Multimedia is “word ministry” too…

Image Credit: Thomas Wanhoff, via Flickr.

Steve Kryger’s Communicate Jesus is one of the go to blogs in my feed reader. It’s fantastic. I love the way Steve thinks carefully about how best to help people meet Jesus through the church, and online. His site has had a little bit of a redesign, so you should check it out. Steve has posted a handy collection of Christian videos over the years – good stuff to use in church services, and good stuff to share online where viral video is increasingly the go to for communication and education for the younger generations. I had a fun chat with some guys from church last week where we realised just how big a part of life YouTube has become for us – even though we’re on the cusp of being part of an older generation. One of my friends is renovating his house using how to videos from YouTube.

Steve posted a quote from this post on an American blog.

“My days are filled with media. When I go to church I just want to listen to a message about scripture, learn, meditate and worship.”

The American blog, College Ministry Thoughts, provides the context for the quote – it’s from a conversation the blogger overheard where a group of young people were talking about what they look for in a church.

I found the comments on Steve’s post, and the quote itself, a little frustrating – for much the same reason that I found the Archer and the Arrow frustrating.

One comment says:

“Church should not be a place where we go to get ‘more of the same’…we need to be killed (by God’s Word of law) and then raised again, by the gospel.”

The other:

“We have media all around us 24/7 and it’s important for us to have time to “unplug” and rest in God’s presence.”

Both those comments are from Americans – I know that because one mentions what college they graduated from, and the other comment is linked to an American blog.

It would be easy to simply be frustrated at how consumer driven these comments are – they seem to paint a picture of the church service that is focused on meeting the needs of those who are going along. And that’s a problem – but I don’t want to suggest that the original quote, or even the comments, come from people who are thinking of church like that – the first comment makes it clear that the commenter is interested in people being confronted with the gospel when they come to church.

And ultimately that’s what the church gathering is about – sure it serves all the other purposes – we encourage one another, and are fed, as we teach one another from God’s word and sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to each other. But our meetings are public meetings where non Christians will see how we treat each other, and more importantly, hopefully clearly hear the gospel proclaimed.

So here’s my beef. Communicating the gospel isn’t limited to a particular form of media. It’s not just something that is spoken by an important guy who stands out the front giving us a message from Scripture that teaches us something. Church isn’t for individual self improvement – church is where the body gathers to serve one another and reach others (I’m particularly thinking of the last few chapters of 1 Corinthians here). We worship God together when we’re gathered at church, but we also worship God together all through the week as we serve Jesus together, on mission together.

To suggest that God’s word is only communicated when we meet and somebody stands with a Bible open and teaches from it is to enshrine the popular form of media from a particular period in history and suggest that it is somehow the only right way to communicate. I think you can make a fair case that throughout Biblical history the people who proclaimed God’s word did so in a manner that was familiar to those around them – both believers and non-believers. I think this accounts for the differences in Old Testament law and the law of the Ancient Near East (law codes were designed and publicly presented in a way that emphasised the goodness or power of the king who enshrined them), and for the difference in emphasis in the Old Testament wisdom literature and the wisdom literature of the Ancient Near East. I think this is why prophets spoke in parables – so Nathan to David, why they acted out their messages – so Ezekiel and the edible scroll and Hosea and the unfaithful wife – and I think it’s why Jesus approached his teaching ministry the way he did – with parables, miracles, and proclamations of his kingship that were similar to other proclamations of new emperors in the Roman Empire. It’s also why Paul used the conventions of Greek oratory (and rejected others) when he spoke before councils, kings, and in marketplaces and synagogues in Acts, and why his letters carry the hallmarks of written rhetoric in the rest of the New Testament. The gospel is a multimedia experience – word ministry doesn’t necessarily take the form of what is essentially first century oratory (much of what Cicero says about public speaking could easily be found in a modern guide to preaching – public speaking is much older than this). This is why Luther adopted the printing of propaganda pamphlets and sermons, why Calvin published his Institutes in the written form he did, why Bach wrote the songs he did… Word ministry can take many and varied forms across many and varied types of media.

To suggest that we should speak in a way that is foreign to our culture – ie not use video because we want to experience something transcendent as we “meditate” in church on a Sunday – is to miss the point of gathering together (it’s not about me) and miss the point of communicating the hope of the gospel to people who don’t know Jesus in a way that removes obstacles to them, in a way that is clear, gracious and winsome (Colossians 4). Surely we want to be “wise in the way we act towards outsiders” and be “seasoned with salt” in the way we gather, not just in the way we act outside of the walls of our church buildings on a Sunday. And surely, if people are using YouTube to renovate their houses, we want to be in that marketplace with quality and winsome videos encouraging people to renovate their lives through Jesus, and showing them “how to”… then we’d be looking for opportunities to share good videos with people, speaking their language, rather than voicing our own frustrations with an inability to “unplug”…

If the videos we’re using in our church services aren’t doing that – then we need to rethink the kind of videos we’re using, and start resourcing people to make them. People like my friend Wade – who makes a bunch of the videos we use at Creek Road through his company LifeTone Media, and also the amazing videos from Luke’s gospel, and like Dan Stevers, from the US who makes really classy videos underpinned by solid theology.

Word ministry isn’t just the preaching that happens from the pulpit. It’s certainly not limited to what happens on a Sunday. And we should be looking at how we can use every medium available to present the gospel to people – being all things to all men, by all media, so that we might win some, to paraphrase Paul.

While our Sunday gatherings should be entirely defined by “word ministry” this doesn’t mean they’re just about the preaching. That’s old media. Our Sunday gatherings should be about communicating the truths of God in a way that encourages everyone – not just meets our own needs.

That is all.

13 thoughts on “Multimedia is “word ministry” too…”

  1. Nathan, I wonder if part of the response we’re seeing here of “more plain sermon” is simply a reaction to the deluge of media people receive every day.

    Compounded by the usual thing of swinging from one extreme to another.

    1. I think you’re right David, there’s a lot of swinging to extremes. I can understand the ‘we’re deluged by media’ argument on one level, but on another, in a time when society read a lot more books, could people have said ‘I’m surrounded by books all day – I don’t want to come to church to read another book’?!

  2. Well, I’ll bite.
    I just can’t see your central thesis in all of this.
    I’m not sure that anyone much contends that ‘God’s word is only communicated when we meet and somebody stands with a Bible open and teaches’, but I’m reading this as saying that because God’s Word can be communicated through other means at other times seems to mean that those means are equally as valid at all times and in all circumstances.
    The sense in which I understand the Scriptures holds that there is a weekly gathering of God’s people at which particular activities should take place.
    It also holds that an aspect of that gathering involves preaching and reading from the Bible, by someone the church recognises has been called to carry out that task by the Holy Spirit.
    This didn’t use to be much of a controversy before the priesthood of all believers suddenly because the pastor/teacherhood of all believers.
    Perhaps a preacher can make use of multimedia aids, if they are needed to convey something that he’s not able to manage with words.
    The various patterns in the Scripture can be descriptive or normative. God gave the message, and he also directly gave the way the message was to be communicated in some instances.
    And you’re confusing word ministry with general principles and patterns of behaviour which are drawn from the Scriptures.
    The latter informs the shape, pattern and content of our worship, but it is distinct from, and no substitute for, the former.
    And while I’m happy for your friend who is renovating his house via youtube tuition, I don’t think I’d be so happy to find out my surgeon was relying on the same source of instruction.

    1. Hi Gary,

      I don’t think I’m “confusing word ministry with general principles and patterns of behaviour which are drawn from the Scriptures”… I think I’m reacting against the view of the gathering of believers advocated by the Archer and the Arrow, and perhaps your definition above…

      I guess I’m questioning whether the people who are recognised by the congregation as having been called can legitimately focus their energy on, say, making videos, or putting together a well thought out selection of songs that contributes to the teaching of the body on a Sunday. Teaching that comes from the Bible. I’m simply suggesting that we should probably broaden our category, in our particular circles (and particularly the circles influenced by the Archer and the Arrow) away from preaching/proclamation/speaking as the only place that “word ministry” occurs. Ephesians 5:19 doesn’t seem to split “word ministry” from singing like we seem to be keen to (see the last post about the Archer and the Arrow). I’d say Colossians 4 also lends itself to doing “clear” word ministry in a way that is culturally sensitive – so perhaps using videos to proclaim the gospel clearly, wisely, and graciously – should be something we see as just as important as the preaching part, especially if people are more likely to take in something from a video or song than they are from a monologue.

      The implication then is that we should be trying to find and equip people who are “specially called” to make videos that teach God’s word clearly, and write songs, and choose songs, that reinforce the message of a chosen passage that is being taught on a Sunday.

      1. Yeah, framing this around your reaction to The Archer and The Arrow would have us talking past each other.
        But word ministry in the context of corporate worship is preaching.
        I’m trying to apply the sense of my understanding of the Scriptures which I promised the church a confession of my faith to some of your statements about worship.

        1. I’m interested in how you actually justify this statement from the Bible.

          “But word ministry in the context of corporate worship is preaching.”

