Archives For Communication

Watch this.

Content is king. Story telling is essential. Letting go of control and enabling other people to authentically tell your story is the ultimate goal.

Now imagine what our communication of the gospel would be like if we were as enthusiastic about Jesus as Coke drinkers are about Coke.

It’s interesting to see how much “ethos” they mix into their marketing with their “Live Positively” project.

Screen Shot 2013-03-23 at 11.49.25 AM

This is kind of what I’m arguing we should be doing in my research project.

At QTC, in the preaching subject, people are asked to write a magazine styled thing as part of their portfolio. A couple of people have asked me if I have useful tips. One person last year. One person this year.

I said yes. I thought I might put them here. I’ll even check with the lecturer to see if they’re helpful.

Here are ten tips for writing a magazine style article. From the top.

1. Write an effervescent heading that won’t fall flat in just five easy steps. Your heading should be descriptive, but not in a boring way. Pick a fun adjective that is a little jarring, add something that contains a value proposition. Juxtaposition can be fun. So can interesting metaphors or imagery.

2. Write a catchy hook. Make it your lede. Unravel the string so your reader follows it. A lede is your first paragraph. A catchy hook is an angle that makes someone want to read the whole thing. I’d say a magazine article is slightly different to a news article. You don’t want to put fluff in your lede in a news article – you want the who, what, where, when, why, and how – I’d say a magazine article does the heavy lifting in the second paragraph and aims to entertain and continue the headline’s value proposition in the first paragraph. This hook becomes something very much like your “big idea” – it should tie the story together. The conclusion should solve the dilemma or answer the question the hook presents. So should everything else in the article. Each paragraph should be the natural next bit of the story – unless you throw in a really interesting tangent (you can get away with this a little better in magazines than anywhere else – but it has to be really interesting).

3. Find some compelling talent. Stories about people are the best. Stories about people you want to read about are the best of the best. Find something interesting to say about an interesting topic using an interesting person and you’re away. Or find a new way to say something old and boring.

4. A picture is worth a thousand words. 

5. Use “featured” quotes to highlight your main points for readers who scan. 

Featured quotes look something like this.

They stand out from the text around them. Especially if you:

put them in bold italics.

6. Writing a magazine article is a lot like preaching if you are following the ten preaching tips from QTC (that is why this is in the subject) – use interesting words. Don’t be afraid to be a little more expressive than a newspaper writer – but don’t use more words than necessary. Be concise and clear – but interesting. Also – one difference is that print articles, by the nature of having been to a printing press, printed, and distributed, are always talking about past events so are always in the past tense (unlike sermons preached QTC style).

7. Mix up the sentence length a bit. I remember reading a Fairfax Newspapers style guide once upon a time that suggested the average sentence in a newspaper article should be 25 words, because a sentence also functions as a paragraph. This isn’t (always) true in a magazine. A sentence is. Within a paragraph.

8. Read other magazine articles. Find a style you like. Copy it. I love the writing on Grantland.

9. Buy lots of books on writing style and editing. Even if you don’t read them you’ll feel better about yourself. I have eight.

10. Start a blog. Practice writing things that you find interesting. Find your voice, sound like you – figuring out what you like, and how you should write, are important steps – but they’ll leave you sounding like a monotonous automaton if you don’t move to trying to apply those tips in the real world. Try to move to writing about things other people might find interesting to. Get famous. Send me money.

Pixar’s storytelling tips

Every time this gets reposted somewhere I think “I really should add that to the virtual filing cabinet that is my blog”… This time I had the will, and the headspace… so here are some great storytelling tips that have helped Pixar produce blockbuster after blockbuster.


Image Credit: Aerogramme Studio

They were tweeted to the world by a Pixar staffer. They’re part fun, part principled, part practical, part imaginative, part geared to get your creative juices flowing after writer’s block…

  1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
  3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
  4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
  9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
  10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
  11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
  12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
  13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
  14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
  15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
  16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
  17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
  18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
  19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
  20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
  22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

These have been all over the web – but I got them here this time.

This is important – especially in the context of my previous posts about church websites. Our new website for Creek Road – (the church I work for in Brisbane) is live – and I’ll post some final bits and pieces on that project this week some time… Our long term strategy is to have a video at the top of each page that does what the text does but uses the power of a real person telling a real story. We’ve got one page that does this already.

Explainer Video from Al Boardman on Vimeo.

Mike Godwin, the man behind Godwin’s Law, has given a nice little interview regarding his eponymous dictum

These bits are my favourite.

On why he coined the law in the first place…

“The thing it seemed to me worth doing was to prevent the Holocaust from turning into a cliché, or into a handy arrow in someone’s rhetorical quiver. I was entering into the online world pretty deeply in the eighties, and I was offended by how glibly these comparisons came up — almost invariably inappropriately. My feeling was that the more people got into this habit, the less likely that people remembered the historical context of all this. And as you know, one of the injunctions of Holocaust historians is that we must never forget, we have to remember. And I just thought, Well, I’m going to do a little experiment and see if I could make people remember.”

On his daughter’s use of the law…

…There was a point where my daughter, who is about to turn 20, when she was in her early teens, she thought it was a hoot when she was mad at me to compare me to Hitler. She’d look at me with a very mischievous look and say, “You know, you’re acting just like Hitler.”

And this important bit…

Do you ever come across Nazi comparisons in discussions of American politics that you find legitimate?
You know … sure. American history has its own flirtations with fascism and racism and militarism, and people have believed in any and all of these things, so with certain individuals it has to come up from time to time. So it’s not the case that the comparison is never valid. It’s just that, when you make the comparison, think through what you’re saying, because there’s a lot of baggage there, and if you’re going to invoke a historical period with that much baggage you better be ready to carry it.

Facebook is changing. Again.

The newsfeed is getting more compelling. It’s getting a facelift. The dross is being cut, and that mostly means that pages will suffer because people’s profiles will trump them. Very few people (I’d say “nobody”) join Facebook because they want to follow brands.

Fresh Feeds

Such is the way of Facebook.

They have no business model if they can’t entice people to spend money on advertising, and if they can’t keep users interested and on the site. They’re already losing out to other sites because they’re a little more boring than your average social media platform.

The key to success on Facebook is being interesting. Getting people talking about your brand.

Facebook has this thing called “EdgeRank” – it’s an algorithm they use to decide what gets into newsfeeds and what gets edited out. You’ll see stuff you want to see because Facebook tracks who you interact with, and tracks what other people are interacting with. This doesn’t seem to be changing in the new newsfeed – pictures, check-ins, and video get interacted with (shared, liked, and commented on) more than text. The changes are emphasising what is already popular.

This means, if you’re running a page, there’s more value in multimedia content than text updates.

But the key for pages is as it always has been – producing good content.

I feel like I’ve said this all before. Because I have.

What do these changes mean for your church?

We’ve been thinking about how we use social media as a church as part of thinking about how we use the web. Here’s our Facebook page.

We’re interested in sharing stories, and sharing this sort of multimedia content – at the moment, we’re especially interested in sharing videos.

