Six ways podcasts may be good (and bad) for your faith

podcast-church

Podcasts are not your pastor.

I realize this is ridiculously obvious, yet it is so necessary for us to remind ourselves of this fact. We have more podcasts being created by more people than ever before (including one, eventually, by me). Some are completely separate from what happens in the local church on a Sunday morning—their goal is not to replace church, but to enhance, which is a good thing (but I’m getting ahead of myself). Others tend to be limited to the Sunday morning message from a given local church.

None of these are bad, obviously. And to be clear, we should never have to choose between podcasts and our pastors—instead, we should always see podcasts as being a beneficial addition to the teaching we receive in our local churches. Yet, I sometimes I wonder if they’re contributing more to the consumerist mentality that plagues the Christian life in North America.

When podcasts supplant pastors in our hearts and minds, we should be gravely concerned. But what concerns me is not entirely the consumerist mentality, or the continued perpetuation of Christian celebrity. Instead, I want to know why people turn to podcasts and perhaps too frequently looking to them as their source of biblical nourishment? Here are two reasons I’d suggest:

1. An inability of church members to submit to the leaders placed over them. The reasons for this are twofold: First, we lack a proper understanding of that there is even such a thing as objective truth. This is fundamentally a worldview issue—if truth is relative, then I am the arbiter of truth, so I’m ultimately my own authority. At best, everyone else has an opinion, but it’s not something I need to listen to. The current generation’s attitudes toward leadership is fruit of decades of mistrust and skepticism. We expect politicians to lie to us. We assume our bosses are going to throw us under the bus in order to save their own skin. And we have wrongly projected that onto our church leaders. This unhealthy attitude must be countered and corrected.

2. Pastors are failing to preach. To not put too fine a point on it, if pastors are not preaching the Word, they are failing their congregations. As Jared Wilson once put it so succinctly, “Putting some Bible verses in your message is not the same thing as preaching the Scriptures.” Christians who are starving for the nourishment that only comes from the preached Word will inevitably seek it out elsewhere, and if that’s a podcast, so be it. But here’s the thing: if you’re in a church where you truly never hear the Bible preached, you seriously need to leave and join one where it is. Podcasts might be a benefit in the short term, but they shouldn’t replace sitting under the faithful preaching of a pastor who knows and loves you.

So those are my concerns. And yet, as I have already said, podcasts can be (and often are) hugely helpful for many people. After all, that’s what they’re intended for. So here are a few positive benefits:

1. Podcasts can prevent you turning your pastor into an idol. Listening to other pastors offers you different perspectives as well as opportunities for discussion with your pastor and can help keep you from viewing him as your sole source of truth. In other words, it can help prevent you from turning him into an idol. We naturally attempt to put anyone and anything in the place of God. But to put any person in that position is not only unfair, it is evil. Podcasts can help remind you that your pastor is a regular person, just like you. Every pastor, no matter how excellent a student of the Word, is imperfect. He can and will make mistakes. And a good pastor is never afraid of his congregation hearing the Word from other sources, provided those sources hold fast to the truth.

2. Podcasts can help you recognize false teachers and doctrine. This one is a bit touchy as there is a greater possibility of exposure to false teachers and doctrine through podcasts; iTunes doesn’t check for doctrinal fidelity. So when you subscribe you might find yourself listening to something terrible—but that podcast might also help you identify and counter false teaching within your own congregation, whether it’s found in your small group discussions (which happens), or—God forbid!—from the pulpit or platform at your local church.

3. Podcasts can help you redeem your commute. Rather than listening to smutty and/or irrelevant morning-drive shows, a podcast can help you prepare for your day on a positive note, using the time that has been given to you to hear the truth expounded. This is a wonderful and necessary thing. Prior to selling our house and moving, I had a roughly 30 minute commute (round trip) each day, which I used to listen to audiobooks and podcasts such as Ligonier’s Renewing Your Mind. This was hugely beneficial not only to my ability to do my job well, but to prepare myself for the second half of my day—being “dad,” helping my wife and writing.

4. Podcasts can help you become a better preacher. Don Carson has often said that if you listen to one person, you’re going to be a bad copy, if you listen to 10, you’ll be boring, and if you listen to 50, you’ll start to develop your own voice. Podcasts allow preachers to hear how others communicate, learn helpful techniques and grow in the role to which God has called them.

The important thing for us to note (again) is that podcasts can be very valuable to our spiritual health and growth provided they maintain their proper position in our lives—that is serving as a supplement and complement to the instruction we receive within our local churches and in our personal study. So give thanks for their existence, encourage others when you find worthwhile ones to listening to and enjoy.


This post is based on two previously posted articles from 2011.

