Worship Media Arts

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Making Easter Last Beyond Easter


Easter. It’s a well-known fact that it’s one of the annual great opportunities to reach people who normally don’t attend worship on a regular basis. Statistics show while attendance goes way up on Easter, the spike is often short-lived and numbers revert soon after the big day is over. Such an opportunity should not be squandered with the “same old, same old.”

We’ve been designing worship for fifteen years and every year we face the Easter challenge. For us, it’s been always been difficult to find new and fresh ways to creatively and visually present the story. Once you get past all of the standard imagery of empty tombs, crosses, and lilies, where do you go? Is it possible to create powerful worship for Easter that inspires, retains and even transforms the influx of visitors that will walk through our doors on that special Sunday morning?

Telling the story through metaphor

ButterflyConsider metaphor. Metaphor allows us to tell stories in a ways that connect with the everyday experiences of individuals, believer and nonbeliever alike. We’ve come to define metaphor as a tangible way to express an abstract story, thought, or idea. Metaphor allows us to make the foreign familiar. It puts the gospel into everyday language both oral and visual.

Metaphor is sometimes perceived as an advertising industry buzzword that has little or no place in worship. Those who fail to explore the power of communication that comes through metaphor fail to understand that it was the exclusive method of Jesus’ public ministry.

Mark 4 relates a story from the early part of Jesus’ public ministry, in which he tells the parable of the sower. It’s a long parable, the longest in the Gospels (vv. 3-9). Afterward, when the crowds had left and the disciples were alone with Jesus, they revealed to him that they had no clue what he had been saying. He took the time to explain the entire parable to them, actually spending more time on the explanation than he had on the parable itself (vv. 10-20).

What is really interesting is what happens next. Instead of concluding that such a creative presentation of the Good News didn’t work, and returning to the religious style he had learned in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52), he continued to speak in parables, telling the parables of lamp on the stand (vv. 21-25), the growing seed (vv. 26-29), and the mustard seed (vv. 30-32). He was on a roll!

The best moment comes in verses 33 and 34: “With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.”

Parables were Jesus’ exclusive public style! He didn’t simply use parables as an alternative for the dumb ones in the crowd. Metaphorical teaching was his only public method. Jesus understood that to communicate ideas with effectiveness he had to present his teaching in a means that made sense to his audience. Our audiences today aren’t any different. People listen best when spoken to in a familiar language. This is the essence of metaphor.

Applying a metaphor to an Easter story

For many, the idea of an omniscient deity sending his only son to earth to die for the sins of humankind, only to be resurrected from the dead, can be rather difficult to grasp. Through metaphor, we can frame the story with familiar objects, settings, and experiences that make the story easier to understand.

A few years ago we began brainstorming metaphors for an upcoming Easter season. We were focusing on John 20:1-18. In the story Mary returns to the tomb on Sunday morning, distraught that Jesus’ body has been removed. After encountering two angels, she turns toward who she believes is the gardener and pleads with him to tell her where the body of her Lord has been taken. He responds by calling out her name, revealing to Mary that he is in fact Jesus. Overjoyed, she cries out “Rabboni” (“teacher”) then, we inferred, reaches out to embrace him.

Some might say Jesus’ response was a bit harsh. He responds to her affection with, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the father.”

Why were his first words to push Mary away? Was he still the Rabboni, even after his death? After much discussion, we began to get excited with the idea that Jesus was telling Mary to let go of what she formerly knew of Jesus. No longer just the earthly man she had known, now he is the risen Christ.

Implicit in Jesus’ statement to Mary is the human tendency to try to hold on to our experiences of God. Call it “camp high,” if you will. We have a fear of losing our awareness of a connection with God, or what some even perceive as losing God or having our connection invalidated. It is ironic that for many, the very fact of grasping onto these memories devalues them. Faith is about living in the daily presence of God. It is through a mutual journey toward the cross that our connection with God is daily renewed. We must be willing to let go of former experiences, no matter how powerful, and continually redefine what it means to be a follower at every stage of our life.