The key, as far as I’m concerned, to succeeding on social media – and in most PR – is getting other people endorsing your product, talking about you, and pushing your agenda. I’m convinced almost nobody listens to anything that sounds “corporate” or like advertising. But people do listen to other people. Especially other people they trust. The real power and value of social media is in people talking about and sharing things.

Our strategy is to get other people sharing the content we’re created. People who are bought into the idea of using Facebook for Jesus.

These changes mean this is even more important than ever. Because as a page you need people who come to your page, without being hooked, in order to share the content you’re producing.

It works. We’re in pretty early days of our strategy of asking people to share our content (offline as well as online), and it seems to be working. Here are some stats from recent posts on our church page. We were starting from a relatively low base in terms of sharing and views per post, and we have less Facebook likers than we’d like.

On the 31st of December – our last post for last year – a link to our podcast (coincidentally, one I preached) scored 152 “organic” views on Facebook – that’s 152 views where the link made it into the newsfeed of people who already like the page, or where people came to the page.

A month later, on the 30th of January, we posted a promo poster thing to announce the launch of our new 4:30 service, it was shared 10 times, but only liked twice – it scored 141 organic views, and 4 “viral views” – where people saw it beyond the “organic” process, because it showed up in their newsfeed when a friend shared it.

We posted another post card type picture for our big term 1 teaching series “Got Questions” – it was shared 37 times, liked 10 times, but was only seen by 213 people.

We started sharing our vodcast instead of a podcast – and the numbers began a steady increase. A video of our podcast on Hell was viewed 503 times, 356 of those times were “viral”…

A video post featuring a friend of mine from our church wondering if the Bible was anti-gay was shared by 8 people and scored 684 “viral” views. Then, last week, a young woman from our church anonymously shared her testimony as a story on our page, which was shared 6 times and scored 50+ likes and was seen by 1500 “viral” viewers, and 300 organic viewers.

In the same time this was happening – a business I do some social media consulting for spent $200 on advertising on Facebook to reach about 21,000 people a day during the 6 day campaign, and increase likes on the page by 145 people (in a targeted demographic based on a location).

We could start paying for advertising for church – but because I’m a PR type not an advertising type – I’m biased towards not paying and trying to get people talking about our product – the good news about Jesus. I think this fits with our message too. It’s a person-driven message and anybody who becomes a follower of Jesus has their own story of transformation to share. That covers our “content”…

One of the other big markers for communicators/advertisers is the ability to “convert” messages into results. A “conversion” for us, online, is getting someone to church in the real world, or seeing someone come to know Jesus. When it comes to conversations with our friends – the real power of social media rests in the ability of Christians to engage in gospel conversation online that they take offline.

I think our non-paid model is a good long term strategy. It’s a better fit with who we are and what we’re on about.

Getting people to like and share our content has seen our reach on Facebook increase by a multiple of seven. The only way Facebook is going to work for your page – if you’re not going to pay to promote it – in the long term is by encouraging real people to share your content and to discuss it with each other on social media.

If your social media isn’t “social” you’re doing it wrong.

We have a pretty great story to tell. And telling real stories of real transformation – especially our own stories of transformation, offered by Jesus – like the story the girl from Creek Road shared – is something that can work in just about any platform. Social media or otherwise.

The Facebook newsfeed changes mean we need to think about how we’re sharing our message – the media types we use – so pictures and images are in, and text is mostly out. But the method and content is the same – we’re ambassadors for Jesus sharing the good news about what he means for us and can mean for others.

2 Cor 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Media relations for churches

This free Media Relations ebook (PDF) from Church Juice echoes much of what I’ve written here over the years, but with better typograpgy. It’s a very handy resource.

Media Relations 101

How TED works

This behind the scenes look at TED is pretty cool – especially when they talk about what they’re looking for to make a “lecture” a “story”…

They also talk a bit about “getting out of the way of the idea” when it comes to what you do and say, but supporting it in terms of how the idea is presented.

It’s got me wondering what that would look like in the church context.

A social media infographic

Once the church website is up and running, I’ll be putting some more thought into how we use social media. I’m also toying with turning some old blog posts, some other bits and pieces, and my masters project, into a social media ebook.

This is a handy infographic. Because it’s a visual reminder that using the right content on the right platform is important.

framed-visualstorytelling-e1361895487860

Via Churchmag, from M Booth.

I find myself in need of some people who can give constructive feedback on something new and exciting.

If that’s not you, then feel free to go back a couple of posts for some hilarious goats.

If it is you, we’re a couple of days away from launching a new website at Creek Road – this has been a labour of love for a few of us for a month or so – including a pretty handy web developer who can do just about anything, a writer or two, and some talented graphics types, and we’re now so caught up in it that it’s very hard to be objective. If you want to check it out, and let me know what you think in the comments here – that’d be great. I’ll update this post with a link to the actual site when it goes live too… I’m hopeful it does what we wanted it to do, and I’m also hopeful that with a little bit more work we’ll be able to turn what we’ve done into something that can be used as a WordPress theme by other churches without too much trouble.

Our big aim is for the website to be something that’s aimed at people who aren’t from a church background, so we want the gospel to be the focus, and to be pretty clear. If you find any unhelpfully complex jargon I’d love to know that too.

There are a couple of things that aren’t exactly what I want them to be – when you hit the link for more posts the alignment goes funny – but that’s the nature of pinboard type sites. I’m hoping to replace some of the wordiness with videos, but words do better things with search engines…

Creek Road Website

Book Review: Saving Eutychus

Disclaimer/Disclosure statement: The authors of this book are people I know well. One is the principal of the college I study at, Queensland Theological College. The second, if the review process could be any more daunting and personal – is my father. The advice in his chapters is advice I’ve grown up hearing, and seeing applied – though I haven’t been a member of a church that Dad has preached at for 8 years. I received early chapters of this book to proof read, and I didn’t do a very good job of that. I read them. But they seemed fine to me. The book also contains the following paragraph…

Phil and Louise are the parents of four adult children— Nathan, Jo, Maddie and Susie—and they are now learning the art of grandparenting (even though they insist they’re much too young). Nathan’s popular blog www.st-eutychus.com inspired the title of this book.

Which is nice – because as Gary was keen to point out – I don’t really own the copyright on Eutychus…

You can, in the absence of the book actually being released, check out some sample chapters and stuff on savingeutychus.com.


 

The Review

The disclosure should make it obvious that I’m going to have a hard time being objective here – I’m also going to have a hard time coming at this book as though half the chapters are at all novel. This isn’t new to me. It’s bread and butter. It’s how I’ve been taught to preach from my first talk, to a youth group, when I was 16. In many senses it’s how I was taught to write. It’s also how I’ve been taught to preach at college. I think it’s a good model. It meshes with what I know about communication from my profession.

One of the first things you notice about this book, appropriately, is the number of, and caliber of, the guys endorsing the book.

