The Second Eclectic

Technology changes how we relate to God and each other

Sermon tapes

Every technology is a value statement. If that value were put into words we might say we disagree with it, but our choices to use certain technologies betray our biases and values.

With this in mind, I was thinking about sermon tapes. Well, now it’s mostly CDs. Sermons are recorded to CDs, tapes, mp3s, and now even DVDs so they can be distributed to those who couldn’t make it to church. Let me affirm from the outset that these can indeed be valuable for the listeners.

Probably the two most common reasons these listeners don’t get to church are that they’re elderly or they’re incarcerated (to draw no parallels between the two). But even while the pastor is delivering his own message, the sermon tapes themselves are also delivering messages. The messages I can discern are these.

The sermon is the most important event that happens at a church gathering. Most sermon tapes are just that, sermon tapes. They don’t include the music or announcements, baptisms, baby dedications, or the conversations that happen during "fellowship hour." The sermon is really the important thing. Sermon tapes perpetuate this already-held belief, and are not its primary instigator.

The information delivered in the sermon is more important than the gathering itself. Because of the centralization and elevation of the sermon in the church gathering, we church kids have started to believe that it’s the sermon and not the gathering that is essential. Just last Sunday, I showed up late to church. I felt okay about it though because I hadn’t missed the sermon yet—so I wasn’t really missing anything important. But in truth, the presence of the gathered community of believers is probably more transformative for the individual than the sermon is.

The lone believer can grow spiritually with a regular collection of good sermon tapes. Taken to the extreme, some might conclude that they can have all the real benefits of church without actually having to go to church. This is absurd, of course. It’s the commitments to others and responsibilities of real relationships that keep many from following their own sinful desires. You can’t have a relationship with or through a sermon tape.

Now, I’m not saying sermon tapes have no value. Indeed, many will argue that it’s better to have them available than not. It’s better for the elderly and the incarcerated to hear a word from the preacher than not. But these sermon tapes will always bend toward supplanting the power of the gathered church. If we give out the sermon tapes but don't spend just as much time being with the people we give them to, then we fail to grasp what it means to be the Church.

You are better than a sermon tape. You are the medium. What message are you sending?