On (Not) Listening to Recorded Sermons

Listen Up!: A Practical Guide to Listening to Sermons (This is a repost from two years ago – July, 2012)  Christopher Ash’s Listen Up: A Practical Guide to Listening to Sermons is a helpful pamphlet aimed at giving Christians some lessons on listening.   This book is only thirty pages long and written at a popular level, so any Christian could benefit from it.  In it, Ash gives seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening and he even talks about listening to poor sermons.  I won’t list every point out here, but I do want to mention #4 and give some edited excerpts from it.

Hear the sermon in church.  The normal place for preaching is the gathering of the local church.  We are to hear sermons as a people gathered together; they are not preached so that we can listen to them solo later.  There is nothing such as ‘virtual church.’  [The people of God] are gathered by the word of God (God takes the initiative to summon us) and gathered to sit together under the word of God (‘to hear my words’ [Deut. 4:10]), to be shaped together by his word.

“When we listen to an MP3 recording of a sermon, we are not listening to preaching, but to an echo of preaching that happened in the past.  Listening on my own to a recording can never be more than a poor second-best to actually being there with the people of God in a local church.  It is better to listen to the pastor you know, and who knows you, than to hear a recording of the well-known preaching you don’t know, and who doesn’t know you.”

“When we listen to a sermon together, we are accountable to one another for our response. …You know what message I’ve heard, and I know what message you’ve heard.  I’ve heard it.  You know I’ve heard it.  I know that you know I’ve heard it!  And you expect me to respond to the message, just as I hope you will.  And so we encourage one another and stir up one another to do what the Bible says.”

This is a great point.  Hearing God’s word together as an assembled people is profoundly biblical and covenantal; it is one of the primary ways God builds his people up, as is evident in Acts.  It is a good thing to be able to listen to recorded sermons in the car or on a jog, but if this practice lowers a person’s view of hearing the word preached “live” and corporately, it should be done infrequently.  Furthermore, sometimes Christians listen to famous popular preachers so much it makes them discontent with their own preacher and church, which opens the door for many spiritual illnesses.

Ironically, some people who listen to tons of sermons online are in fact guilty of disobeying the call in Scripture to regularly attend the Christian assembly (Heb. 10:25); or it turns them into church (s)hoppers.  I suppose this comes back to the discussion of using technology in a biblically wise way.  Just because technology makes something easier and more convenient doesn’t mean it is right, proper, and good.  At the risk of being called “unspiritual,” I’d say that some Christians need to stop listening to recorded sermons during the week and stick to hearing them in a solid local church on Sunday.  Finally, as food for thought, does this topic relate to another topic we’ve blogged on here, namely rampant American individualism?  If so, how?

Get the book: Listen Up! by Christopher Ash.

shane lems
hammond, wi

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16 comments on “On (Not) Listening to Recorded Sermons

  1. I thank God for the technology that makes it possible for believers to hear sermons from pastors other than their own. There are many, including myself, who, because of chronic pain, disability, or illness cannot attend their local church regularly, and not all local churches have willingness or the audio technology available to post their sermons online. Pastors should not be fearful of the sermons from better preachers than themselves. They should be grateful that their congregation is given the opportunity to feed on God’s word as much as possible, whether through their own efforts or others.

  2. Bob says:

    What is one to do if there is no solid church within 300 miles of home? I’ve forced myself to attend a gathering of dispensationalists for years, but I find I can not deal with the ignorance of the bible any longer.

    • Bob – thanks for the note. Your concern is real and it does happen. I wrote the post with the assumption that there was a decent church in the area (i.e. “a solid local church”). Your situation is different, and I know it happens – that’s why I didn’t say it was always bad to listen to recorded sermons. Hope that clarifies it a bit! Thanks again, shane

  3. matt says:

    Yes indeed, do not miss out on the weekly sermons at your home church and also do not miss out on the many available sermons on SermonAudio.