I could tell you this will revolutionise your preaching – but really I have no idea what it looks like to not have some of these tips running through my head, so instead, I’ll focus on some of the bits that I really liked, and let you read it and make up your mind for yourselves when it comes out.

There’s a nice humility underpinning the approach of this book – from confessions about being naturally boring, to constant reminders that preaching isn’t about us. In fact, the very message of the book takes most of the emphasis on the preacher out of the mix, except for this fundamental responsibility at the heart of the book…

“Gary and I are not approaching this book as experts on preaching that keeps people awake. But we are convinced that when attention wanders and eyes droop, it’s more often our fault than our listeners’.”…

Saving Eutychus doesn’t just mean keeping him awake. It also means doing our best to keep him fresh and alert so he can hear the truth of the gospel and be saved. If we have done our job, we will stand up on Sunday ready to deliver a sermon on a Bible passage that we have wrestled with and that the Holy Spirit has begun to apply to our own hearts and lives.

Preaching is God’s work, and any authority the preacher wields comes from the text of the Bible. It’s a nice reminder that no matter how charismatic our personalities are, no matter how engaging and witty we can be as we speak – preaching is ultimately reveals God, points people to Jesus, and relies on the Spirit to be hammered home.

Gary’s answer to this dilemma is prayer.

“Gradually, we seem to be losing sight of the fact that God uses weak and sinful people, and that he uses them only by grace. Yes, we may sow, plant and water—but only God gives growth. That’s true in your local church and mine. It’s also true of every podcast and ebook and conference address under the sun. God doesn’t use people because they are gifted. He uses people (even preachers) because he is gracious. Do we actually believe that? If we do believe it, then we will pray— we will pray before we speak, and we will pray for others before they speak. It’s that simple.”

One of the nice things about the book is how honest both authors are about their own struggles in preaching – and their own lives in pastoral ministry that is preaching driven. There are excerpts from real, recent, sermons, to support some of the practical tips, and plenty of rubber hitting road anecdotes to illustrate how each chapter might be applied.

The chapters are relatively evenly split – Gary does the “theology” stuff, Dad does the practical, but the dichotomy isn’t carried out cleanly the whole way through – both are free to enter the other’s turf, so Dad is “theological” when it comes to how you think of the big idea, and Gary is practical when it comes to how you make real changes in the light of some theological insights.

Dad’s bits are shaped by years of trying to communicate better, driven by a gospel motivated (and personality motivated) perfectionism that I’ve inherited in certain areas – his chapters are the result of constantly assessing what you’re doing and questioning why you do it that way, and how you can make it work better, and be less painful, for your listener. Gary’s bits, are, as you’d expect if you know him, thoroughly Trinitarian, almost devotional (in a refreshing way and substantial way), reference Jonathan Edwards a few times, and are laced with really nice insights that’ll challenge the way you think about church – not just preaching, in a section on encouraging your whole church to pray for preaching he drops this Hanselesque breadcrumb:

“The growth of home groups is, I think, a really good thing, but it doesn’t come without a cost. In my experience, the cost is that the ‘prayer’ part of the home group is always weaker than the study part. The net result is that we pray more for my Aunt Nelly’s next-door neighbour’s friend’s daughter than we do for the proclamation of the message of Jesus. (And it’s not that my Aunt Nelly’s next- door neighbour’s friend’s daughter doesn’t need prayer—I’m arguing for both/and rather than either/or.) So, again, it’s just worth checking—is there a dedicated time during the week when people gather specifically to pray for our core business?”

I’ve been part of bible studies at five churches now, and I’m thankful for the way each have taught me to read the Bible and apply it to my life, but this rings a bit true – normally it’s the newest Christians who are the most passionate prayers when it comes to the core business of spreading the gospel.

Gary spends some time on the dangers of manipulation, and while it’s a really valuable reminder – I’m left wondering where “persuading” – openly, rather than underhandedly (manipulation) fits, but no matter how the cake is baked – the conclusion is worth eating…

“The key to preaching, then, is to make the message of the text obvious. Help people to see it and feel it. Help people to understand the text. Paul is talking about what I would call ‘expository preaching’, in which the message of the text is the message of the sermon.”

But this is a great way of making sure the authority of a sermon is resting in the right place – God’s revealed word.

One of my favourite bits of preaching advice from Gary is this, as a rookie preacher it has been really helpful for me thinking through what I think the “big idea” of a bit of the Bible is and how I might frame it appropriately.

“Expository preaching happens when the message of the text = the message of the sermon. Or perhaps better, expository preaching happens when the vibe of the passage = the vibe of the sermon.”

I could go through this book and keep cherry picking out the bits I like, but that might mean you won’t buy the book, and while my inheritance isn’t riding on it, you know, there’s enough self-interest there on my part to want you to buy it, as well as the belief that the book is really helpful – because it’s hard not to be if you think this is the goal of preaching:

This approach ensures that your preaching will be both predictable and unpredictable. It will be predictable in the same way that the Bible is predictable. At the core of our preaching will be the same message—what God has already done for us in the Lord Jesus Christ.

His chapter that covers doing this well from the Old Testament has been helpful for me, in lecture and chapel sermon form, and it’s nice to have it fleshed out more than I might have managed in blog post form in the past. The chapter includes a really helpful discussion of Biblical Theology and “trajectories” that link the Old Testament to Jesus, to the New Testament, to us…

The book’s format is helpful – chapters contain nice chunks of supporting material, be it passages from the Bible, passages from sermons, anecdotes, or helpful theological and pastoral reflections, and they’re rounded out with nice practical tips, lists, and summaries to help you remember and apply. The conversational tone between Gary and Dad within the chapters (they share a pulpit at Mitchelton and have had a chance to see each other in action for the last year) means the switch between voices is natural rather than jarring, they play nicely off each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

It’s interesting for me how many of Dad’s tips are very similar to how good corporate communication happens – it needs to be clear, as geared to your medium, as concise as possible, repeat your key messages, be based on some sort of authority (data in my case, the text when it comes to preaching), and for people to listen it needs to be about people.

“Take a look at the front page of a newspaper sometime. Are interest rates rising? Then you’re almost sure to see a photograph of an affected family. Graphs and statistics can come later. The journalist’s rule is this: if there are no people, there’s no story. So populate your preaching with real people. Use people-based illustrations and people-based application. Where you can, talk about real people and real situations, instead of just talking about abstract ideas. Typically, I’ll scour the newspaper, internet news sources and TV for fresh material. Incredibly, there always seems to be something useful. Of course, if the story involves a member of your congregation then you’ll need to ask permission first.”

This paragraph from Dad comes with a very important caveat in the footnotes:

“In fact, even if it’s about one of your kids make sure you ask permission first! Being a pastor’s kid carries enough baggage without growing up in church where everyone can recite the ‘cute stories’ of your childhood.”

