Hope in the message…or the medium?

Stage Lights

It’s a very simple question yet deserves a thoughtful answer: where is your hope? In the message? Or the medium?

We live in an age where there can be a lot of pressure upon churches to have the very latest technology, to do away with the hymn books and have projected words displayed on an animated graphic or to have some well-produced video montage instead of a sermon.

None of this in and of itself is wrong but sometimes I find myself wondering whether we have misplaced our hope and are building upon sand. I’m reminded of the words written by Paul,

‘You’ll remember, friends, that when I first came to you to let you in on God’s master stroke, I didn’t try to impress you with polished speeches and the latest philosophy. I deliberately kept it plain and simple: first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did-Jesus crucified.’ – 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 (MSG)

Wow! Read that again. Now I hope I can draw out some parallels for us as Christians and artists in particular. I’ve been a youth worker (unofficially) for a few years now and have noticed something striking. Many of the youth conferences that I have been to have had incredibly loud music, a polished band with up to three drum kits (!) and impressive lighting and visual effects and video clips – pretty much everything you could want if you had a huge budget at your disposal! The last thing I want to do is pour cold water upon all the hard work that so many passionate Christians have done for Jesus, but I still feel uneasy. It seems to me that it is incredibly easy to get so caught up in all the hype and gadgets and loseWeight Exercise sight of Jesus in the midst of it. Let us be blunt. Why is it that someone comes to follow Christ? Is it not because the person of Jesus and his love in dying on the cross becomes irresistible and we desire to follow a God who became man and is with us in all our suffering and despair and offers hope for a messed up world?

I think sometimes we put way too much confidence in the method with which we communicate. Obviously, if we have a really ