For the past several weeks, like most other pastors, I have been preaching to a camera. (I never thought I would ever type a sentence like that!) Yes, there is a very small team of productions and support people present. But basically, the sanctuary is empty…except for the camera.
I thought I was going to be more prepared for what that first Sunday would be like. Each week, on Thursdays, I preach my sermon to an empty sanctuary. It helps me to think through the content of my sermon and it also helps me to memorize the sermon. When I practice, I preach as if people were actually there.
I get excited and raise my voice.
I move around.
I even look around the room knowing that though the seats are empty on Thursday, they won’t be, come Sunday morning.
But all the years of doing that, week after week after week, did nothing to prepare me for the experience of preaching to a camera.
When we are live streaming, all of you can see me, or at least those who are watching can see me. But I can’t see you. I know you are there because we chat in the comment thread and I get see familiar names as you join the stream. But once I walk away from my laptop and stand in the pulpit, I can’t see you anymore. And to make things even more awkward, the people that I can see, the people who are actually there in the room with me, I can’t look at them. I have to pretend that they’re not there. I can only look at the camera and hope that all the wires and plugs and apps and whatever other technology is making all of this happen somehow all works so that the Word can be preached in your home.
There is something very sterile and mechanical about it all. I can’t hear any of you as you respond to what is being preached. There are no faces to see that give me a sense of what content is connecting and what is not. There aren’t any of those delightful noises that kids make during a service…you know the bustling around, the folding and tearing of paper, the opening of yet another bag of snacks, or the kid who decides to go full protest mode on his/her parents in the middle of the sermon. I know those sounds can seem like distractions, but I have often said that those are the sounds of discipleship. They are the sounds of living human beings doing what living human beings do. They are the sounds of life.
The camera doesn’t make any of those sounds. (I would guess that if the camera ever did make a sound, it would be a bad thing. But you get what I’m saying.)
When the people of God gather together, specifically when we gather together under the preached Word, something mysterious and special happens. And it’s not just a one-way street. Yes, the Word goes out, and it does whatever God wants it to do and the church receives from the work of the preacher. But the preacher of the Word also receives something from the church body. I’m not talking about the encouraging words that are sometimes offered following a sermon nor am I talking about ego-stroking. I’m talking about the shared experience of being in the sermon together. When I preach, I receive something from you by your presence and participation in the Word.
When I preach, I receive something from you by your presence and participation in the Word.
I take joy in it.
It is life-giving.
It is energizing.
A camera can’t do that.
I remember going into that first Sunday. I was thinking that because I was only preaching one sermon for our 10 AM Livestream instead of our three usual morning services, that I wouldn’t be as exhausted on Sunday afternoon as I usually am. But I was wrong. I was EXHAUSTED! I could barely drag myself off the couch. How could preaching one sermon be more exhausting than preaching three sermons?
As I shared my experience with some of my pastor friends, I found that they too all had similar experiences. There is just something soul-sucking about not being with people, and trying to preach your guts out to a piece of technology. It’s like one of those dementor scenes from Harry Potter.
So all of this…it’s just so weird. I know that’s not a great word, but it just seems to be the only word that captures this experience.
I don’t like it.
I would never choose it.
I’m ready for it to be over.
And yet, through all of this, I remain grateful. This is God’s grace to us. Can you imagine going through all of this without the limited connection that technology affords us? What if there wasn’t a camera to capture the liturgy and deliver it to us at home? I’ll take the weirdness of the camera over not being able to participate in worship at all.
What if there wasn’t a camera to capture the liturgy and deliver it to us at home? I’ll take the weirdness of the camera over not being able to participate in worship at all.
Because here is the truth. It’s no fun preaching to the camera. But it’s not a camera that I’m preaching to…it’s just a camera that I am preaching through.
That’s what I have to remember from my side of the camera.