I’ve found this has been incredibly true in the age of the Internet and a “digital shadow” – when my mother-in-law googled me when I started dating Robyn, she found a bit of one of Dad’s sermons that opened “Nathan Campbell has lost his shoes”…

The book covers stuff like pulling a text apart, spoken delivery, receiving critique, putting a talk together – which includes something like a Director’s Cut/commentary version of the sermon manuscript from one of Dad’s recent sermons on Acts. And then, to finish off nicely, there’s a sample critique from Dad, and from Gary on a each other’s real sermons.

I really liked this book, I obviously heartily endorse it, and you should buy at least three. As I was reading it I was pretty thankful – thankful that I’ve been shaped the way I have by a father who wants people to know the ultimate father, shaped to love the gospel of Jesus, and want people to hear it unhindered, and hopefully shaped to be self-aware of my myriad faults and my constant desire to make preaching all about me. This book is a useful reminder for me in that ongoing challenge. And it makes me thankful that in the last few years I’ve been taught at a college by guys of Gary’s caliber (and the caliber of the other members of faculty). I have much to be thankful for, especially the gospel, and the privilege of being a fellow worker in the ministry of the gospel, as a preacher with training wheels on. There’s that old saying about new generations standing on the shoulders and I’ve never felt that more tangibly than when I read a book that spells out so clearly what I’ve been blessed to assume as natural by guys I know. But as impressive as I think those guys are, and as thankful as I am for both of them, it’s the gospel that’s really impressive and powerful to change hearts, not them, not me – but the God who revealed himself in Jesus and his word, who changes us by his Spirit.

John Dickson on #qanda

I’m thankful Australian Christianity has spokespeople who don’t play the stupid combative game that Q&A seems to thrive on. John Dickson continued in Peter Jensen’s fine tradition (not Pell’s so much, thankfully).

science plus Jesus

Image Credit: Australian Christian News

I really appreciated his willingness to charitably cede points, and agree with others on the panel in order to make the most important point, and to push on despite being interrupted to get his key message across. This is a paraphrase, I only started typing what he was saying about halfway through… but I thought this bit was the highlight. The transcript is now available, and I’ve included some other highlights below.

“you’ve got to ask yourself the question: is there any evidence on the world stage that this God we think is maybe just a mind has touched the earth in a tangible way? And for me, if you are asking me why do I think there’s a God, it’s this philosophy of science, plus the life of Jesus.”

There were some great #qanda tweets on screen tonight too that indicated Dickson’s approach, and the substance of his answers, was appreciated by the non-Christians in the audience.

I’m sure others are going to be more or less excited about his treatment of science – but historically, there’s little doubt that science arose on the back of a Christian desire to know more about God’s creation, so there is something nice about not tossing science under the bus while acknowledging that it is a movable feast – a point Krauss made very strongly over and over again – science isn’t set in stone, it’s an ongoing discussion of the evidence, and what Dickson demonstrated is that a robust Christian faith has nothing to fear from science – because it’s all about Jesus, and understanding how the Bible relates to the God who created the world reaching out to touch it in the person, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

It’s worth pointing out that while Dickson accepted a truckload of science that some Christians might be unhappy with – including stuff about the age of the earth and evolution – he wasn’t asked about the historicity of Adam, which is where a lot of the theological weight in the debate rests – he also didn’t say anything disputable about the content of Genesis 1-2, what might be in dispute is what to do with his genre observations… and being honest about the history, intentions, usefulness, and limitations of science while being clear about who Jesus is, in a program that was trending worldwide on Twitter, is, I think, a win. The program format limits the panelists’ ability to come back and clarify or expand on the points they make – so while I’ve read a bunch of people throwing rocks at Dickson, on Twitter, in the comments here, etc – I think you’ve got to take the format into account.

Here were some bits from Dickson that I thought were just stellar…

“I agree with almost everything Lawrence just said actually except I would beg to differ about whether science can actually produce an ethic. I think human beings produce an ethic and we decide whether to use science positively or negatively according to our world view and history is littered with examples of science being used brilliantly, ethically so, and times when it’s used badly. I disagree that science has any ethical import. It’s a neutral discipline and it’s a wonderful discipline. The little quips that I heard throughout about science is all about humility and so on I love. In fact Peter Harrison of Oxford University, who is one of the world’s leading historians of science, thinks that it was a revolution in this doctrine of humility that flourished in the 14th and 15th centuries that got science going in Europe in part. It’s not a total explanation but that as Augustine philosophy developed, which basically said human beings are flawed so we need better techniques. We can’t trust our brains. We need to observe, and this Augustinian philosophy grew out of Christianity, as you know, and so Christianity probably is, in part, responsible for science in the first place. I agree that it shouldn’t stick its head in now and tell the scientists what to do. My view is let the scientists do the science. My view is let the scientists do the science and let religious believers do what they do.”

This bit (Family First can learn from this one)…

“The only thing I want to pick up Lawrence with is to say to call it child abuse, to me there are two problems with this. One, it so inflames the conversation and I think the new atheism breeds of this kind of inflamed kind of conversation. The second thing I find very uncomfortable about it is that anyone in the audience who has actually been abused finds that a very odd use of that very loaded term. I know you don’t mean it like that but it’s like someone saying “Oh, that’s a holocaust”. There is one holocaust.”

This was the absolute gold.

JOHN DICKSON: “We live in a universe that operates according to these elegant, beautiful laws and when I read your book this week I was more convinced that that’s the case. And this universe, operating according to these elegant laws, has produced minds that now understand the laws, especially this mind next to us. And so this, to me, all looks and this is not a proof for God but I’m just saying why a lot of people think the God thing has a lot going for it, the whole thing looks rational. The whole thing looks set up to be known. Now, only known in a rational, like the God of Einstein, so then you’ve got to ask yourself the question: is there any evidence on the world stage that this God we think is maybe just a mind has touched the earth in a tangible way? And for me, if you are asking me why do I think there’s a God, it’s this philosophy of science, plus the life of Jesus.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Well, yeah, but hold on. There was a bait and switch there that I object to and that was that…

JOHN DICKSON: Can I get to the end of the bait?

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Well, you said Jesus and then you started going off and we were no longer – okay.

JOHN DICKSON: So what I’m saying is you ask yourself the question: is there any tangible thing in the history of the world that looks like contact from the God we suspect might be there? The overwhelming – I think overwhelming evidence points in the direction of Jesus, his life, his teaching and his healings, his death and resurrection. And when I come to believe that, this opens up the world to me. It is like CS Lewis saying “I believe in Christianity for the same reason I believe in the sun, not because I can look at it but because by it I see everything”. And, for me, Christianity explains the world I live in in such a spooky and deep way that I find I feel I have met the God I had a hunch was there based only on the beautiful elegant (indistinct)…

TONY JONES: Okay. All right. So now we’ve moved into the – I was going to say I would like Lawrence to respond to that. We have moved into the area of intuition now and perhaps…

JOHN DICKSON: And history.”

I barely watch Q&A anymore – five panelists is far too many. Tonight would have been sensational had it just been Krauss and Dickson, the others (as much as I like Tanya Plibersek) added nothing to the discussion, and there were too many times where misunderstandings were glossed over and not resolved in order for the pollies to get their bits about climate change in.

Did you catch it? What’d you think?

Continuing this little series on building a new church website I thought I’d go through a little bit of how to fill your outsider focused site, designed with the modern web consumer in mind, once you’ve found, or defined, your voice.

This takes two separate but related bits of thinking: A content strategy and a content schedule. It’s quite possible that the thinking you put into your web based content strategy and content schedule will actually double as your communication strategy and your communication plan which will cover how you communicate offline as well. This is a good, and mostly necessary, step. But I’m jumping right into the latter, because that’s what I’m working on right now, and knowing that in our case, the teaching plan for the year at church is well and truly bedded down. If you’re just starting with a web content strategy, that’s fine, but it might feel like cart before horse stuff.

The step after this, which depends on having content is your distribution strategy, and somewhat relatedly, what to do with comments and discussion about your content. That can get its own, subsequent, post, but you should read this study about the impact of comments on the web in the meantime.

Your content strategy (and a bit about information architecture)

There are a few ways to approach the question of what content you’re going to put on your site, and a few style type decisions you’re going to have to make in the process. The first is choosing whether you’re building a static site (where the content is fixed, and a schedule might involve a periodic update – this is the easiest option), a dynamic site (a site where new content is generated in a steady stream, where a schedule is really important, or the stream will stagnate – this option is the most work), or a site with a mix of static and dynamic elements.

You could, I reckon, mount an argument by analogy from the nature of God’s interactions with creation that the last is the best. If you’re familiar with deism – the idea that God set up the world and then walked away – the static site is the deistic option. Set it up. Forget it. It’ll point to the existence of your church, but won’t really help people know it beyond whatever content they can observe from a very small amount of evidence. The purely dynamic site is more like open theism – this is a simplification of open theism – but there’s nothing concrete. Everything changes. According to the whims of the webmaster. There’s not really much consistency and nobody really knows what to expect. The mixed site – which I like the best – involves a well thought out creation, that is good and purposeful, with fixed rules and structures, but a long term commitment to engaging with the world. The analogy breaks down in all sorts of ways, and isn’t really that useful… except that static sites aren’t all that great, and purely dynamic sites are dangerous).

While I’m a big fan of the static/dynamic mix – there are actually good reasons to choose a static site, if your resources are limited. If this is the case, don’t start a blog on your website and leave it with the “hello world” post that WordPress gives you as a default… That undermines the credibility your website is attempting to give your church as it proclaims an important message. It says “I’m lazy” or worse “I’m uninspired”… A static site, at the very least, should give a visitor an idea of what your church is on about, where it is, and how to contact you.

The voice you’ve developed comes into play when you’re writing the static part of your site – but so to does the content strategy. Are you going to be take a minimal approach to content, or try to give as much information as possible. Is your information architecture going to be simple – with as few pages and clicks as possible, or complex with complicated menus and trees and a huge dependance on your site’s search capabilities?

So we’re going with a mix of static pages that tell our visitors who we are and what we’re on about as a church (the gospel of Jesus), that use a mix of multimedia and carefully structured text, erring on the side of saying too much rather than not enough, and a blog where we demonstrate who we are and try to provide valuable content for visitors to our site that serves our mission as a church.

A content strategy for static pages

It’s counter-intuitive – but I think with some careful writing and layout you’re actually better off doing a relatively flat, minimal click, site structure, with a fair bit of content per page.

There are good search engine optimisation reasons for writing pages that use lots of relevant keywords together, and I think there’s huge value in producing a site that actually answers the questions people might be bringing to a search for a church in a transparent and open way. I’m also pretty convinced that long valuable content is a better long term strategy than minimal content – though it is really important to be aware that not everybody reads the web in the same way.

This means each page should have a nice clear lead paragraph that explains what you’re on about in the rest of the page – recognising that a fair percentage of your audience will stop reading and click away there – and making the opening paragraph link heavy, so you can control where people are clicking to next, I’m a big fan of anchor links that take people to specific sections of the same page too, they can be a really useful heuristic tool.

Basically my approach to content writing is based on the good old inverted pyramid that journalists use.

Image Source: Wikipedia: Inverted Pyramid

The inverted pyramid is useful for a couple of reasons – it recognises that some people want all the background stuff, but others only want the news at a glance, and it means if you’ve got limited space people don’t lose out on the real substance of what you want to communicate if they ignore the bottom two thirds.

You are more than a headline. Your website, hopefully, is occupying something more significant than the role a headline plays in a news story. There are good reasons for an exceptionally minimal approach to marketing a product – especially if the product is well known, or if you want to create some sort of buzz, or vibe. But if you’re after a user-friendly website, that will make an interaction with your church in the real world less painful for somebody who is not familiar with who you are, because they’re more informed, then just having your particular buzzword like “PRUNE” in really big text isn’t actually telling anybody about who you are or what they can expect.

And you also can’t rely on videos and multimedia to carry the can (and they certainly won’t help with how you come up on a search engine). While videos won’t play nice with search engines, the use of testimonials from real people is, I think, a really nice way to not be blowing your own trumpet, and to be authentic. That’s why people use written testimonials, but videos help carry a bit of pathos and ethos along with the written world. They’re moments of oratory captured for ongoing use.

Which means you need text. And I think more is more. Or rather, enough is enough. But you need to structure it with a mind to how people read websites – they scan, they look for links, they click away, and structure your content accordingly. So that a visitor to your site can both find what they’re looking for, and get a sense of what you’re trying to tell them about, with minimal fuss.

A content strategy for a church blog

So once you decide you want a dynamic aspect to your site, and you’ve allocated resources to the site for a certain amount of time (you can always reassess and downgrade to a static site if you can’t maintain a schedule), you need to decide what sort of stuff you’re going to post, and there’s a few factors to weigh up when you’re answering this question.

  • Who are you? Part of this is knowing what your voice will be, but a bigger deal is figuring out if you’re existing online as a particular individual within your church (the minister), as the church speaking corporately, or as individuals from your but before that you need to figure out what your “brand” is – what is your ethos that you want driving your communication? How do you want to present yourself to outsiders so that they get a feel for who you are.
  • Who is your audience? How wide are you casting your net? If your site is for newcomers are you just blogging for non-Christians? Do you also want to be providing resources for other Christians? 
  • Why are you posting? What’s the purpose of having a dynamic page – just for google links, to provide resources, etc?
  • How does your blog content relate to the real world that people will experience when they visit your church? How does it match up to your philosophy of ministry?
  • Who will write your content? Will it be a team of individuals as individuals, or a corporate mothership with multiple contributors adhering to the same style guide?
  • What are you going to write about? Are you going to generate content? Are you going to link to other resources?
  • How often will you post, and how substantial will your posts be?

Here’s a case study for how we’re thinking about our blog at church, which will then inform the schedule/plan we put together for our blog.

