Podcast Episode 32, 56 min
Teaching the Bible In Your Context, with Matt Whitman (Ep 32)
Karl Vaters interviews Matt Whitman, host of the Ten Minute Bible Hour podcast and YouTube channel.

Matt Whitman: This thing first and foremost, can't be about my reputation and what I get out of the exchange. It has to be about where they're at and what they're dealing with.

Karl Vaters: Hi, I'm Karl and I'm a small church pastor, and welcome to this episode of, Can This Work in a Small Church. My guest is Matt Whitman. He's the host of the Ten Minute Bible Hour Podcast and YouTube channel. In this interview, Matt and I cover a huge range of topics relating to the Bible and to pastoring, but we also touch on the importance of our online presence, why we have to avoid the temptation of living by clicks, and why everything he does in his ministry is to point people towards the Bible, Jesus, and the local church. And don't forget to stick around when the interview is done. I'll come back with an overview of the content and an answer to the question: Can this work in a small church?

Welcome, Matt, to the podcast. It is great to have you on as a guest today.

Matt Whitman: Thank you very much. Nice to be here.

Karl Vaters: You do a thing called the Ten Minute Bible Hour, and my first question about you is this: Is it 10 minutes, is it an hour, are you able to tell time?

Matt Whitman: I'm not super great at time. Digital clocks I do pretty well with, like 80% accuracy. The ones with the hands that our ancestors used, I… Yeah.

Karl Vaters: I'm a boomer so I'm supposed to mock your generation for your lack of skill in areas that are no longer applicable to our lives.

Matt Whitman: I accept. If there are others that you notice along the way, feel free to just hit me with those. I probably deserve all of it. But those old-.timey radio Bible hours that you'd have out of the American Midwest, that's what I was thinking of when I named the channel. You know, the Authoritative Word of Holy Fire Bible Hour kind of thing. And I was like, Well, except probably most of the videos I make won't be an hour, so we'll just tell people it's going to be a certain amount of time and the Bible will be involved and it'll be a little bit whimsical. And hopefully they'll get the joke, and if not, that's okay, it's the internet. So yeah, I don't know. They are an indeterminate length of time, the videos I make.

Karl Vaters: Yeah, they are. Because they go from five to five minutes, to well over an hour. It matches whatever the content is. I love that, of course, the internet allows us to do that. It used to be that you had to fit it within the hour of the show that you were given or the column on the magazine or whatever, and now we can go wherever we want. Usually that means people go way too long when they shouldn't go too long. So far I haven't seen a video yet where I've gone, Yeah, they went too long with that. You know how to be pithy. Most of your videos are short, they're entertaining, they're filled with all kinds of helpful stuff. So for those who aren't familiar with the Ten Minute Bible Hour, what is it, how do they find it, what's it all about?

Matt Whitman: First and foremost, the Ten Minute Bible Hour has been a YouTube channel for the last - this is year eight, I guess. It is mostly just non-descript Bible education that's meant to be funny and enjoyable, or at least a little more lightweight. Some of the material, we get into some of the deep water theology conversations, it can be a little tougher to keep it light. But the main idea was, Let's go through the Bible, Bible dictionary stuff, and treat this as an educational channel where first and foremost, the agenda is not get people to think my specific brand of Protestantism thoughts, as much as just, I don't know, here's the raw material and we can like each other, have a laugh about a few things, do this in an enjoyable way. And then, it's the internet. There's not an internet Pope, there isn't a ton of internet authority. The reality is it's very decentralized. It's very individual in terms of its nature, and I'm just trying to lean into that and be like, Look, I want to dispense with the illusion that I can somehow tell people how the things ought to be over YouTube. And so instead let's just lean into the educational side.

I do stuff where I've worked straight through books of the Bible, like Acts. Those videos are pretty much ten minutes a pop, that's when I came up with the name. Then Bible dictionary stuff, just fun, little characters and geographical locations, historical questions, church history stuff, and then comedic stuff, skits, things like that. And also these go and visit with people who think different things than I do, tour their church building, ask about their theology, make friends who don't believe all the same things I do, kind of material.

And then there's a podcast of the same name that is completely different content. The Ten Minute Bible Hour podcast is actually ten minutes a day of content, and we just work through the book of Matthew at whatever pace we feel like, cuz we can do this forever, and try to ring every last drop out of it that we can find. And we're - as we record this - 600 episodes and change into that project. Again, that's like an every weekday thing. And the idea there is, I don't need you to think my stuff, but what if we just tried to really understand one book of the Bible, like in this case one where Jesus is the obvious and overt main character on screen. So think about why He said the stuff that He did, what was going on in the conversation, what people would've made of it, what was happening politically and socially, what kind of fads and trends were in place, what would've been on people's minds when Jesus was saying this stuff, when Matthew was writing this stuff down. And just trying to understand it for what it is, fully realizing that in the decentralized age of the internet and podcasting, this audience of people who show up to listen to it, they're gonna come to different conclusions, they're gonna do different things with it.

A huge percentage of my listeners are not Christians per se, but they're interested in this very influential book and this very influential character, and we have a laugh about it and try to make sure they know that they're welcome. And so those are the two big components of the Ten Minute Bible Hour - the daily audio and the YouTube video side.

Karl Vaters: Yeah, I think as I listen and watch, I think you may be one of the best examples I know of taking the subject very seriously, but not taking yourself seriously at all. I think there's a wonderful balance there that is really helpful and important and engaging and informative.

Matt Whitman: I don't know you that well yet, but I feel like you totally understand me. Thanks, man. That really means a lot.

Karl Vaters: Yeah, because that's really it. Every time I've seen something, I go, Oh, okay, I'm getting some real important... I'm getting good theology out of this, I'm getting good biblical interpretation out of this, I'm getting good history out of this. The background information is really helpful and deep, but I find myself laughing about every 30 seconds. Not at the content, but at you.

