OK, maybe I've had my head in the sand, but I just don't get the responses to this post at 22 Words.

Abraham Piper asks with his brilliantly conceived brevity: "I hear one sermon a week (a couple times for my job). Others listen to multiple sermons a day. How about you?"

Here are some of the responses:

"At least 1 or 2 sometimes more depending on my work situation."

"I listen to your dad a couple of times a week."

"I'd say two a week"

"Usually two or three a week"

"About 3 per week"

"1 at church, then average of 1-2 a week.

"I'll listen to three or four over the course of the week."

"4 or 5 a week."

"4-5 sermons"

"I listen to a handful a week - depends on how much driving I have to do. I once had a 14 hour day, mostly driving and listened to about a dozen sermons during that time."

"On a weekly basis I listen to 4 different pastors if not 5."

Did he just say 4 different pastors if not five?

"A message from desiringGod.org almost every day."

"Sermon listening became an almost daily activity for me."

"Usually about 6 or 7 a week."

"A sermon a day"

A sermon a day? What?

"Until school started ... about 1 sermon a day."

"I usually listen to one a day ... sometimes more ... I have a really boring job."

"At my peak ... I was rockin' your dad about twice a day"

"I usually listen to two sermons/day."

"Maybe 15-20 in a week"

"About 2-4/day"

"I average about 3 sermons a day."

"I've tried to limit myself to ... 3 or 4 a day."

"I used to listen to 4-5 a day."

"I used to listen to like 9 a day"



There are people out there listening to three sermons a day?

When did this happen? What's going on here?

Reading that post, I felt like I had stepped out my back door into some post-apocalyptic Christian-consumerist version of a Flannery O'Connor short story.

How widespread is this?

Is everyone doing this? Listening to 'podcasts' of sermons by pastors who are not their pastors? Am I the only one who doesn't do this?

What does this mean? What do you even do with six sermons a week?

Should I be doing this? What would I give up? How would it change me?

I'm very disturbed.

Now, this is a cultural critique, not a critique of any of these individuals. Obviously this sermon-listening-thing is widespread. Nor is it a matter - strictly speaking - of virtue and vice. But somebody help me think this through, because I'm filtering the whole thing through Fahrenheit 451. Over 50 years ago Bradbury eerily imagined this world of ear buds and iPods, of interactive television shows that served as a substitute for real relationships, of isolation, image, and the loss of organic culture to artifice.

How is this sermon listening (mostly on iPods, I gather) not a Christianized version of everything that has become technocratic and inhuman in our world? Everything that Bradbury saw coming? What is lost in opportunity costs? What is lost to the local church or parish in the rise of the homiletic rock-star? To ceremony and liturgy as the context for the sermon?

What about silence? Listening? Reading? Meditation? Walks in the park? Writing? Poetry? The cultivation of the self in the world?

What about going into the woods to live deliberately?

Or - real possibility - I'm freaking out about nothing.

It's no big deal.

It doesn't matter.

It could be worse.

Get over it.

Turn on.

Tune in.

Drop out.

I would love to hear what other people think. Maybe I'm just seeing this wrongly.

(And I'm not secretly judging you if you all listen to 15 sermons a week and I just didn't know about it. I just don't get it. Maybe I need to be let in on the secret.)


Paul & Beth said...

That's interesting...i hadn't read Abraham's blog yet...i visit occasionally and browse quickly...

I listen to probably 1 sermon a day, when I am scrapbooking. Occasionally more, if I am scrapbooking for a long period of time. And depending on if the preachers i peruse are in a particularly interesting sermon series.

I can only speak for myself, but it may be true for other people. We have a pastor that preaches expositorily...which i like, but is not such a great communicator. I find not much to apply, so I fill in my need for encouragement, application, more challenging in my walk with the Lord. I am not looking for entertainment, but meat! From attending other churches...I would say that there is a great lack of biblical preaching...lots of fluff to satify the seekers...but not much to FEED THE SHEEP. A watery message with a little bit of scripture tucked in.
That's my experience...will be interesting to read other comments!

Or....it could be that you're just not as Godly...haha...that's a joke!

JPB said...