Why I keep waffling about starting a podcast

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So, every so often, I entertain the thought of starting a podcast. Why? Mostly because I like trying new things.

Podcasting, while not being something new, seem to have exploded in cultural awareness… and maybe that’s why I waffle on the idea, too. Am I entertaining the idea because it’s cool to do right now, or because I actually want to do one and have something to contribute?

Can you see my dilemma?

On the one hand, I really do like to do things that are fun and interesting. Those things also usually take a fair bit of work (which doesn’t scare me in the least). On the other hand, is what I’d do in one actually interesting enough to people who aren’t me that they’d benefit from it?

I guess it depends on the idea, doesn’t it?

Currently, I’m toying with the idea of interview style discussion of practical ministry combined with discussion (and possible debate) over the most important meal of the day. Personally, I could have a lot of fun with this, in no small part because of the idea of combining my love of preaching and pancakes. Plus, I’m Canadian, which means you Americans might hear me rant about that weird white sauce sausage gravy.

So what do y’all think? Should I hit the go button on this or keep waffling?


Photo credit: Waffle via photopin (license). Designed with Canva.

Links I like

$5 Friday at Ligonier

Today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier has a whole bunch of great resources on sale, including:

  • The Mystery of the Trinity teaching series by R.C. Sproul (audio & video download)
  • Willing to Believe teaching series by R.C. Sproul (audio & video download)
  • Reformation Profiles teaching series by Stephen Nichols (DVD)
  • The Psychology of Atheism teaching series by R.C. Sproul (CD)
  • Defending Your Faith by R.C. Sproul (ePub)

$5 Friday ends at 11:59:59 tonight.

The “Boy Who Came Back from Heaven” recants

Alex Malarkey, the book’s co-author, says “I didn’t die,” and “the Bible is sufficient.” Good on him for doing it, too.

Expositional imposters

Mike Gilbart-Smith:

Mark Dever rightly describes Expositional Preaching as “preaching that takes for the point of a sermon the point of a particular passage of Scripture.” However, I have heard many sermons that intend to be expositional, yet fall somewhat short. Below are seven pitfalls that one might try to avoid. Each of these pitfalls either doesn’t correctly make the message of the passage the message of the sermon, or doesn’t make it a message to that congregation at all.

Why and How to Be Self-Critical When You Write

Justin Taylor shares a great excerpt from John Frame’s The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God.

5 Simple Ways to Teach Your Kids Theology

Aaron Earls:

How can you weave theological teaching into their daily lives, without necessarily setting them down for an in-depth family sermon (though there is nothing inherently wrong with that)? How can you impart good theology into the lives of your children, without possessing a theological degree (though hopefully there is nothing inherently wrong with that)?

You don’t need to feel like you’re trying out the latest parenting fad or complicated system. If you are like me, you’ll try it for a month or two and then give up because it didn’t feel natural.

Instead, here are five simple ways to teach your kids theology virtually every day.

 

The Way Home podcast

Check out this new podcast by my friend Dan Darling. The first episode is good stuff, and features interviews with Karen Swallow Prior and Matt Chandler.

The Indispensable Value Of Practical Theology

David Murray:

Reformed Christians are famous (some would say “infamous”) for our emphasis upon theology; especially biblical theology, systematic theology, historical theology, and exegetical theology.

Just look at our creaking bookshelves and impressive libraries!

Critics, though, often ask, “Where’s your practical theology?”

And they sometimes have a point. At times we do struggle to translate the knowledge our heads are bursting with into our vocations, our families, our evangelism, our ethics, and other areas of the Christian life.

My five favorite podcasts

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I used to listen to dozens of podcasts; these days, I only listen to a few. Some I dropped because I grew bored with them. Others, because the material was no longer helpful or beneficial for me to listen to. But there are a few I consistently enjoy (even if I don’t listen to every episode):

1. 5 Minutes in Church HistoryStephen Nichols offers listeners digestible glimpses back at the people, places and events that have shaped the story of Christianity. (And for the 90s alt-rock nerd, yes, that is The Cranberries being used as the intro music.)

2. The Briefing. Albert Mohler’s daily analysis of the news from a Christian worldview is a must-listen in the Armstrong home (full disclosure: my wife has a crush on Mohler’s brain). It’s obviously very “America” in focus, but that doesn’t stop it from being one of the first we go to each day.

3. Mere Fidelity. Matthew Lee Anderson, Derek Rishmawy, Andrew Wilson, and Alastair Roberts’ Reformed-ish podcast is consistently enjoyable and always worth your time. Be sure to check out the “Ask Us Anything” edition and the response to Peter Enns.

4. The Village Church (sermon audio). In all honesty, I don’t often listen to sermon audio from other churches these days. But when I do, it’s typically this one. Chandler’s long been a preacher I appreciate. The current sermon series, A Beautiful Design, is tremendous.