Matt Whitman: Perfect.

Karl Vaters: And so it is quite engaging. So the reason I've got you on is you do this especially well, and for pastors and especially for the small church pastors who are the primary audience for this podcast, preaching well is a challenge for anybody. Getting up and speaking to somebody, even if they've come to hear you, getting up and speaking to someone as a solo is one of the most challenging things you can do. It is one of the reasons why I love stand up. To me, stand up comedy is without question the hardest form of communication to do. An individual standing up with just a microphone, and within 30 seconds to a minute, they can set up a premise, knock it down and have you laughing, and do that over and over again for an hour? That is as hard as it gets.

Matt Whitman: Yes. Much respect.

Karl Vaters: So when the great ones do it well, I just stand in awe and I watch them to learn about how to communicate well. Sadly, in a whole lot of them, the content is not exactly transferable to my context. But the skill set is really admirable and you have a comedian skill set.

What I really wanna talk about is that skillset. There are multiple components to it. So let's start back to the beginning with the component of the content. What's your background? How do you come to a passage, how do you come to an idea? How do you explore the content and say, Okay, this is worth sharing with people in a way that is gonna be helpful to their lives and to their understanding of scripture.

Matt Whitman: I like that you framed your question around thinking about the people you're talking to, and I guess it starts there. Those standup comedians who are way more gifted at that than I could ever hope to be, what do they do so well? They think about what it would be like to hear the joke. What would it be like to be sitting out there, to have a drink in your hand, to be there with maybe a girl you want to impress, or to be there with a spouse and, I don't know, it's been a long week and you haven't really hung out much and feels stale, and so you're going out to do something that's fun and just reminds you of how much you enjoy laughing together. Maybe the stand up comedian looks at the world as, Ah, these people, they don't have time to pore over all of it and think about why the absurdity is absurd, but they feel it's absurd. You know, what they want is somebody to just help them put to words why it's absurd and give them permission to laugh at it, and let go some of this tension that they're all dragging around. So the excellent standup comic is unbelievably empathetic, and they deliver it all while coming off as unbelievably socially inept. Because that's part of the joke and the schtick, is allowing themselves to be the butt of the joke, and invoking that jester’s privilege to jab at all of these sacred things in a way that if this was a good standup show, you actually come away thinking about some stuff from some perspectives you haven't thought about it.

And so that's what I'm trying to rip off is just the stuff that I see really talented, smart people do that starts with this really is about the other person. So if it's from a church perspective, I don't know, it really is about the other person and God, and the two of them being connected. And I have to subject myself to a little bit of comedic abuse or be willing to have a laugh at myself at my own expense. And this thing first and foremost, can't be about my reputation and what I get out of the exchange, it has to be about where they're at and what they're dealing with.

And so keeping those things in mind hopefully takes the shine, the artificial editing polish off of the internet communicator, off of even the pastor, and embraces that self effacing standup comic thing where, Yeah, you're speaking truth, and Yeah, this stuff matters. But also there's a whole lot of empathy here and we understand that the exercise is about the people who are here to think about it. And in the case of church, the deity who is on the other side of this whole story, and putting the two of you in touch, giving you something to think about.

Karl Vaters: This is for me in… I'm a third generation pastor, I’ve been in this thing all my life. And whenever I see pastors that for whatever reason I would say aren't getting it or whatever phrase I want to use - and I'm really careful about this, and you are too. You are not the negative, you're not the put down guy. It's just like, Hey, let's just... I'd rather point to the better way than point against the bad way, and you do that too. But pointing to the better way is one of the things that I do see us often making mistakes as pastors is it's the whole vision casting thing. Here's my vision, and I want you to get the vision, and we're even taught this in church leadership conferences and books. Get your vision and get your people on board with a vision. And I look at it, and it feels backward to me because it feels like I'm starting with me.

When I go and speak at a church conference, for instance, if I get up in my first session, I say, here's what I wanna do in my ministry, and here's how I want you to get behind me, they're not gonna come for the second session.

Matt Whitman: Right

Karl Vaters: Instead, I get up and I go, Here's where God is taking us together, here's some challenges that you might be facing, here's some resources I have to help you in those challenges. They're gonna come back because I'm helping them to fulfill God's call upon their life.

Matt Whitman: There you go.

Karl Vaters: And you do that in your stuff. You start usually even with a simple premise question: How about this, do you have problems with this, have you ever wondered about this. It feels like a Seinfeld set up, even as I'm saying it. Did you ever wonder about, right? Which I don't think he ever said, but that's the stereotype. But what it does is it immediately says, I'm on your side. I'm here to help you understand scripture better, know Jesus better. Christ and the Bible are centered, but it is the recipient's response to Christ and the Bible that you're concerned with rather than, like you said already, sharing how smart we are. And this to me is a lesson that pastors and preachers, we can never be reminded of enough. That it is not about us, it is primarily about Christ and His word, and then connecting the people I'm talking to to Christ and His word, rather than me getting my ideas across about Christ and His word. So again, you do that exceptionally well. Let's talk about the content. What is your background, what's your training? What is it about the content that you're trying to get across to people?

Matt Whitman: Would it be okay if we came back to that question in a minute and I bounced a question to you real quick?

Karl Vaters: Absolutely.

Matt Whitman: I think that's a great observation about what can happen. I've succumbed to that many, many times. I can think of sermons off the top of my head, leadership decisions in church off the top of my head, that weren't me focused and they weren't just overtly selfish, but they started with me and they generated with me, and really, they were kind of about me with the best of intentions. Why do you think that happens? What pressures do you think that people in ministry feel to do the recitation of things I know speech, as opposed to the more empathetic thing that you're idealizing?