I’m thinking that it’s not too weird to have our static pages (to use a nice WordPress distinction) speaking in a “corporate voice” – so using a royal “we” and hopefully saying things that every member of our church family would be happy to have said on their behalf, with a personality that’s a bit representative of how we do things on a Sunday, and think about ourselves, and then to have our posts, on our blog, using particular voices – from particular individuals within our church family. So there’ll be a little less consistency in style, but we’ll also be giving people a picture of who they might meet on a Sunday, and who in our team and congregation is interested in different areas.

We’re pretty keen for our website to primarily be about the newcomer – but we also want to give the newcomer an accurate picture of what we’re on about without them having to sign up to be part of The City, our online community – so we want to be providing content for people who are part of our church to share with their non-Christian friends, content that reflects on what it means to be a Christian, and we’re also committed to using our resources, as a bigger church, to serve other churches who are, like us, trying to reach people in our world with the gospel.

We’ve got a philosophy of ministry that is pretty helpful for shaping our editorial policy – how we decide what goes up, and what doesn’t. We use a pathway for how we think about how individuals move from being a visitor to a mature, servant hearted Christian – and we use the words: Connect, Grow, and Serve. These will become the categories that we use for our blog. We also teach through books and topics in groups of ten – in line with the school term, which gives us a nice period of time to produce material related to the big idea of a Sunday service.

Connect will feature bits and pieces that help newcomers connect with the gospel, resources for people thinking about Christianity and joining us to process whatever issues the current series is raising, links to the podcast, some bits and pieces about church life, and maybe some interactions with pop-culture and current events. Grow will feature book reviews, interesting and useful articles, resources for living as a Christian, some more in-depth reactive stuff when it comes to pop-culture and current events. Serve will feature resources that we’re producing for other people, outside of Creek Road, to use for ministry – kids church material, some articles from our staff on different aspects of what we’re doing as a church, etc – and both the Grow stuff and the Serve stuff will be produced mindful that it’s being published to an audience of everyone.

The content will be produced by a number of different contributors, centralised, checked for consistency and moderated and posted by one or two people. It’ll include a mix of videos, text, links, and pictures. And the content will either support or duplicate what is happening at Church on a Sunday, so that there’s consistency in our messaging across our different distribution platforms. This means a lot of our content is generated by what we’re already doing, but appropriated for the web, and some of it will be generated to support what we’re doing, and to articulate how we’re doing it, which is a pretty useful process and hopefully won’t bog our staff and content producers down.

Your Content Schedule

This is a pretty tricky area with millions of different opinions. Here are a couple of maxims I live by:

Blogging regularly is important for keeping on going.

A blog that isn’t updated regularly dies, and stinks up the place (where the place is your website).

The problem with these maxims is that it’s impossible to know what regularly is. 6 times a day is too regular, and you should probably see a doctor. Once a week is probably at the other extreme.

The most important thing here is to have a plan, and try to stick to a minimum. The thing I like about our content strategy is that there’s a mix of proactive stuff – where we’re running the agenda, and putting out material that supports our ongoing ministry, and reactive stuff, where we’re joining existing conversations that are happening in the public and using those conversations as opportunities to express our key message – the gospel. Having that freedom is really nice, it makes sure we’re not missing anything essential, but that we have the freedom to take opportunities as they arise, without being inconsistent or piecemeal in our online presentation.

My plan, partly design driven, is to be preparing posts in triplets – one for each category – and featuring them in dedicated boxes on our home page by relying on certain WordPress processes, rather than needing to do things manually. That means getting a pool of content generated for release ahead of time, and keeping ahead – it helps that we’re planning our sermon series a long time in advance, and having most of the content sorted months in advance too. The lead time in the teaching team’s thinking means there’s time to generate supporting content before the last minute.

This also means we need to plan a slot for reactive stuff. And planning to be reactive is hard, and counter-intuitive. But there are certain events we know are going to happen ahead of time (like a Federal election), and there are pop-culture type events like movie releases, or music releases, that other things might trump, and that aren’t as time critical. Plus, there’s always something to react to.

I’m wanting to sketch out a schedule in line with the teaching plan, and have a more concrete schedule for a term, with posts produced at that point (before the term, if possible), and then a slightly more flexible weekly or fortnightly schedule for some reactive things. Steve Fogg has this cool template for church communications planning that’s worth using at this point. I’ll be putting together something like this with three different columns dedicated to blog categories.

A little while back I was posting through the process of putting together a church website (post 1, post 2). While I’ve been posting about other things, the process of actually putting together and writing content for the new website is picking up steam.

One of my big jobs before we launch the site is coming up with a content strategy and a content schedule – defining the scope of our website and thinking about what sort of things we’ll post, and putting together a calendar for posts that matches up with our church calendar, and keeps things coming along with regularity. I can’t emphasise how important these two things are if you’re going to do something other than a static website.

Content is king.

New content is, like in the history books of any exciting monarchy – more interesting than a royal who sits around and gets bloated or doesn’t really do anything different.

But before one gets to content, one needs to think about how this content is presented. It’s not that style triumphs over substance. It’s a question of one of the biggest bits of getting any sort of traction or recognition for a brand.

Your church is a brand.

Brands aren’t creepy corporate entities like they used to be – they’re something that describes the association people develop with entities. Including your church.

Your brand is not your logo.

Your brand is your story, it’s your character, it’s what people think when someone says the name of your church… your website helps create your brand because it’s where people experience your story, and your character. It’s where they hear your voice (or read it).

So the first step – assuming you’ve got a pretty realistic notion of what your brand is (hint, don’t pretend to be Apple if you’re Dodo, Dodo, the internet that flies…), is to figure out the sort of voice and tone that is going to carry your brand messages (stuff you want to say about you) to other people. The people reading your site.

This needs to match up with what people are going to experience if they move from your virtual front door to your real world front door on a Sunday. Nothing will turn people off quicker than something that isn’t authentic.

For those who’ve been following at home as I’ve unpacked the relationship between ethos, pathos, and logos when it comes to church communications – your voice, in this sense,  is mostly pathos, though it’ll influence the words that you use – but it has to come out of your ethos…

So how do you figure out what your voice sounds like.

I sat down with a few people the other day to think about how we want to sound as we write – across the board. We don’t want to be really prescriptive – there’s no blacklist when it comes to what words we will and won’t use – it’s more a descriptive thing.

And one of the things that helps is to play a little brand association game. There are plenty of big money brands out there who spend a lot of time thinking about their target market (pretty much our target market – in just about every case), and tailor their messages accordingly.

So we thought about some popular brands – Australian brands – who resonate with the kind of people who we might find in our neighbourhood. And we thought about our “product” – what a church service feels like, what the personalities of our preachers are like, and our service leaders… what the vibe is on a Sunday, and what we’d like it to be.

This will be different for every church because there are heaps of variables – but I’m not a huge fan of all churches sounding the same on their websites. I’m not a fan of churchy jargon. I’m not a fan of overly technical language. So it helps me, as I write, to write in character – what would this type of person say… maybe you should think of your church as a famous character or actor… as long as its authentic.

