MP3 Will Change Your
Life and Ministry

If you have ever listened to a sermon on tape, get ready for the MP3 revolution.

I would estimate that more than a third of the things I have learned since seminary have come through the medium of the audio cassette. Maybe closer to half. That is all changing.

MP3 is changing my life and will soon change yours. (If it has not done so already.) The sooner it does, the quicker you can take advantage of the greatest audio revolution since the cassette tape. Many churches distribute their pastor’s messages through cassette tape. Many pastors listen to cassette tapes of sermons, conferences and books. MP3: same concept different medium. MP3: same concept better medium.

MP3 is better for two reason: smaller and open. Smaller makes it easily deliverable through the Internet. With the ubiquitous nature of CD Writers and CD players becoming standard in our cars now, the ability to write to a CD is better than cassette tapes. (I was driving a 14-year old car until this summer so I hadn’t picked up on this trend.) Cassettes may well go the way of 8 tracks and LP records.

MP3 format is open. This means that a wide variety of vendors and manufacturers will support the format. This is in contrast to a format like RealAudio, which is proprietary. You can write MP3 to a CD and listen to it in your car. This is only true of certain kinds of RealAudio. Most streaming RealAudio you can't. This is why MP3 is better.

The future however, is not to write MP3s to CD format. It is to listen to the MP3s directly. My son’s CD player in his car, for example can play data CDs in MP3 format. On one CD he can fit a couple of hundred songs. (Don’t get me started on why my son has a better CD player than his dad.) I recently purchased a portable CD player that also reads data files in MP3 format. It was a real blessing on my trip to Australia. (I am sitting in a hotel room in Melbourne as I write this.) I was able to get practically my whole library of CDs, as well as 20 or so sermons to listen to on the trip on a thin stack of CDs.

My next gizmo will no doubt be a MP3 player that actually has a hard disk, a 20 Gig hard disk in it. About the size of a Palm, this should satisfy all my listening pleasure for years.

MP3 came under the radar for me because, although I have been aware of it for some time, I thought of it as a music format. MP3 is the format of the great Napster controversy. I think my son has about 20 Gig of hard drive space devoted to songs. I am oh-too familiar with MP3. In one of my great moments from "Duh" it occurred to me that it is not a music format, it is an audio format. Although I enjoy listening to music, the real benefit to me is a delivery method for the spoken words. I have been listening to sermons on tape for years. No more. Color me MP3.

I have already found a few sites that have downloadable MP3s that are either free or reasonable priced. A year from now there will be hundreds. Two years from now every pastor who now makes their sermons available on tape will have their sermons on the Web in MP3 format. Most of them will be free. You will soon be able to download any sermon from any pastor anywhere in the world. In fact, let me lay down a challenge. If you currently make audio tapes of your pastor's sermons, and you don't do it primarily to make money, consider posting these sermons to your church's website. Anyone with a CD writer can burn their own CDs.

Here are a few sites I have found so far:

  • John Piper forever changed my life when he wrote Desiring God. I have enjoyed listening to his sermons each week, a free download at his site at  Way to go, John! Bless you! I hope this will be the model of all churches.

  • I was speaking on the Holiness of God for my recently released interactive video on The God We Enjoy - coming to savor God in all of his attributes. I remembered enjoying R.C. Sproul’s book and tapes on the subject. Tapes which I have, of course, lost. As they say here in Australia, no worries. For $2.50 per session I can download the six part series for $15.00, write them to a CD and walla! I am not sure how long it would have taken me to order the tapes and get them in, by I am sure it would have taken longer than the download. Plus, I can listen to these in my car. Address:

  • has thousands of titles available for about the price of the equivalent audio book. (These are not exactly MP3 format. They come in a variety of compression formats.) Most of these titles are secular books. They have thousands of titles so the 10% or so that are Christian turn out to be a long list of Christian books available for instant download. I downloaded Larry Crabb’s book Connecting and am enjoying them as I drive. I am thinking through the ethics of sharing these files. If I buy a set a tapes, I can obviously loan them to you. If I buy a audio file, is there a problem with sharing this audio file? (This is the stuff of the Napster controversy.)

  • My friend Sam Shaw is the pastor of Germantown Baptist in greater Memphis, TN. You may not have heard of him, but he is one of my all time favorite preachers. His church’s web page is hosted by The Details Group . All of his sermons are available to listen to for free in RealAudio format, or for $2.50 in MP3.

  • has many well known preachers’ sermons available. Anyone who has a radio program is on this site. Sadly, most are currently in RealAudio format, not MP3. This will change. They currently have 6 presenters messages in MP3. Cost: $3.00.

  • My friend David Delgado makes his songs available in both RealAudio and MP3 format.

  • has a million sermons available, all in MP3, although I had not heard of most of the presenters. Ken Ham of the Institute of Creation Research is available, as is Charles Spurgeon. I am not sure how that last one works.

This is just a sample of a few of the sites I have found in the last couple of weeks. You may have other favorites. Others are on the way.

Let me challenge you to look into putting your church's message on your church's website for free. Even compressed, the files are somewhat large, so you might have to limit the number you can keep online at one time, as does John Piper. Hard disk space is really cheap, so I suspect cheap hosting solutions that include multi-gig capacity will come soon.

I suspect that over a third of the things I learn in the next decade will come through the medium of MP3. Join the revolution!


The Difference at Willowcreek is not what you think

I recently visited Willowcreek Community Church. (  or  It occurred to me that the difference at Willowcreek is not what I have always thought.

I have always thought the difference at Willowcreek had to do with a unique philosophy of ministry, especially as it relates to seeker services. I am in a lot of churches, and after being at Willowcreek twice, I can tell you the difference is not a philosophical one.

I saw two main differences at Willowcreek.

At Willowcreek, the soloists sing in tune. At Willowcreek, the landscaping is manicured. At Willowcreek, things are done with an incredible level of excellence. In many of the churches I visit, excellence is not pursued. This is the first difference at Willowcreek.

At most churches the soloist rolls her eyes and smiles in a goofy way so as to cue the sound guy to start up the tape. This doesn't happen at Willowcreek. At most churches there are little stacks of old literature in virtually every classroom. This isn't true at Willowcreek. Excellence is the first difference, but there is a second, more important difference. As I leaned from another mega-church, excellence is not enough.

There is not a lot of yawning at Willowcreek. There is a passion that is almost visible. You don't have to be there long before you have this incredible feeling that, "These people care deeply about this stuff."

I heard someone say recently that you could put Bill Hybels in the middle of the Sierra desert and he would build a mega-church. I tend to agree. But not because of a particular philosophy. Bill Hybels would see that things were done with excellence and passion. That is the difference at Willowcreek.