Karl Vaters: I think the first one is easier. I think when I'm doing this study and I'm looking through the word, I find something and I go, Oh, that's wonderful, that I wanna share. And so it becomes about sharing that thing that I've discovered. I have to take more time and I have to consciously think about, Do they care, will that actually help them? Pastors, we live our lives in this world and we're thinking about this all the time, and then we get the idea that they care… We get on Twitter and we see all the battles within our denomination, and then on Sunday morning, we get up and we talk about it and the person is sitting there going, I haul hay all week, what do I care about some little theological battle that you're involved in all week, but that doesn't help me, tell me how I can live my life better as a farmer, as a plumber, as a stay at home mom. And I'm not a farmer or a plumber or a stay at home mom, so I've gotta do a little more work. And in the small church context, the delight is the work that I've gotta do is to actually, I don't know, hang out with the people in the church. Spend time in conversation with them so that I'm not speaking to them. I'm not gonna get up and say, I was talking to Dolores this week cuz she's got a problem...No. But having spent time with Dolores this week, and with Herman over here and with Juan over there, I have an idea of what's actually happening in the real world outside the walls of the church. And so it takes that little extra time, that little extra work to connect it to their lives. That's the first reason. It's, I'm not gonna call it laziness because for most pastors, it's not about laziness, it's about lack of time. It really takes a lot of time to prep a sermon. It takes as much time to prep a good sermon for 20 people as it does for 20,000.

Matt Whitman: Sure. Yep.

Karl Vaters: So in a small church especially, it's like, why am I spending all this time? But then you have to if you wanna make the connect. I think that's the main reason.

Matt Whitman: I've been noticing that the conversation that happens on social media is not helpful within Christian circles at all. It looks super self serious, self important…

Karl Vaters: Not helpful, that's pretty mild, but yeah, we'll go with that for now.

Matt Whitman: But it works because people get mad about that stuff, and then a minority of Christians who are mad about something theologically that they are gonna feed that machine learning algorithm, again and again, the more they feed that beast, the more they're gonna get back Christian content creators who are mad about things. And I know, I understand the pressure that you get an active feedback loop from YouTube or any other algorithmically driven platform all the time as a creator, and what you get told is stuff that's easy going and chill and conciliatory and tries to make things better, and doesn't heap pressure, that doesn't tickle the algorithm. It doesn't like that. The machine learning likes rage. It likes my team good, your team stupid. It's so formulaic, it's so dumb. And while I understand that it gets clicks and it therefore seems like you're making a huge difference, it is so stinking tone deaf, brother. And it's tone deaf because did you know, other people can watch Christian videos who aren't Christians? They're allowed to see 'em. They're allowed to come across those and be like, Oh, there's one. No, you can just click on it and watch it. You can just look at the thumbnails, even if you're an outsider who doesn't know what we believe and isn't into it, and you know what conclusion they're gonna draw from it? This is irrelevant and stupid and mean, and all these people do is fight and posture to impress each other with their even greater level of orthodoxy than the last video that some other person made.

One thing I would wanna say to small church pastors is don't imitate that crap. It's dumb and it's dysfunctional, and I know it looks like people like it and like it's working because you see the number of views right next to it. I'm telling you, I live in this world, that is fake. Fake, fake, fake. So please just ignore it. It's not real data. If anything, it's data contrary to what we ought to be doing. Because the machine algorithm, it does not have the values of the kingdom. It has the values of the world fueling it and informing its decisions and saying what it likes. The values of the kingdom that that pastor is throwing all that work into preparing for the week. That's the stuff, that's the actual valuable stuff. And you are so right, my friend. Your congregations, nobody except angry Christians cares about the fight. But if you hang out on the internet all week long, you're gonna get in the bubble and you're gonna believe because the machine learning algorithm is lying to you, that this is what really matters and what people really care about. And it makes us look like clowns, and I think it has a lot to do with why fewer people are signing up to follow the true and real thing, cuz they don't hear what the true and real thing is anymore. They just hear about our dumb fights that get clicks and pay some bills. So I think it's an incredibly intuitive answer on your part. Yeah, just think about the people in your church and what they need. Be empathetic.

Karl Vaters: Yeah. How do we draw them closer to Jesus and to His word is absolutely what we need to be doing. And that's what you do. You mentioned earlier about you do have some videos and I watched a couple of them, where you interview people who are outside of your specific theological framework, to have a dialogue, to find out where they're coming from. It's not angry, it's not confrontational. In fact, it's the opposite of that. It's very conciliatory and with the desire to actually truly understand. So with that in mind, How would you frame yourself theologically, so that we can know who to like and who not to like here?

Matt Whitman: Yeah, there you go. Exactly. Historical Protestant Orthodox, I guess. Not reformed, but not not reformed. Not Lutheran, but not not Lutheran. This is a trickier question than it was even five years ago. I would say the following.

Karl Vaters: Oh, isn't it.

Matt Whitman: Yeah. I'm a part of the Evangelical Free Church of America, historically. I'm not right now because I retired from church things to go and do this internet stuff. I went to Trinity College in Deerfield, Illinois. That's the Evangelical Free Church private liberal arts college. Then I went to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, which is right across the street. That's the Evangelical Free Church seminary. Had great professors at both, it was a great experience. On paper, I think that basic center cut evangelical statement of theology is a fantastic modern biblical statement of Christian thought and Christian theology. I think it's spot on. The execution is where I would want to more carefully differentiate myself. I've done the deconstruction cycle. I did that over the course of really, quite some time, 12, 14 years ago. It took longer than I've probably ever admitted on the internet, to really work that stuff through. A lot of that was in reaction to fundamentalism, certain politics, political leanings. Those things ate at me, but not to the point that I ultimately landed out. I landed in with a little bit different expression of faith, and where I landed is I'm skeptical of how it manifests, that being the evangelical thing.

