Category Archives: Media

Is Multimedia the Death of Preaching?

Thirty-to forty-minute sermons don’t work with Gen-Xers. Doing a service which does not incorporate video and contemporary music for the most part does not work with Gen-X. […] Some of the fascinating churches I have visited that are trying to reach Gen-X and are doing so well may have a thirty-minute sermon, which is broken into three segments during the course of the service. You have a ten-minute introduction to the topic, then you have an eight-minute video on that topic. Then the preacher comes back and preaches another ten minutes. Then you have a drama sketch for five to eight minutes, and the service is closed with ten minutes of preaching. That fits their communication style. It fits their attention span. It fits their style of thinking — the “mosaic” style of thinking. (George Barna)

George Barna wrote this a generation ago, but his words still have application to the modern church context. Preachers today are under enormous pressure to make preaching more savvy, more visual, more multisensory, or perhaps just get rid of preaching altogether in favour of multimedia presentations. What are we to make of this?

In my previous post I began a three-part series trying to answer the question: ‘why privilege preaching?’. In this next post, I want to tentatively suggest that preaching as a medium best corresponds with God’s primary medium in revealing himself to humanity.

Marshall MacLuhan famously said that ‘The medium is the message’. In other words, how we communicate effects what we communicate. For example, the evening news on TV – which is primarily driven by 30 second to 2 minute news segments mostly consisting of fragmented video footage, strung together by brief commentary, then broken up by commercials and ending with a heart-warming story about puppies being rescued from Chinese restaurants (joke) – communicates something about the news in addition to communicating the news. It’s saying something about the nature of life and the relative importance of world events – i.e. life is rather fragmented; news = sound bites; and puppies are as important as massacres in Syria. The medium is the message.

When you begin asking why God chose a particular medium of communication in revealing himself to humanity, it may have implications for the medium of communication we privilege to deliver his revelation.

In short, God chose words. More specifically God chose to speak his words. Even the words that he caused to be written in Scripture are, to a large extent, intended to be read aloud, re-preached, re-told, and re-verbalised, especially in the public assembly (1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 4:1). I don’t think it’s just a matter of God choosing the lowest common denominator in a predominantly pre-visual and pre-literate age (though that is true to a certain extent). I think it has to do with the nature of spoken communication.

Compare the spoken word with visual communication – e.g. radio vs. TV; a phone call vs. a text message. The spoken (and heard) word is more intimate than purely visual forms of communication. That’s why radio is called a ‘warmer’ medium than TV. The spoken word is also more relational. The further one gets from face-to-face verbal communication the ‘colder’ communication becomes, since so much of communication is meta-communication such as intonation (i.e. how we say it). Visual images and the written word have to find ways to “code in” that meta-communication in a way that the spoken word doesn’t (just think about how much more likely an email is misunderstood than a spoken word!). And lastly, spoken words have an immediacy about them that images and written words don’t. Images especially need higher levels of interpretation that are circumscribed by one’s culture. It’s not that spoken words don’t need interpretation, it’s just that since language and culture have a symbiotic relationship, once a word is spoken (or for that matter, written) in a particular language, the interpretation is more ’embedded’ in its actual usage. That’s why if you’re wanting to warn people, you’re more likely to use spoken words than simply show a picture or a sign. (A red sign in our culture means danger because that’s how we interpret the colour red, but for a Chinese person, red symbolises prosperity.)

So isn’t it interesting that when God wants to relate to people – variously to befriend them, bless them, expose their sin, judge them or give them hope – he uses words? He speaks. He preaches. He declares it so we can hear it and heed it. And note how the declarative speech-acts (such as prophecy and preaching) carry with them a certain authority. They are uniquely suitable mediums for God to communicate his words since when God speaks there’s a certain non-negotiability about it. He doesn’t leave his words open to uncertainty and leave postmodern audiences to interpret them however their personal or cultural biases might take them.

