Tag Archives: COVID-19

How COVID Changed My Preaching

The last few months have brought my preaching to a turning point.  COVID-19 opened my eyes to some problems I needed to address.  While I was saddened with not being able to gather for public worship, some good seems to have come from it.

Three things conspired to bring about a change in the way I approach the delivery of my sermons.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I was doing live-streamed messages from the church building.  My family was at home watching those along with everyone else in the congregation.  Eventually, those live-streamed messages moved to my living room.  My family watched me live in person, while the rest of the church watched through YouTube.  However, we soon found that there were issues with the live-stream coming from our home.  The stream was inconsistent and so a lot of viewers had stuttering and buffering problems.  To address that, I moved to pre-recording the messages.  Now I was recording the messages on Saturday mornings and then uploading them to YouTube.  Then they’d “premiere” at 9:30 and 3:30 on Sunday.  Now, along with my family, I had to watch myself preach.

That was painful.  Many preachers, I think, can relate to the agony of watching yourself preach.  It’s awkward and embarrassing.  You see all the flaws, not only in the message itself, but also in the delivery.  I tried to disassociate myself as I was watching, pretending I was watching someone else, but that didn’t really work.

To further drive the point home, I got to a point where I needed a break.  I’d been going hard since the beginning of the pandemic and I needed a week off.  My elders graciously arranged to find a recording of another pastor and upload that for the congregation’s edification in my absence.  So, that Sunday morning and afternoon, I watched another colleague preach.  It was a colleague I highly respect, whose delivery is spot on every time.  They say you shouldn’t compare yourself to others, but whoever “they” are, they’re not realistic.  I did compare.

The second thing that conspired to change my delivery was Zoom.  I went into the pandemic with an intense antipathy towards video chats and conference calls.  I still don’t like them.  But here we were forced to use Zoom not only for consistory meetings, but also for catechism classes.  At the moment, we’re still using Zoom for catechism, though I hope that’ll change in the next month or so.

But it was especially the catechism classes that got me thinking.  I ran it like this:  my students were all muted when they signed on.  Using my lesson plan, I would teach.  I give them opportunities for questions periodically but, unlike being in a physical classroom setting, they seldom ask anything.  So it ends up being me talking for 30 minutes straight.  When you have to talk for 30 minutes straight just talking off of notes, there needs to be some ability for public speaking.  I could do it.

Finally, this year I’ve been doing a lot of reading about preaching.  Some of the authors I’ve read have addressed the point of delivery and how to do that most effectively.  They suggested concrete ways I could improve.

For the last 20 years, I’ve almost always taken a full manuscript into the pulpit with me.  I did that partly because I believed in preaching with the most precise words possible.  I also didn’t want to go around in circles, I didn’t want needless repetition, and I wanted the sermon to flow smoothly from one thought to the next.  A full manuscript definitely helps rigidly control those things.  The downside to having a manuscript on the pulpit is that your attention can be more fixed on it than on the people to whom you’re preaching.  Eye contact can suffer; presentation can be artificial or stale.  The impression could be that you’re just reading from your manuscript.  Is that really preaching?

So recently, I’ve begun preaching from a two-page outline instead.  After I’m done my exegesis, I prepare a draft of the outline.  From that draft, I then prepare a manuscript.  I review the manuscript a couple of times and then make adjustments to the outline.  Through the whole process I pray that the Holy Spirit will give me the right words I need to say on the pulpit, gleaned from my preparations.

As I walk away from preaching from an outline, I feel that the preaching is rougher, more imprecise.  Transitions from one thought to the next don’t always go as smoothly as I’d like.  But I’m told that the outline slows me down (which is good — I often tend to speak too fast from a manuscript) and it improves the eye-contact and connection with the congregation.  I’ve watched part of one of these sermons and it’s still painful to watch, but better than what I was doing before.

It’s still early days in this new approach for me.  Hopefully with time and practice I’ll become more proficient at speaking from an outline.  It’s true that God can strike straight blows with a crooked stick — I’m sure he’s used my preaching from a manuscript in the past, just as he might with any colleague who’s doing that too.  However, I think of 2 Timothy 2:15, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”  A pastor always has to do his best, always has to seek to improve.  The glorious gospel we preach deserves nothing less.  God used a tiny virus to teach me that big lesson.