There's something just off. Everybody feels it. It's why it was growing like a weed in the eighties and nineties, and it's not now. There's a reason. Something is off about it. That's okay to admit. It doesn't mean that the whole thing is fake or a big lie, or that the theology's totally broken or there's just something about the way it's built. It chews through the people who are most committed to. Yeah, pastors, that's a canary in the coal mine. There's something weird about that. There's something weird about the disconnect between the values of the kingdom expressed by Jesus and how we talk to people who we disagree with when it comes to political things, even when we're right. There's just something weird. There's something off. There's a reason that all of culture right now seems - 50% of culture in the west seems to be rejecting evangelicalism, but not just being like, No, I don't really like it, but like no, I don't really like it, and now here is formerly unimaginable, bizarre sex stuff as just the counter alternative in terms of really planting a flag and saying, No, I reject whatever this mainstream evangelical culture was.

There are canaries, there are issues. It doesn't mean God's fake. It doesn't mean the whole proposition is fake. I see those issues. I am also troubled by those issues. I am also a child and a product of those issues. I am also trying to wrestle all of that through. I am a historical Protestant Orthodox Christian. I would sign off on the Evangelical Free church of America's most basic center cut, evangelical doctrinal statement. And also I am not blind to, and very much processing through some of the cultural tumors and ingrown weirdities of just our little expression and what it is right now. And I suppose that's where I land.

Karl Vaters: And now a short break to talk about something else. If you like the content you're hearing, here are two things you can do for us. First, forward this podcast to a friend. Second, consider becoming a financial supporter through Patreon, Venmo, or PayPal. Just go to Karlvaters.com/support. For as little as $3 a month, you can help us put these resources into the hands of the ministries that need them the most. Our support link is in the show notes.

You got into so many things that each one of them could be a podcast on their own there.

Matt Whitman: Sorry, man.

Karl Vaters: No, it's great. Obviously, deconstruction wasn't part of the plan here, but I think it's important to for us to take a look at. When I first heard, it's been a couple years ago now that the term deconstruction started to be popular and my first thought was, oh, that's just a fancy word for backslide. And then as I started paying a little more attention, I realized, No, backsliding is lazy and deconstruction is purposeful. So to begin with, there's that difference. And secondly, while some people who deconstruct end up in the same place as people who just lazily backslide. And again, talking about theological differences, obviously we're gonna have people listening who don't even believe you can backslide, or if you do backslide, you never were saved to begin with.

Matt Whitman: Yes, of course.

Karl Vaters: We acknowledge all of that theological content out there and the differences, so that's fine. But we do have people who are deconstructing, who are like you, who are not rejecting Christ, but are rejecting the garbage and the baggage that has been attached to Him for 2000 years, but some in the last 20 years or so that I think has surprise some of us who have been in this for a long time, and so we want to strip that baggage away to get closer to Jesus. And I think one of the key ways to do it is what you and I both try to do, which is let's not sit here and rail against the darkness, let's light a candle, lets talk about who Christ really is, what the Bible really is, how this amazing truth came to us, and give them an alternative.

Because I think a lot of people who are deconstructing, if they can get a clearer understanding of who Jesus is and what the Bible's really all about rather than the shorthand they've been given over the years, like it came preformed and bound in leather, on angel's wings as is. I think there are some pastors out there who are afraid that if they get into the nitty gritty of, for instance, even how we got our Bible, that it's actually gonna scare people away from the faith. When in fact, if you do it properly, as I try to do, and as you do very well, I think it actually opens people up more to faith because they see where it actually came from, and it's not this mystical, weird, magical once upon a time thing. And it's also not a bunch of people in power sitting down going, how can we construct a document that will control the masses. Anybody who's paying attention to scripture realizes it's not that at all. So especially for younger generations, I think a lot of what you do is I don't think it's aimed at younger generations particularly, but I think it's very helpful for younger generations. Cuz you don't just talk, you don't just teach from scripture, you teach about the Bible, maybe as much as you teach from it. So talk to me about why is it important for our people not just to know what scripture says, but to know about the Bible, how we got it, where it comes from, how it's constructed. To me, I always start with this line. The Bible is a library, and if you walk into it like a library rather than like an individual book, you will get a far more accurate picture of what you're reading.

Matt Whitman: Yeah. I talk about the Bible very directly every day on the podcast. We go straight through the book of Matthew, every verse. So I'm scratching that itch. It's very important to me to just interact with the actual material. On the YouTube channel, like straight up, man, it's been made clear to me again and again, through raw numbers and data that either individuals or the machine learning algorithm or some combination of both, they don't really want straight up Bible on YouTube. It's not why people go to YouTube. So if I wanna sabotage my channel and set things back for a month or two, all I have to do is make a video that is me sitting at my desk, in as fun and engaging and creative a way as I can, talking about a passage of the Bible. But what I do find is that people are very interested in candid, enjoyable, maybe even funny resources about just what the Bible is, thinking about the whole exercise of Christianity, theology, the document that undergirds all of it. And so part of the reason that I do that on YouTube is because it's just I've gradually learned what platform favors what and allows for what conversation. And as a result, I'm on a lot of platforms because they all tend to lend themselves to a different aspect of the Christian life or Christian thought.

Karl Vaters: I think it's great because we talked earlier about how the internet is designed and how the algorithms reward bad behavior. Let's just put it that way. But there is also a reality to different types of content fit better in different formats. So you're gonna consume one type of format when you choose to walk into a church and you choose to sit down and listen to a sermon. I can do things in that context because they're not gonna just get up and walk out, at least not en masse, not so far.