No, I'm probably not as godly. :-)

JPB said...

Who knows. Maybe this IS, as one person commented at 22 words, the modern equivalent of devoting yourself to the apostles teaching.


Chad said...

It would never occur to me to listen to a sermon on a podcast or outside of church. I don't know what that says about me.. A Christan book - sure I'd read one of those, but I certainly don't seek out actual sermons I'd have to listen to. I think it also may matter what you do for a living and/or if theology is super interesting to you. You aren't crazy though. Plus, I get very engaged in sermons at times - just ask my wife I am constantly writing notes to her in church about what I am hearing and frankly I'm usually being critical :-)

lonely in reno said...

From a pastor's perspective: This may ramble a bit but it is near and dear to my heart and something that I struggle with deeply. For me, it is not so much podcasts and online sermons (though that is certainly part of it) but the whole world of technology being so available. Here's what I mean; as a pastor I always feel like I'm missing something. People say, "Have you read that book, listening to that podcast, read that paper, etc. etc." It's all very overwhelming. No matter how much time I devote, I can never listen to that many sermons, podcasts, papers, books, etc. I just can't take it all in. I have no ability to get through it all let alone process any of it. I feel like all of this information is out there and I'm literally sinking in it and choking as I drown. It's truly a day and age where I have information overload. And then you have the well meaning congregant who says, "You know, _________ (fill in name: Driscoll, Bell, MacArthur, Swindoll, Stanley) spoke on that same topic and they said it this way.....". It's just discouraging. I'll never preach as well as them. I might as well stop preaching and pipe it in live via satellite which is exactly what most new "church plants" are doing now. They aren't even real churches with voices. Just overflow parking listening to their favorite preacher coming through the airwaves. I'll never be as good, funny, intriguing, interesting, informative, or well read. I'm too busy chasing down sheep and helping people to study that much. I felt bad so I got an ipod and downloaded a bunch of sermons and finally figured out how to put them on the darn thing and you know what, I haven't listened to a single one. I just don't have the time and truly I am not interested in listening to any more Bible talk. I'll listen to This American Life or sports talk radio before I listen to another sermon by a guy who knows more than I will ever know and who says it better. And the whole time I have a mound of guilt on top of me that sits there and tells me that I don't listen to enough good preachers nor do I take in enough information. I'm just a tired preacher who needs a break, some exercise, some time with my kids, my camera, and to go on a hike. And every time iTunes pops up I am reminded of all the information out there that tells me that unless I master it I am not good enough. Sorry if this rambled, but I just don't want any more information. I just want to be and to enjoy the moment and to turn off my cell phone and my iPod and hang on the monkey bars with my boys and to stop feeling bad about how much I don't know.


I wouldn't say you should. Then again, I wouldn't say you shouldn't. It's really not that big a deal. Some people watch more TV programmes than that in just a day.


August said...

I wouldn't worry too much about the amount of the data, but rather the quality of the data. It's only a 'tune out' if it's meaningless, emotional drivel. Also, those who listen alot tend to doing things that are conducive to listening. If you have to drive a lot alone, for instance.
I think it would be helpful, though, if they dropped a sermon or two and listened to an economics podcast instead.

JPB said...

All right ... this is really helping ... keep it coming those of you who can ... I was trying to read Thucydides this morning while walking across the high bridge but I couldn't get thoughts about podcasts and the apocalypse out of my head ...

Jen said...

Lonely in Reno, your comments touched me. It seems to me there is too much focus on trying to package things in the best way, but at the cost of relating with one another. I wish my life was more of a message rather than listening to messages.

Chad said...

Is it really wise to read an ancient greet historian whilst trying to walk across a bridge? That seems like asking for trouble. A comic book maybe, but save the greek stuff for when you are sitting down!

Blog Snob said...

I have 9 hours of non-mental and often loud work each day so hours of sermons/audio books/or podcasts are not hard to fit in. It is either that or Rush Limbaugh...you choose which is more desirable. ;)

But I must admit I am aware that I need to spend much more time in silence... thinking/pondering/meditating. Audio media is very addicting...it is a constant battle.


JPB said...

