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.
“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.”
“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 SandBible.com 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.