Matt Whitman: Right.

Karl Vaters: In the last few years, people have, if you don't engage them in the first 30 seconds, they'll go off somewhere else. It's way shorter than that on the internet. But if I don't engage them in the first 30 seconds of a sermon, they're not gonna walk out. Now, they may fade out a little bit, but I've got more time there. I wanna make the best of it still, but I've still got a little more time. But if we're gonna go on the internet, as I encourage every single church to do, to utilize these tools that are for the most part free, quite frankly, and with a bigger distribution than any network TV had 20 years ago. We forget the accessibility that we've got. There is when you have to be really short, you have to be really pithy, you have to use it in a different way. And you've understood that YouTube has an algorithm that's not gonna reward this kind of thing, but a podcast will. It's a different thing. When you put on a podcast and you're out, cuz you're working out or cuz you're cooking or whatever, you're not gonna stop at 30 seconds because it's not engaging. But when you're watching YouTube, people are gonna flip around a whole lot more. So you've gotta put different content in different places. And we as pastors, I think, haven't… I think, first of all, there are not enough people telling us that from a substantive viewpoint, saying, Okay, let's think about the format we're using and let's fit the content of the format. So pastors, let's think about that. Yes, it's important to preach a good sermon on Sunday morning and to live stream it because you're gonna have people who are looking at your church and are gonna go: I wanna hear how this guy preaches before I show up on Sunday morning. So it's important to put that there. But if that's the only thing you're putting on the internet, you're missing an opportunity to put the engaging short option that will in fact build the bridge to get them from scrolling through Facebook, actually over to your YouTube channel.

Matt Whitman: There's so much smart stuff in what you just said. I’ve got three things, if you will, that stood out to me about that or that it brought to my mind.

Karl Vaters: I'm always happy to hear people compliment me, so keep going. You can go as long as you want now.

Matt Whitman: You bring up the topic of views, downloads, clicks, whatever we want to call it. That is such an underestimated new reality that never used to exist for most of us. In the era of Mad Men, the show that's on whatever channel, they thought in terms of clicks in the 1960s, but nobody else on earth did. Only a very small group of real slick Madison Avenue, Wall Street types thought about numbers and peoples in this kind of meta way. Now some schlep in his basement with a microphone in South Dakota is thinking in those categories? I'm not trained for that, I'm not qualified for that. Also, I'm not psychologically, emotionally or spiritually mature enough to dwell on that in a way that's gonna draw out probably very good things. And, dude, it freaking messes with me. I'm a second generation Christian. I don't have any weird, stupid, like addictions or crises going on in my life. I'm happily married and sometimes I stay up at night and I think about clicks. Oh, that's so gross.

I'm not gonna talk about numbers because I just got done saying they’re gross, but things are going super well. Like just a ridiculous amount of people, far more than makes sense, wanna listen to my silly, stupid stuff every week, every month. That's great. But I got a whole bunch of friends that get way more. And what am I, 11? Like I actually think about that. I actually lay there at night and I'm like, what am I doing wrong that I can't get more views like my friend Du=estin, how come… My buddy, Destin, he’s got his channel, Smarter Every Day. He's got like 12 million subscribers, he's on the Super Bowl. And the point is views is a stupid metric and it messes with our brains, and yeah, there's some reality to it, but also it's a great big, giant lie. It's real, but it's fake, but ultimately it'll just wreck your brain. It'll create a new idol. It's poison, I'm telling you. I'm a decade down this road. It is mind poison. At some point, you just gotta make peace with that. But when I talk to local pastors, they can't help but see the numbers by videos and downloads and be like, Whoa, that means truth. It's like the mantra of the eighties, whatever people buy is truth. We used to think that. Oh, come on, we had a whole bunch of products that we can now look back on and be like, oh no, that's not real. And we think we're all enlightened, but now we just subbed out dollars for clicks, views, download numbers, whatever.

Look, the reality is the biggest thing I do on the internet is that little daily Bible podcast. And I say little, but it's not anymore. Tons of people show up for that to just talk about the Bible. And do you know what I do on there? Nothing. It's just like somebody else wrote the Bible and translated. I didn't do any of that. I didn't translate, I did nothing. I read stuff that other people wrote about it. I do a little bit of research and just try to think about what it says, and then say that with normal words. And so the podcast has been a relief to see that it doesn't return void. The word is sufficient, whatever. The click thing, it's a neurosis. It's weird and it will make you weird. And so if a local pastor is taking cues from what is right and how communication ought to be, and what's real based on those numbers, I'm telling you it's a dark path, just ignore that stuff. And part of the reason it's a dark path is because those numbers are just flat, they're uniform. X number of people clicked this thing, watched this thing, downloaded this thing. But not all downloads are created equal. Like that Ghostbuster's reboot trailer from 2016 got a gajillion views, but it was all hate views cuz people hated the trailer and hated the movie. Don't imitate that, even though it got a lot of views.

So when you, Karl, go on to talk about communication in the pulpit and how that gets informed by these outside forces, one thing that I would like to say to your audience is it would be really easy in that position, and when I was in your position and doing like the full-time ministry and small and mid-sized churches, I had this backwards mindset of, Man, if I can get people connected to these good resources, that'll be great. Like my whole thing is because I'm trying to get them to you. The whole exercise here is to hand them off to you. I can't do it. You wouldn't believe what my inbox looks like. It's just need and heartache - or excitement, like, Hey, I became a Christian, what do I do now, here's a picture of me getting baptized, thanks for the podcast, what do I do next. I'm like, What you do next is you go and find somebody who is a decent, normal human being with a little bit of a sense of humor who will know you in person, and with whom you can do kingdom values and practice kingdom stuff together. It's gonna be weird and clumsy and fumbling, and sometimes people will act dumb, and it's just part of the package and it's okay. But I'm trying to get them to you. And so the more you imitate people who do what I do, we don't need more of that. We already have too much of me, way too much. What we need is way more of you who are willing to be in the trenches and engage in a level of empathy that isn't like I do it where I guess what the internet is like. You actually know people, you're actually there, you actually talk with them and help them and serve them. You're the boss level here. And so if you're imitating me, it screws up the whole equation. If you're imitating people who do what I do it, we can't solve this, you can.

