All things considered, I’d rather have a flying car and robot housekeeper, but the Internet is pretty amazing.
Our society makes great use of computer connectivity in thousands of ways – some of them quite trivial, some extremely harmful and others quite positive and exciting. And one of the coolest aspects of the Net is that it is quietly and gradually making televangelists obsolete.
The institution of televangelism has probably done more good than harm, but it definitely has its downsides. Given how rarely I’ve kept the TV tuned into these broadcasts over the years, it’s incredible how often I’ve happened upon sermons that were little more than fund-raising telethons. ‘God told me to raise two million dollars!’ and soforth. What a turnoff.
Then, the Jimmy Swaggart and Jim and Tammy Bakker scandals of the 1980s confirmed our worst fears about some of these boobtube biblethumpers. The outspoken nature of Jerry Falwell over the decades and the outright presidential candidacy of Pat Robertson in 1988 rubbed many people the wrong way about televangelists, and Christianity in general by extension.
I’m sure many, most or all of them started out as devoted servants of God, and maybe they still are (who am I to say for sure), but the power of television seems to have corrupted some televangelists; the cameras, makeup and bright lights of the studio turn these pastors into prima donnas; these servants into stars.
And like all stars, they wouldn’t be stars without their legions of adoring fans. The fact that people watch these broadcasts demonstrates that televangelism answers a need.
Clearly, there are people who want to connect with Jesus, and for whatever reason, they want to do it without leaving the comfort of their living rooms. Some are probably just armchair adherents, while others are undoubtedly regular churchgoers who want more than an hour a week of in-person scripture and sermon. There’s nothing inherently wrong with either scenario; why shouldn’t mass media be used to further God’s kingdom? It’s used often enough for the opposite reason, after all.
And for decades, televangelism, flawed or not, was the only game in town. But not anymore.
Spiritual leaders can post audio (and sometimes video) versions of their sermons online, often within hours of their original delivery – in some cases, they’re probably streamed live.
That means you can listen to real sermons, delivered by real pastors in real churches to real congregations. Not synthetic, studio-audience churches that wouldn’t exist without the electronic media, but actual churches where the media is a tacked-on afterthought; a powerful tool to help get the Word out, but clearly subservient to the relationships between the clergy and the people who attend the church.
No commercials, no slick production values, no Nielsen ratings to worry about; just genuine, earnest interpretations of God’s word, from the church across the street or across the ocean. And it’s available on your schedule, not theirs.
The Net levels the playing field between the megachurch with 5,000 members on three campuses and the little parish down the street that struggles to attract 50 congregants on a Sunday. No regulation, no quality control – it’s completely grassroots.
It’s completely beautiful.
A few years ago, I was trying to talk my sister into giving Christ a try (the conversation is ongoing), and I pointed her to the website of Holy Trinity Anglican Church (www.holytrinitycalgary.org), of which I’m a member. She listened to a couple of Pastor Stephen Hambidge’s sermons, and was blown away by the depth and quality of the messages. I think she expected to be bored or turned off by his words, because she hasn’t spent much time in churches since her early teen years.
Stephen is an excellent preacher, with wit, style and charisma; his personality is tremendously accessible; he’s an able scholar who knows just how much history and context to provide; he appeals to both your head and your heart; he comforts you and challenges you – all within the space of 20 or 25 minutes.
But one thing I’ve learned from the Podcast Sermon Phenomenon (PSP) is that Stephen is the rule, not the exception. You really don’t have to go to the Oral Robertses and Jerry Falwells of the world to hear an inspired, inspiring message about the Word of God.
In the past four years or so, just by being active in a few Calgary Christian circles, I’ve come to know a number of pastors who moonlight as Internet intercessors, and all of them are worth listening to. Imagine how many more great preachers there are out there who don’t happen to be friends or acquaintances of mine, who might have a message just for you. There are thousands of gifted preachers on the Net, and they’re all at your fingertips.
And the best part is, you don’t have to pick and choose. In a given week, I’ll listen to sermons by up to four different preachers – one in person and the rest via Podcast. I upload them to my iPod and let them run while I walk the dogs or mop the floors. Karen likes to plug in her iTrip and listen to sermons during her commute.
Some of my favourites include:
– Pastor Stephen Hambidge of Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Calgary: See above
– Mars Hill Bible Church, in Grand Rapids, Michigan: This is a megachurch founded by Rob Bell from the Nooma video series. But don’t let the word ‘megachurch’ scare you off. Bell’s sermons are incredibly grounded, well-researched, eye-opening and compelling, and those given by his deputy, Shane Hipps, are even moreso. (Available free via Podcast from the iTunes Store)
– Pastor Brad Huebert, of Dalhousie Community Church in Calgary: Brad often uses goofy sci-fi movie references to dig deep into areas of Scripture that many pastors don’t bother with. He wrestles with and unpacks concepts that sometimes make us uncomfortable. His sermons are some of the most challenging I’ve heard, but he never lets you forget that our God is a patient God. (Available free via Podcast from the iTunes Store)
– Rev. Kyle Norman, of Holy Cross Anglican Church in Calgary: In addition to his clever, witty, challenging and often self-deprecating sermons, Kyle has a series of ‘magic with a message’ videos on YouTube and his church website that are worth checking out. Kyle is a young and forward-looking pastor in charge of a well-established Anglican parish, so his sermons offer an interesting perspective. (Available free from Holy Cross’s website: http://www.holycrosscalgary.org/)
– Pastor Jonathan Gibson, of St. Augustine’s Anglican Church in Calgary: St. Augustine’s is one of the most conservative Anglican churches in Calgary (I think it’s in the process of considering splitting off from the Anglican Church of Canada), but Jonathan’s sermons are anything but mouldy. His view of Scripture may be old-school, but he embraces his gregarious, manic, goofy personality as he delivers his well-researched orations. Unlike many Anglican preachers, Jonathan often preaches on passages that aren’t ‘this week’s reading’ in the Lectionary, which allows him the freedom to develop multi-week series on meaty sections of the Bible that often go under-explored in sermons. (Available free from St. Augustine’s website: http://www.staugcalgary.ca/).
You’ll notice a strong Anglican bias in the above list. I don’t apologize for that; I’m an Anglican, and those are the circles in which I move. I encourage you to try these guys out for yourselves, but don’t limit yourself to them. This list doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the surface of the men and women eager to help you to know Christ a little better.
The entire World Wide Web is your oyster, so dig in!
Peace be with you.