By Jesse Campbell
How ought a pastor differentiate between the rendition of the sermon he gives to a spiritless camera and the Spirit-filled proclamation of Scripture he experiences with God’s visible church in the same moment?
Given that the Scripture he preaches is the same regardless of who is temporally present, should he deliver them differently at all?
Having written already about preaching to a camera alone at the beginning of quarantine, I hope to share some of what my team has learned now in this present awkwardness as we film a sermon during the week for online viewers and then preach the same sermon to those who reserve spots in our limited outdoor services.
The move of the Spirit
The move of the Holy Spirit cannot be contrived, it should never be manufactured, and it is close to satanic if it is faked.
Preaching shouldn’t be something that is rehearsed like a soliloquy. If you’re genuinely moved by the text, let it show in a way that’s natural for you and authentic in your own spirit both as you record and as you preach to present people.
However, if you’re not sensing the Spirit move, please don’t pretend like you are for the lonely camera; it’ll have the opposite effect for which you hope, especially if you try to force it in multiple takes.
Reserve multiple takes only to correct critical homiletical errors and, if the Spirit moves in your heart as you preach the first take, go with the first take even if it is not perfect. Be wrecked by your text and let it show.
Picture Paul has he passionately wrote and dictated his Spirit-inspired letters, certain in faith that the passion would be conveyed to his unseen recipients.
Genuine preaching with passion and minor problems with delivery is better than contrived spiritual acting delivered with polished perfection.
Consider inviting some saints to the recording of your online service and, should you choose to broadcast or simulcast your in-person service, do so with utmost video and sound quality to the glory of God.
What a blessing it has been to finally hear “amen” from people presently being blessed by the Bible under our tent. It has been affirming of what I saw by faith through that one-eyed, unrepentant robot for three months.
I wish now I could take what I learn from the people in their non-verbal and vocalized confirmations and optimize my sermon illustration stories for recording later.
Having begun quarantine with our book-by-book plan in place, the only way for me to switch our order from recording ahead of time to recording after having preached in-person is to deprive one of the two contexts of a portion of the Bible book we’re presently studying.
If you’re in a position to preach in person first and then record it having removed that conspicuous degree of speculation involved in preaching a sermon for the first time to a camera, I recommend it.
Application and Invitation Times
Things will not be the same after this, but that doesn’t mean we should concede even an iota of quality.
Adjust your budget for individually packaged communion kits because, for the foreseeable future, people will be sheepish about taking the last piece from a tray of unleavened bread touched by hundreds of people before them.
Lean into the opportunities presented by programs or bulletins built for smartphones. Let the new data help you track your congregation’s progress or stagnation in your discipleship process.
Get creative with ways people respond online, but also capitalize on the distinct sweetness that comes from being present to witness the parade of small miracles that is a packed altar-call (coming soon to our outdoor services, in Jesus’ name).
The practical applications that come throughout or at the end of your sermon can and sometimes should be different for your online services from what they are for your in-person services.
Incentivize the in-person experience and call the wayward home. Don’t surrender to a second-rate experience, but continually optimize your online service while continually preparing to come back together as soon as possible.
May we not be caught off-guard by the time to fully return and may we not walk away from our new online ministries when we do.
Humor Online v. Humor In-Person
The mental picture of a family staring blankly at their smart TV while I laugh at myself makes me cringe. The “never laugh at your own joke” rule is not ironclad, but it comes with sound counsel.
So, how do pastors use humor on camera? When preaching in-person and using humor to illustrate a point, I often cannot help but laugh at other people’s laughing.
But a significant percentage of the people watching online are sitting alone and not laughing.
With no one else around them laughing, there is less of an urge to laugh and less clarity that what you just said was intended to be funny. So, use dry humor conservatively and limit your own laughter significantly.
The upside is that people will show you more grace in person. We can use humor to disarm people emotionally and make a point more clear and memorable, but it’s sweeter in the in-person context.
People experience humor together, so mitigate it on camera and apply it more liberally in person if you choose to use it in your preaching.
Take the moment in. The collective voice of God’s people is a sweet sound and you’ve missed it desperately.