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My most recent publication is the Tyndale New Testament Commentary on the Book of Revelation. You can order it from Amazon and other online retailers (make sure you order mine, and not the previous edition by Leon Morris!), or directly from the publisher on the IVP website.

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Preaching online in virtual church

In what ways is preaching online to a virtual congregation different from preaching in a physically gathered church? How might we need to adapt to this new situation?

Before answering this question, it is worth pausing to reflect on why we need to address it. 

First, we are likely to be in this situation for some time. It might be that, in the UK, we do begin to see the cases of Covid-19 plateau in the next few weeks. But that means that the current restrictions will only begin to be lifted in, say, two months, and we might not be allowed to gather again in large groups for a further month or two. So we are in for the medium haul at least—and until a vaccine is developed in the next 18 months, restrictions might have to return, before the next coronavirus comes along in five years’ time. 

Secondly, in the last few weeks have enjoyed something of a novelty period, with a little frisson of excitement for some at the challenge of a new situation, lots of hard work by others getting online, and many people cheering the efforts from the sideline. But the novelty will wear off! When virtual church becomes more routine, we need to be able to offer something that works in a more mundane time. 

Thirdly, as many have testified, it appears as though online church has attracted a good number of ‘extras’, people looking in who would not normally have darkened the doors of a church building (perhaps because they were never invited?) but who can easily sit in the virtual back row without being noticed. We owe it to them to communicate well. And we might want to continue to engage with them in continued online ministry in the future, now that we have done all this work and learning, and found a way to connect with them.

Finally, like engagement in all kinds of broadcast media, learning to preach well online will actually give us skills that we can take back into preaching IRL. When I taught preaching over a decade in a residential theological college, I encouraged the students to take every opportunity that they could to speak in a range of different contexts, including on radio and, if possible, television. Each medium context tests and develops new skills, and being online is no exception to that. 

In our thinking, though we need to recognise that online ‘preaching’ isn’t the same as preaching IRL. All online interactions are only a partial expression of actual relationships, and ultimately depend on and must feed into real life encounters. Phillips Brooks described preaching as ‘Truth expressed through personality’, and to the extent that people only encounter us in part online, they only experience preaching in part—they cannot see the whole, unedited person that they know. Nevertheless, online ‘preaching’ is clearly going to be important in the interim.