Isaiah 55:10–11 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

In other words, there’s a reason why God speaks his revelation, tells his revelation, preaches his revelation, even sings (?) his revelation. The reason is the message – the gospel (by this I mean the gospel in the fullest and widest sense: i.e. God’s message of Christ’s Lordship and salvation in the whole of Scripture). In fact, the word ‘gospel’ itself reflects this since the gospel is news. News needs to be declared, announced, proclaimed and preached. When you preach the gospel (medium) you are saying something about the message – i.e. that it’s personal and relational, and yet urgent and authoritative. Thus on the flip-side it’s worth asking the question: if we decide not to preach the gospel but privilege other forms of communicating it: visualise it, enact it, multimedia it, Q&A it, does something get lost? (I’m not saying here that there aren’t many different and helpful ways to communicate the gospel; there certainly are. I’m just asking the question of ‘what do we lose?’.) Does the gospel message itself privilege the spoken medium over others?

So coming back to my initial point about preaching: I believe that because God himself privileges a particular medium of communication to deliver his gospel message, this, in some measure, constrains us also to privilege spoken and declarative communication – i.e. preaching. Multimedia may be helpful supplements to our teaching and preaching, but I think were the church to downgrade the privileging of preaching, we would lose not only a Biblical medium, but perhaps a whole lot of the message along with it.

Sorry but…

I came across two unrelated articles in the Herald this morning. Both of them got me thinking about the nature of apologies and how often we say we’re ‘sorry’ but try to protect ourselves in the process.

The first relates to a series of racist tweets fired off by a South African model (here). After the remarks on Twitter that cost her sponsorship and an award, she tweeted back her ‘sincerest apologies’, but stated that it was ‘not in her nature’ to be racist. However, according to the Herald, this incident was not isolated and the twittersphere erupted with the discrepancy as soon as she tweeted it.

The second relates to a slanderous tweet by writer Catherine Deveny about Cardinal George Pell (here). The context was the Q&A debate where Cardinal Pell had paused between saying “We were preparing young English boys”, and, ‘for Holy Communion”. Deveny pounced on that paused and insinuated in a tweet that Pell condoned pedophilia. As a result, Pell threatened to sue Twitter, at which point Deveny issued an apology. However, her apology seems to me to be loaded with hidden barbs. Read it for yourself:

“Clearly it was significant enough hurt and embarrassment caused for him to lawyer up and spend the Catholic Church’s money to pursue defamation action against Twitter and me,” she wrote.

“There must have been deep deliberation over the decision to spend thousands of dollars of parishioners’ money on legal fees.

“Spending money that could have been spent feeding the poor, sheltering the homeless or alleviating suffering, instead of on defamation litigation, clearly illustrates how serious the breach I allegedly committed was in the eyes of Cardinal Pell.”

In both incidences, “sorry” does seem to be the hardest word (thanks Elton John). Why couldn’t the South African model just apologise unreservedly? If racism wasn’t it her nature, then where did it come from? It’s not good enough to assert, as she did, that it happened when she was frustrated and angry. I would have thought that it’s in times of stress that our true nature comes out. Clearly, racism was in her nature and she should have just stopped with a repentant ‘I’m sincerely sorry and I have no excuses.”

In the other case, why couldn’t Deveny just swallow her pride and say an unreserved ‘sorry’ without simultaneously taking a swipe at the Catholic Church once again? To me, her apology was so passive-aggressive that I commend the graciousness of Cardinal Pell even to accept it.

All of this turns the question back to us: do we apologise with a series of ‘but…’s and excuses? How many times have I apologised to my wife only to subtly (or not so subtly) defend myself in the process? In so doing, not only are we undermining the sincerity of our apology, we’re also heard as saying “it’s your fault”, or, “you (or the situation) made me do it”.

Those who have been liberated by the gospel to receive God’s grace don’t need to make excuses. As Tim Keller is often quoted: ‘We are more wicked than we ever dared believe but at the same time more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope.” When we sin, whether against God or others, we ought to come with unreserved apologies: “I’m sorry. I have no excuses. This was in my nature and my broken nature needs God’s grace and yours. Please forgive me.”

Jesus calls that spirit of mournfulness and brokenness ‘blessed’ (Matthew 5:3-4).

What I Learnt From My Social Media Fast

So after 40 days… I’m back. Back on Instagram, back on Twitter, back on Foursquare, and of course, back on Facebook. Maybe it was a bit of a weak way of doing ‘Lent’. After all, giving up meat or coffee (in previous years) was way more difficult. But since this was the course of action I took, I thought I might as well do some reflecting on what staying away from social media for a month and a half taught me.

