence, what I meant to say is that reading, hearing or seeing a sermon is not the same thing as *being preached to*.

Ken, that's also what I would say to you. You are discussing it as a difference in degree of goodness between the two, and of course we agree that being present in the flesh is better than being absent. But you are basically (dis)missing the point. I didn't say that they hadn't heard preaching. I said they hadn't been preached to. On what grounds do you claim otherwise?

Addressing Corinthians again, I didn't say it wasn't written to you. I tried to make that clear in the post by distinguishing between the Bible and the letter part, but I think I missed the mark. I think it's probably too complicated to use as a test case in this discussion, so I'll drop it.

You said, "I don't see that anyone has made a case that recorded/video preaching isn't preaching." That's correct. I think we've lost the track here. You keep flipping the conversation on its head and wanting to prove that they are really sermons, and that people have really heard them. Nobody has disagreed. The question is whether using them as a replacement for a man in corporate worship removes the true preaching of the Word to that church. It is telling that your example is of a place where there is clearly not a church. Nobody says that sermons shouldn't be broadcast on the radio in Muslim countries. Certainly you aren't suggesting that sitting in their living room and listening, they were a part of a church? If so, that's the point of disagreement. If not, then it has nothing to do with the question we are discussing.

You must remember that there are two parties involved when a sermon is preached to a church: the pastor and the congregation. Let me point out some major losses.

1. The pastor cannot interact with the congregation during the sermon.
2. The congregation cannot interact with the pastor during the sermon.
3. The communication is now only uni-directional. 50% of the communication (congregation to pastor) is missing during the sermon.
4. The pastor cannot interact with the congregation after the sermon.
5. The congregation cannot interact with the pastor after the sermon.

In light of these significant losses, I think it is clear that the burden of proof rests upon you to show that none of these things are necessary to have the true preaching of the Word.


Your dad wrote...

" believe it's the same with preaching. Flesh and blood preacher and presence and congregation are necessary for it to be true preaching.

So, if the marks of the Church are absent, is it a church, or simply a deficient church? This is why I say that a church that practices video facsimile preaching on Lord's Day mornings is no true church."

And it's to the first paragraph quoted above to which I've been reacting. You've focused on the second paragraph.

I still don't think anyone as proven that you have to a pastor speaking in-person to a listner in order for the listner to have been the recipient of preaching. I'm betting that your spirit has been convicted numerous times by recorded sermons which very likely led to repentance and renewal - and if you haven't, I have.

I'm granting Tim's second quoted paragraph above as practically a platitude, and by extension, your 5 points above regarding how a local church has to operate. What I've taken issue with is the overreach in the immediately preceeding paragraph. And maybe a definition of preaching is in order. I'd define it "the proclamation of the Word." I would strongly disagree with an addition of "but only if its to a local assembly/church." With my definition, a man can be preaching on a street corner to interested passers-by, he can be preaching as part of a lecture to a group of students in a classroom, he can preach at a rally (was Whitfield not preaching to the thousands in Philadelphia?), he can preach by radio, and yes, even by video.

With regard to whether or not a congregation should have a live preacher on a regular basis or possibly risk jeopardizing their true church status, I'm in general agreement. So, yes, I'd say a man can preach on a street corner, but that's not the place to celebrate the sacrament of the Lord's supper.

>So, if the marks of the Church are absent, is it a church, or simply a deficient church?

They are more like a para-church.

I do wonder at times, if Charles Standey or David Jeremiah or John MacArthur have more influence over the people I preach to then my preaching. What those men do not have that I have is a present, live, direct connect with those who hear me preach. I can help them apply the message in real time.

Thanks for the interesting article.

I think it belongs in the category of so foolhardy as to be devastating to the long-term health of the church.

It is the product of the Reformed celebrity culture. Why not rather plant a church with pastors of the same ethos, if not abilities?

Because what happens when God takes the man out of the picture? What always seems to happen to churches built around a man. They self-immolate.

I think it is a weakness, not a strength, of the Reformed movement that we acquiesce to tearing down barns and building bigger barns for celebrity preachers. And, Charles is right: it builds dissatisfaction among hearers of men with relatively modest, or perhaps even suburb homiletic ability (which itself is a weakness of human nature, to prefer Apollos to Paul).

If such preachers were really building spiritual maturity, they would have a plan (as Tim Keller does, incidentally), for spinning off congregations regularly. And, a plan for succession upon the death of THE MAN, that would involve a long interim period with an experienced pastor to help the church figure out how to go forward, and prepare it so the next man is not a sacrificial lamb.

Which is also why I am against too-long tenures for pastors, but that may be a topic for another post!

Ken (Patrick),

I see the confusion. I would agree that a man can preach on a street-corner.

My post was meant primarily to explore the question of whether or not we should call it a church when the "preacher" is actually a video-screen.


I have mixed feelings on this. I do prefer a Pastor standing before me preaching on Sunday, but I do not so strongly dismiss the ability of God to lead us to a sermon or to make a sermon on tape or mp3 live and speak to me on a spiritual matter.

I love my church, but the pastor is not a strong preacher, so often I seek food in other kitchens :)

God made sure some fine sermons were preserved for distribution to the church, much like Pauls letters were circulated to various churches.

Now today it takes more discernment to sift wheat from chaff but the Holy Spirit knows how to do it.

AMEN ... we are to always sifting the wheat from the chaff ... savor the meat and spit out the bones ...

But then, the homebound are doomed due to their inability to attend? Those serving in war-torn areas cannot be encouraged, filled or ministered to by the Word of God?

FreedbyJC, I think you know that's not what they're saying.

Ken, I agree with you as far as churches imploding that are tied to one man. Before coming to Tim's church, I had been convinced he was exactly this sort man. I think Tim is aware of that and works hard to prevent it but sin will always tend toward idolatry of a man. That's one reason why our church does a ton of work with other churches and planting, attempting to bear fruit. Men who seek to make disciples to themselves don't bear fruit, because to create a fully mature disciple of Christ a man loses them in a sense, they are not bound to him, they are independent of him in Christ. A wolf will not lose their prey. You will know them by their fruit.

I always think of Psalm 126 with faith questions, "Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him." A pastor preaches in that faith, that if his preaching is true it will bind men to Christ not him and bring forth God's harvest.

I've seen churches where there is no real dedication from and to the pastor as father, and often the congregations live for generations with a sort of empty stagnation that is horrific. Far from preaching in faith, these men avoid true preaching, out of fear that they will become a personality cult and more out of dread of the responsibility of true leadership and discipleship.

Such churches wouldn't do any worse to have video preachers.

Make no mistake, those men will answer to God, likely even more than their opposites who lead well and men follow them to Christ, even if they accidentally produce idolatry in the hearts of a few of them.

The risk of leading is that men will follow and I admire preaching where a pastor risks preaching truly. What's the alternative?

Sorry but I asked the questions because I thought that is precisely what they were saying agenda, no double-speak ...

IMHoO it sounds to me like a blanket condemnation ... OK, I want to understand...Speak to me as you would to a simple man...

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