Podcast Pastors

Podcast Pastors December 29, 2011

From Trevin Wax’s post as reported at CP:

There’s a dangerous trend among Christians today, according to one Christian: Podcast sermons are increasingly replacing real pastorship.

“What is dangerous is not listening to podcasts, but thinking that pastoring and shepherding is taking place through this means. There is more to pastoring than the delivery of sermons,” said Trevin Wax, blogger and managing editor of the Gospel Project at LifewayChristian Resources, to The Christian Post….

Earlier this year, Dr. Russell D. Moore, dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said in a discussion on “Faith in America” that when he asks young evangelicals in ministry who has been really influential upon them, they mention “a disembodied voice that they have heard on a podcast.”

“Ten years ago, most people would have given me the name of a local pastor who had mentored them and worked with them,” Moore noted, calling the new trend “a very dangerous thing.”…

Shane Hipps, author of Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith, elaborated on the idea of technology and the church in an interview with Christianity Today. He said Christians can’t escape or resist technology because it’s everywhere, but they should try to understand it before blindly trusting it.

“Christians are quick to critique it (technology) or adapt it or reject it without understanding it,” he said. “My interest is to have deep discernment, to understand the actual power of these things, and then decide whether or not a technology is useful.”



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  • RJS

    What is the difference between sitting in an auditorium with thousands and thousands of others listening to a preacher in complete anonymity, sitting in a remote site watching a video cast of a preacher, and listening to a podcast? Perhaps all of these are merely facets of the modern self-feeder.

    I don’t often agree with Moore – but here I do. Maybe i am just old fashioned, but it seems to me that pastoring should be personal and we should look for personal interactions and mentors.

  • I recently took David Platt to task on my blog for preaching “God hates sinners.” David Platt doesn’t know me from Adam. I’m not a part of his community. But he is, most certainly, a part of my community through his podcasts and preaching videos on YouTube.

    The trouble is, when one of these celebrity preachers says something incongruent with Scripture, local pastors have very little recourse. Many people trust the Platts and Driscolls and Chans more than they trust their own pastor. This is, perhaps, the most dangerous outcome of the rise of celebrity preachers–they are, whether they like it or not, creating cults of personality that can do and are doing damage within local congregations.

  • Rick

    “…but thinking that pastoring and shepherding is taking place through this means.”

    I wonder if many distinguish between the “preacher” and the “pastor”.

    The first can be anywhere, deliver powerful (or just helpful), big-picture, life-directing messages; yet this preacher is not known personally.

    The second is local, seen more as the shepherd, and helps with certain life issues, if help is seen as needed at all.

  • Fred

    I like the first two posts.

    My guess is that, in terms of actual learning, they’re equal. Not much learning goes on in a preaching service and I doubt that anything is gained by simply listening through some other medium. In almost every other learning context, we come home with assignments, go to libraries or labs, do outside reading and book reviews, etc. We DO something. In church, we pay a professional to tell us what to think. The secular education community cruises along with its cutting edge vehicles while we plod along with our horse and buggy and orange triangle tacked on to our backsides.

    While small groups can be helpful, most leaders are ill-equipped to teach anything.

    I haven’t had a pastor darken my doorstep in forty years. Not that I blame them. They have too many complainers like me to contend with. 😉

  • P.

    A local pastor that has mentored me and worked with me? Geesh. In my church of 7000+ members, I’ve always gotten the impression that the head minister is way too busy for things like that. On a more positive note, I’ve just started attending a large and growing church, and that minister gives the appearance of being very open to meeting and talking with people.

  • JoeyS

    I’m with RJS – 40 years ago people would have said “Billy Graham” who’s affect cant’ be much different than a podcast.

  • Brad

    Or in the early church they would have said “James” who impacted them by a letter:)

  • This is what I call the “You’ve Got Mail” controversy. Would you rather go into Fox Books, grab a book and run or saunter into “The Shop Around the Corner”, talk books with the owner, soak up the ambiance, learn about the author and their other books. In theory, we would love to do Shop Around the Corner but we have chosen a lifestyle that consumes rather than allow ourselves to be shaped.

    Podcasts are the Wal-mart version of pastoring. I don’t see Wal-mart going out of business, by the way.

