How is the live-stream thing going for you and your local church? For us at North Life, it has been a learning experience to say the least. (Unprecedented times call for our ministries to model being humble students long before we are skillful teachers.) May I encourage you to perceive and submit to the lessons handcrafted by THE Master Teacher who not only called you into the ministry but longs to also grow your ministry during these uncomfortable, stretching days.
Here are a few educational takeaways that I am still processing that would be wise for you to look for too: (Many of these could apply to the drive-in model that some are using as well.)
Appreciation for the Novice
I have not felt as uncomfortable in a long time before and during a sermon as I did with the first live-stream only service that we conducted a few weeks ago. As the years pass in ministry, it is very easy to forget how it feels to step out of what is familiar in ministry-a tendency that creates a disconnect between us and the potential, onboarding volunteers that a growing ministry desperate needs. This new-to-me season can only help we pastors appreciate others and support others as they attempt exciting but novel things for the Lord in ministry.
Deference toward Others
One of the most striking aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic is how everyone around me and in our church is processing the crisis and safety measures differently. Some are highly concerned and in lock-down mode. Others have, at least for a time, been cynical toward any mention of substantive threats or risks. I have noticed that the more influence one has the less they tend to be willing to not have everything their way. Nowhere is this more true than in the pastorate. As one author put it, we are not called in crisis to lead by with one-size-fits-all motivation; we are to lead by providing the tools needed to interpret the situation in a way that is unique to each person’s situation. The wide range of responses to the current situation has stretched me to practice more broadly a gracious, pastoral deference to all of the sheep under my Christ-entrusted care.
Increased Respect for Tech Team
In days gone by, many of our audio/video ministers were viewed as not only “behind the scenes” but at best an auxiliary part of our ministry in the gospel. Today, we preachers depend almost entirely upon them to get our message out and our ministry accomplished. (I want to give a special shout out to Pastor Dave, Brother Josh, and Ethan who have been tearing it up in our church these days.) May we never forget the endless hours they continue to invest to facilitate and amplify our pastorate! They need to know that they are just as gifted and called in the advancement of God’s kingdom as we are. We are hearing report after report of folks who are unchurched and unsaved tuning into our livestream as well that of other ministries in unprecedented numbers. Some of the church’s greatest “evangelists” are currently on the media teams in your church! It is exciting to think about the new heights of sacred witness that we can reach if the preachers and the techies both fully respect and work with each other in the days ahead.
Collaboration with Other Pastors
I have also been thoroughly excited to observe other pastors learning how to collaborate more intentionally with other preachers. Instead of sitting back and critiquing each other’s online content, we appear to be pulling more for each other. Whether that be “subscribing” to each other’s YouTube channel or helping each other with technical questions, it has been a thrill to see a significant, sanctified shift in this direction. Good men that I have never observed working together before are now visibly in this together. As someone wisely surmised, “I guess God got so mad about all of our fighting down here that He sent us all to our rooms.” If nothing else redemptive comes out of this current season, this uptick in ministerial unity would, in my humble opinion, be well worth it!
Sitting under My Own Preaching
Several have mentioned that the online format forces preachers to watch themselves preach, either after recording it beforehand or their social media feed after doing it live. What a painful but edifying experience for many of us! Sinclair Ferguson once said in a post-conference question-and-answer session that he had determined to be a man who sat under his own preaching. Being so close to what it feels like to be a recipient of my own preaching moving forward will only help me be more submitted to God’s authority/application in my own message and empathetic toward my audience.
Preaching to and for “Audience of One”
This heaven-sent lesson has two components: both addressing the stiff challenge of preaching in an empty room to a passive piece of technology called a camera.
The first lesson involves specifically connecting with the person on the other side of the video feed, the audience. I have observed all kinds of approaches being used, but my observation is that our preaching right now must be less to-a-crowd feel and more to each individual. I recently heard Lysa TerKeurst, a New York Times best-selling author say, “When a reader opens a book, they want to feel KNOWN before they will let you teach them.” Wow! That has so much application to not only writers but all communicators. I am finding myself more focused upon thinking of /praying for/speaking to the first-time viewer that is unsaved then simply impressing or entertaining the redeemed crowd with whom I am much more familiar. This trend in my own heart has led to a clearer, consistent presentation of the Gospel in every sermon! Unquestionably, one of the lasting effects of this season to my preaching will be the intimate, personal feel that is growing in how I communicate God’s Word.
On the flip-side, I have secondly realized how much I naturally feed off of the crowd in my preaching that sometimes is at the expense of my alignment and sensitivity toward the divine Author and Applicator of my sermon. If you preach live in the church auditorium like am currently doing, doesn’t the space feel so cavernous and devoid of tangible energy? While it is not easy, I am learning to embrace that moment, not as loneliness but a level of solitude with the Lord that I have likely never experienced before in preaching. This should greatly help all of we preachers in the future on a day when a physical service is lightly attended or energy in the room is less than ideal. My prayer is that this preaching with and for the ultimate “audience of One” will forever revolutionize my formerly too physically-oriented sermons with the obvious, consistent touch of God’s power and presence.
Heightened Value of Physical Gathering
May I end by carefully stating that virtual gathering of the local church are not enough longterm! Several have pointed it out, but one of the primary reasons for this current situation allowed by our God has to be to confront the growing malaise toward church attendance all around us. For more on this, see the following post from Psalm 122. While we must do our best with the current status quo, I have learned that God does not expect me to reproduce completely what can only happen in person. That has removed a lot of pressure and encouraged me that leaving our audiences “wanting more” is actually a redemptive experience for us all. Truly absence makes the heart grow fonder! One of the most sanctifying and enduring benefits of this season of physical separation from the church will be a growing, sanctified dissatisfaction with NOT HAVING IT!
What other meaningful benefits have you experienced, as the preacher or the audience, during this current livestream-only format of your church?