1. Power was more addictive than I thought

It’s strange to think about accessibility to social media (SM) as power, but it wasn’t until I went without that I realised just how much it had to do with power. SM gave me the power of knowing what people were up to almost all the time. When it was suddenly taken away, I realised how power-less I was compared with everyone else who was still connected. SM also gave me an extensive reach into lots of different networks: a power that could be used and harnessed for good when it comes to ministry. That too was now unavailable.

But as already noted, the power itself wasn’t the problem since it could be used for good. However the addictive lure of this power was something I was surprised with. I missed having this power, not because of the good it could achieve, but “just because”.

2. People’s approval was more addictive than I thought

Another luring and potentially addictive aspect of SM I didn’t think I was in such need of was the ego-massaging nature of SM. Put simply: I liked being able to write stuff on my Facebook wall or post a tweet or a photo and have people ‘like’ it, comment on it, and interact with it. I had no idea how much that mattered to me until I went without it.

3. I’d forgotten how important it was to focus on the ‘here and now’ and just enjoy it

I’m a notorious fidgeter and multitasker. I used to type quietly on the keyboard answering emails whilst on the phone with Karen. I’m the kind of guy who used social media wherever I was to endlessly check in, take photos, post comments etc. etc. Not being able to do that for 40 days was initially difficult, but after a while, it dawned on me how ‘nice’ it all was. It’s like when someone switches off that endless dripping tap that you’d almost forgotten was there because it became part of the background noise. But suddenly once it’s off, you begin to appreciate its absence. It’s amazing to think how SM has only been with us for a few short years and yet, I had forgotten how wonderful it is just to be where you are without caring about letting the rest of the world know where you are, who you’re with and what interesting food you’re eating.

4. My use of time became more intentional

This is a no-brainer. SM was an incredible time-waster. Seconds here, minutes there… it all adds up. Not having a default boredom-relief in SM helped me be far more intentional with my use of time. I read more, conversed more, played more music and listened to more music.

So in summary, a SM fast was a pretty good experiment. You don’t really know how much you needed something until you go without it. And it’s easy to deny you’re addicted to something when it’s always there.

So now that I’m back, I’m hoping that I can take some of what I learnt to temper my usage of SM. I know that’s easier said than done, so perhaps another time I’ll have to unplug and switch off again. Until then… see you on Facebook!

 

Are you an online coward?

It’s been interesting to follow the recent controversy dubbed ‘Yumi-Gate‘, where hosts of The Circle Yumi Stynes’ and George Negus’ comments on air about war hero, Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith, has met with a barrage of backlash. Extreme vitriole was levelled against Yumi Stynes in particular, and most of it online. Certainly what they said was silly and insensitive, but as this opinion piece in the SMH notes, enough is enough. Given that they had apologised personally to Corporal Smith and were forgiven by him, it’s equally amazing just how unrelenting the hate-campaign has been.

We certainly live in a different world now. Social media is an instant, constant, global, and permanent way of expressing one’s opinion and creating a ‘mob-mentality’. Witness the hate-campaign against former Masterchef contestant Joanne Zalm, or the backlash against Kyle Sandilands. Or a little closer to home, any time a Christian expresses a view in the public forum, scroll down to the comments section and you’ll see just how angry, irrational and excessive the comments are from those who disagree.

Why is it that Twitter, Facebook posts, comments and blogs open the proverbial Pandora’s Box when it comes to hate-speech? Quite simply it’s because we are cowards. It’s easy to shoot a verbal arrow at someone when you’re hiding behind an online wall of safety. Most of what’s said would not be said if it were a face-to-face confrontation or debate. Social media has given a whole bunch of cowards a voice, and the democratic nature of publishing nowadays has ensured that all opinions are treated equally, even if they are cowardly, irrational or hate-filled.

I’m not here to change all of that with this post. I just want to challenge God’s people to be different. It’s easy to ‘vent’ on Twitter and Facebook. It’s easy to post a thoughtless comment or a blog-post, knowing that people are going to read it, but not realising that we might hurt someone in the process. It’s far easier to post a comment or a tweet rather than give a personal and gentle rebuke, if rebuke is actually necessary.