  • It’s one thing to write a book, it’s another thing to preach weekly sermons via podcast. Our exposure to them has increased dramatically because of technology, but they still have zero exposure to, or participation in, our local congregations. Celebrity is a powerful tool, and technology is the vehicle by which that tool is exercised. I’m not saying either are wrong, but that they may have unintended consequences at the end-user level.

  • JoeyS

    I think podcasts can be formational, but I’m with Trevin (I never thought I’d say that) in that I don’t believe them to be particularly or specifically pastoral. There may be hints of pastoral affect but they lack relationship. Podcasts don’t cry with you at the death bed of a loved one.

  • John W Frye

    When pastoring is reduced to preaching or podcasting we are all in deep trouble. Pastoring is done away or apart from the pulpit or plexiglass podium. I think technology is fascinating and creative, yet the personal earthyness of pastoring a community of people cannot be digitized.

  • RJS

    Mike (#8),

    It seems to me that podcasts are more the Amazon version of pastoring… The very large church is Walmart.

    I don’t see either Amazon or Walmart going away. Nor are they all bad.

  • Interesting. I go to a church that is small enough (several hundred) that I have a good relationship with all the pastors, but I wonder how many people do? And I also wonder how many people receive what we would refer to as pastoral care from the person who does the preaching in their church, or even if they should? When I need to talk to someone, I call my mom or my girlfriends. Are my pastors more qualified for the job? I love them, but seriously doubt it–I’m sticking with the larger body of Christ on this one.

    My pastor actually IS mentoring me, and I am SO INCREDIBLY THANKFUL for that, but it took me going back to school for a ministry degree for a man outside of my family to make that kind of investment in my spiritual growth. So maybe my experience as a female impacts my thoughts on the matter.

    As I see it, offering women better access to pastoral care and investment is one of the most pressing reasons we need to be equipping women for ministry, whatever that looks like in our churches. Women need people to talk to, learn from, and be mentored by, and oftentimes a male pastor just isn’t going to be a helpful or even safe choice, for a variety of reasons.

    I blogged about my frustration as a female in search of a mentor here: http://www.jennyraearmstrong.com/2011/08/08/the-proverbs-31-woman-theology-and-me-part-3/

    That was a rather rambling comment, but I just had to add that. Being cared for, invested in, and mentored tends to look COMPLETELY DIFFERENT for women in our churches.

  • I interact with people all the time who claim they are learning so much from the preaching of (Driscoll, Chandler, Platt, Piper etc.) but in real life these same people are are extremely unteachable, know nothing of mutual submission and do community poorly. I think all this pod-cast listening is building a new generation of self-righteous types. You would think with the millions of people downloading “biblical” preaching into their heads their hearts would change a little more. Makes you wonder about the power of preaching?

  • Questioning Student

    @RJS #1 and Andy Holt #2,

    What’s the difference between mega-churches, video-feeds, podcasts and reading or listening to a piece intended to benefit spiritual formation by a “celebrity preacher” (i.e. this blog or NTW)? I’m not quite sure if my local pastor would quite agree with Scot McKnight or NT Wright. In a sort of disconnected way (like a podcast or megachurch), I am benefitting (I think?) from the writings and videos of, what I would call, good “celebrity preachers” whose thoughts and theology at times complicate the traditions of my (and many) local congregation(s). If I at times trust NT Wright over my local pastor, is he creating a “cult of personality” that is doing serious damage?

    I understand “pastoring and shepherding” is different than the intellectual engagement with books, lectures and blogs. But is there no pastoring or shepherding happening through Jesus Creed or Wright?

    If we level serious criticism at podcasts, calling them a “dangerous trend,” are we not forced to level serious criticism at the blogosphere? If podcast preacher X becomes a “celebrity preacher” with a “cult of personality”, does not Scot McKnight and NT Wright–or any other blogger or public intellectual– become the same thing?

  • RJS

    Questioning Student,

    For myself … and others might respond differently.

    I listen to everything of Wright’s I can find – and same for some other people as well (Scot for example). I read widely, and greatly appreciate the interaction here. These are all very important to me. But I am also a part of a local church and always will be. It may not meet every need, but it plays a role in the Church that podcasts, books, and blogs never can. And if the opportunity were to present itself I’d put a little less time into the blog and more into face-to-face interactions.

    It isn’t that the public intellectuals are a problem, or podcasts a dangerous trend in themselves … rather, the dangerous trend is that they take the place of the personal instead of augmenting the personal.

