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Pastor Porn: 5 Ways the Internet Is Reshaping A Church Leader’s Soul

pastor porn

If you’re a pastor or preacher of any kind, you probably feel the pressure more than you ever have.

I was having lunch with another conference speaker last week at an event I was speaking at, and we were talking about the pressure of communicating well.

We both commiserated that we felt incredible and unhealthy pressure to make an audience laugh and tell amusing stories because it seems that’s what almost everyone else does these days.

He asked me whether I’ve always felt that pressure and suddenly, for me, the light went on.

Actually, no. I never used to feel that pressure.

My mind went back to 1995 when I first started preaching regularly. I don’t ever remember thinking I needed to be funny or engaging.

I know this sounds altruistic (and it will be hard to understand if you’re under 35 and have only really known a connected world), but I just wanted to do a good job bringing God’s word to life in a relevant way that would help reach more people.

The more I thought about it, the more I wondered whether I ever thought about telling funny stories in the first decade of ministry. I actually don’t think it was ever a conscious thought.

I wondered why, and then it hit me.

There was no internet. Or at least not the internet we know today.

Sure, me and about 20% of the population had dial-up access, but the internet in those days was like hunting for food with clubs in the caveman era. There was pretty much no audio, and definitely no video. Only the rich had cell phones, and they were dumb phones, not smart phones. You used them to make phone calls and that was it.

To listen to another speaker or preacher, you had to order the cassette or CD by mail (remember those?) and you had to pay for them. Which means, practically speaking, few ever did.

As a result, there was just you and your congregation. And maybe the churches within a 20-mile radius, which you had to visit to see what was going on. Which means, again, practically speaking few ever did.

All I wanted to do was to speak to our church in a way that was accurate to the Scriptures and in a way that helped them as much as possible.

And I did. We saw incredible growth and life change.

And Then The Internet Happened

My goodness, how things have changed.

We still see growth and life-change at our church, for which I’m exceptionally grateful, and I still preach regularly. But I now feel a pressure I never used to feel when I’m preaching. An unhealthy pressure.

My friend diagnosed the problem as pastor porn. As soon as he said it, I knew what he meant.

The explosion of the internet and availability of instant media anytime anywhere in any field means we now have the ability to instantly compare ourselves, grade ourselves and measure ourselves against the best communicators and preachers on planet earth. Or forget other preachers—you can find TED talks, comedians, or other professional communicators any day, all day.

And not only do we do that, hundreds or thousands of the people we lead have exactly the same access. And many use it.

Which means us locals are being compared against the greatest speakers and leaders on the planet. Not just by ourselves, but by everyone.

In the same way porn is killing intimacy in marriage, pastor porn is killing health in congregations.

And consequently, you and I feel a pressure we never used to.

I’m not claiming any of these are good things.

I’m just saying they’re real things. And we aren’t 100% sure how to navigate the tension.

Here are 5 ways the internet is reshaping the lives and souls of church leaders and ministry.

1. Good Preaching Brings Less Reward Than It Used To

Before we became so connected, good preaching was adequate to help grow a church.

After all, most people only knew the preaching of any other church they’d attended, whether that’s the church they grew up in or a church in another town, or the church down the road they used to go to.

Even unchurched people had almost no sense of what good preaching was because they had nothing to compare it to.

As long as you were a decent preacher who could bridge the biblical world with our world, you were effective. If you were a terrible communicator, sure your church would pay a price. But if you could hold your own, things were usually okay.

Now it’s just more complicated.

Almost everyone who visits your church has at least checked you out online, and has either heard you or watched you via podcast, your online service or your website.

They’ve also likely heard and watched other preachers, in the same way you check out the menu and reviews of different restaurants before you go there.

Now, because of a host of online options, the expectation is that every pastor will be a good or great communicator.

Which means that if you’re not as good as most, your church pays a significant price. And if you’re just as good as most others, it won’t necessarily have the same positive impact as it used to when there was little to compare it to.

Simply put, here’s the net effect: Good preaching doesn’t necessarily grow a church anymore, but bad preaching can kill it.

I’m not arguing that this is right or good. I’m just saying it’s probably true.

Yes, Christ is present in all preaching.

And even if your congregation doesn’t actually have the attention span of a goldfish, something’s changed.

2. Instant Comparison is The New Normal

Because everyone has access to the best communicators on the planet for free on their phones, comparison has skyrocketed.

In the same way millions of people compare their homes and yards to the idealistic standards of HGTV and Pinterest, people now compare the average preacher to the best preachers alive.

If that wasn’t challenging enough, pastors play the same game.

We watch and listen to our favorites and then try to measure up.

Sadly, pastors, you don’t need anyone else to compare you to others. You do it all by yourself.

For sure comparison can have a positive upside. I can study, watch and learn how to become better at what I do.

But that’s not the only impact it has on me or on you.

Comparison almost always leaves us feeling empty, unfulfilled and frankly, miserable.