  4. […] Presbyterian Church and services as pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Hammond, Wis. This article appeared on his bog and is used with […]

  5. When I was in seminary, we were advised to go to the (empty) chapel, and preach a message to record that we could then send to the various churches to which we were applying. I refused to do that, as that would not actually be preaching. It might be speaking; but it would not be preaching, cf. I Cor. 2:1-5. Even giving sermons in preaching class to an assembled group was not really preaching in my opinion, as it was not part of a worship service, and done largely for evaluation.

    That said, when I listen to recorded sermons, I usually do it for information download (how did this man exegete this text?), and it’s helpful. But it is not the same as being there. We need to see the preacher work the text, and be among His people for it to be most effective, as you have said.

    But God always uses His word, and shut-ins will be fed by God’s mercy however they attend to it. But those are the exception rather the rule.

  6. AScottC says:

    “…does this topic relate to another topic we’ve blogged on here, namely rampant American individualism? If so, how?”

    It definitely can. Like children who want to eat ice cream and cake while eschewing healthy food, it is too easy to pick the preachers, the topics and the resulting life lessons and challenges ) or lack thereof) to suit one’s taste (or lust). In the context of our local fellowship, we should be challenged and convicted. The preaching of the Word should work in conjunction and confluence with the fellowship of the saints as the whole means to accomplish the end that the Spirit wishes to achieve. When we cherry pick what we want to hear, we will circumvent that process.

  7. Reblogged this on One Christian Dad and commented:
    Food for thought. I admit that I listen to a a number of sermons through out the week. I have never considered that to be wrong, since I attend a local congregation and hear the preaching of the word in corporate worship.

  8. There is good reason to preach Heb 10:19-25 (25 isn’t a complete sentence) and to rebuke those who attempt to be a church unto themselves, or to neglect the gathering of the saints. However, the assertion that listening to a recorded sermon might somehow be sinful is absolutely false. He’s making a blanket statement of sin to cover the wrong problem. The problem he’s addressing is the neglect of the gathering of brothers and sisters. But he’s doing it the wrong way. He is attacking the wrong thing. If we take his assertion to its logical conclusion, we should only read our Bibles (product of printing press technology) only in the presence of our brethren or limit ourselves to the oral tradition since we would be otherwise “hearing an echo of preaching from the past”. This assertion is patently false and woefully over-reaching and dangerous. But I don’t think he realized just how far he let his hyperbolic rhetoric go.

    Instead, let us encourage obedience to the whole of scriptures without falsely denouncing listening to sermons via internet, MP3, or reading our Bibles outside of the assembly of the saints. If the sermon is truly preaching the Word of God (something rarely taking place in the church.tv movement) then having the sermon available to research, study, pause and dissect as good Bereans, then it is good and fitting. If the sermon is bad, having the recording of it to review and submit to the authority of the Scriptures for reproof and rebuke is also good.

    Heb 10:19-25 (ESV) 19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

    • FaithfulStewardship, I corrected the typo in your comment (the one you noted – hope you don’t mind!).

      Also, I think you read the post wrongly. No one made an assertion that it is a SIN to listen to recorded sermons. Did you see this line: “It is a good thing to be able to listen to recorded sermons in the car or on a jog, but if this practice lowers a person’s view of hearing the word preached “live” and corporately, it should be done infrequently.”?

      Hope that helps,
      shane

  9. Bob. Here is some helpful advice from John Calvin…

    Some one will therefore ask me what counsel I would like to give to a believer who thus dwells in some Egypt or Babylon where he may not worship God purely, but is forced by the common practice to accommodate himself to bad things. The first advice would be to leave [i.e. relocate] if he could…. If someone has no way to depart, I would counsel him to consider whether it would be possible for him to abstain from all idolatry in order to preserve himself pure and spotless toward God in both body and soul. Then let him worship God in private (at home), praying him to restore his poor church to its right estate. – John Calvin, Come Out From Among Them, The Anti-Nicodemite Writings of John Calvin, Protestant Heritage Press, “A Short Treatise,” pp. 93-94