Please, John Piper before Rush Limbaugh ... but isn't there a category mistake here somewhere? I guess that's part of my problem (as I'm developing my thoughts). Shouldn't sermons be in a different categor altogether than Limbaugh, lectures on CD, Rosetta Stone, etc?

J.J. said...

I think it's the difference between the idea of the preached word as a means of grace (i.e. used by God to transform us), and the idea of listening to sermons for education or information.

I think there is probably a helpful place for listening to sermons both ways. I don't listen to nearly as many sermons as I used to, but I'm pretty sure I had something quite different in mind when I listened to a sermon on the internet versus listening to a sermon in person in the context of a worship service.


An idea for Pastor Reno -

Take a break, some exercise, some time with your kids, your camera, and go on a hike.

Comparisons are always odious. Nobody *ever* says it best. Be thankful that your job isn't to be 100% competent (who is?), but to be faithful, and to be there. If you're preaching exultantly, and into the lives of your parishioners, who cares what other people are doing? Sure, there's an element of competence which comes out in faithful preaching, but it comes from the text first, and the preacher second.

The question "have you read / heard / watched" is almost always designed to make you feel bad. "Of course not" is a fully acceptable answer to it, nine times out of ten. Men are always writing books, podcasting and broadcasting, and much study is a weariness unto the flesh.

JPB said...

JJ -

Do you think that everyone makes that distinction? Do you think it can be make consistently and faithfully enough to keep people from thinking the way "lonely in Reno" describes? I'm not sure cultrally that we can preserve that distinction when the sermon is heard in all its rhetorical grandeur. When it's read, yes, but heard? I don't know. I think most people will inevitably compare the rhetorical grandeur, wit, or skill of all those pod-pastors to their poor, lowly servant in the pulpit on Sunday and the poor, lowly servant is going to come out looking like an ass.

Maybe we just need a thorough revisiting of the place of the sermon in the Christian intellectual tradition.

Unfortunately, it seems like all such revisiting is usually nothing but a drop in the ocean of market demand so I'll probalby just have to be along for the ride ... but ... hmmm ... maybe not.


Do I think that everyone makes that distinction? No, of course not. They should, though.

Do I think it can be make consistently and faithfully enough to keep people from thinking the way "lonely in Reno" describes?

Well, I do. Frankly, it's not much help for a preacher to be heaping pressure on himself. If God had wanted him to be a better speaker he would have given him the gift. As long as as a preacher is being faithful to the gift he's been given, God's going to say "Well done, good and faithful servant."

People who preach should do two things: introduce Jesus and his kingdom in a way that's as winsome as their personal experience and grasp of scripture allows, and offer thoughtful biblical help with living-out the Christian life. To me that *is* the place of the sermon in the Christian intellectual tradition: it's what preaching is for. Rhetorical grandeur and church-sumers can go hang.

JPB said...

Caughtnot -

One clarification, I was asking whether, culturally, we could maintain a distinction between sermon listening as an intellectual work like book reading and sermon listening as the role you describe for it enough to keep people from behaving badly towards their local pastors, not from feeling the way like Lonely in Reno feels about being compared to all those pod-preachers.

I think it's really natural for a pastor, in those contexts, even if it is not from the Lord, to feel either inadequate, angry, or discouraged. After all, niether Moses nor Elijah nor our Lord managed to avoid it.


My 2 cents...

I suppose that listening to a sermon always involves your brain. "Test everything" is the rule, so there's to be no placing our brains in a box at the church door. Maybe if people are often making the wrong kinds of demands on their pastors, the sermon could include something biblical about the role of the listener. That's my best "getaround" solution.

After all, coming to a church gathering isn't just about hearing a sermon, it's about repenting together, praying together, engaging together in public worship, encouraging each other, learning from one another, keeping in touch with fellow Christians, and being in responsible, loving, regenerative, kingdom community. The sermon is there to facilitate all these things, and is itself a part of them. If it is entertaining, it is entertaining, but the point is worth making that entertainment, well-put turns of phrase, memorable illustrations and other rhetorical flourishes are not high on the agenda. Truth is. We get together to hear from God together. That's not about entertainment, that's about dangerous wonder. It is, literally, awesome. I've learned more from appalling speakers who have brought me the truth than I have from polished speakers whose routines are like stand-up, but who lack substance.

