The other Sunday I hit a barrier to my preaching that I’d never expected. We were having a tech run through before the service, and the person on the camera pointed out that the focussing on the lens was quite specific. It had a narrow depth of field. If I moved sideways, I remained clear on the screen. But If I move backward or forward when I preached, I’d go fuzzy. Watch the tape on the floor, Chris.
And I asked myself, did Augustine and Calvin have to handle things like this? (Spurgeon, I imagine, would have relished it).
The short answer is, they did, in a way – we have microphones, they knew that they had to keep their voices above a certain level to be heard, and to fight echoes and acoustics; we have electric light, they knew that if they preached that tiny bit too long, the sun would have set and they wouldn’t be able to read their notes. Every generation has had battles with tech.
But the last year has made me face four specific challenges, which I have not found easy. I expect you have too, and I’d love to hear how you have done.
A fear of talking to a camera
This hasn’t been one lesson, but several. Learning to chat and pray over Zoom is one hurdle; but learning to preach and lead praise through Youtube quite another. One is interactive, the other a broadcast; one is relational, the other public.
And then, even on YouTube, we’ve kept learning. Am I on a phone, or a computer, or a dedicated camera? Is it one that will require restarting after 30 minutes (yes, I’m talking about you, DSLRs)? Are there now two to worry about?
I’ve watched seasoned TV presenters with new ideas, to see how they sit, or walk, or what they do with their hands. It’s complicated.
Am I ready for my close-up, Mr de Mille?
Seriously, adapting to speak naturally to a camera has been a great skill to learn, and I don’t regret it for a second; the reason I had to learn to do it, church in lockdown, is what caused the pain.
A fear of going public
Oh, I hate this. Only last January, we would put our talks on the website and it they would get a handful of listens. The keen faithful, who couldn’t make it that week. Not exactly Chuck Swindoll.
And yes a year later, we’re on YouTube, in full colour, with four-figure views. Not mega-church, and you well get many more than us, but I’m not fishing for fans here. Of course we treat all the figures with healthy scepticism, and a healthy slice are only for a few seconds. Forget that. Our talks (yours and mine) are now available on a much broader and more visible platform than previously. You might even show up in my ‘if you liked that, you might like this’ stream.
And that’s all a context of instant flaying-alive on social media.
If you’re teaching the bible faithfully, sooner or later you’ll bump into passages that really run against our popular culture. In fact, every time you call people to confess their sin, you’ll be doing that. And now you’re doing it aware that just one hashtag could propel you into a Twitterstorm.
Or is that just me, feeling cautious?
And there are two more areas where I’ve had to force myself into an uncomfortable public space.
A fear of inviting people to become Christians
I’m not Billy Graham. Even in Ye Olden Dayes when there were people in the building, I wouldn’t invite people to get out their seats and come to the front. Not even ‘Raise a hand’. Just, pray a prayer with me, and see me afterwards. Pick up a booklet and a CD. This is between you and God.
But over the past few months – Christmas, and then planning an online guest service, we’ve had to ask, ‘How do we invite people to come to Christ, on camera?’ Is it real? Is it valid?
And at the back of my mind has been there lurking fear of becoming a televangelist – a pastor without a church, without a fellowship, just – an audience. Viewers. Flicking between me and Jeremy Clarkson unless I do something to make them stay.
Do you share the fear of being a phoney?
It’s worth paying the price, I reckon. I looked myself in the eye and gave myself a talking to – if I write evangelistic booklets or record evangelists talks, what’s the difference if I do one on camera? I can describe how to become a Christian, and have it printed, so why shouldn’t I film it instead?
Call me Billy, but I’m giving it a go.
A fear of inviting people to give
And this is the hardest. I’ve been on the longest journey here: I’ve had to learn that as a pastor it is my duty to teach about giving, and encourage people to do so; to lay out good biblical reasons for people to part with their treasure and invest in the kingdom
I’ve learnt where to put my own ‘no further’ lines. I don’t teach tithing, for instance, and certainly not tithing to the local church. I mean, Id love it if I could do it with a clear conscience, but I can’t, so I don’t. Something someone once said about devouring widows’ houses has made me cautious about inviting people to mention their church in their will.
And I would have said, talking about giving on camera would have been a step too far. I’d have felt like every other charity that did the same kind of appeal. Like every other snake-oil salesman who wants to part you from your rightly-earned money.
But, what choice have we had? In an utterly uncertain financial climate, where we had no idea what would happen to giving on any week, no contact with our regular givers, the only choice was to move all the information online, and encourage people to respond.
Click to give.
You know, I still find that difficult. Even though I know that giving is a spiritual discipline, and it’s good for people. Even though I know that what we’ve done over the year has cost us financially. Even though I know that our members can see all that, every week, and are so appreciative – it still feels awkward and non-relational and thin.
I do it though.
What have been your hardest lessons from online church? Pile in!