    Families which adhere to the Reformed faith are scattered throughout the country, in small numbers, sometimes isolated by hundreds of miles from other families who share their same convictions. We are compelled to consider the principles of church polity which apply to the churches in extraordinary times, because we live in an unsettled ecclesiastical situation. In this situation, many families should consider relocating, to join with other Christians. Of course, if they are unable to relocate, they must preserve true religion within their homes, until more ordinary church connections can be formed. They should pray and labor to form a true church of Christ in their locality, without allowing discouragement to lead them into compromising ecclesiastical connections. A genuine reformation, along with the mature institutions of church government, may take a while to develop. Even in Scotland the church did not spring up fully organized overnight. When John Knox arrived in Edinburgh in 1559, Protestant congregations were meeting in homes, and there were only six known Protestant ministers to serve the needs of the whole nation. Eventually, the regular structures of church government were adopted in Scotland, with the result that the Scottish church possessed ruling elders, deacons, sessions, presbyteries, and the general assembly. Still, these ecclesiastical institutions did not spring up instantly, ex nihilo, the moment Knox set foot upon the shore of his native land. The Scots labored many years to establish the more mature institutions of biblical church government. Much of the groundwork was laid during the earlier days, when the faithful worshipped in homes, without the benefit of a regular ministry. No one should discount the importance of a regular ministry; but neither should we despise “the day of small beginnings” which may lead to greater things.

    Listening to sermons being read from books or Mp3s can be a blessing to isolated Christians who are deprived from the public means of grace with other like minded Christians.

  10. More quotes that are helpful…

    Q. Do we profane the sabbath by reading and praying at home, when we should be attending public ordinances? A. Yes; It is to set one divine ordinance against another. – John Brown, An Essay Towards and Easy, Plain, Practical, and Extensive Explication of the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism

    Q. 28. May not people be more edified in reading good sermons at home, than in hearing from the pulpit, such as are not perhaps, so well digested? A. If they are in health, and not necessarily detained from the public ordinances, they have no ground to expect any real and saving benefit to their souls in the neglect of hearing the word preached: because it pleases God, by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe, 1 Cor. 1:21; and faith cometh by HEARING, Rom. 10:17.- James Fisher, The Westminster Assembly’s Shorter Catechism Explained

    God is to be worshipped everywhere, in spirit and truth; as in private families daily, and in secret each one by himself; so, more solemnly, in the public assemblies, which are not carelessly or wilfully to be neglected, or forsaken, when God, by His Word or providence, calleth thereunto. – Westminster Confession of Faith, chap. 21, section 3.

  11. […] This blog post reflects on a booklet by Christopher Ash on listening to sermons. From a longer quote this thought resonates about preaching being a means of grace in gathered worship. “When we listen to an MP3 recording of a sermon, we are not listening to preaching, but to an echo of preaching that happened in the past. Listening on my own to a recording can never be more than a poor second-best to actually being there with the people of God in a local church. It is better to listen to the pastor you know, and who knows you, than to hear a recording of the well-known preaching you don’t know, and who doesn’t know you.” More here. […]

  12. Monty Ledford says:

    Some lively responses showed you hit a nerve with the quotation; I appreciate the cautions that it is not absolutely a sin to listen in private–plus the qualifications that make it a blessing–the same things might be said of reading the Bible from our personal copies rather than hearing it read or reading it aloud ourselves.
    That said, I have a couple of observations: we, especially the generation that has now grown up with computing and electronic media devices, simply live too much, too incessantly, too completely in a virtual world–with no flesh and blood people and no accountability. Listening to sermons can be a reinforcement of that.
    Also, can it really be the case that truly Reformed (or Truly Anabaptist or Truly Wesleyan or whatever) people are so supremely pious that they can find no commonalty whatsoever (or significantly little) with others who love the Lord? I realize that the loose theology, the mindless practices, repetitive or emotive singing can be a trial, but where people gather on a regular basis to hear the word of God and give honor to the Savior, there is nourishment and accountability for any believer. Of course we also do instruction in the home or with like-minded believers but it would have to be a poor community indeed where we must turn from church gatherings altogether to substitute for them recordings of sermons.

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