I recently read an interesting/odd article on Christianity Today, in which the author argued that churches who make their sermons available via podcast actually hurt themselves.
The meat of the argument is that when a sermon can be consumed apart from the entire Sunday experience, it cheapens the Sunday experience and can encourage people that it’s okay to miss church and simply listen to the sermon online. It’s a bit more nuanced that, but that’s it in a nutshell.
But as I read the article, I found myself increasingly perplexed. The entire thing struck me as the equivalent of putting a band-aid on a bullet hole (shout out to T-Swift). In other words, if putting sermons online is causing the problems the article suggests, then we have a much bigger problem which refusing to podcast won’t fix.
It’s About The Sunday, Not The Podcast
First and foremost, I’d be curious if any stats exist regarding those who listen to sermon podcasts versus those who attend church regularly. I have doubts that a person who regularly skips church would indeed listen to the sermon podcast.
But even if those stats showed that skipping Sunday (which is a great band name, BTW) correlated directly with podcast downloads, removing the podcast still wouldn’t fix the bigger problem. It’s all about those band-aids and bullet holes.
If I think that listening to a sermon is the equivalent of attending church, it indicates that I have an almost totally incorrect understanding of what happens on Sunday mornings.
The author of the article is dead-on when he says that Sunday is a unique moment each week in the life of the believer. It is a uniquely embodied time when we gather with God’s people, lift our voices in praise…together, listen to the preached word…together, take the Lord’s Supper…together, and fellowship…together.
Sunday mornings can’t be digitally replicated. I’m 100% on-board with that sentiment.
But now we also come to the heart of the problem. If I’m cool with regularly skipping out on church and only pumping the sermons through my earbuds, it means I don’t understand the sacredness of what happens on Sunday. Removing the podcasts won’t solve this problem, and I’ll probably just move onto to another church’s podcast.
Having deficient knowledge regarding the sacredness of the gathered church is the big, bad, root problem. That’s the bullet hole, and killing off podcasts is simply slapping a bandage on the hole.
So what is the solution? I need to be consistently and regularly reminded of what is taking place on Sunday mornings. I need to be taught why Sundays matter.
What Is Your Liturgy Teaching?
Some of you hear the word “liturgy” and immediately think of incense, endless repetition, and standing/sitting/kneeling. You get the liturgy sweats when you think about it.
But at its core, liturgy is really about what happens in your service and the order in which it happens. Every church has a liturgy – some are just more formal than others.
One of the things I deeply appreciate about my church is that the pastors ensure that our liturgy reflects the unique importance of Sunday mornings.
The singing portion of worship typically follows the outline of the gospel, beginning with a call to worship and then moving through confession, repentance, and the forgiveness offered through Christ.
Before the sermon, we often stand when we read the scriptures, reminding us that we are sitting under the authoritative word of God.
We observe the Lord’s Supper each week to reinforce the fact that our only hope is in Christ alone.
These practices simply can’t be recreated at home, at least not in any meaningful way. They also add a unique weight and gravity to the corporate gathering.
Additionally, the weekly community groups typically review the sermon, yet again reinforcing the importance of Sundays.
I’m not necessarily advocating that you should replicate these practices. I’m simply saying that the way we do Sunday teaches people about the meaning of Sunday. Our corporate practices don’t exist in a vacuum. Rather, each of them has a distinct teaching effect.
In the Christianity Today article, the author argues that we should create “scarcity” through our Sunday morning practices and that making the sermons available online lessens that scarcity. In other words, we should make it difficult for people to experience elements of church outside of church.
Frankly, I find the whole scarcity argument to be a bit weird in the first place, but that’s beside the point. Scarcity isn’t created by restricting where people can listen to sermons, but by adopting practices that highlight just how unique Sunday is. When we understand that Sunday is a sacred time that can’t be replicated when we’re home alone, scarcity IS created.
Is Sunday Sacred To You?
I have to admit, there are times when I struggle to want to go to church. That problem resides within me, not within the sermon podcast. I need to freshly remember that God has given me Sunday in order to bless me and that I can’t get that same blessing through my earbuds.
If you struggle like me, I’d encourage you to take some time to reflect on what Sunday means and just how essential it is to your faith.
If you’re a leader, consider what your Sunday practices teach. Again, I’m no expert on this. I simply know that my understanding of Sunday is shaped by what happens on Sunday. My actions reflect my understanding.
You can delete your podcast, but it won’t fix the problem.
As eminent theologian Taylor Swift reminds us, “Bullets can’t fix bullet holes.”