This is a challenge for me as well as for you: don’t post anything critical against someone unless you have explored other means of giving them that feedback. If you really feel like someone on Facebook needs a piece of your mind, why not privately message them? I’ve received a few of these in the past and have been grateful to be able to consider them. Sometimes I’ve posted thoughtless words and have had people private message me about that and was then able to pull the messages off the wall.

Just because we’re not using our literal ‘tongues’ doesn’t mean that God cares any less about how poisonous our words can be (James 3:6). Let’s not be cowards and hide behind technological walls.

Kevin Rudd: Leadership Lessons

It’s odd for me to post something even remotely political, as I would be the first to admit that my knowledge of political stuff is rather shallow and reliant on the reporters in the media. It’s also odd because in spite of the title of this post, I’m actually going to write about what not to do in light of the shallow understanding I have of ex-PM Rudd’s leadership style.

However after reading David Marr’s essay from 2010 this morning, a few lessons about leadership popped into my head in view of Mr. Rudd’s track record while he was PM. So what follows are reflections that apply to me as a pastor and a leader since I know how prone I am to make each one of his mistakes:

  1. Stick to the big picture and learn to delegate. Time and again we hear of Rudd’s obsession with the minutiae. He was a details man who couldn’t let his ministers and those whom he worked with just get on with the job they were given. Good leadership knows that balance between attention for details and letting others just run with the ball. Good leadership also knows to distinguish the wood from the trees and is able to rally people with the big picture in mind.
  2. Don’t just woo the crowd, empower your team. It seems that Rudd was (and is) great with the people but not so great with his own party. A Christian leader with any sort of exposure can spend all of his time increasing his public visibility whilst neglecting the training and gathering and empowering of his own leadership team. The more publicly popular a ministry, the more it can hide the ‘rot’ that lies in its own structure. We must not settle for that sort of duplicitous shallowness that can come with popularity.
  3. Don’t be a jerk in the way you treat people, especially those who serve under you. So many great leaders (such as the late Steve Jobs) were quite frankly colossal jerks when it came to how they treated people. So again, while the public image is great, the private person behind closed doors can be a foul-mouthed jerk who people don’t like to be with. And while pastors and Christian leaders should, in theory, be great people to serve with and be around, the truth of the matter is that we’re tempted to be jerks as well. How tragic for us to forget simple humility and what it means to regard others as better than ourselves.
  4. Don’t forget to rest. Mr. Rudd is known for his extraordinary ability to operate with very little sleep. However, a lack of sleep can push a person to be a bigger jerk (see point 3 above and Marr’s essay) simply because they are too tired to function. Pastors and leaders need rest. When we aren’t well-rested, our godliness dips and temptation to sin in many ways rises.
  5. Don’t be a lonely leader. Yes leadership can be lonely, especially the higher one goes. This certainly was the case for Mr. Rudd. However, his lonely style of leadership ended up isolating him from those who were best positioned to help him. Pastors and Christian leaders can do this as well. Yet unlike Mr. Rudd, we have little excuse for this to happen since we spend so much time teaching others about the importance of Christian community and accountability. Christian leaders need to find mentors, regardless of how high they are in leadership.

Any others?

Unwanted?

I came across this article in SMH.com, Indian Girls Are Renamed to Finally Feel Wanted:

More than 200 Indian girls whose names mean ”unwanted” in Hindi have chosen new names for a fresh start in life.

A central Indian district has held a renaming ceremony it hopes will give the girls new dignity and help fight widespread gender discrimination that gives India a skewed gender ratio, with far more boys than girls.

The 285 girls – wearing their best outfits with barrettes, braids and bows in their hair – lined up to receive certificates with their new names along with small bouquets from Satara district officials in Maharashtra state.

In shedding names like Nakusa or Nakushi, which mean ”unwanted” in Hindi, some girls chose to name themselves after Bollywood stars like Aishwarya or Hindu goddesses like Savitri. Some just wanted traditional names with happier meanings, such as Vaishali, meaning ”prosperous, beautiful and good”.

”Now in school, my classmates and friends will be calling me this new name, and that makes me very happy,” said a 15-year-old girl who had been named Nakusa by a grandfather disappointed by her birth.

She chose the new name Ashmita, which means ”very tough” or ”rock hard” in Hindi.

