I spoke to a group of about 35 pastors recently about “digital ministry.” Jason and I rarely have the occasion to speak solo. We don’t like it much, partly because that means we can’t take mental breaks on stage, but mainly because we have learned that there is no better way to model team than live and in person.
In the Q n A time, I (once again) heard the old argument made, against media: “Let me caution you. Sometimes it’s important to be able to come away from media, and not let it get in the way of the message. Sometimes there just isn’t an image that works, so at my church we keep it simple. There’s even some weeks we don’t even use the screen, or we just put Christian symbols up.”
Maybe it’s the nature of being an iconoclast. (Wow, what an ironic word: iconoclast, or “image breaker”, referred originally to the pioneers who, 500 years ago, suggested the church become more effective communicators by embracing the new technology of mass print media and move away from the stale traditions of image, experience, and “smells and bells.” But I digress.) As advocates for digital media and image in worship, I guess Jason and I will go to our graves hearing this same pejorative “question” from church insiders and professionals. I tried to politely acknowledge that, yes, some weeks are more difficult than others to image, but when we decide to make it “simple” on ourselves, we are making a decision to make it more difficult on our congregations.
The session moved on from there, but there were many other things that I wondered in my own heart, which are things Jason and I have often wondered aloud together, such as:
1. I wondered if the pastor who asked the question truly had “ears to hear”, or if he had sat not listening but merely rehearsing an opportunity to make a counter-argument;
2. I wondered how many church professionals, regardless of denomination, confuse the small “w” ?Ãƒâ€žÃƒÂ¬ the printed words of the Bible – for the big “W” ?Ãƒâ€žÃƒÂ¬ the living Word of Jesus Christ;
3. I wondered how much the spirit of Vatican II has been lost when people can still come for the first time to a church, anywhere, on any given Sunday, in which church professionals have decided to “keep it simple”, and in so doing have created a worship service of language and images that, while in English, may as well be in Latin;
4. I wondered if the artists who originated what he referred to as “Christian symbols” were eager to start a new tradition for future church people to use on “simple” Sundays, or were in fact taking profound risks and trying to create a way to make the Gospel more understandable to their own indigenous culture;
5. I wondered how pastors who have been trained in the value of homiletics could so blindly ignore the value of story and the role of metaphor in rhetoric when communicated through a visual medium;
6. I wondered how many preachers still fail to see that, in many parts of the Bible, truth is story and story is truth, and metaphor is about as biblical as you can get, whether God is a bush, the Holy Spirit is a dove, we are clay, or sheep, or children, or even God is a man, and that message and media are inseparable, messily mixed together;
7. I wondered when so many church professionals become insiders, moving from a fresh and eager perspective to a correct and political perspective, and whether these insiders are even aware of the day they step across the threshold;
8. I wondered why some church professionals want to stick their collective heads in the sand, demonstrating an inability to see what is so obvious to so many, that the oral practice of preaching was profoundly influenced by print and text, and will again be by screens and image, whether we like it or not, and how there were many, many people who once violently fought the introduction of print technology into worship, just as now happens with new media;
9. I wondered if this pastor, who comes from the Methodist tradition, has ever wondered while singing a standard Methodist hymn if, when Charles Wesley returned from observing workers exiting mines and singing bar songs with an idea for putting spiritual lyrics on top of those same secular melodies, if there were churchy people who said to Wesley, “Oh, that’s nice and all, but it’s just too much work. Let’s just keep it simple.”
Maybe someone can help me put some of these wonderings to rest. Maybe someday before I die.