So that leads me to my third observation about what you're saying, Karl, is when we combine those two thoughts, what the proper flow and relationship is between the local church and the local pastor and silly internet stuff like mine. When we think about that, and we think about the pressure that views creates for all of us, people who consume and people who create, then we run into this recent phenomenon and this recent question of streaming. Obviously everybody wants to put their stuff on the internet. Look, I'm not saying you should stream stuff, I'm not saying you shouldn't stream stuff. What I'm saying is stuff means stuff. The medium is the message. Marshall McLuhan was right. If you stream your stuff, you're gonna talk to people different than if you just talk to the room, it's a different thing. Some part of your brain will imitate internet stuff if you stream it. And so you gotta understand that. Again, I'm not saying do it or don't do it, I'm saying you have to take this into account. You aren't the same person, my friend, my brother, my sister, when you are internetting, that you are when you're talking to a room full of people. And Karl, as you just very astutely pointed out, The ground rules of what you need to do, the paces, the back and forth, the ebb and flow, the rhythm, the how quick we get into it, the how quick we talk, what illustrations. But all of that stuff is different if you're talking to the internet on YouTube, on a podcast. If you're talking to a room full of people in church, it's all different rules. The communication is different, stuff means stuff. You gotta be conscious of that. And if any of your decision making, even a little part of it, is informed by watching YouTubers far more successful than me who are making things, and everybody's signing up and gushing in the comments about how great and enlightened they are and how helpful this is, I would wad that up and throw it out. You are the end game of this continuum that we're trying to build. And if you become like us, we don't have anywhere to send people anymore. You are the end game. You're the ones who are the heroes here. You keep doing the things you do.

Karl Vaters: Wow. One of the most encouraging things I've heard a guest say to our audience of small church pastors who often do feel exactly what you're describing there. I think it's so important. What you're describing, actually, there's a name for it and I'm racking my brain, trying to remember it. The phenomenon of when you observe a thing, it changes the thing you're observing. There's a name for that.

Matt Whitman: Ah, yes. The one about white documentarians aren't supposed to engage.

Karl Vaters: Yeah, exactly. Just the act of observing it, changes it. It's got a name so somebody can look it up and maybe we'll put it in the show notes in case anybody cares. But it shows you that we're doing this on the fly, that we don't have the exact name for it off the top of our heads right now. Again, such an encouragement for the small church pastors, especially. Before we bring this in for a landing here, let's talk about the small church and the small church pastor who is maybe bivocational, or even if they're not. The small church pastor spends far more time in conversations and in events by hanging out with congregation members in ways that some would consider wasting time. The big church pastor is much more able to be efficient with their time. The small church pastor tends to be inefficient. By saying that, I don't mean that they're doing it wrong. I simply mean that spending the entire day at a hospital because a member is ill and it is your pastoral duty and joy to be there with them during that difficult season, that is not an efficient use of time. It is a correct use of your time, but it is not an efficient use of your time.

Matt Whitman: Yes.

Karl Vaters: And small church pastors do an awful lot of inefficient time usage, but we still got a sermon to prep on Sunday morning. It's still a big part of it that we want to bring the word to them intelligently, wisely, and we need to spend the time for it. Do you have any thoughts about that to either put resources in our hands, ideas about how we approach it, or simply encouragement for the small church pastor who's trying to put together a good sermon on Sunday morning and is regularly feeling inadequate in that part of the job?

Matt Whitman: Yeah, I got a couple thoughts on that. Great question. One, in terms of sermon prep, think about your audience. This serves you and benefits you here. If the audience you picture is Don Carson, who was part of my advisee team at Ted's, at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School when I was there. If you think about your seminary prof, if you think about some fancy person on the internet, who you imagine, maybe they'll hear this someday and I'd want them to be impressed, you're doing it wrong. Who cares what I think about your sermon? Who cares what some much more important YouTube internet Christian writer type thinks about your sermon? They're not there. They don't know your church. They're not working with your people. They're not vested. They don't know. Who cares what your seminary professor thinks about your sermon. You already passed those classes, you were already deemed worthy by a congregation, a credentialing board. To go into it, maybe you redeemed worthy by nobody, but you're just there and you feel called and you have the word of God in front of you and you depend on it. Awesome. Good enough. You just don't have to impress anybody.

Your sufficiency is in Christ, not in somebody else signing off on you again and again and again. That's a one time thing. And so if you forget them and all you do is you think about how do I make this thing make sense to these people in my care, it's a ton easier. Like, all you gotta do is culturally translate a thing you've spent a lot of time thinking about, to people who are in the space. If you're reading a great commentary, it's okay to be like, Wow, Craig Blomberg nailed that insight. It's fine. You don't need to flex your muscles to them, you don't need to prove to them again that you're smart.

The thing that they will appreciate you for, that they will trust you for and that they will grow because of is that you understand them. And why do we have a local pastor instead of just having me do it? I can just record things all week. I don't have any other job, I can do it. And then any church, it's like, we like how he says it. They could just download that and just play it every week. I'm never going there. I'm never gonna meet you, I'm never gonna talk to any of your people ever, It's impossible, it's too far away, I got other things to do. But just beam in my thing. The reason is because the whole religion is incarnational and I'm not. I'm some guy in another place with another set of circumstances. You have to imitate the impulse of the God we're pointing people toward, which means show up. This again is why you're the hero here, you're the link, you're the important thing as that local church pastor, and you don't need to impress outsiders. And what you need to do is make the thing make sense to your congregation.

