Video Venues and the Papacy of Celebrity: Why changing the methods always changes the message

Most people spend a significant part of the week looking at screens; television screens, movie screens, computer screens - in fact, you're looking at one right now. But traditionally Sunday morning was not a screen-time. Then came PowerPoint. First the hymnal was replaced and now many churches are substituting 3-D preachers with 2-D digital projections. Shane Hipps, Lead Pastor of Trinity Mennonite Church in Phoenix, Arizona, has written a new book that asks us to explore the implications of new technology on our ministries. Below is an excerpt from The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Faith, the Gospel, and Church (Zondervan, 2006). To get more background on Hipps' understanding of how mediums impact our message be sure to read his previous post.

One of the increasingly popular initiatives in the North American evangelical church is the use of multi-site, video-venue worship services. This is a model where multiple congregations are sprinkled throughout a city or campus, but one preacher is piped in to each gathering via video. Its proponents argue such a method offers the best of both worlds - you don't have to commute, you get to worship your way, and you don't have to sacrifice great preaching.

I was visiting a church recently on the day they were launching their multi-site service. I watched the sermon live, while two other gatherings in other parts of the city watched via a large projection screen. It was a stellar sermon by an extraordinarily gifted preacher well-known in the Christian subculture. But the most striking feature of the sermon was that his message was being directly contradicted by his medium - the video venue.

Here's how. The pastor was speaking on the difference between talent and character and how too often we emphasize talent in ministry more than character. He began with an object lesson. There on stage next to him was a huge dictionary set on a high stool. As he spoke he began to dispense several cans of whipped cream on top of the dictionary, creating a white fluffy mound. When he finished he told us that the dictionary was our character, the firm foundation. The whipped cream was our talent, something very attractive but lacking substance. After this set up he concluded by saying, "If your ministry is based on character it will last, but if your ministry is based on talent?" he paused, and then swatted the mound of whipped cream. In one swoop it was all over the floor "?your ministry will suffer when times get tough."

June 28, 2006