Further, faith for Christians is a communal experience. Our faith experiences are meant to be shared, not bottled up. Jesus says to Mary that life for her will come not just from remembering that experience, but also in sharing it with others.

To capture the bittersweet feeling of having to let go, and after much brainstorming, we decided to use the metaphor of a child catching and releasing a butterfly. If we selfishly hang on to old notions of spiritual highs, religion, church and faith, whether in personal devotion or in our church communities, we can starve them of life, to the point they are no good to anyone. But just like releasing a butterfly from a jar, if let go of them, we open ourselves up to new experiences – fresh, vital, risen Lord experiences.

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The Tremendous Staying Power of Image

What was the most memorable experience you’ve ever had in worship? That’s one of my favorite questions to ask at a Creative Worship seminar. It’s fun to see people stop and think about it, then discuss it with their peers.

What I have encountered consistently over the past several years as I’ve asked that question, is that the most memorable worship experiences often revolve around images, metaphors or tangible objects. Being an advocate for such things for the past 15 years, that doesn’t come as a huge surprise, but I’m still learning how to better articulate the value of image in worship.

I’m convinced that using images in tandem with the spoken and written word is the single best way to create staying power for the messages we present in worship. While catchy titles and thematic slogans are good in the short term, they don’t have the same staying power as images. It should be stated that not all images are created equally – abstract “eye-candy” or what we call “holy blobs of color” can be pretty, but not carry a message long term.

Of course there is a danger in using images; they require require setup, are often ambiguous, contain multiple potential interpretations and must be deconstructed in order to properly convey deep truth. But when that work is done, and the gospel is properly conveyed through image, it has the power to last forever.

In the mid 90s, I served as part of the worship design team and media staff at a large Methodist church in Ohio called Ginghamsburg. Ten years after I left, I returned to work as an unpaid servant on their worship design team. Very quickly I was reminded again of the tremendous staying power of image.

In the first few weeks of “being back” I ran into people I’d done ministry with in paid and unpaid roles and a common pattern quickly developed. Nearly every person I talked to had a story from 10 years ago about their most memorable worship experience. Every single one of them without exception was tied to metaphor (which we were doing weekly at the time). What’s even more impressive to me is that key details and message ideas were also part of some of the conversations.

At Midnight Oil seminars, Len Wilson and I tell the story of designing worship with a pastor friend of ours named Adrian Cole. Adrian was a guest preacher one weekend at Ginghamsburg when we were on staff. Six years after that experience, Len and I were invited to speak at Adrian’s church. We hadn’t seen him since that worship design experience 6 years prior. When we greeted each other, we began reminiscing and our conversation shifted to the work we’d done together so many years ago.

When we began to describe in detail of the service and his sermon, which used the metaphor of a half finished sculpture, Adrian stopped us and said, “How on earth do you remember that? It was my sermon, and I don’t remember that.” We responded by saying, “That’s the power of image.” We’ll never forget the sermon about how our journey toward christian perfection is like the process of chipping away at a block of granite until the complete image emerges. I’ll also never forget the image of Adrian on the back of an elephant and the stories of his days in seminary and how God was chipping away at him even then. I’ll never look at a statue and not think of and reflect on the power of that message. Image has the ability to encapsulate ideas that can be carried to the grave.

Another favorite example I use when teaching is rooted in the description of a movie trailer. I ask, “Who can name the movie trailer that featured ripples timed to ‘booms’ within a cup of water sitting on the dashboard of an SUV?” Within seconds shouts from all over the room roar, “Jurassic Park!” You can see that trailer here.

I am regularly amazed that so many people get it right within seconds of the question being posed. I respond by saying, “I didn’t say anything about dinosaurs, DNA, Michael Crichton or anything that would tip you off and you instantly knew from that one image the story I was describing.”

Think about that for a minute. If that one image gets you to Jurassic Park, and you know the movie, that image carries with it the complete narrative of the story, the environments and scenes, the characters and other details that you likely could describe with very little effort.

