If you remember the televangelist scandals of the 1980s, you may be living with the same sense of déjà vu that I am lately.
It seems like a weekly, if not daily occurrence that some preacher says or does something either cringey or downright sinful – and there’s video to prove it. The difference now is that the video is just as likely to be from an unknown pastor in a small, rural church as a famous TV preacher.
Why? Because almost everyone is live streaming their services now. But most preachers aren’t paying enough attention to the huge downsides of it.
More Than The In-Room Congregation
It used to be that if you said something regretful in a sermon (which I’m certainly guilty of) the only people who heard it were those who were sitting in front of you plus maybe a few folks who bought an audio tape or CD.
The people who heard you, knew you. If you slipped up, they either let it go or personally challenged you on it. But that was as far as it went.
Even if what was said was truly offensive and was leading the congregation down a dangerous, heretical road, the damage usually stayed within the walls of that church. It had very little likelihood of causing widespread damage.
People Are Watching
Now that your church is live streaming your service everything you say is immediately available for people to see, hear, edit and distribute to hundreds, thousands, even millions of people.
I don’t think there are more pastors saying or doing regrettable things now. They’re just more public than ever before.
And here’s the sad reality – while your typical live-streaming sermon may only be seen by a handful of people who couldn’t make it to church that day, if you say something regrettable, the likelihood that it will be passed along to others increases dramatically.
In the live stream world, your worst mistakes are far more likely to go viral than your best sermons.
And that’s not going to change. It’s going to increase dramatically.
So here are 11 principles to help you and your church use technology well, while lowering the risk of going viral for all the wrong reasons:
1. Get The Theology Right
Pastors, now more than ever we need to spend time on sermon prep. Stay out of shallow theological waters. Before you quote a verse make sure you’re matching it to its original context.
Don’t assume that the theology you hear from your favorite preacher is right. Confirm it first. Take the necessary time in research, study and prayer to keep your message biblical, factual and helpful.
2. Get Your Facts Straight
The good news is, you can look up facts very easily. The bad news is, so can those who are watching you. If you make a factual error, even on a minor, non-theological point, it undermines your credibility.
For example, it’s common for people to say that “half of all marriages end in divorce.” A simple online search will show you that’s not true. It’s based on a misreading of data that has been repeated ad nauseum.
Would that one error be a huge issue? Maybe not. But it might make viewers ask “what else could that preacher be getting wrong?”
Your online audience is more likely to fact-check you and less likely to forgive your errors than the in-person congregation is.
3. Do Less Ad-libbing
If your preaching is more off-the-cuff, I respect that. I wish I could do it.
But what is exciting in person is dangerous online. The more you ad-lib, the more likely you’ll say something you’ll regret.
4. Be Aware Of How You Come Across On Camera
Some things that work in person come across very differently on a screen.
5. Consider Pre-recording Instead Of Going Live
Far more people are likely to watch your service in the days after it went live than while it’s happening. In other words, your live stream isn’t live to most people.
For many, maybe most churches, the risks of going live online are higher than the rewards. Pre-record your service instead.
It’s not hard to set your camera to “record”, then announce a premiere time for when the service will be online. In the meantime, you can edit out that error so you don’t have to regret it later.
6. Avoid Inside Jokes, Language And Politics
It’s really easy to fall into the habit of speaking in ways that everyone in the room gets, but those watching online won’t understand.
Save the insider language for when you’re in offline conversations.
7. Address The Camera Occasionally
Not only will this make the online viewer feel noticed, it reminds the speaker that there are more people watching than just the friendly faces in the room.
8. Don’t Be A Jerk
Sorry, but I had to include this. I didn’t want to but I saw a couple recent pastor clips in which, well, they were just being jerks.
Many of the cringey pastor videos are because of simple mistakes, slips of the tongue, or naïvete. But some of them are mean, hurtful, angry and cruel. This shouldn’t happen in person or online. In public or private. In church or at home.
9. Walk With Integrity
I could live with the cringey preacher videos. I wish that was all we were seeing.
But far worse than the slip-ups and lack of wisdom from many pulpits is the increasing number of pastors and church leaders bringing shame to the church, their families and themselves by sinful, sometimes criminal behavior.
By far, the worst aspect of the bad behavior of church leaders is the harm to the victims. The trail of damaged people coming out of our churches is deep, tragic and seemingly endless.
Too many of us are living double lives. We’re saying one thing from the pulpit, but living shadow lives at home – or away from home.
What we say needs to match how we live.
10. Be Accountable
Who do you have in your life who will tell you when you’ve messed up?
We all need that. Trusted people who know us and will hold us accountable for our worst behavior, while encouraging and strengthening our best traits.
11. Make It All About Jesus
The closer we get to Jesus the more universal, applicable and helpful our message will be. And the less likely that we’ll say or do something wrong, stupid or sinful.
Certainly, we will all say things that offend some people. The gospel carries offense. But it’s better to offend people with the gospel than because we’re behaving in a way that’s counter to the gospel.
If we’re drawing closer to Jesus, then letting that light shine through us, we’ll have far less to regret and far more to be thankful for.
(Photo by Melyna Valle | Unsplash)