Thou Shalt Text?

This blog post is prompted by an article in my local paper last Saturday, though the story originated in St. Louis and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  Tim Townsend writes about a new practice that has cropped up in a few churches and in particular this church (Morning Star Church) is profiled.  Unfortunately, I could not find an online version of the article to link to…

So, what is this new practice?  Text messaging questions to the pastor while the pastor is preaching.  In the case of Morning Star, text messages are sent to the worship director who screens them and then sends some to a computer near the pastor.  He then decides what and how to answer the questions.  Here is a snippet from the article:

Mid-sermon texting is a way for pastors to engage their flocks with technology many of them – especially those under 30 – are using every day.  ‘Lot’s of people say this is cool or edgy, but that’s not what it’s about for us,’ Schreinder said [he’s the Senior Pastor at Morning Star].  ‘It’s really about staying true to our mission to meet people where they are.’

I must confess that this raises some issues in my mind, though I am by no means certain about everything that I am thinking in response to this.  Here are some thoughts:

  • Preaching is different from teaching.  Both are communication, but preaching is proclamation of God’s Word.  I believe that we should distinguish between preaching and teaching in the church.  That is not to say that teaching is not an element of preaching, but proclamation must not be lost in the process.  With confidence, faithful preachers can say “thus saith the Lord”.  But for this pastor, he likes moving more towards teaching (“It gives me a little more of a teaching role.  It gets back to Jesus Christ and the Sermon on the Mount, where I picture have a conversation with the people.  With texting, it becomes much more of a dialogue.”).
  • Texting or taking questions from the audience during the preaching event changes the dynamic of communication.  Without disregarding the legitimate questions, as it is impossible to have questions about a given text, we still must let God’s Word be central, rather than our questions.  This practice, I believe, intrudes upon that centrality.
  • Might this practice frustrate those whose questions are not answered?
  • Might this practice, without intending so, subtly encourage people not to continue to wrestle with Scripture on their own?
  • Does this elevate technology over the preaching of God’s Word or at least put them on more equal footing? (I am not against technology or its use in the church; we use sound systems without qualm for example).
  • Personally, the way I preach and think, I am not sure I would be able to respond in the midst of a sermon to a question/text and not lose my focus.  But that’s a personal problem.

These thoughts are not meant to lambast the church or pastor profiled.  Certainly, this is happening in other places and may even become common-place.  The article quotes positively a couple of teenagers and maybe this is the first time they have gotten excited about the sermons.  I am all for people engaging with God’s Word and with the pastor, but is this the right medium for that?  I am inclined to say no.  Any thoughts out there?  Am I merely being reactionary, a Luddite, or without vision?

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5 responses to this post.

  1. Adam, your thoughts on this are excellent. The only one I don’t resonate with is whether this puts preaching and technology on equal footing; I don’t think so, but that’s beside the point given the many other good concerns you raise.

    Mark Driscoll does this, but I think people text questions AFTER the sermon, and only at a particular evening service (they have a bunch). That seems like a way that you can invite Q&A without it obscuring the nature of preaching (and ultimately the nature of God’s word).

    Reply

  2. On the one hand, I agree with your reticence about this practice. Preaching isn’t teaching, and shouldn’t be replaced by it. And preaching could often get sidetracked from the “Big Idea” (in Bryan Chapell’s parlance) that the sermon is about, which is derived from careful study and contextualization. In this sense, the sermon ought already be answering the questions that the congregation needs answered– whether they realize it or not.

    On the other hand, this could be explained away as simply a few steps further down the line from making impromptu adjustments, emphases, further explanation, etc. based on the facial and body language of the congregation. As I preach, I can tell whether my congregation is tracking with me (though it took me a while to learn their cues to know whether they were or not), and I sometimes adjust my message slightly to accommodate this: I’ll dwell on an explanation a bit longer, toss in another illustration, or draw out more specificity in application, etc. My sense is that most preachers do at least this. One could argue that this is just more of that– though I would argue it is much more, and perhaps too much.

    So I’m somewhat ambivalent, perhaps because I’m certain that my congregation is such a long way from being ready for something like this that I don’t feel the need to make up my mind about it. If pushed, I might lean toward rejecting this as inappropriate for Reformed preaching and worship.

    Reply

  3. I didn’t see Ken’s comment when I posted, so I’ll add this:

    I think it is invaluable to offer some opportunity for follow-up about the sermon, as Ken mentioned. Be it an evening service Q&A, notes for small groups based on the sermon, an open session during Sunday School (better when Sunday School follows worship), or even a blog post where further explanation and exploration was offered and comments invited (one friend tried a “sermon post-mortem” where he brought in all of the stuff that got left on his study desk and invited further discussion about it).

    But I don’t know that I’m game for that in the midst of the sermon itself.

    Reply

  4. Posted by adamtisdale on October 9, 2008 at 10:36 pm

    Thanks for your thoughts Ken & Ed…I’m not ready to make any pronouncements or condemnations. And yet, I want to have the proper respect for preaching, especially as one called to preach. To some,that will seem self-serving, but my desire (I hope) is to be God-serving.

    Ed, I do agree with your thoughts on in-sermon response to the congregation. Personally, I look for those in the congregation who I call “responsive listeners” and judge the efficacy of my communication on that – at least partially.

    Ken: Driscoll and Mars Hill were referenced, but the article stated that it was a “youth service”. Again, this seems different than a preaching event.

    Reply

  5. Adam, I think the newspaper article is wrong — I’ve heard the sermons where Mark takes questions afterward and they are not limited to youth. Given that they are the Sunday evening @ 8pm service, they probably attract more youth, though!

    Reply

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