It leaves us wishing we were someone else, and denying who God created us to be.

As Andy Stanley has so helpfully said, celebrate what God has given others. Leverage what God has given you.

And if you’re thinking I wish I could come up with principles as memorably as Andy Stanley, well, you’ve kind of missed the point.

See how deep-seated comparison is?

3. Plagiarism Has Become a Serious Problem

Plagiarism is a rising problem in the church.

Three factors push more and more church leaders to steal other material.

First, we have access to more free resources than ever before. And faced with the pressures of a full work week, it’s tempting to take shortcuts. Your idea bank might be empty, but you know the internet isn’t. Getting a little inspiration or doing research can become outright theft pretty quickly if you don’t put the brakes on.

Second, it’s easy to feel the pressure of wanting to be funny and clear like Andy Stanley, passionate like Craig Groeschel and commanding like Steven Furtick. Why create your own style and material when you can rip off someone else?

Third, too many preachers play the horribly insecure game of asking “Am I as clever/funny/powerful as _________ is?” And we convince ourselves the best shortcut to being something we probably should never aspire to be is to steal their stuff.

I think the worst part of plagiarism is that it kills your trust in God.

You don’t need to wrestle with the text, wrestle with God, go to the wall with your ideas, or prayerfully try to engage how a message is going to impact your church if you’re stealing someone else’s material. You forfeit the tough joy of creating something different that God could use.

When you plagiarize, the first casualty is your creativity. The second is your soul.

On episode 1 of my leadership podcast, I asked Andy Stanley how he felt when other leaders used his material. I love his answer, which you can listen to here.

4. Insecurity is on the Rise

All of this has most of us a little insecure.

I get that.

But the ubiquitous comparison and uncertainty we see today don’t have to drive you into a dark place.

Instead, they can make you stronger.

I know I’ve had honest conversations with God about why I’m not as funny as my friend Jon Acuff, or why I don’t have the muscles of Craig Groeschel (That was a short prayer—he works out and eats clean), or why I don’t have the cool of other pastors.

And you know what grows out of those heartfelt prayers, self-examination, and trips to the counselor’s office?

Peace—peace with who God made me to be.

Do I like it every day? No. But I know he loves me. And I know he’s using me however he deems fit.

A few years ago I had the chance to talk to Charles Stanley about some things I was going through in a tough season. He gave me the same advice he’s given millions of others. Fully obey God. And trust God with the outcome. 

That’s a great recipe for security.

I need to fully lean into whatever opportunities God has given me, and then trust him for the outcomes.

If you want the outcome more than you want to be obedient, you’ll always be disappointed. And insecure.

5. There’s More Genuine Connection Than Ever Before

Although we need to be aware of the negative, there are also tremendous positive in the midst of it too.

Nobody’s turning the clock back, and your job and my job is to figure out how to thrive in a constantly changing world.

One of many things I’ve loved about the last decade is the unprecedented opportunity we have to connect with each other and support each other.

I have a lot of local friends, but I have a new set of life-giving friendships with leaders who live hundreds or thousands of miles away.

Often when things start to corrode my soul, I’ll text or message a friend miles away who can come alongside for the journey.

I’m also loving the support I’m seeing in the private Facebook Group we’ve set up for leaders going through the Breaking 200 Without Breaking You online course, which is about breaking church growth barriers. Watching church leaders interact in the group in such profound ways is so encouraging.

The reality for leaders today is this: you don’t have to be alone—unless you choose to be.

Thoughts?

Any thoughts on what you’re feeling, experiencing or seeing?

While all of this isn’t great, it is the reality we’re navigating.

And it’s not going to slow down any time soon. My iPhone X arrives in a few weeks. And I have a message I’m finishing for this weekend.

Welcome to ministry today.

Scroll down and leave a comment!

(PS. You can get into the community in Breaking 200 any time you wish. The course is open and accessible here.)

9 Comments

  1. David Holder on November 8, 2017 at 1:42 pm

    Ok. I subscribed to the podcast. Andy Stanley’s interview is on the web, but when I go to the store, the podcasts start at 002. What am I doing wrong?

  2. Rick Bundschuh on November 2, 2017 at 12:02 pm

    Good observations of the problem Carey, may I propose some solutions? (Warning, drastic sea change ahead). I think we are at the place where we need to rethink how we deliver the most valuable message in the world to a culture where the old delivery form of the 30 minute monologue is less and less effective (unless you have the chops and time to create the kind messages that engage a less and less engaged audience) Could it be that we should explore breaking up our message into digestible bits or using tools of media creatively, or building messages with a team rather than the confines of our study, or thinking of how we can involve more of the senses or allow the audience to participate without allowing for chaos? Having spent many years in the Youth Ministry trenches before stepping in the “pulpit” I saw this coming and have worked hard to bring about changes that having sticking power and yet are Biblically muscular. But the landscape of the Sunday message delivery had to change in doing so.

