Monday, August 10, 2020

Zoom and shorter sermons 2)

Many elements contribute to effective preaching.  The Power of Scripture, of Words, of our triune God, of the hearer, worship context and preacher. Experiencing zoom need not diminish many of these elements but it seems to me that the last three are put under pressure.

Active listening is essential.  One writer, George Sweazey, goes so far as to say: 'The skills of the hearers are more important than the skills of the preacher.'  Now we have to be careful here but often when we look at screens in our homes the listening process is different.  Partly because we are used to viewing screens as consumers with ability to choose according to taste but also because we can be distant and distracted all the more easily. It's not just that we can get up and make a coffee but the whole mode of communication has moved into the relaxed individualistic mode of television viewing. 

This individualistic mode which Zoom makes inevitable with its separate screens of our home pods is the most serious loss.  Because worship is about individuals being drawn together, into a congregation which, at its best, is 'a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ' (1 Pet. 2:5) Coming together as God's people, preacher and congregation, gives spiritual dynamic for Christian worship like nothing else on earth.  I think that we can compensate for some of this by preparing carefully at home before switching on, with a willingness to engage actively in spirit and in truth.  God can still connect worshippers at depth if we let him! 

I once wrote 'Preachers readily recognize the contrast between preaching with a worshipful congregation that is united in prayer and expectancy and one that is not. Within one there is a palpable quality of openness and responsiveness. Preachers partner with the congregations within the rhythm of listening and responding....but when a congregation is unresponsive there is instead dullness and flatness'. I still believe that! Happily, my local church has a hybrid set-up which enables preachers to be with a socially distanced group (of 30 people) while also connecting through zoom with many more.  I have not yet preached in this system but I look forward to the positive elements of going hybrid!

Technology has brought many positives in lockdown but we must be alert especially to the dangers of individualism triumphing over the corporate!   Are there other positives and negatives?


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