  • I understand and agree with the criticisms posted here regarding sermon podcasts — in many respects, it’s akin to the same stock as television and radio preaching. OTOH, it offers a wide array of diversity hitherto inaccessible and unknown, and a stark departure (though, of course, there are podcast subscriptions available for the aforementioned radio and television preachers) from the narrow band of charlatan fundamentalism and neo-fundamentalism.

    And, as the megachuch model continues to swallow up church attenders, I dare say that there is probably more growth in discipleship and maturity with the self-seeking podcast listener than the individual that remains anonymous in the weekly audience, measured in thousands, taking in that sermon and viewing from the giant video screen, sprinkled with a few worship songs (now also becoming available in podcast (and video) form). Only difference being that podcasts are consumed in the comfort of home or during commute time and the pod-ritioner is spared the passage through smiley plastic faces.

  • K.W.

    Podcasts are just the latest version of an old issue: People trusting the preachers on the radio more than, or instead of, their pastor. Out of Ur did a post on the phenomenon in 2007: Thus Saith the Radio. Same old issue of do-it-yourself-Christianity or diffused authority; new technology.

  • Adam Legler

    If it wasn’t for podcasts, I would have been stuck in a very harmful traditional mindset that had not been exposed to greater truth. Since getting out of that traditional mindset, my family has been on a spiritual journey of finding a healthy church family. I’m very thankful that I’ve been able to feast off of the great preachers and teachers who produce podcasts that have drawn me to a greater understanding of God and kept me spiritually fed in this time of wandering in what seems like a very large desert.

  • JenG

    If it weren’t for podcasts, I’d never hear a good sermon…

  • Well said, RJS (#16) — these technologies are here to stay. It’s not that they’re wrong, but they must be understood for what they are and the dynamics whereby they operate. This dynamic has been with us ever since radio preachers, Billy Graham crusades, and preaching tapes in the 70’s and 80’s. Actually, going back to print media before these! Disembodied teaching and preaching isn’t bad, but it doesn’t supplement genuine pastoring, church involvement, or community dynamics.

    JenG (#20) — that is seriously sad!! Though you aren’t the only one who’d say that . . .

  • Questioning Student,

    First off, I agree with what RJS said. Now I’d like to share my thoughts, too.

    I think you raise some excellent points. My perspective, as a small church pastor, is that the celebrity preacher has more credibility with people–particularly the young people I know–than the local pastor. (Or this is, at least, a strong possibility.) I think part of the unspoken assumption in people’s minds is that celebrity, reach, size, and success are evidence that God has particularly blessed that preacher and his ministry. In other words, his reach validates his ministry. On the flip side, those who don’t have book deals or speaking tours or large churches are not to be trusted on the same level or in the same way as the celebrity preacher, who is viewed as an authority on God’s word (or on everything). I may be overstating that, but I don’t think I’m far off. What you wind up with on the local church level are tribes forming within the congregation, and the tribal leader is a particular celebrity preacher. (See 1 Corinthians for why this is really bad.)

    The danger comes when you, as a church member, view the pastor of another church as your spiritual leader, shepherd, pastor, whatever. You internally disassociate from your local faith community and become a bit of an outsider on the inside, if you know what I mean. That becomes particularly damaging when you accept, wholesale, the teaching of a pastor whose church you do not attend, and also become a critic of the pastor of the local congregation of which you are a member.

    With that said, I’m all for outside influences, learning, partnering with other churches, and learning from great leaders. What I’m not for is pastoral replacement and communal disassociation via technology.

  • Don’t get me wrong, but I am glad that people are turning to podcasts for teaching. My hope is that it will reform the craft of church staffing to create true shepherds rather than specialists that primarily are administrators. There is a need for those people, but lets not call them pastors, maybe directors or admins. Lets call the people who know names, pray for them personally, already have the people’s numbers in their cell phones, know where they live, and can already tell when someone is in need without anyone telling them… let’s call those people pastors. Right now these people are primarily small group leaders doing the pastoring. If this could change then those pastors will preach sermons that people will want to listen to in person.

  • I attend a local church on a regular basis. I still listen to podcasts and read blogs since it enhances and broadens my knowledge of scripture. It amazes me that every time a new technology comes out suddenly there are all of these “pitfalls” that have existed previously. Just packed in a new wrapping. The same people who stayed at home and thought that listening to some radio/TV preacher would be the same as going to church, now think that podcasts do the same.

