Recommended Preachers Online
As I reflected on my lack of spiritual vitality earlier this year (2007), I concluded that it would help to have more Christian input into my mind. Once a week at church and an occasional devotion wouldn’t cut it. To keep my mind on spiritual things, I needed to hear the Christian message more often. One easy way for me to do that is to listen to online Christian audio, so I set out to collect some.
As things usually go with me, the project quickly expanded beyond all reasonable proportion, and instead of gathering two or three sources I could rely on for insight and inspiration, I decided to find as many as I could, searching in a comprehensive and semi-systematic fashion. And by comprehensive, I mean searching every city (above a certain size) in every state in the US. And then expanding to other English-speaking countries after that. That’s what I’m shooting for anyway. In reality I’ll search until I get tired of it. At some point I may expand the project to include speakers that aren’t attached to a church.
My overall procedure is to take the states in the order of their importance to me and search for churches by city, starting with the largest. I didn’t start out this way—I tried alphabetically first, so the map began with some random churches in Alabama—but officially the first state in the list is Illinois, and the first city is Chicago. And then along the way I’ve thought of churches in other states I knew I wanted to include, and I’ve listened to sermons at my friends’ churches from around the country, so I’ve interrupted my orderly progression to add some of those.
Normally I would keep a list like this in my bookmarks, but since the data was geographical, I thought it would be fun to make a Google map out of it, which I have linked to above. My bookmarks are holding the raw results of my search, and to make my decisions, I’m taking more detailed notes in a Zoho Creator database.
In addition to collecting more listening material than I could ever possibly take in and stimulating my thoughts and feelings on spiritual matters, this project has come with some unexpected side benefits. One is that I feel more connected with different parts of the country. If Birmingham, Alabama, comes up in a conversation, I can think, Ah, I know something about Birmingham. I’ve listened to some good preachers there. If a natural disaster sweeps through, I can wonder how my churches there are doing. If on a Sunday I’m traveling in an area that has churches on my list, I can visit one of them and gain a more personal connection. If I have a friend who needs a church, I can refer them to my list, if I’ve covered their area; or I can take the project on a detour through their city to see what I can find. For my friends who go to churches on my list, it gives me a little more of a connection with them and more topics for conversation.
And finally, this project lets me exercise one of my joys in life, which is to find hidden treasure and share it with people who might not have found it otherwise. Some of the preachers in the list are well known, but there are pastors out there who are unknown but still good, and they deserve a wider audience. So by posting my discoveries online, I can hopefully give them a bit more exposure and put a few more people in touch with their unique perspectives and good preaching, and the happiness and well-being in the world can be increased. :)
This list is extremely subjective. While there are a few things I look for, I don’t apply a rigorous and objective rubric to each church. The question that determines whether a church makes the list is, Would I listen to this preacher regularly? If the answer is probably or yes, they go on the map. (If it’s maybe, I come back to it later and listen to a sermon or two more to decide.) So this is not a list of all the good churches in the world or even all the good preachers, just the ones I have personally found to be especially worth listening to so far. Obviously someone else would have a different list. Also, since most of these decisions are based on a single sermon, I will take a church off the list if I change my mind about it on later listenings.
I do keep my ears open for a few basic characteristics. I prefer speakers who have a more natural speaking style, as opposed to a highly affected one. I gravitate toward thoughtful pastors who are speaking to audiences who already have the basics of Christianity under their belt and who are looking to live it more effectively. I like hearing preachers who express the Christian message in new ways, rather than delivering the same old content with the same old language. And I appreciate a balance between exegesis and application. If it’s unbalanced, I’d rather it be on the application side. I am also a conservative Protestant, so you will see a clear bias toward this category in my list, which also I think comes from the fact that they seem to care more about preaching and getting their message out into the public.
Since there are potentially thousands of preachers who fit these criteria, I also keep a few limiting questions in mind: Is this speaker unique enough to stick in my mind? Is he or she easily ignorable (by being overly academic, rambling, or boring in some other way)? Does the speaker express a lot of opinions I disagree with without adding anything to my understanding? Is this speaker annoyingly liberal or conservative? I am more tolerant of conservatism, but I will turn them off if they’re too simple minded for me. And although I am fairly ecumenical, I skip over churches that don’t fit into what I would consider orthodox Christianity, so no Mormon, Christian Science, or Unitarian churches. Seventh-Day Adventists are a little too iffy; they’re out too.
Most of these criteria can be overridden by others in particular cases. Sometimes I can overlook an affected speaking style if the preacher is especially reflective. Or I can forgive a simple message if I feel inspired by the speaker’s sincerity. And I also look for certain specific preaching styles that I wouldn’t normally listen to because occasionally I do feel like listening to them. Sometimes I’m in an “old time religion” mood, for example, which is normally when I turn on Family Radio, even though Harold Camping is kind of a heretic. And of course my friends’ churches get special consideration. ;) Though they are not automatically included. -.- Even if they’re the preacher.
The list linked to below corresponds to the placemarks on the map. It should be updated often while I’m on this project, except when I take breaks to concentrate on other things, and the changes will be reflected on the Recent Changes page and in the corresponding “all updates” feed. The churches on this page are arranged by state, then by city, then by church name. The Google map list is arranged in the order in which I added them.