In the September issue of U.S. News and World Report, Mortimer Zuckerman (I love that name!) had an interesting column on technology and education. Contending that the number one factor affecting the quality of education is the quality of the indivdual teacher, Zuckerman says technology could be the number one solution through what he calls "technology teaching."
He says, "We could escape geography by using the technology to have the best teachers appear in hundreds of thousands of disparate classrooms. This is a force multiplier. The classrooms would be equipped with a large, flat-screen monitor with whiteboards on either side; the monitor would be connected to a school server that contains virtually all of the lessons for every subject taught in the school, from kindergarten through 12th grade. The contents would use animation, video, dramatization, and presentation options to deliver complete lessons, to convey ideas in unique ways that are now unavailable in conventional classrooms..."
The church I serve is about 90 minutes away from Church of the Resurrection, by attendance the largest United Methodist Chuch in the country. When I first came to Burlington I met with committee chairs and other key leaders one-on-one to find out more about the church, it's strengths, and places were growth was needed. When I asked, "What one change do you believe would make the biggest impact on our church" one person responded "Have Adam Hamilton (pastor at COR) as our pastor!" Not the best way to make a first impression on the new pastor! But we live in an age now when well known pastors are ... well known. And while I consider myself to be a pretty decent preacher, I'll never be Adam Hamilton. So how does the pastor fulfill the preaching responsibility in a church when so many of our people have seen Adam Hamilton or Rick Warren or (name your favorite preacher here)? I think there's two possibilities. One is to be very deliberate in contextualizing the preaching for your church. Those preachers may be phenomenal, but none of them know Burlington, Kansas. Another solution in some cases may be the "if you can't beat them, join them" approach, which the same technology that Zuckerman talked about.
What if primary preaching at a church took place from the senior pastor of another church? If the local pastor were given a preview of what the sermon was going to address, then the pastor could take on the role of "local expert" to help address questions that the preaching pastor never would have time to get to. Zuckerman says "technology teaching" could give classroom teachers the extra time to help students with particular needs or to focus more in depth in particular areas. If you are a pastor, what would your schedule look like if you didn't have to prepare a sermon every week? What if you spent, say, half that time doing research so you could go deeper into the subject that was going to be preached on and spent the other half helping address the particular needs of your location?
This is certainly not the answer for all churches. Probably not the solution for most churches. But some of our churches, especially those with pastors who understand caring as a greater skill than preaching, could be greatly served in this way.