I can’t remember how often someone has come up to me after a service on Sunday and asked if I saw such-and-such a preacher on TV that morning. I’ll always say no; Sunday morning I don’t normally have much space for watching television – and if I did, I wouldn’t be wasting it watching television!
They’ll then go on to tell me what it was that their favourite TV preacher said or did and why it was so good.
No, really, I am!
I know some of my preacher friends who are annoyed by this sort of thing happening (yes, it happens to other preachers too, and yes, we talk about this sort of thing) because they feel like they can never compete – and to have someone come up and tell them at the end of the service about what they heard onTV that morning makes it sound like they didn’t hear anything of relevance in the sermon just delivered! So some of us do get defensive about this sort of thing, and go away muttering about how that TV preacher doesn’t have half a dozen frail elderly in hospital at the moment and three marriages on the verge of breaking up and a treasurer with a face like a wet winter.
And the first time someone came and enthused about what they’d seen on TV that morning (and gave no indication of having heard the sermon I’d sweat blood over all week) I’ll admit I was a little jealous. I wanted my congregation’s total attention. It wasn’t fair that someone who was good enough to have an entire TV channel of their own and an enormous cathedral and special celebrity guests each week should steal the attention and affections of the people I was ministering to – even if I was only a student pastor.
That was more than a decade ago, and I’ve got over it. I’m no longer so insecure that I have to have my pastoral ego stroked in every encounter.
I’m really glad that so many can hear such excellent preaching from the comfort of their homes. And it often is really good stuff. I don’t know this from my own experience, but from the tid-bits of sermons that my congregation have repeated to me over the years, I know that there’s real treasure being shared out over the airwaves. And that’s great. If you asked me if I thought my 90-year old recovering-from-flu regular-as-sunrise member should come out in the middle of a hail-storm to hear me or should stay in bed and listen to someone who is twice the preacher I’ll ever be, the answer is a no-brainer!
Besides, I have something no TV preacher will ever have.
When I’m preaching, I can see my congregation. I see them looking back at me, I see them tired, and I see them suddenly ‘get it’. I see them struggling to keep the kids quiet and I see them laugh and I see them inspired. I see them snoozing in the boring bits and struggling with the arcane. I see them. And they’re fantastic. And I love them. It’s a tremendous privilege to be allowed to speak into their lives; to open up God’s word and share out the treasure together.
Sometimes I’m guilty of serving up half-baked pap. And they forgive me and turn up again next week. Sometimes I get to put enormous banquets on the table, and we tuck in together. Most often it’s nothing too flash – but it’s still God’s word and it encourages and feeds our souls – mine too – as I open it up. And we do this together.
Communion doesn’t happen over TV. Good teaching happens, and great stories get told, but communion is what church is all about. I hope those TV preachers know what they’re missing. I’d hate for them to miss out.