  3. Dale Critchley on November 2, 2017 at 12:32 am

    While this may be true for some, it’s not my experience.

    I *wish* my people were filling their podcast playlists with sermons instead of political talk.

    And while I mostly use Andy’s preaching book as an outline, listening to great preachers has helped me improve my craft. I’ve learned passion from Steven Furtik and Derwin Gray. I’ve learned casual from Andy. I’ve learned other techniques and tricks from others. I love sitting at the feet of the masters and learning from them. And I love being on the receiving end of a sermon.

  4. Doug U on November 1, 2017 at 9:11 am

    This also applies to worship leaders with very little variation. I am constantly being approached by people who have been “moved and inspired” by a song they heard at a conference or a YouTube video they were forwarded by a friend. However, disappointment sets in when our worship team does the song. Why?

    1. Because we are a team of volunteer musicians who have families and jobs and do not have the time to practice our instruments 6-7 hours a day.
    2. Because we don’t have the professional sound tech and production crews to polish and shape the performance.
    3. Because we don’t have the same instrumentation to directly translate the music.

    Musicians have always faced this since recorded music was invented, however, the “commercialization” of worship music and all the reasons above. I just recently left a church where I was told “we are going in a different direction”, loosely interpreted, “our pastor just went to a worship conference where he was moved by the style of the music and desires that type of experience”. 10 years of musical and spiritual development cast aside because we didn’t sound like another, professionally trained team.

    I am weary of worship conferences that set up unrealistic expectations and are built for musicians that are full time and ignore the challenges of bi-vocational worship leaders like me. I would gladly pay money to go to a conference where the worship team fits the profile of my ministry and not a bunch of highly paid professionals.

  5. Scott on October 31, 2017 at 9:13 pm

    As always, great thoughts, Carey! I have one observation. I remember from your first podcast hearing Andy address how he feels about people using his material – which he didn’t encourage. His comments came across negatively. And, again, you referenced his comments in your above post about “stealing”. Yet, the very week I heard Andy make those comments on your podcast I received an advertisement from North Point about how to use Andy’s sermon materials in our church. It was a full color ad encouraging pastors to purchase and re-preach his series. Ever since then, I have received several emails, mailers, etc. from North Point and Andy with ways to redo their/his sermon series. If Andy discourages it and you see it “stealing”, why all the ads encouraging it?

  6. Heartspeak on October 31, 2017 at 4:24 pm

    The internet has changed preaching because it’s now a ‘commodity’. i.e. readily available from many sources and consequently, preaching is not now the sole distinctive of a local church upon which one makes an attendance decision. If the sum total of my ‘need’ to go to church is to hear a good sermon, I no longer have to attend church. Knowledge, truth and the Gospel are readily available via ‘good sermons’ on the internet.

    So now, the question for Christ-followers is not where can I go to get ‘fed’ (thankfully) but where do I gather with other believers to be equipped for the ministry of reconciliation? It requires a more holistic focus on other aspects of our gathering together than just ‘the Sunday morning talk. Large churches have a good ‘talker’, usually one who is also, coincidentally, available via the web. Our fascination and absorption with good talkers now places us in this quandary of competing with the talkers.

    Instead, local churches should be asking themselves, what can we provide beyond ‘knowledge’ and ‘good talking’ that will enhance the local gathering of the Body? Despite the fact that some measure of increased relationship can occur over/via the Net, neither the web nor the large churches do well at providing the presence of relationships. Relationships to mentor, to model, to encourage, to experience the ‘one anothers’ require a local presence and cannot be adequately duplicated or transmitted via the web or mass weekly gatherings. I suggest that this is the task of the local gatherings that needs to be reintroduced and emphasized beyond the Sunday talk.

    (btw, the porn terminology insinuates that getting one’s knowledge and listening to ‘other’ preaching is somehow bad, lazy or otherwise negative and should be avoided. I don’t think that’s the real issue…)

  7. Randy Willis on October 31, 2017 at 12:02 pm

    As a lay person I have found online podcast to be valuable to my growth and my ability to form my faith.
    Explanation:
    I grew up in a church and under one mans teaching. I (along with others) naturally took on his brand and belief to form our faith. We don’t get to spend our days in study and wrestling with deep theology.
    In early 20’s walked away from rules based religion. Many years later came back to faith when teaching was different and abundant life was the focus. Totally different from how I’d been taught.
    Now reach out and listen to everything from Stanley, Spirgeon, Bell and Mclaren. Now I can continually work out my salvation with fear and trembling!
    Thanks for your leadership!

  8. Gary Durbin on October 31, 2017 at 9:14 am

    Wow…so very true and honest. Thanks for writing this. I’ve actually been thinking about this issue a lot lately…more so as a worship leader. I should probably write a worship leader angle on this. The pressure is real, but it hasn’t always been there.

    • Doug Uyechi on November 1, 2017 at 9:12 am

      I’d be happy to team up with you on this, Gary, I just wrote a comment about the exact same thing for worship leaders…

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