When you think in those categories, then we're dealing with two things you're really good at. You're really good at the Bible, you spend a ton of time thinking about it, and you're the best interpreter of your community that currently walks this planet. No one is an anthropological empathetic expert on that slice of humanity like you are. It makes you an indispensable resource, who's positioned and equipped to do a thing that nobody else - only you - are that expert in our position to do it.

So just write like it and let the pressure come off. Be a person with your people. It's incarnational, and when you quit feeling any of that pressure to impress outsiders, or be like outsiders, and you realize your immense value and unique value, it makes writing a ton easier. And you might be surprised at even how much it frees up the schedule.

I guess this is the second point. You can ask a simple question. What is the objective, what is the main thrust of the text we're looking at this week, and what are the core truths about God, His plan and where this congregation might fit into it, that I want to communicate. Then just work backwards from that and figure out how to hold their hand, put it in the hand of the text, and make the thing go further. You might be able to do that in 12 minutes. Okay. But if so then the sermon this week was 12 minutes. Great. Nobody's gonna get mad. Sometimes it might take longer. Okay. If it does, if that's how long it takes to accomplish the objective, cool. But don't feel like you have to write a whole bunch of stuff because other people do. There's no thing in the Bible that's like, You gotta say words at people for this long in order for you to be a legitimate shepherd and servant. Jesus was down with it, I think probably he's okay with you being more sparing with your words at time as well, and sometimes less writing and less content just streamlines the whole process and you're focused on one central, vital, biblical, theological truth all week, along with your congregation, everybody will understand it better. The point is there's a whole lot of ways to take the pressure off that are actually maybe just better anyway.

Karl Vaters: Fantastic. I think you just gave a lot of encouragement and took a whole lot of weight off of the shoulders of a lot of really hardworking, faithful, loving, small church pastors who really needed to hear that today. Thank you so much for that. That's awesome.

Let's get to the lightning round here because that's just what we have to do. All right. Question number one. What are the biggest changes you've seen in your field of ministry in the last few years and how have you adapted to it?

Matt Whitman: Here's what I'm seeing. The machine learning algorithm is pushing content creators to make very long form, very in-grown videos. 50-minute, two-hour live stream, I'm the expert on the thing. There's this push to hold yourself out as the expert in everything. There's this push to be incredibly dour. Every single thing is so serious and important. Christianity in crisis. Something has to be done and I'm just a YouTuber to solve it.

Karl Vaters: The most important election in our lifetime.

Matt Whitman: Ever. This one also is. This is not the time to vote against the two party system that has betrayed us for our entire lives. This one's too important. The next one might be too, we'll let you know. That's it, that's always the tone. The tone is always the most important thing and I'm the one who's gonna solve it, and everything is everyone else is stupid. And the more we take that tone, the more combative we are becoming. My field has become more combative, my field has become more expert driven, and my field has become more dour and self important and serious. We're talking about the infinite God of the universe. It's okay to not know some crap about it. It's okay. But it doesn't feel like that on the internet anymore. That's the shift that I see happening. I think it stinks, and I have hyper respect for the people who aren't getting sucked into it. Now more than ever, what that means is golly, if you just breathe a little bit and have a laugh and exhale and be nice to people, it's probably gonna be super attractive gospel wise. So yeah, maybe take the pressure off and just do that.

Karl Vaters: Yeah, be nice to people. When something gets rare, it gets more valuable. So I think being nice to people is gonna be more and more important in the days to come, just because of it's rarity.

Matt Whitman: Yes, yes, yes.

Karl Vaters: Question number two in the lightning round. What free resource, other than your own, of course, what free resource like an app or website has helped you lately that you'd recommend for small church ministry?

Matt Whitman: Yeah, there's an app called Dwell. They very briefly sponsored the podcast early on, but they do not now and have not for a long time. I haven't talked with them in a long time, but I really like their app. It's free or you can pay for it. It is kinda like a Spotify for the Bible thing. So if you just feel like, Ah, I've read the Bible, I get it. Yeah, probably we don't actually get it and probably we just need to hear it different. That thing was read aloud from the beginning, and experiencing it the way most Christians in most years for all of Christian history have experienced it, something new opens up and it makes sense. So I'd highly recommend any kind of audio Bible app. I really like Dwell.

Another thing that I would highly recommend is a couple of books. One would be Getting To Yes. I absolutely loved that book in the audio format. We did a whole episode on No Dumb Questions, the podcast I do with my buddy, Destin. That book is so relevant to ministry. It is phenomenal. The guy's gonna come out and say the opening thesis, everything's in negotiation, and you're gonna be like, no, gross, that's crass. And you know what, just roll with it, let it sit there. But then listen to the way the dude breaks down how people interact. It's so insightful. And if part of our lesser commission, Matthew 10:16 is to be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves, that book helped a ton - a ton - on the shrewdness front for me. Two other things in that vein. His Twitter handle is @AJ. Alan Jacobs, he’s at Baylor, I think. He wrote a book called, How to Think. It's short, it's great. It's very helpful in offering a critique of the floundering thought, but also it's really helpful in offering a critique of our own thought. That's an audio book on Amazon, beautifully delivered, super helpful.

Another thing that I would recommend in terms of something that really helps with church and navigating all of that is the film Moneyball about Billy Beane, starring Brad Pitt. If you haven't seen it for a while, watch it. Not so much for the entertainment value, but for just the little lessons about how to run an organization that occasionally clunks and where people occasionally get fussy and they're dug into old patterns. Take a look at that and memorize three or four of the little pointers there. They're super helpful in ministry. Things like when you get the answer you want, hang up the phone, are super valuable.