Surely even stating all this should be enough to stave of the worst excesses of the discouraging consumers of religion. We don't exist as a church to (using Tim Keller's useful phraseology) to "hold services and to increase our tribe". We exist to extend God's kingdom. Any sermon which is faithful to the bible will move people forward in this relevant truth, and that is enough. Sermons are how God brings full life to us together. A preacher who finds that this is not the spirit in which his sermons are received needs to encourage his people to receive them in that spirit, for their own good, as well as for his own good. And he may even need to find other people who can share the load of encouraging his flock to receive them in that spirit.

The other point worth making about this is that God's church is one church throughout the world. There may be many religions, but there is only one church. God certainly uses people who seem "far away" (from our human perspective) to teach us from his word because his word is powerful and travels well. I've personally learned many things which are directly applicable to my local situations from listening to faraway Americans preach, because they are part of the same church I am, and the same God inspired the same scriptures that they preach from. I may have deeper relational and emotional connections with my local brothers and sisters in Christ, whom I see more regularly, and with whom I act in concert and communion, but The Church is one body. I believe in the holy catholic church and the communion of the saints. If we're the hands, the head may well be in Africa or Asia. In fact, if God weren't using pastors and preachers across continents to instruct us, there would be something wrong with the church, because "just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others" and also because "the eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!""

When people say discouraging things, sure, a preacher will feel discouraged. The point is simply that this *feeling* can be overcome, and that feelings do not change reality. For example, sports fans on opposite sides can feel many different things about the result of a game, but it won't change the facts. It's what a person determines to do, and how they are predisposed to act that enables them to bear-up under criticism. So, with the psalmist, the way forward is to ask soul questions, and to *determine* to live out hope and praise.

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

Janine the Bean said...

A few jumbled thoughts from your sister. First of all, I'm enjoying this discussion. I went to 22 words and read some comments there too.

I just can't get this comment out of my head though...

"At my peak...I was rockin' your dad about twice a day." (referring to John Piper)

Did that guy really THINK before he typed that? At my peak...rockin' your dad. Anyways.

What I DON'T like about some of this sermon-listening is that I get the sense that it could easily turn into idol worship. The "idols" being celebrity pastors, ironically. I don't know...maybe that's just the danger of having celebrity pastors or "homiletic rock stars" as you call them.

But not much can be done about that now I guess. They are what they are. Great pastors indeed. But has the advance in availability of audio and video contributed to this phenomenon that you're talking about? I think so. People didn't used to be able to listen to the "famous" pastors and preachers whenever they chose. Think back to the days of the infamous Spurgeon, for instance. He preached for crowds of 10,000, but people on the other side of the world...or even 100 miles away...couldn't tune in and get his sermons. However, they could read them.

Personally, I think there's a huge difference in reading versus listening to a sermon. I think the danger in hearing all these "great pastors" during the week can/could lead to disappointment with your own pastor if he's not as gifted in preaching. Not to say you shouldn't listen to anyone besides your own church's pastor....but...I also fear for pastors like Lonely in Reno. And I appreciate your honesty, by the way.

I think that many of the "Rock Star" pastors are great and gifted men who touch thousands of lives. Don't get me wrong...I have nothing against them and at a time in my life was pleased to listen to and learn from John Piper as much as I could.

However, I can get more than enough to think about for weeks from just one sermon...but that's just probably me.

"What is lost to the local church or parish in the rise of the homiletic rock-star?"

THAT is a good question. One worth thinking and talking about more....from both the perspective of pastors and the congregations.

But Jon, in case you change you mind and want to start listening to audio sermons...you can go here to the largest collection of free MP3s and you can even keep a daily log.


JPB said...


Amen on the "rockin your dad" comment? What the heck???? That was the point at which I starte thinking, something is going deeply wrong here.

To all,

Thank you for your thoughts. I am planning a follow up "Podpastors Revisited" soon.

I think I now have a little more than a gut reaction - pros and cons of the practice, plac in our culture, history of evangelicalism, etc.