Local Context in a Broadband World

Have you heard about the latest viral news story on the Internet?  An 85-year old reporter has caught people’s attention across the country and world because she wrote a nice review about the newest restaurant in her small town – an Olive Garden.  Foodies, critics, and anybody with a few minutes to spare is weighing in – many critical of her for bothering to review a chain restaurant, let alone to review it favorably.  

When people find out what my professional vocation is, they wonder whether our church has a web site and if so, if my sermons are uploaded there for people to listen to.  Yes, we do have a web site.  But no, my sermons are not up there.  For precisely the reason that the story I mentioned above has generated so much interest.  Context.  Or lack thereof.

There is an assumption by many (pastors included) that sermons are a form of media akin to any other media, and that therefore they should be disseminated to the widest possible audiences via YouTube or through their congregational web site.  While I respect those who choose to do this, I don’t agree that sermons are just another form of media, or more accurately, that they are an interchangeable form of media.
Media is produced for an audience.  Producing the right (or wrong) media for the wrong audience is problematic, to say the least.  At the very least, it won’t do what you hope it will, or nobody will pay any attention to it.  Lord knows there are plenty of audio and video clips of sermons!  But at the very worst, what will happen to it is something akin to what happened to the restaurant review above.
It will be taken woefully out of context, dangerously so, and may end up being more harmful than helpful.  
The reporter mentioned above did what she was supposed to – she wrote an honest review of a noteworthy new eating establishment in her town.  Her review was intended for the residents of her town.  People with similar tastes, most likely.  But at the very least, people who understood why she was bothering to write about it.  They knew the context.  They were the context, and she wrote with that in mind.  
Obviously, when people outside her intended audience listen in, they’re going to get different ideas.  They don’t know her context.  They lift her comments out of their intended context, import them into their own, and then laugh at them.  Are they right for doing so?  Probably not.  But they are being human.  
When I write a sermon, I write it with my congregation in mind.  The process involves trying my best to understand both the Biblical texts I am working with as well as the people who will be listening to my message.  As such, I’ll say things in a sermon that I might not choose to say here.  Not because they aren’t true in both places, but because context matters.  What I publish here is intended to make sense to a broad spectrum of people.  It might not, but at least I hope it will.  My sermons however are written for a much narrower spectrum of people.  
I think it’s possible – perhaps even desirable – to write and film sermons that are intended for the Internet audience at large.  But they’ll be different sermons – and different filming techniques, most likely – than the sermons I deliver to my congregation.  
If you want to hear me preach, come visit.  You’ll understand better not only what I said, but why I chose to say it the way I did.  And you’ll get the chance to let me know if you thought I was on target or not!  

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s