5. Renewing Your Mind. R.C. Sproul is one of the most brilliant theologians of our day. His ability to distill complex ideas into something intelligible for the average person is nothing short of astounding, and this audio feed is one of the best resources to help you understand the life-giving truths of historic Christianity.

So those are a few of my favorites. What are some of yours?


Photo credit: Colleen AF Venable via photopin cc

Links I like

Remember rather than blame

Kim Shay:

It’s not uncommon for those who grew up in the church, and who have become disenchanted with it, to blame the church they grew up in. I’ve seen it and I’ve heard it from young people around me.

God’s Character and Your Circumstances.

Erik Raymond:

I don’t believe Abraham had an advanced copy of the plan. I don’t think he knew what was going to happen in detail. However, I do believe that he believed that God would fulfill his promise to him to make him a great nation, a father with countless descendants.

This is a perfect example of interpreting his circumstances in light of God’s character and promises. Everything that happens is processed through who God is and what he has said.

Too often we do this in reverse. We interpret God’s character and promises through the lenses of our circumstances.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Here are a few new Kindle deals for you:

Why libraries matter

HT: David Murray

The Happy Rant podcast

A while back, Stephen Altrogge and Barnabas Piper started a series of video conversations in which they cheerfully ranted about things that didn’t matter all that much. Now, by popular demand (if me, Bobby Giles and a few other dudes encouraging it is popular demand), they’ve ditched the Google Hangout videos and moved to podcasting and brought Ted Kluck along for the ride. Enjoy!

When We Get Small And God Gets Big

Jared Wilson:

Natalie comes walking in. “What are you doing in here? Go out there and meet people.”

Excuse me? Who does this lady think she is?

One of my best critics and greatest friends, actually. As I’ve thought over our friendship the last few weeks, it occurs to me that Natalie is the person from the church I talk with the most. Several times a week we exchange emails. We volunteer together at the local food shelf. When I have to meet with a woman alone at the church, Natalie is the one who will come and hang out in the room next door. Natalie is the one who, when she’s at the table, I know things will get done. When she says something is doable, dangit, it’s doable. Natalie went from my shrewdest challenger to my fiercest supporter and encourager.

The danger of overextending your reach

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A friend of mine recently lamented the blessing and curse of podcasts. The blessing is obvious, and the danger is equally so: podcasts can “ruin” us for ordinary pastors. There’s a dangerous temptation to treat podcasts as our pastors, and to forsake biblical community for a hyper-individualized spirituality.

But there’s another danger we don’t talk about quite as much: the danger to the pastors who are extending their reach beyond their local church.

You might be reading this and thinking, what on earth could be dangerous? After all, many pastors write books every year, podcast their sermons, and write blogs. Some even find themselves speaking at conferences, of whom the majority of attendees are undoubtedly not members of their congregations.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these things, certainly. So why do I have a concern? Because there’s a question we always should be asking: is trying to extend our reach taking away from our primary ministry? 

Now, I absolutely believe pastors should write books (at least, those who can write). I’d go as far to say as pastors are obligated to share the wisdom and insights they’ve gained with the larger body of Christ, and more specifically, with younger pastors and leaders.

But many pastors who are asked to write books aren’t asked because they’ve demonstrated they can write, or they have the accumulated wisdom of a lifetime of ministry. They just have a lot of people showing up on Sunday.

Whether or not a pastor has the chops to write a book, start a blog or start a podcast, the temptation to pursue these things is enormous. But in the pursuit of these things, it’s easy to start cutting corners, even unintentionally. Research gets reduced or outsourced. Sermon prep is virtually non-existent. Counselling and community are sidelined. The result? Once-excellent communicators become unconsciously incompetent (which inevitably leads to becoming dangerously stupid). Congregation members begin to feel neglected. Frustration builds, and eventually something’s going to give.

In the attempt to extend their reach, I fear many church and ministry leaders are in danger of destroying their ministries, and may not even realize it.

When I was working on my books, one of the challenges I faced was securing endorsements. I tried to get Kevin DeYoung to endorse Awaiting a Savior. I didn’t succeed, obviously (although I suspect it would have sold more if I had). But you know what? I am so thankful I didn’t. Why? Because his church has set up accountability structures to prevent outside activities from negatively affecting his ministry to his congregation. 

This is the kind of self-aware church leader we need more of—the kind who understands the danger of overextending his reach. Leaders who know they can’t really trust themselves to know how much is too much, and who surround themselves with men who will tell them what they don’t always want to hear.

Opinion Poll: Video Blogging

What say you: Is video blogging lame and self-indulgent or is it totally awesome?