Is Preaching Online to an Empty Room Really Preaching?

Is Preaching Online to an Empty Room Really Preaching? by JEFF ROBINSON for The Gospel Coalition

GNN Note – We have stopped “attending” online services and Zoom prayers. This is a terrible crutch and allows the global ministry an easy way out of their responsibility. Pastors used to be community leaders, neighborhood watchdogs and people that stood up for God given rights. These people don’t do that any more out of fear. You know, the one thing Jesus Christ spoke about most often. Pastors today fear offending someone, fear losing tax breaks, fear losing congregation members and the list of fears goes on and on and on.

We refuse to support this idea and refuse to coward behind a piece of software meant for quick communications or conducting interviews – it was never intended as a means of developing “community” – you know why? Because it is impossible to create  a sense of community when NO ONE is anywhere around. The tyranny of isolation is not community.

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A debate’s been raging in my mind these past two months that I’m just now bringing to an admittedly uneasy conclusion: Is preaching to an empty room in front of a camera genuine preaching?

Part of me says, Of course it’s preaching. It’s the same act as always, only there’s not a live audience. But then part of me responds, No, it’s not preaching. It’s like what you do in a seminary classroom, only worse since there’s no one present, no congregation, which makes the worship inauthentic.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, preaching on Facebook Live, YouTube, or another platform has become the norm in recent weeks, as the virus has led churches to suspend in-person worship services and “gather” separately by virtual means.

But for myriad good reasons, we don’t like it. It’s weird and, for the preacher, it’s hard not to feel awkward. Preaching into a camera before a mostly empty room doesn’t feel right—because it’s not. I don’t mean it’s wrong in a moral sense, but it’s not right as in “something’s off,” since circumstances are, to put it mildly, unprecedented for us all.

Most pastors are accustomed to addressing their people, their spiritual family, face-to-face each Lord’s Day. That crucial element of embodiment is missing, so is it really preaching?

Preaching, but Maybe in Name Only?

I would argue that what we are doing now—what many pastors will be required to do for the foreseeable future—is preaching. By preaching in an unprecedented time by unprecedented means, pastor, you are being as faithful as circumstances allow, even though it may not feel that way.

Preaching the Word (2 Tim. 4:2) is both the central act of Christian worship and also one of the marks of a true church. Thus, to fail to preach the Word if we possess the means to do so is to disobey God.

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