COVID-19 & Tasmania — Update

Being a small island state has its advantages, especially during a pandemic.  The Tasmania state government made some good calls early in the crisis and those have paid off.  One of the key strategies was to close the state borders.  People from out-of-state could still travel to Tasmania, but they’d have to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in accommodations provided by the state.  As a result of these strict measures, yesterday saw the 22nd straight day with no new COVID-19 cases.  Currently there are only two active cases in the entire state.

As of last Friday, more restrictions were lifted.  Travel is now permitted around the state, as is camping.  Many restaurants are now re-opened, though with limited seating.  But, most importantly of all, places of worship are now allowed to have 40 people in attendance for services.

Back in March, our church (Free Reformed Church of Launceston) decided to suspend worship services because of the pandemic.  We made this decision before the government imposed it.  In the place of worship services, we decided to provide two Sunday messages and one Wednesday evening message.  These messages, preceded and followed by prayer, just provided the bare minimum.

Last week, the consistory decided to resume worship services.  So yesterday we met together and worshipped for the first time since March 15.  For the time being, we are worshipping by wards, with numbers capped at 40 (plus “staff”).  Those not able to attend in person can still make use of the live-stream.

So what was it like to finally worship together again yesterday?  It was joyful.  Being able to see some brothers and sisters again in person, to be together in God’s presence, to sing and pray together — it was all so beautiful.  It’s easy to take these things for granted, but when it’s been taken away from you, you appreciate it all the more.

It was also surprising.  I’ve thought that when we get back together again, we may have some surprises.  Yesterday, we had two visitors from the community — people we’ve never met before, who’ve never attended before.  We warmly welcomed them and pray to see them again.

Finally, it was also so much better for me as a preacher.  After weeks of preaching to the heartless, dark eye of a camera, I was so happy to be able to preach to real live people in front of me.  It’s just so different when you can actually see the people listening.  Preaching to a camera just isn’t the same — I don’t even know if it’s really preaching.  Of course, it was better than nothing, but preaching from the pulpit is incomparable.  The physicality of being together cannot be replaced and it can only be poorly imitated.

More restrictions are due to be lifted in the next few weeks.  It’s possible that the schedule may even be bumped up again and we can soon have more people in attendance at public worship.  Things are looking good here in Tassie and we praise God for that.  I do think of brothers and sisters elsewhere still languishing in “exile,” especially those who have to deal with the frustration of not being able to worship together while governments look the other way when it comes to riots and protests which violate public health guidelines.  It makes no sense.  May God give us all wisdom and patience!


FRC Launceston Wednesday Evening Message — Psalm 27

Last night I gave a live-streamed message on Psalm 27, “A confession of confidence and yet more confidence.”  This was my first time live-streaming from home — pardon the slight interruption at a certain point!  🙂  The broadcast starts about 2 minutes in.


Hey Busy Dad, Do You Have Some Time Now?

For many people, this COVID-19 crisis is starting to slow their lives down.  While we’re not in a total shut-down here in Tasmania yet, it might happen soon.  Certainly elsewhere in the world it already has.  In many places, only essential workers are allowed to leave their homes.  People are being forced to stay home and slow down.  You might look at that as a negative thing, but there’s also an opportunity here.

I’m thinking especially of those busy parents, and especially fathers, who used to say they didn’t have time for family worship.  Now, suddenly, you have the time.  You have plenty of time.  You’re at home, your kids are at home, so what reason could there be not to worship God together as a family?

It’s not hard to get started.  Find a set time each day.  Read the Bible with your family.  Discuss the Bible reading.  A great resource to help with that is the Family Worship Bible Guide.  Teach your children using a trusty catechism like the Heidelberg or the Westminster Shorter.  For that, our family has been using Starr Meade’s Training Hearts, Teaching Minds for nearly 20 years.  I can’t recommend it enough.  Then sing together.  Sing psalms and hymns — try to sing the same psalms and hymns that you’d sing in public worship.  This helps to reinforce the connection between your home and your church.  Finally, there’s prayer.  In our family, we each take turns praying.  Our children started doing this from about the age of 4.  They learn to pray (and lead in prayer) by doing it.

My prayer is that if you haven’t been doing regular daily family worship, you’ll start now while you have the time and energy.  Hopefully you’ll see the huge benefits that come from it — the most important of all being that your children are being taught as disciples of Jesus.  Then maybe, just maybe, when this all passes over and life gets back to normal, you’ll continue to make family worship a priority every day.  It’ll become your new normal.


FRC Launceston Wednesday Evening Message

As long as this crisis lasts (and we’re not able to gather for worship), I hope to do a regular Wednesday evening message for my congregation.  Last night I spoke on Psalm 121.