(Read more here)

It’s a wonderful story, and my heart goes out to all those now-delighted little Indian girls who have a new identity and a new sense of belonging. And the warmth of this story immediately made me think of how much more wonderful it is to have our personal histories rewritten and our unwanted statuses revoked by God our Creator. A couple of passages from the Bible came to mind:

Hosea 2:21 “In that day I will respond,” declares the LORD—  “I will respond to the skies, and they will respond to the earth; 22 and the earth will respond to the grain, the new wine and oil, and they will respond to Jezreel. 23 I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’ I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ (“Lo-Ammi”, cf. Hos. 1:9) ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’”

Ephesians 2:11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.

In Christ, God gives us a new name. Those who were once far away, unwanted, not his people, have now been brought near by his blood and given a new name, a new identity… wanted. When you really understand that and revel in the amazing privilege of that, nothing will ever stay the same.

WWJPA

What would Jesus protest about?

One of the top news stories has to do with the protests that began on Wall Street now spreading throughout the world, especially in European countries like Italy and London. One of the protesters apparently dressed up as a Jesus with the placard: ‘I threw the moneylenders out for a reason!’

So it got me thinking: what did Jesus really protest about when he marched into the temple and threw out the money-changers? Was it really because they were corrupt or greedy or financially unscrupulous? Is this a parallel situation to the protests happening around the world against corporate greed?

A closer look at the Gospel accounts in Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19 and John 2 would probably cause us to think again.

In short, by overturning the commerce of money-changers, Jesus was actually overturning the very fabric of Jewish temple worship. Nothing in the texts identify Jesus’ anger as directed against greed or financial dishonesty. In fact, the money-changers (note: not “money-lenders”) and those selling animals were doing the public a service. Without them, it was impossible for travelling pilgrims to come and offer sacrifices at the temple.

So Jesus kicking up a storm over their presence in the outer court (the court of the Gentiles) was a visual statement declaring two radical things: firstly, that the old order of temple worship was over. John 2 especially makes it clear: Jesus is the new temple. Then secondly as a related point, Jesus quotes the Old Testament that declares the goal of the temple is to be a house of prayer for “all nations” (Isaiah 56:7). By overturning and destroying the very system of Jewish temple worship which divided Jews from Gentiles (and here furthermore was actually preventing Gentiles from worshipping in their designated space), Jesus was declaring a new age when worship would equally be available to all, for he himself would be that temple in whose body Jew and Gentile are radically united as one (Ephesians 3).

So what would Jesus protest against?

If I could be so daring to suggest, I believe Jesus would protest in Italy at the Vatican. More than that, he’d protest in any place where ‘church’, sacred buildings, and ‘religion’ eclipsed the reality of Jesus being the one and only perfect meeting place between God and people. He’d also protest against any religious system that continued to separate God’s people based on culture, ethnicity, gender, tradition, experience, or education.

Jesus is the true temple. He’s come to bring a radical worship through his death and resurrection and by his Spirit (see John 4). This temple, unlike the Jewish temple, unites rather than divides. By his heavenly session and his Spirit of intercession, we truly have a ‘house of prayer’ in which we dwell and can freely relate to God our Father.

Savage Secularism

Been noticing in the public media recently how savage our supposed “tolerant” secular society can be in pronouncing judgements and condemnation of public figures. I’m thinking of Kyle Sandilands, Kanye West, and even rescued backpacker Jamie Neale.

Now it’s not that I don’t think Kyle and Kanye have said and done pretty silly things, but the kind of public backlash has been absolutely brutal. We’ve moved very quickly from condemning their actions to plain character assassination. For a secular society that prides itself on tolerance and sidelines the religious for judgementalism, this smells a lot like hypocrisy.

But it’s not surprising I guess. The secularistic worldview, even if it is underpinned by ethical relativism and tolerance, can’t eradicate that deeply sinful nature of human beings to be quick to point fingers at others whilst having big blindspots to our own faults. They’re related in fact: for the more I condemn the other, the better I feel about myself in comparison and so tend to neglect my own shortcomings.

1“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:1)

Ouch!

That’s My King

The best thing about watching this with 350 others at RICE Regenerate Praise on Saturday night was the spontaneous cheering that went on as the clip progressed. I love how people love Jesus!

Big thumbs up and thanks to Albert Martin who created it and allows free non-commercial downloads of it from his vimeo site. You can find it here.