(The following is not meant to be prescriptive for anyone’s behavior. It is merely descriptive of my own. I bind no one’s conscience.)
I have not listened to a recorded sermon in months. In fact I cannot remember the last time I did so. A lecture or “talk” maybe. But a sermon has not reached my ears which was not preached in my own church for a long while.
This is remarkable because I used to listen to sermons by pastors from across the country almost daily. But now, I not only don’t do this any longer but I have no desire to resume my former practice. If you had told me I would feel and think this way a year ago, I would have been incredulous. I would have thought you did not know me well. I would have assumed such a practice would make me guilty of something. I know not what. But something along the lines of veering from the shibboleth-like course of the “Young, Restless and Reformed” (meaning no disrespect to my friend Collin Hansen).
My reasons for not listening to podcasted, downloaded or any other type of recorded sermon differ along the time of the practice itself. In other words, when the flood of sermonic mp3s began to recede from my iTunes folder the reasoning was different than now when it is more decisive. I know myself better now. Faults. Dispositions. Trajectories. All are in play and thankfully are somewhat more understandable even if not yet defeated.
It all started – or stopped, if you will – because I was tiring of the celebrity pastor phenomenon sweeping the evangelical landscape. For good or ill, it was starting to sicken me. I seemed to hear more people talk about the sermon they downloaded than the one the pastor put over them had delivered for their good. In this I heard the dissatisfaction of past moments in the life of Matt Redmond in their elation. I had so often said and done and thought just as they, it took no degree of imagination to hear my voice say the exact same thing. I had been more than a little guilty of downgrading the importance of the sermon served up by the shepherd appointed to feed my soul and watch it. By God. And I had upgraded the importance of the pastor who would never know me or my family…that is, apart from my desire to follow said pastor around to conference after conference after conference. After conference.
All this naturally led to the sermon being a medium of entertainment. I suppose I could find ways to entertain myself which would be worse for me. But the sermon by the celebrity pastor was now becoming like a TV show. How did I know this was a bad thing for me? I started expecting from all pastors what I was hearing in podcast form. I probably justified it in the name of excellence or something asinine like that. Don’t get me wrong, we should expect our pastors to preach well just as we expect plumbers to plumb well. But not all will have the same abilities. And I must be honest, I was entertained the most by the sermons when the preacher was “bringing it” or “killing it.” Whew, good to get that off my chest.
My main reason for no longer listening to sermons by celebrity preachers is…well, I have a preacher. When I am not preaching, he is my preacher/pastor. God has given him to me and my family for my good and his glory. He is the principle human agent I should be looking to for making sure my soul is fed. Are there better preachers out there? Yes. Of course, for there always will be. But they are not my pastor/shepherd. I would prefer for nothing to get in the way of what God has put in front of me to keep me on the way.
Related is my own preaching. There are certainly better preachers than myself. But I actually would appreciate the same sentiment by the people I am feeding when I preach. Self-serving convictions? Well yeah. Aren’t they all?
I probably need to reiterate these convictions are my own. Feel free to appropriate them but do not feel constrained by them. My own heart is at stake here. Nothing else. I look back on the previous years with a guilt mixed with sanity, shaken and stirred. A strong drink at a high price but mixed well and worth whatever the payment required. My zeal after listening to a “killer sermon” by the celebrity pastor du jour quickly turned into zeal for other’s convictions. Inevitably, I would hear a sermon on some moving subject and then very quickly want others to hear what I heard so their thinking could be changed.
Certainly I might do the same when listening to my pastor. But for my own part there is a controlling mechanism inherent deep inside my personal desire to be fed by the man standing in front of me, preaching the word. When I want no one else, effortlessly the Word is easily seen as being for me first and foremost. For conviction, encouragement, sight, hope, fire and refreshment.
So when you ask me if I have heard a sermon by anyone other than my pastor, my answer will increasingly be “no.” For I do not listen to the recorded sermons of celebrity pastors anymore.