In a perfect world, preaching is normally a point-in-time experience in front of a live audience. However, we don’t live in a perfect world, and these certainly aren’t normal times. We’re currently living with a ‘new normal’ in just about every area of life and ministry, and that includes preaching.
Most of us who are still preaching are talking to a camera instead of warm bodies, either in empty auditoriums or in front of computers. That’s the new normal, at least for the foreseeable future. And most of us are uncomfortable living inside it.
All doesn’t have to be lost, however. James Thompson, in Preaching Like Paul, builds a convincing case that Paul’s letters would have been reflective of the way he preached. I’m sure Paul would’ve preferred to be present with all of the believers to whom he wrote. But he couldn’t. Consequently, he used the medium that was available. He did the next best thing–he wrote letters. And it’s an understatement to say that God obviously, in His grace, chose to use and continues to use those ‘recorded sermons.’
Today, we have to do the best we can with the means we have. And we can do so on the firm foundation that God’s grace is sufficient to provide everything that’s necessary to preach His Word effectually, even preaching through the medium of a camera.
Following are some principles to keep in mind as we preach to a camera in this new normal. We need to do some of the same things we’ve always done, but we also need to do some things that are new for us.
Things to do the Same Way:
Pray – Pray as hard (or harder!) now as you did when you were preaching live. We don’t need any less of the Holy Spirit’s effectualness than we did before. In fact, we may need it even more! And remember, He’s not limited by time and space.
Prepare – Similar to prayer, don’t skimp on your exegesis and message development just because people won’t be in the room. Work hard to develop simple and clear outlines, find relevant illustrations, and make timely application.
Preach – Whatever you do, don’t reduce your delivery to a mere devotional thought or fireside chat. While there’s a place for those activities, God wired the church to need preaching for gospel advancement and spiritual development. So, preach to your people! Be faithful to expound the text accurately, exhort your people passionately, and call on them to render a verdict on God’s truth.
Progress – Don’t stop growing in your preaching. Continue to evaluate your messages and get others to give you constructive critique. Enlist some people to give you objective feedback. Doing so might even be a little more convenient now because you’re already recording videos and they’re already watching them. Ask them to watch them the first time with an open mind, and then watch them a second time with a critical eye.
Things to do in a New Way:
Look them in the lens. Take advantage of the convenience of making automatic eye contact by focusing on the camera lens. If you’re preaching to a camera on your computer, you’ll be tempted to be glancing at your image on the screen. To people watching the live stream or video recording, that looks like you’re looking below them, not at them. If you’re recording in an empty auditorium, don’t look at the pews or seats as if there were people in them. This pandemic is global; everybody knows there’s nobody in the room. So, don’t try to fake them out. Look them in the eye by looking at the camera.
Preach in the light. Good lighting is important and is relatively easy to create, even for the novice. If you’re recording in an auditorium, you may have a team that’s handling these technicalities. But if you’re on your own in an office or dining room, it’s on you. So, turn on the overhead light. Use floor or table lamps beside you and in front of you, but not behind you. Lights behind you will cast shadows on your face, which can become a distraction from the light of the gospel. On a related note, avoid bright and heavily patterned clothing since many computers don’t capture it as well as darker clothing.
Bounce off the top. When preaching to a camera on a computer, the temptation is always to position the camera where your head is in the middle of the screen. Anathema! Position your camera so your face is at the top, with your head bumping the top of the screen. Doing so will make your upper body, arms and hands more visible on the recording, enabling you to use them more naturally to serve up the Word in your delivery.
Use your imagination. Connect your pastoral care ministry to your preaching by mentally envisioning snapshots of your people while you’re looking at the camera. You can connect with your people emotionally that way. I know pastors who are even putting pictures of their people out in front of them when they’re recording sermons or livestreaming so they can mentally—and spiritually—connect with them while they’re preaching.
God’s Grace is Sufficient
God’s grace is sufficient to fill the gaps in the hand we’ve been dealt by this pandemic. If He can be a father to the fatherless and a husband to the widow, then surely He can and will compensate for whatever dynamics are lacking in our current preaching situation.
When this pandemic is over, it will be imperative that pastors shepherd their people back to the ideal, which I believe includes meeting together and engaging in the preaching event in person. Yes, there will always be people who choose streaming and video, even when the virus is gone. But it will be our job to call people back to what is excellent, while at the same time using cameras to preach to people who won’t listen otherwise.
So, let’s lean into God’s grace to learn to do it well while we’ve got the chance.
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