Karl Vaters: I just pulled the Moneyball book off my shelf recently because I'm writing my next book and there are some points similar to that that I'm going to be referencing the book in there too. I was stunned after reading the book and I heard they were making a movie. Because the book, there's no story in the book, really. It's stats. Like, How are they gonna turn this to a movie. And they turned it into the most entertaining movies in the last 20 years. It was amazing.

Matt Whitman: Great show.

Karl Vaters: Alright. Yeah. So yeah, watch that. Third one, what's the best piece of ministry advice you've ever received.

Matt Whitman: I don't know if it was ministry advice, and I don't think it originated with my Granddad Whitman who worked at the parts store in Guernsey, Wyoming, but a family saying that came from somewhere is people don't care what you know until they know that you care, and Christianity right now has a bit of a, Look how much we know, problem and, say a wall of words at people, problem. Because look, I said all the right words in the right order out loud toward you. It's gross and people find it gross, and it's more culturally off putting than ever right now. So I feel like that ministry advice, that life lesson, which I don't always follow, is more relevant now than ever. People will remember how it felt to go to your church more than they will remember anything you said. They may remember nothing you said, but for better or worse, they'll remember what it felt like to go to your church, how you say it, how you treat people, how they feel, even if you gotta do like weird things to try to accommodate their neediness and problems. People don't care what you know, like they really don't care what you know at all. And if they're ever gonna care about what you know, it'll be after they know that you give a rip about them.

Karl Vaters: We keep coming back to that theme, and justifiably so. There's been a pushback recently against tone, like there’s this whole, Oh, but his tone's okay. Tone does matter though. Don't just dismiss it. Tone is what causes or stops good content from getting through. So bad tone will stop the content from getting through; good tone will get the content through. Don’t you want the content to get through? Then use the tone that gets it there. Don't be so dismissive of tone. Drives me crazy when they do that. All right.

Hey, how can people find you online if they want to follow up with anything? Although it sounds like you're getting more than enough emails already.

Matt Whitman: I have a couple of folks who help me with that, and so if somebody does shoot me a note and you don't hear back from me, you're hearing back from people who are a part of this and they know what they're talking about, and they're great. That's just a function of volume. But on YouTube, search the Ten Minute Bible Hour, it's really easy to find. You Google that, it will come up all over the place. Thetmbh.com, it's the website. The podcast is fun. You can get that anywhere you can get podcasts. You know how to search for a podcast, you're here, you know how a podcast works. Grab those Twitter @MattWhitmanTMBH. I don't know if my Twitter's worth a follow or not, but I have fun with it. Yeah, and then the other podcast is No Dumb Questions, that I referenced earlier. The Contact Us page on the website is the way to get ahold of me. That was a lot.

Karl Vaters: Yeah. No, terrific. Referenced a lot of different things. If you missed any of that or you just want to copy and paste it rather than trying to remember those and type it all in one item at a time on your phone, go ahead and look at the show notes for that. Matt, thank you so much for this. It went in all kinds of cool places. It was fun, it was entertaining, it was informative. And I really do encourage people to check out all of your information for the busy pastor. I think my final recommendation would be this: Go and check out Matt's stuff. It can be a shortcut to study for those of you who are just super busy. And by shortcut, I don't mean that it's wrong at all. I mean it's really concise, it’s very, very well done. If you come from a slightly different theological viewpoint, you will appreciate very quickly his take on it. Even if you have some disagreement and go, I wouldn't express it that way, you're going to hear it coming at you in a way that is not angry, but is conciliatory. But most of it really, I think fits most theological backgrounds, because you don't get into theological arguments. You simply try to explore the text, you do it well, you give it context, and I think there's real value for people. And then you can take it and you can use that rather than pulling some commentaries. It's kind like a video commentary series where you can go. Video and audio commentary series. I encourage people to do so. And thank you, Matt, again for being with us. Really appreciate it very, very much.

Matt Whitman: It was a treat. Thank you, Karl.

Karl Vaters: Well, that interview went so many places I did not expect it to go. You can hear how passionate Matt is about his subject - scriptures - and how engagingly he presents it. So let's take a look at a few big takeaways that I have. First of all, how important it is to place preaching in the right context, that it's one element of a well-rounded pastoral ministry. And that, especially in a smaller church, that inefficient time that we spend with our church members is important and in fact can help us to contextualize our preaching.

Secondly, how we need to be careful not to get stuck into the weeds of politics and theological rabbit trails. Yes, politics matters. Yes, theology matters, but some of the rabbit trails we run down in regards to them, we just simply lose our ability to have impact on the people and their eyes just glaze over, to be frank. Let's stick with scripture. It will speak to the politics, it will speak to the theology without running down the rabbit trails.

And then thirdly, it's important that we talked about why telling our church members about the Bible is as important as teaching from the Bible. Because when we tell people about the Bible, that it's a library, where it came from, why we know it speaks to us today, how we can depend on its authority, all of which he has videos and podcasts about, when they understand the context of scripture they can take in the content even better.

So can this work in a small church? Of course the answer today is yes. Not only are the tools that Matt offers helpful for a quick study or to back up what you've already studied. The attitude that he brings to the subject is something we can all learn from as well, to take the content seriously, but ourselves not so much. I think there's something about that that helps people hear the content even better. And I'm also appreciative of how encouraging that is about the important work that we do in small church ministry.

This episode was produced by Veronica Beaver, edited by Phil Vaters. Original theme music was written and performed by Jack Wilkins of Jackwilkinsmusic.com. And me, I'm Karl Vaters, and I'm a small church pastor.

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August 15, 2022

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