That trailer came out in the fall of 1992. Without fail, every single group I speak to knows the clip instantly. Can you imagine what would happen in the church if every week in worship you had an image that could carry that much information (characters, story, settings etc) for 19 years and beyond? I can. I’ve seen it in action, and it is exciting.

In my book Digital Storytellers (co-authored with Len Wilson) I wrote, “Art is the discovery of discipleship.” I believe that with my whole heart. When worshipers have a powerful God encounter that is creative and tied to image, that moment lives on and drives worshipers toward deeper personal faith development and world changing mission. It sears truth into the hearts and minds of those who are engaged by it. Maybe that’s why Jesus used metaphor exclusively when teaching in public.

How are you using images to make the message stick around beyond Sunday?


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This Christmas God Wants to Make a Personal Connection


If you’d like to make this your theme for Christmas, check out the full resource here. On sale all this week!



Early Bird Christmas sale (thru Friday Nov 11th)



Are you an early bird? Is your Christmas worship planning underway?

Christmas is one of our best opportunities of the year to add creative elements and raise the bar in worship. It’s also the highest attended service of the year.

The challenge worship planners face is, how do you tell the same Christmas story yet again in a creative, memorable way that will make your guests want to come back?

At Midnight Oil, we’ve thought a lot about that have have created 7 unique Christmas stories that you can share with your congregations. All of them come with a bunch of extras like radio and TV advertising, movie posters, invitation and bulletin art, and more.

To reward all of you early birds out there, we’re dropping all of the downloadable versions of our Christmas resources by 60% (now through Friday the 11th). This is the best deal we’ve ever offered on Christmas resources so don’t miss it!

Here are your choices:
Follow The Star (our best seller – the central image in this piece is the Bethlehem Star)
Rediscover Christmas (our second favorite – looking past the trappings of the season, we find the true meaning of the season)
Personal Connection (our favorite of the set – this piece uses the motif of the infinite Gog of the universe becoming a baby)
Humble Beginnings (created for a more traditional crowd – a pretty straightforward piece centered on the nativity scene)
Come Home For Christmas (an elegant invitation to Christmas – movement through layered photos invites the viewer home for Christmas)
Glimpse the Divine (our newest – based on the angel announcement)

If you’re looking for something a little less narrative, and want Christmas themed worship backgrounds, we’ve got you covered there too.

Check out:
Christmas Loops 1
Christmas Loops 2

We wish you the very best this Christmas!

Jason Moore
Midnight Oil


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How to Avoid “Popcorn Time” in Worship


Does your worship begin with “popcorn time”?

What is “popcorn time” you ask? Good question.

Before 1955, there was a reoccurring problem at the beginning of feature films. Much like today, films began with credits introducing the cast and eventually the title of each film. The problem was that opening titles were basically devoid of creativity. In fact, audiences and projectionists resented them.

Film producers went so far as to imprint a note on film reels requesting that the projectionist “pull curtains before title”, as they’d often wait until the main title came up to open the curtains to reveal the screen.

As you can imagine, audiences would typically wait until the opening titles were over to pay attention to what was happening on the screen. It created an environment where moviegoers would spend the first several minutes of a film buying and munching away on popcorn, until a film’s title was revealed and the narrative began.

This all changed when “The Man With the Golden Arm” came out in 1955. It began in what was then an unconventional/paradigm-shifting way, where the titles were done not just with text, but with moving graphic elements. Graphic artist Saul Bass created for that film what is now know as “the title sequence”.  You can see it here:

Simple by today’s standards, this title sequence ushered in a whole new method of storytelling that has continued on into today’s summer blockbusters.

Saul believed that the opening titles could be used to set a mood that would invite viewers in to the underlying core of a film’s story.  He saw opening titles as a metaphorical extension of a film’s narrative.

Bass described title sequences like this: “I saw the title as a way of conditioning the audience, so that when the film actually began, viewers would already have an emotional resonance with it.”

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