For pastors discouraged by their on-screen ministry
With the coronavirus pandemic likely to keep our buildings closed for many more weeks to come, pastors have generally turned to visual technology.
We are trying to feed the flock on Sundays by live-streaming from an empty church building or our home on YouTube, or putting a prerecorded video message on the church website. For smaller groups and leaders’ meetings we have turned to Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
I’m aware of some men feeling very discouraged by their digital sermon ministry. Many pastors are not natural IT experts. They have had a sharp learning curve to get on top of the required technology.
They come to the end of the week having laboured in the study for their exposition, but then they must nervously set up their equipment to record the message. That in itself can be a stress point. The internet connection can suddenly become unstable as too many neighbours decide to log on at the same time. And sometimes the screen that they learned to negotiate last week looks different this week – there’s been an update which no one told them about. The pastor can feel everything is against him – especially when the smart techy he phones for help, laughs and tells him it’s easy.
Then he may have squeezed into that dark shirt which makes him look thinner. He has winced again as he looked at himself in the mirror. And after all the fuss and bother he doesn’t feel much in the mood for preaching a sermon. Some men will worry about whether they should record it again because of stumbling over the words.
The pastor may feel he is not getting anywhere. Is he wasting his time? Some feel very unappreciated in all this.
If that is your experience I want to say ‘Don’t be disheartened.’ We need to stand back and get this in perspective.
First, being a screen show pony was not what you were trained to be. The fact that some congregants are going after and going on about the evangelical matinee idols of the day says more about their own superficiality than it does about you. You were trained to be a pastor not a film star. And in the end your faithful prayer and love and care will do more good than the latest sensational YouTube performance.
Second, don’t be too upset that your people are not giving you many compliments. It’s hard to concentrate on a YouTube sermon. After all it is just like watching TV, which has become the background wallpaper, not the focus of attention, in many homes. And also, your people may have other things on their minds during this hard time – like where their next pay packet will come from and whether they will have a job at all once this crisis is over.
And some pastors need to ‘fess up.’ The source of our discouragement may not be the technology or other people but actually our own pride. We like to teach and lead but our lack of computer expertise has made us a tentative learner instead. It feels uncomfortable.
We long for approval and praise too much. Of the Pharisees the Lord Jesus said, ‘Everything they do is done for men to see’ (Matthew 23:5). ‘They love the place of honour’ (Matthew 23:6). We look for celebrity status. When we do not get it we feel deflated.
If this is the case it is time to get alone with the Lord and sacrifice our pride on the altar of his service. We have a master who right from the beginning explained that what is done in secret is what counts; secret giving; secret prayer; secret fasting (Matthew 6:3; 6, 18). It is what God thinks of us not what others may think of us that matters. To crave and get the honour of men is foolishly to ‘have received our reward in full’ (Matthew 6:2, 5, 16).
Further, we must not miss the obvious trap of the video medium. It is visual. Therefore it is easy to begin to be concerned about outward appearance rather than with the heart. ‘Woe to you teachers… you hypocrites’ said the Lord Jesus Christ, ‘You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones’ (Matthew 23:27).
Let’s not get sucked into this trash.
One of a thousand
Rather let’s be concerned to be faithful – to do our best with what we have and commit the rest to God.
Even as we face the camera let us bear in mind John Bunyan’s great description of the Christian pastor. ‘The Man whose Picture this is, is one of a thousand… And whereas you see him with his eyes lifted up to Heaven, the best of Books in his hand, and the Law of Truth upon his lips; it is to show you, that his work is to know and unfold dark things to sinners; even as also you see him stand as if he pleaded with Men; And whereas you see the World as cast behind him, and that a Crown hangs over his head; that is to show you that slighting and despising the things that are present, for the love that he has to his Master’s service, he is sure in the World that comes next to have Glory for his Reward…’
Such a picture brings us back down to earth. If we follow this pattern we shall not do so badly even in the digital age.