By Steven Mock
The first church in Jerusalem was formed in Acts 2 when Peter preached a powerful, Spirit-filled, convicting message. God used Peter’s words to convert 3,000 people who were baptized and started meeting together. Verse 42 tells us they had four priorities as a local church: the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the Lord’s Supper, and praying.
All four of these priorities are important but the apostles’ teaching is probably mentioned first because it was the greatest of priorities. In other words, the local church must be a learning church. The Scriptures must be foundational in your church because according to 1 Timothy 3:15, truth must be pillared and protected by the church.
This leads me to discuss a problem that seems to be a modern day phenomenon in the church at large: distance preaching. I’m not talking about sitting in the back of your church building versus sitting towards the front—not that kind of distance. I am talking about the fact that we live in a day where you can listen to a variety of sermons from all around the world in a variety of media: tapes, CD’s, radio, TV, and internet—that is distance preaching.
Why do I caution about distance preaching and specifically about an overdependence on distance preaching? Because the apostles’ teaching we read about in Acts 2 took place within the assembly. As the church grew and further developed, God gave the gift of elders to lead in the pillaring and protecting of the truth. If there was a false teacher, he would have had to teach in the assembly and it was something the elders could deal with because it was public. Today, because of distance preaching, it is possible for people to be taught by false teachers many times a week without the elders even knowing about it because of its private nature (i.e. no one really knows who is watching, listening, downloading various media).
There is a second reason I caution against an overdependence on distance preaching—because of the effects of overdependence. You will know you are over-dependent if you listen to more preaching than you do personal Bible study. As good as preaching is, preaching should be a supplement, not a replacement of personal Bible study. Obviously it is much easier to whack in a sermon CD for an hour by which you will most likely learn a lot, be somewhat entertained, and even be moved to a good spiritual decision of change. But God’s purpose for each believer is that they grow in maturity to be able to feed themselves spiritual food from God’s word (2 Timothy 3:16-17). This will require hard work.
Another way you will know if you are over-dependent on distance preaching is if you think you can skip a public meeting at your local church because you have already heard lots of preaching lately on your own—anything that causes you to think you don’t need to attend your own church is a sign of danger (Hebrews 10:25).
A third way you will know if you are over-dependent on distance preaching is when you consider an internet preacher to be your pastor rather than the one God has presently provided for you in your local church. Anyone can have many distance preachers at a time but he can only have one pastor at a time. You must recognize the need of a physically present shepherd (Hebrews 13:17).
At the risk of undermining everything I have just written, let me say this—there are some wonderful resources on the internet that we should not despise. Probably any pastor would think it great if you as a member of your local church would habitually listen to one or two of these messages a week as a supplement to your own personal Bible study (and attendance to all public services) and purposefully discuss what you learned with other members in your church. That would be a good thing. Just beware of an overdependence on distance preaching.
Steven Mock is pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Cairns, Australia. Steven and his wife, Cristy, moved to Cairns in July 2003. The Mocks have three children.