Hopefully if everybody jumps on board with this style it’ll drive consistency across our communications, so that the job of moderating, rewriting, and posting stuff to multiple platforms doesn’t fall to just one person. It’ll also hopefully stop anyone hitting post on anything reactive where the tone of our reaction is damaging.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the document – I hope it’s helpful.

Bear in mind – this is a draft, it isn’t anything official – it hasn’t been approved. It’s not our church policy. We’re not inauthentic Billy Connolly rip-offs, just with less swearing…

This is just something I’m doing as part of the process of launching a new website, and it’s something I think is important to that process.


This is a corporate style suggestion for guiding the approach to speaking, presenting, writing, graphic design, and recording as our church across different platforms including:

  • Online – Our website, our blogs, social media
  • Written resources – Printed material, the ministry papers, and e-books
  • Marketing Material – Announcements, Slides, handouts, advertising, and fliers
  • Videos and multimedia

It is not a prescriptive or restrictive guideline for individual personalities within the staff team, or congregation – that would be odd and decidedly inauthentic, but, instead, describes an aspirational corporate approach to communication conducted on behalf of the church community to represent our church to the community at large.

Ultimately, we don’t want our individual or corporate personality or brand getting in the way of people hearing about Jesus clearly.

Our brand personality – the “voice” we choose to speak with – can be described up through a list of the qualities we aspire to, but in summary we aim, through how we communicate, to:

  • faithfully present the good news of Jesus,
  • be persuasive to our audience – be it those we aim to reach, those connected with us, or those we serve,
  • encourage people to connect with Jesus, and with our church.

We aim to be winsome, generous, interesting, and wise in our contribution to any conversation – taking our core business (the gospel), and convictions (our philosophy of ministry), seriously, but not taking ourselves too seriously in the process.

We want stories the gospel itself, and stories about the work of the gospel in the lives of real people to drive our message – not our own corporate spin or in house jargon.

We want testimonials not advertorials.

We want authenticity, so real people with real stories will carry the communication load wherever possible – rather than simple assertions like this one.

This means we aim to present our message, and ourselves, with:

  • truth,
  • love,
  • grace,
  • humility,
  • integrity,
  • clarity,
  • good humour, including a dash of laconic “Aussie” self-deprecation.

These are essentially the traits we hope to display every time we put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard – whether we are presenting our own position on issues, or responding to criticism.

We are, ultimately, in all areas, beggars telling other beggars where to find food.

Some “golden” brands to plunder…
Ultimately we hope that our communication will be shaped by the Lord Jesus, and the cross, and that we will be guided by the Holy Spirit, and the example of the apostles and those who have gone before us – but there is also much we can learn about communication and branding from the world around us.

Augustine says we should see truth wherever we can, and “plunder the Gold of the Egyptians” to serve the communication of the gospel.

Here are some secular brands that capture something of the communications ethos behind the Creek Road “brand personality.”

The best brands to look at are those with lots of money to spend on advertising and branding – banks and beer companies…

If we were a bank, we’d be something like ING – both focusing on, and presenting ourselves as focused on, our core business with minimal distractions (for them – banking, for us – the gospel). We pursue excellence in our product rather than spending time and money talking about how good we are. Our communication is personality driven, and simple, without expensive bells and whistles (or walking ATMs). When we speak with a little self-awareness, and self-deprecating humour. The joke is never at the expense of others, but ourselves.

Like ING, we recognise that people in our audience have negative experiences or impressions of our product (Church), and industry (religion), but expect, and speak as though, our product (both the Gospel, and our church) can exceed overturn those impressions and past negative experiences.

If we were a beer – we’d be XXXX, the beer for the everyman, sold through human stories and relationships that people can relate to (think the group of guys on a camping trip), with an emphasis on our humanity and our fallibility (like the guys making bad mistakes on their camping trip), and on our desire and intention to achieve our others-centered goals (like the guys cooking dinner in a new and exciting way). We’ve got an old product – one of the oldest brands going still in existence (Jesus), but like XXXX, we’ll try new ways to make it appeal to new audiences because we believe in the product.


This is a voice I think we can pull off without having to moderate our personalities too much across our team. It’s not a perfect fit for anyone – but it’s a comfortable fit for everyone. It seems real. It seems manageable.

So what do you think?

Does this whole process seem a little artificial?

Is it really all that necessary (it’s possible we’re overthinking this)?

How important is consistency?

 

How would you describe the voice of your church? How would you describe the voice of other churches using a famous pop-culture character?

What is preaching?

I’ve been talking to my dad a little about the hubbub surrounding Hearing Her Voice, my review, and some of the stuff I’ve been suggesting is relevant to how we think about preaching from the thought world of the first century. Dad (and now Mikey) made the interesting point that there’s never really been a solid definition of preaching, as in “what we do in the pulpit in church on a Sunday,” beyond teaching, especially for those influenced by the Knox/Robinson revolution in the Australian evangelical scene.

Here, as a bit of a cheat note, is the relatively pregnant definition I’m suggesting in this post:

Preaching is the persuasive and authoritative proclamation of the good news that Jesus is the Christ, who launched God’s kingdom in his death and resurrection, it relies on the authority of God provided by his word, and the gifts supplied to his body – the church – by the Spirit, to beget and nurture the faith of those God has called.

It’s interesting that the Knox/Robinson ecclesiology, which Mark Thompson has just summed up in The Briefing, seems to influence the understanding of what happens in the pulpit on a Sunday. There is another useful factor that I’ll get to below – but I wonder if the appropriate first principle for figuring out what “preaching” is, particularly in the context of the gathered people of God, is to figure out what church is.

What is church?

I’m a young guy, I have nothing like the runs that either Knox or Robinson had on the board – but I want to humbly suggest that their focus on the internal aspect of church life, appears to have come at the cost of ignoring the simultaneous external aspect of what it means to be the church.

I’ll bold the bit that I think create an unnecessary limit on what church is.

Thus church is Christian fellowship. Like all fellowship it requires as a sine qua non ‘other-person-centredness’, that is, being genuinely interested in the other person as a person, and, in particular, as a Christian person. It will require communication, talking to each other in Christian things, in the things of faith and hope in Christ. Christian church fellowship means not only talking together, but doing together Christian things such as praising, praying, and thanking God. Our fellowship is not only directed towards God, but also towards one another, building one another up as Christians.”

What’s really interesting is what’s missing. If the reformers model of church as mother, the ordinary means of both begetting and nurturing faith, is correct – and I think it is, then an ecclesiology and understanding of what the role of the church is that excludes the process of begetting is slightly lacking.

Also, if the church is incarnational – the physical body of Christ, united to him, and the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit – it seems odd to limit its focus like the quote above does. Christ’s ministry, recorded in the gospels, seems to be directed to all people, publicly, in the service of God, with clear demonstrations that he was and is the long promised king bringing the long promised kingdom, ultimately for the benefit of those who put their trust in him, but this definition explicitly suggests the church (and its gatherings) should only really focus on God and other Christians.

