Maybe this has been said before; people listen to too many online sermons. Sure, the problem is probably limited to reformed-ish churchgoers, but that's the tank I swim in, so it seems like everybody. I've noticed a few damaging side effects that I would like to share with you, maybe to encourage you to listen to less online sermons, but at least to help you use your "I've Heard All of Piper's Sermons for Seven Years" Powers for good and not for evil. I'll be brief.
First, let me state some of the positives of online sermons:
1. Some preachers are brilliant, and their sermons rightly should encourage multitudes throughout history.
2. Some people miss a Sunday or two every once in a while, and it would be nice to hear what their community (read "local church") is thinking about in their absence.
3. It makes it easy for churches who want to learn more about potential pastoral candidates.
4. There are undoubtedly othersâ€”supply some in your comments!
I have friends who listen to 4-5 sermons a week by the heavy hitters: Keller, Piper, Driscoll, Carson, Dever, Sproul, etc. That's 3-4 hours of online sermons per week. Maybe that's 3-4 hours of otherwise wasted commuting time being redeemed. Maybe it's 3-4 hours of time each week that could otherwise be used in practicing what that Christian already knows from hundreds or thousands of hours of sermons. Who knows? But that's 156-208 hours per year. Just thought I'd add those hours up for you.
Here's the real problem. When you listen on a regular basis to some of the best sermons in the history of the world, your expectations change. Suddenly you become a first class sermon critic (even if you're not a seminary homiletics professor). You think more about the structure and delivery of sermons than letting the content have its way with your heart and mind. You begin to have all kinds of advice for your local minister (even though he didn't ask for it). You won't vote for that good minister to become your minister because he doesn't preach a top-notch sermon (even though the Gospel is warm and clear in his preaching).
Suddenly it becomes pretty easy for your faithful pastor to feel second-rate, and for you to feel dissatisfied in your local church, needing to get your sermon fix online during the week because that guy in the pulpit just doesn't feed you like [insert preaching hero]. Who cares that your pastor was well trained for years, pours out his lifeblood for the flock, and does the best he can to be faithful with what talents God has given him, often to the poverty and suffering of his entire family for the sake of the Gospel? Who cares that the man knows you, and knows how the Word of God applies to you in your particular culture, workplace and family?
I'm not saying the online sermon is always an impersonal, nonthreatening, general theological addressâ€”but it's hardly ever aimed right at your soul, with your pastor's labors and prayers driving it home for your eternal good. The benefit of living in a real community with a spiritual shepherd (or shepherds) intimately watching over your life and doctrine should not be supplanted by anything, yet the excellent online sermon can be a subtle usurper.
What, then? I don't know, maybe listening to all those online sermons has convinced you that your preacher actually is a heretic, and you need to find another church! But (more likely) maybe you could survive with less online sermons, and more direct Bible reading. Maybe you could use that time you usually set aside for online sermons to volunteer somewhere, like your kids' school or the local shelter. Maybe you could meet with your pastor and let him tell you what you need to change.
However, you probably at least should pray that you don't become an online sermon elitist who wishes you lived in [insert preaching hero]'s city so you could go to that church every Sunday. You have a church. You have a minister. If the man's not a heretic, commit yourself to prayer, that you would be contentâ€”even happyâ€”with where God has you. Certainly, be thankful that you live in an age when God's truth abounds, so that you have access to life-changing preaching as quickly as you can click on that bookmark. But let that truth work in you a real love for your own Gospel community and shepherd, however simple they may be. If you've really heard all those sermons by Piper & Gang, you know they'd probably say the same thing.