  • James

    I listen to podcasts here and there, and our church has two, one for our radio ministry, and one for our sermons. But I can’t imagine thinking, as a minister, that a podcast is anything close to replacing personal interaction and true discipling/shepherding/pastoring. I guess I view listening to a podcast like I do reading an article or a blog like this. A good supplement to spark thought, but not a replacement of any relationship or ministry to or by me.

    Something to chew on and think about, for sure.

  • Carlo

    Let’s not forget as well that podcasts, books and blogs are still only read by the minority of Christians. In my current (admittedly small) church and my previous one, very few people actually read christian books (or any books for that matter), I don’t know many Christians who download podcasts on a regular basis and I bet that most Christians (at least here in the UK) are barely familiar with Christian celebrities. So I have a hunch that at the moment ‘real’ pastors are still impacting more people than digital pastors.

    (Btw I myself LOVE reading, download several podcasts a week and have been inspired and encouraged by many – I am reading Thomas Merton’s autobiography at the moment, and I think he is kind of pastoring me!)

  • Richard

    This is a just a symptom of the show. If its not the music attracting people in, or the programs, its the sermon. This has always been a tension for us though, hasn’t it, just a new technology making it more accessible and not limited to physical travel?

    I think it also reflects a shallow understanding of discipleship and transformation. We aren’t changed by education (head), this is an error of modernity, we are changed by formation (heart).

  • RJS #12 – Great analogy. Yes, Wal-mart is like the Mega-church and Amazon is like the Podcast. And saying that, all of these entities exist because they meet a felt need and if they were gone, we would be different. All of us have to debate if the difference would be better, worse or neither.

  • Well, from my perspective if it hadn’t been for Alistair Begg’s podcast ministry I wouldn’t be saved.

    I disagree with some elements of his Calvinism, but I believe he is an excellent teacher of the Word and he laid out for me how to be saved.

    I was in and around church FOR DECADES thinking I was converted when I really wasn’t, so I for one am very thankful for at least one podcast ministry. He challenged that assumption from 1st John and he was correct and I am so thankful for that.

    Perhaps if the quality of preaching from local pastors was up to par there would be fewer Christians seeking out sound biblical teaching via internet and broadcast resources.

    My experience has been that if I want to be fed, I’d best not look to my local church for a spiritual meal. I’ve simply found that I’ll be left starving. My hunch is that others feel the same way and that is the reason for the hungry sheep seeking out competent shepherds on the ‘net. And those shepherds being in place is another sign of God’s provision for His children.

    I attend a sort of distant larger church (some would say a megachurch) for communion with other believers and a ‘live’ message – but I get fed by myself in my own studies (I am a preacher) or by my “go-to” list of podcast preachers. Oh yes, and my tons and tons of books from a time when more Christian authors and teachers were actually in Christ rather than simply acting out a career upon a stage, for an audience that in the end doesn’t really give a darn. They just want mindless reassurance that they’re OK.

    In the end, the hungry go to where the food is, and those with the Godly food seek out the hungry. If the local church gets left out it’s their own fault for starving their congregations by accepting or retaining a person who couldn’t preach or teach their way out of a wet paper bag – but hey, I guess he is a nice, mostly inoffensive guy.

  • RJS

    Mike (#28)

    As a Christian – but not a pastor or a church leader – I have come to think that it is not very productive to worry much about what might be better or worse about church. This isn’t intended to be cynical – but we have only so much time and only so much emotional energy. It is best to simply look for places to grow and to serve within whatever current structures are available at any given time, in any given place.

    Podcasts are quite useful.

  • Margaret

    I have just noticed this blog & read it with interest. One thing that I haven’t seen mentioned is when you are like us living in a country speaking a different language without a church to go to where you can receive pastoral care we need to rely on a good preachers podcasts. Yes we would dearly love to be part of the ideal type of church, but in our situation we help our little English speaking church all we can but rely on podcasts for our sermons & there must be many people like us who cannot get to a church for different reasons who are helped greatly by listening to a good preacher by podcast.

  • John

    I have never met Jesus personally but his sermons, especially the one Christians call “sermon on the mount” seems pretty influential. In fact, everything Jesus says has influenced my life. Paul has never been in my living room before; yet his bold confidence to direct churches in his letters shepherds me constantly. Not sure I buy that Podcasts aren’t always good when in reality, I’ve lived in a podcast world my entire life and feel called by God through his spoken word.