In his new book, Flickering Pixels (which I encourage you to check out!), Shane Hipps makes this point:
"Every medium, when pushed to an extreme, will reverse on itself, revealing unintended consequences. For example, the car was invented to increase the speed of our transportation, but having too many cars on the highway at once results in traffic jams or even injury or death.
The internet was designed to make information more easily accessible, thereby reducing ignorance. But too much information or the wrong kind of information reverses into overwhelming the seeker, leading to greater confusion than clarity. It breeds misunderstanding rather than wisdom...
In the same way, surveillance cameras, when there are too many that see too far, reverse into an invasion of privacy."
In other words, what was originally meant to make us go fast now slows us down, what was meant to make us smart now increases our ignorance (well, never our ignorance... just other peoples', right?) and what was meant to make us feel safe now makes us feel exposed.
This is the rule: Technology, taken too far, creates the opposite of what it was intended to create.
Still doubt it? Ask yourself- Email was meant to keep you in touch and ease communication, right? But when you are trying to process 100 emails a day, you don't feel in touch, you feel crushed. You're not communicating- you are wading through spam, forwards, fyi's... Your emails get shorter and shorter, more and more terse, and mis-communication happens more often than not.
So, what about technology in preaching?
First came architectural improvements to increase the range of a speaker's voice. Then microphones to throw the voice even further. Then radio, television, tape and CD ministries, podcasts, vodcasts... and the seed of the video venue, the "overflow room." All with the goal of taking the gift of preaching and extending its reach and impact.
So far, so good, right?
But now, we have all this technology. We're not only recording the sermon, we're video taping it and we have discovered we can send that video, not just to the next room, but to a building across the campus, across town, across the state, around the world...
Now, the preaching gift of one person has the ability not simply to reach the back row, but the next town, state, continent. And we're not just talking about Spurgeon publishing his sermons or Schuller putting his on TV or Driscoll putting his on iTunes...
NOW we're talking about not just influencing local preachers by making the "best" communicators' sermons available... we're talking about replacing those local teaching elders.
Talk about pushing something to an extreme.
The technology that once enhanced the preaching of others, influenced and enriched it? It's making it superfluous. Start up churches and smaller churches that used to have a team of three or four elders (or in our case, seven) who would be called on to teach on a regular basis now have a video screen and a "campus pastor" that gets to preach at most once a month.
If we're not more thoughtful about this, soon, every city and town will have the Driscoll franchise... maybe even two or three. And the Andy Stanley, Ed Young Jr franchise as well. Is Joel Osteen too far behind? Hybels, Warren, Groeschel... the market is going to get crowded.
Sure, smaller churches will still exist, but in fewer and fewer numbers as dying churches are replaced not by vibrant church plants full of people forced to build a community from the ground up and so learn all the lessons along the way, but by video venue franchises- prepackaged church-in-a-box. And I'm telling you- there will be fewer and fewer men and women (most certainly fewer women) who ever learn to preach, who ever get the experience of working with others to discern what God is saying to their local body through Spirit and Word and prayerfully struggle through how they can creatively communicate that as well over the course of weeks, months and years of life together.
We're talking about the death of preaching in evangelicalism by all but a small handful of Celebrity Communicators who have little knowledge about those they teach from such far distances.
Sound like a bleak vision of the future? Yes, it does. But we don't have to go there...
If the Church will just learn to pay its taxes.
Stay tuned to see what I mean by that...
to be cont'd.
(And since I know it will come up in the comments, let me just address it now: No, I don't think preaching is the end-all, be-all of ministry. I don't think it's even the most important piece of ministry. But I do think it's vital and necessary for the continued health of the Church.)