It’s not just “missing” – it’s deliberately absent. Here’s how Thompson sums up how both Knox and Robinson conceive of the mission of the church…

“We might discern a slight difference of emphasis between Knox and Robinson at this point, though both consistently argued that “the visible church has no purpose or mission beyond being the church, that is, being the fellowship of Christ’s people”

Thompson says the pay off of this position for who we think church is for is one of the significant contributions Knox/Robinson make for today – and I’d say it’s part of the significant contribution to whatever confusion exists about what the difference is between “teaching” and “preaching”… I’ve heard from someone sharp, and remember, I haven’t read anything by either of these guys, that their emphasis, and thus the emphasis at Moore College is on training Bible teachers, and letting authority rest in the word of God, rather than training preachers.

Thompson sets up, or articulates, what I think is an unhelpful false dichotomy in our thinking about the orientation of our gatherings.

“Some of our contemporary confusion about what we do when we come together, it seems to me, arises from a failure to observe the important distinction between being intelligible to outsiders and being oriented towards outsiders. Paul expected that an outsider might enter the assembly at Corinth and understand what was being said. But he did not expect that all that was being done would be oriented towards the outsider, calculated to remove all that might seem strange to the outsider, or even designed so that the outsider might anonymously observe and feel more comfortable.”

I’d argue that the problem isn’t one of failing to observe an important distinction, I’d say it’s failing to grasp that the thing that both outsiders and insiders need – the one thing – is to know the gospel of Jesus.

You don’t have to choose between “seeker” and “believer” oriented – because both seekers and believers receive their mothering in the same way – the gospel. Sure. The full significance of the gospel is something that bites with time – which is why Paul can say he gives the Corinthians “milk, not solid food” (1 Cor 3:2), but I don’t think his preaching ever goes beyond “Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 1:22-24) and the wonder of being united with Christ and having our status as children of God restored in him – and the impact that has on how we understand what it means to be human (which seems to be part of the solid food he serves up in Romans).

To know how Jesus, the long awaited Christ, is foretold in the Old Testament, and to know what the kingdom he launched at the cross is, and how we can be a part of it. Clear, authoritative, gospel proclamation, based on the authority of the Scriptures (including the apostolic deposit) – aimed at persuading (both those who are already persuaded, and those who aren’t), will serve both believer and unbeliever, doing the “mother” thing the reformers saw as so key to what the church was on about.

Also, if we assume that part of being the church isn’t just wanting to have fellowship with one another and to do things together as we worship God, sacrificially, with the gifts he gave us, as the Body of Christ, under his head, but see this role extending to something like seeking to be, actively, his representatives on earth – as his ambassadors, as participants in his mission – then not letting this impact how we gather, such that our gatherings make the gospel message as clear as it possible can be (which in turn benefits the insider), is a bit odd.

While I think Knox and Robinson made some incredible contributions to how we think of the church using appropriate theological categories, I suspect their desire not to meddle with the harmful stuff the ecumenical movement was doing meant their picture of the church as an entity with some sort of outwards focus was a little weak.

Thompson says:

“Of course we should recognize the danger of alienating those who visit our churches with obscure language, unexplained rituals and general insensitivity or rudeness. However, the outsider is visiting or entering a fellowship that has a particular character that marks itself out from other gatherings. Not all ‘strangeness’ is bad, especially when we consider how distant our contemporary culture has become from gospel priorities. The desire in some circles to transform church into something which resembles other gatherings (theatres, cafes, etc.) needs a better justification than it is often given.”

And again, sets up an interesting dichotomy. Strangeness isn’t bad, unless it obscures the gospel. Unexplained rituals or obscure language is bad because it obscures the gospel. You don’t have to jump from an unexplained ritual to theatre though – a better place on the spectrum might be doing whatever it takes to make the message of the gospel, as it relates to the revealed word of God, as clear as possible – using the gifts God has given his body to make his Christ, Jesus, known.

What is “preaching”?

This definition is a bit of a work in process, it brings together the essence of a few previous posts, I’ll provide links here and you can read them, or not, at your leisure, at times I’ll assume premises that I’ve argued for in these posts:

In yesterday’s post (the last one in that list) I tried to show that when the New Testament uses the word preaching it brings with it the idea of proclaiming Jesus as the Christ, and proclaiming the kingdom of God.

I’m also assuming the legitimacy of a Biblical Theological framework that is something like Goldsworthy’s (while recognising that attempts to apply one central motif, rather than seeing many strands contributing to a rich picture of fulfilment in Jesus, is a bit reductionist). Such a framework also sits in the Reformed tradition, where it is understood that for any passage of Scripture to be appropriately understood by a Christian audience, as Christian scripture, it needs to be understood through the lens of Jesus being the Christ.

On this basis all faithful “Bible teaching” points to Jesus being the Christ. You can certainly “teach” about the Bible both the Old Testament, and narrative bits of the Gospels that occur before the cross, and its meaning for its first, pre-cross readers, but that’s not preaching.

Harking back, for a second, to the Knox/Robinson model of church – because they rightly want to place the emphasis on the authority of Scripture, they saw teaching (as I understand their position) as expositing Scripture faithfully, with the preacher and his congregation sitting under the authority of the word – rather than the office of the preacher. And there’s a real rightness to that. In this way “teaching and exercising authority” was one act – the act of standing in front of the congregation and presenting the authority of God, and it was limited, by Paul’s instruction, to men.

But in jumping on “teaching” as the vehicle for authoritative instruction in the church, without really adequately defining or emphasising what “preaching” is – such that any trained monkey can be taught to teach – they’ve robbed us a little bit, I think, when it comes to supplying a definition of what preaching is.

Here’s my working definition – hopefully tying up nicely where I’ve been heading in the last few posts:

Preaching is the persuasive and authoritative proclamation of the good news that Jesus is the Christ, who launched God’s kingdom in his death and resurrection, it relies on the authority of God provided by his word, and the gifts supplied to his body – the church – by the Spirit, to beget and nurture the faith of those God has called.

Preaching is multi-genred, as the Scriptures are, and includes, I think, exhortation, teaching, rebuking, prophecy, and anything that helps people to see who Jesus is. It’s multi-media, it is communicated through the word – primarily, as it is adorned by the character of those who speak it, the way they speak it, and through the work of the Spirit (in the gifts supplied to the speakers, and the work the Spirit is doing in conforming the speaker to the image of Jesus, and in his work in the lives of the hearers).

If I ever get up in the pulpit on a Sunday and what I’m doing isn’t achieving that end, I feel like I’m wasting my time.

It’s interesting that Broughton Knox, in this quote from the Thompson piece, appears to agree with the essence of the sermon.

“We who are members of Christ’s church should lift our thoughts to where Christ is, and remember that the purpose of Christ’s gathering us in his presence is for fellowship with him and with one another by our hearing his voice which comes to us in the preaching of the gospel within that fellowship…[34. Knox, ‘Church’, p. 22.]”

I’d just add that it’s also for the purpose of bringing other people into the fellowship that we enjoy as we participate in the task of glorifying God by declaring his good news in a clear and persuasive way.