          I’d say word ministry in corporate worship is the exercise of whatever gifts you’ve been given, in the setting of the gathering of believers. I’d say corporate worship – everything that happens as we gather – should be “word ministry” and if it isn’t, then it probably has no place in the gathering – in the same way I’d say the sacraments are a symbolic embodying of the word and a form of communication about the gospel. I think the “word and sacrament” category is probably splitting something that the New Testament wants to hold together as a

          Hebrews 10:23-25 seems to support this – the purpose of gathering is framed around “spurring one another” and “encouraging each other”…

          Ephesians 4:11-16 seems to speak of multiple varieties of “preacher” – who presumably all had a role to play in the teaching part of the gathering. 16 seems to make “word ministry” (with 15 as the context) something everybody does – presumably also in the context of the gathering… and I say presumably because 1 Corinthians seems to push in that direction.

          1 Corinthians 12:7-11, which comes in the context of speaking about how Christians should gather (starting from chapter 11), also seems to push this way – we all have the same spirit, which equips us to do “word ministry” in different ways, then 27-31 seems to provide multiple facets of “word ministry” in a corporate setting, because of how Paul goes on to say they should be used – lovingly (1 Cor 13), to “strengthen, encourage, and comfort (14:3) and 14:23-25 seems to tie all of these types of “word ministry” into what happens in the gathering, and suggest that part of the purpose is that a non Christian will visit and find “everyone prophesying” – and be converted.

          And then, to tie it all together again – 1 Cor 14:26-40 seems to suggest that all the “word ministry” that happens in the gathering should be done in an orderly way – but hymns, prophetic words, and words of instruction (all word ministry) – are done to build up the church (14:26), should involve God’s word (14:36), and should be orderly (14:40).

          1. I think you’re confusing purpose with outcome.
            The purpose of worship is obedience.
            The outcome is fellowship, encouragement, exhortation and the like.
            Again, there’s service which is informed by the word, and then there’s word ministry.
            cf 1 Timothy 4:2; Acts 5:42; Nehemiah 8:8; 1 Corinthians 2:4.
            Preaching, reading, the sacraments, prayer and singing are means of grace, but they’re not substitutable for one another.
            I don’t think worship devoid of reading, singing and prayer is biblical worship either.
            1 Corinthians is telling Christians that (even with the giftings operating during the apostolic age) the exercise if varying gifts is always governed by the principle of service and building up others.
            Again the often mentioned effect on outsiders is not a purpose, it’s an outworking. What they should observe is an intelligible activity of the covenant people listening to God and responding in faith. But it’s the self-serving nature of the activity which Paul is saying is a turn off.

  3. Hi Gary

    “But word ministry in the context of corporate worship is preaching.”

    I’m a sometime preacher and work hard to minister the gospel of Jesus through that element of our gathering. But I’m horrified to think the rest of what we do when we gather ISN’T word ministry. That would be scandalous!

    And by the way, surgeons ARE being trained via video these days. And video is indispensable within much surgery also.


    1. Hey Steve, welcome aboard.
      I like your work.
      Glad to see you’ve got Nathan on the right side of the river.
      Don’t expect you’ll be doing much to get him supporting the right team next Wednesday.
      Your post and my last reply to Nathan crossed paths, so I won’t repeat much of what I’ve written above, except to make it clear that I’m wanting to affirm the unique contribution which the elements which are part of corporate worship make.
      Preaching does something which the other elements don’t do, just as the other elements do things which preaching doesn’t do.

      1. Hi Gary

        I believe both Nathan and I WILL be going for the right team on Wednesday night…

        I’d want to question your statement “the often mentioned effect on outsiders is not a purpose, it’s an outworking”. This outworking v purpose paradigm seems arbitrary at best, or a diabolical dichotomy at worst…

        And we have access to some clear purpose statements from Paul in the same letter. Seven of them. Packed into five verses (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). His emphatic purpose? “by all possible means to save some”. That purpose has weigthy relevance to this discussion about use of multimedia, how we define word ministry, how even we define preaching…And that purpose is what appears to still be in Paul’s mind a few chapters later in chapter 14 in his concern for unbelievers: Not to be reduced to an ‘outworking’…

        1. I’ve never seen it as a dichotomy, it’s all one vehicle, but obedience is the engine.
          We can walk and chew gum, but we need to know which is which.
          Paul is first a God pleaser, and then a man server.
          Strands of what I’m reading above resonate with me, but I’ve been expressing them more in terms of biblically informed, Gospel saturated, sacrificial, trans-generational/cultural/preferential obedience.
          I thought Paul’s purpose was to ensure that the activity in corporate worship of the Corinthians was reflective of God’s character, hence his instructions about tongues, which have limited scope to edify either Christian or non-Christian (and the non-Christians non-understanding being a sign of their being under judgement) and prophecy, by which those who hear it can draw close to God.
          In corporate context the latter activity reflects the grace and mercy of the character of God and the Gospel.
          He does it all for the sake of the Gospel, that he may share with them its great blessings.
          A great blessing of our merciful God is that we are saved into relationship with him, we grow to become more like his character, and the imperative to share the Gospel is also the display his character as we invite others into his kingdom.

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