Friday, August 15, 2008

Video Sermons

Why is the central charismatic preacher so important for having a big church? It doesn't help the church and it weighs stress on the preacher disproportionately. Slate had an article about the "video franchise" services that are popping up across the country:

And as an engine of church growth, video preaching poses problems for even the most ardent evangelicals. Some fear it will allow well-known pastors to swoop into new territories and roll up struggling locally led churches while rolling over smaller ones, especially those tied to mainline Protestant denominations, such as the Presbyterians and Baptists, that are already losing adherents to nondenominational megachurches—and talented pastors to other careers. "Where does a man or woman who feels called to preach get practical experience if their local church is a video venue?" says Bob Hyatt, founder of the Evergreen Community, a small evangelical church that holds services in two pubs in Portland, Ore.

Saddleback Church's Rick Warren, perhaps the best-known megachurch leader in the country, has said for years that he never broadcast his services on television for just that reason. But he has evidently softened his stance: This spring, Saddleback opened the first three of 10 planned video venues in and around its Orange County, Calif., home. "We're not reaching out because we need to be bigger, we're reaching out because more people need Jesus," the church's Web site says. Try telling that to the small-time minister when Mr. Purpose-Driven Life comes to town.

And it's not just a problem for other pastors. In fact, says Shane Hipps, author of The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Faith, the Gospel, and Church, using video goes against a critical tenet of Protestant faith: the priesthood of all believers. Instead of a real experience, it offers a mediated one that inherently puts the pastor in a position of greater power over the masses. "It's actually undermining their theology," he told me recently. Hipps, who worked in advertising for Porsche before entering the seminary, says the small Mennonite community he leads in Glendale, Ariz., asked him to consider "going multisite," as it's called. He refused. Even podcasting his sermons makes him uncomfortable. He started doing it for the benefit of elderly members who couldn't make it to church, but a year later, his own minor celebrity has helped him acquire 6,000 subscribers.

The bottom line is that people keep coming to these video franchises, and as long as that's our criterion we'll keep offering them. That is a good thing, because different people come to these different services. Our church misses the "video cafe" we used to have because it allowed us to set the service up like a coffeehouse and dispense with things like pews. Many people were more comfortable with that. But why as the years go by does it seem like my church is focused more and more on that one central speaker? Is the problem societal and there's nothing to be done about it? Or can something change it?

I don't know, so I'm asking.


Patrick said...

me too.

Patrick said...

It seems like something bound to happen in most evangelical churches. What if our worship services were more participatory? What if the service itself was designed to teach a story through participation in that story? When a service is focused on the sermon, that service's quality is judged based on the quality of the sermon. So a good speaker is necessary for this type of service to be "good." But what if the services at our church weren't sermon-based? What if they were liturgical? I'm not talking about following the BCP for our orders. I mean liturgical in the sense that the whole service is intended for teaching, and is centered around the scripture/revelation we are learning. Then, our excellent speaker becomes a part of the greater whole. His/her gifts are still used, but s/he is not the "main attraction." People come to learn, come to sing, come to pray, and the sermon serves to accentuate the service, not be the center of the service.

What if we planned worship services by asking, "How can each element of the service work together to teach us and form us as Christians?" instead of asking "How can the songs we pick accentuate the point in the sermon?"

Sermons could still be video-fed (sp?) to different locations, but at least that one speaker would no longer be the foundation of the church.

I love our pastor, and I love our church, but I want to participate in the services other than just singing and listening, and mentally reflecting. I don't want my only time of response to be at the end of the service when we sing a special song and can pray with people at the front if we "feel led." I want to respond to every part of the service as it is happening, and I want response to be a continual part of the service. I want to feel like the songs teach me as I sing them, not like they were chosen because they share a common phrase with the title of the sermon. I want to pray with my neighbor during the service, not just at the end. I want to sit in silence and reflect after I sing a hymn. I want to see art that reflects the same truth I have just sung about. I want to touch objects, and create things that help myself and others understand who we are, who God is, and what our work in the world is. I want to taste communion and think of it in a new way that joins my life to Christ's, my death to Christ's, and my hope to Christ's resurrection. I want to know that when someone speaks in a service or prays between songs, when the choir sings, when announcements are given, and when teachings are spoken, that they mean something. Not just on their own, but in relation to each other, in relation to the service, and in relation to the life of my church. I want to know that people think about what they pray and say before they say it, and that they say it as expression of themselves to God AND to the congregation, that we all may learn from it, not be confused and disillusioned by empty filler words. I want to know that the staffs of my church are trained to do this, and to teach others to do it.

I want to be able to think critically about a service I just attended and come out of my thoughts with MORE than just critique.

I want to experience God through ALL of my senses as I worship with the people around me.

I want to know that my worship is forming who I am, and is forming my church with me.

I want to know that this formation is intentional, well-planned, and in a direction that will enable me and my church to do the work of the Kingdom of God in the most effective way possible.

Wow. I got excited/riled up. Sorry.

And sorry I missed you the other day. Did you get the letter I put in your box? Hope you are doing well.

BenMc said...

Nice rant!

The 1 Corinthians model where everyone brings something to the service is one that we're just not that aware of. We're more aware of the fact that Paul took a leadership role over a network of churches. But how much of Paul's leadership style came from his wandering lifestyle?

That's not to romanticize the 1 Cor. model of church. Our music minister in particular has to be the most quality-control type of pastor in the church, because that's the one place where people still occasionally feel comfortable enough to bring something to worship. And sometimes you have to say "no you can't sing a solo" or whatever. But part of that is the way the church is set up: 600 people focused on one spot. That one spot better be good or the whole church suffers! No wonder the people in that spot, even if they are good at it, suffer burnout and exhaustion.

So church needs to "spread the load." That said, I also really don't like the "get in groups and pray" in church, because I end up next to people I don't know at all and I just can't pray that way. Too much of an introvert.

So I really appreciate what you had to say. I think in some small ways it can be integrated into today's churches. Mine in particular is in danger of being unbalanced in this regard.

PS: Yes, I did get your letter -- thanks a lot!