3 Lessons Learned from Preaching During COVID
The very first sermon we ever captured on film at Harvest Glasgow was on 17 March 2020. I had preached on video before when I was a guest preacher at other churches, but this time was different. We knew that Sunday was likely to be preparation for some kind of extended season of preaching on video. The next Sunday, Scotland was locked down and I was preaching from an empty worship center. The next Sunday I was setting up a studio in our home, thankful that I had spent some of the previous summer addressing some work projects in our back yard. My kids thought it was funny that I am on YouTube. They like to tease me about "click, like, subscribe, ring that bell," as if I am not a Youtube influencer. Late summer allowed us back into the building. Autumn saw the return of small numbers of people to the room before winter began and a regression back to preaching in an empty worship center with only our amazing tech team for company.
In the midst of these challenges, there has been a whole raft of lessons and learning. It has reminded and reinforced things I have always believed about preaching and revealed and created a reckoning with things that I didn’t know about my heart. Looking back at my Twitter account to the second week of home recording I tweeted the following:
2 weeks of recording preaching at home takes (literal ones not hot-takes):
- Camera stops recording mid point
- Out of focus
- Prop malfunction (one handed bow tie removal is hard)
- Someone's phone rings
- Dishwasher beeps
- Child appears
- Out of focus
And God did send a lot of help. The studio improved. The lighting was upgraded. The audio was cleaned up. But mostly the Lord was helping me see how much I needed to hold onto Him.
I want to share a few of the things I have learned through the trying season of "COVID preaching". These are things God has reminded, reinforced, and revealed through the circumstances we have found ourselves in.
Reminded: Preaching is a conversation.
You cannot replicate being in a room with the church family you love by being in a room with a camera that you are beginning to hate. At best you can imagine their faces and reactions based on your history of looking at their faces for however long you have been preaching to them. You miss the moment of seeing God’s Word land on them as it comes across their face. You lose the capacity to clarify the moments when you have been overly complex and confusing to blank or befuddled expressions on the face of your listeners. It becomes even harder in the days of pre-recording because you are having to imagine how they will hear it more than the immediacy of how they are hearing it as you say it.
For a season preaching has become something that necessitates the art of imagination to go alongside the explanation and application. Yet God has used His Word and is changing lives even in the long-range setting of a lockdown or local restrictions. There is a reminder here that the conversation is never primarily between preacher and listener, but between God through His Word and those whom He calls His own.
There is a reminder here that the conversation is never primarily between preacher and listener, but between God through His Word and those whom He calls His own.
Reinforcing: Jesus is the gain and the goal.
I have preached in the past that we will have the most peace when we are most close to the Most High. That is what I experienced as we preached through John’s Gospel a little bit at a time. We started lockdown preaching with John 1. Verse 5 was what people seemed to hang onto for the next few months: ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’
The best thing we can do and the greatest thing we can offer is Jesus.
The best thing we can do and the greatest thing we can offer is Jesus. In the midst of the darkness of the global pandemic, we get to bring people to the feet of the Prince of Peace, the light that can never be overcome.
This doesn’t seem to be such an earth-shattering revelation, but there is something about everything else having been stripped away that sharpens the focus on the simple presentation of Christ as opposed to multi-principle life lesson messages with a dash of Gospel thrown in for good measure (or to make us seem less pragmatic). We ought to be praying—and we get to be preaching—that Covid-19 would create the same heart in our listeners as the traveling Greeks in John 12: "Sir, we wish to see Jesus."
Revealing: I am not sovereign.
Seasons like we are in are helpful in that they remind me how nonsovereign we are. I desperately need to be reminded of my finitude. The pandemic has taught us much about our capacity for crisis, particularly when we lose a sense of control or are deprived of social contact. Where has your heart settled when the things you are prone to rely upon are stripped away? If we are being clever about it, we might ponder which of our idols the pandemic has exposed.
There is something about setting up a home studio you don’t want to use, looking into a camera you don't know how to work, preaching to people that you cannot see, using technology you don't understand, to a church family that you cannot gather with, that is massively humbling. God is always about the work He would do in us ahead of the work He seeks to do through us.
God is always about the work He would do in us ahead of the work He seeks to do through us.
If He has humbled you, more tightly held you, made His presence more precious to you, made the necessity of His help more clear to you, become more real to you, freed you from things that took the time that could be spent with Him by you, then it is hard to calculate this season as anything less than abounding in mercy. God confronts us in seasons that are beyond our control so that we might find fresh comfort in His all-sufficiency.
Preacher the season is not over and there are still sermons to be preached. The people you love are at the end of the lens. The Lord who loves you is still on His throne. The Word of God is not bound—not by YouTube, pandemics, nor by how slow you and I might be to grasp the things that He is seeking to do in our hearts in all of this.