By Darron L. Edwards
In his brilliant and inspiring Lectures on Preaching (1877), Phillips Brooks held that there were two elements necessary for effective Christian preaching: truth and personality.
Truth is “fixed and stable,” Brooks said. It’s eternal and universal. He wanted preachers to focus on the life of Christ, such that people would know Him and want to follow Him. On the other hand, personality is “variable and growing.”
So, what happens when “fixed and stable” meets “variable and growing?” This is where the rubber meets the road. We’re now preaching in new forums and venues that for some feels uncomfortable.
If the saying that we’re not growing until we are uncomfortable is true, we may be entering into a strengthened spiritual maturity.
One of my preaching professors once said, “Preaching is God’s truth strained through human personality.” COVID-19 has exposed so many problems in our world.
Within the church, this pandemic has exposed the preacher’s personality. Our new COVID-19 normal has taught me a few things about my personality preferences—particularly when it comes to preaching venues/environments.
In order to reach diverse audiences in this pandemic, we have employed three diverse worship environments which, in my humble opinion, require three different styles of sermon delivery.
As you know, the message remains the same, but the methodology and delivery must change. I’ve discovered I can’t preach the same message the same way because the environments are not the same.
Here are three different environments to which our church has adapted—and what I’ve learned through preaching in each one.
Environment #1: The Empty Sanctuary
When the pandemic hit, I pivoted to what made me the most comfortable and easily adaptable.
I began by preaching live in a mostly empty sanctuary to a virtual congregation. There were fewer than 10 essential staff members in the building.
Even when I’m preaching in an empty sanctuary, I’m still in my natural habitat.
It still feels like church; I have the praise band and praise team with me. And the Spirit of the Lord is still present while my congregation is physically absent.
Environment #2: The Outdoor Service
As the pandemic lingered, we moved to producing “Park & Praise Services.” I’ll confess: This is my least favorite environment. I feel uncomfortable in this scenario.
I learned fast that people only need the big idea in this environment. After all, they’re sitting in their cars, and they’re becoming increasingly restless in an hour.
This environment, however, has a deep reaching impact in terms of creating opportunities for your congregation to gather in unique ways.
I enjoy seeing them more than I think they enjoy hearing me. If your building is still closed, please remember your people haven’t seen each other, and this provides a safer way for fellowship to occur.
Environment #3: Pre-Recorded Services
Now to my overall favorite: I personally enjoy virtual pre-recorded services.
This may be because of my personality type; I prefer this environment because it allows more control over the end product. I can edit and omit as I see fit.
We’ve all sat in a church service and wished a certain song was omitted, or that an announcement or testimony was edited.
I enjoy having real-time conversations as I sit with others during the pre-recorded sermon as I learn what resonates with people who hunger and thirst for God’s Word.
I love virtual engagement and reading comments on what resonated with them through “hearts”/”likes.”
As a preacher, I’m supposed to love the shouts of amen, the space of the sanctuary, padded pews, committees, and warm bodies, right? I do, but I’m realizing virtual service is quickly becoming a new normal.
Don’t miss this moment! What we discover now will linger with us in whatever comes next.
And whatever changes in this season of human and church history, we can take solace in knowing that whether we’re on Zoom or standing behind a beautifully carved pulpit, our task is ever constant: We must preach the Word.
What have you learned about preaching in this pandemic? What different venues have you preached at in this COVID-19 world?
DARRON L. EDWARDS (@darronledwards) is the lead pastor of United Believers Church in Kansas City, Missouri.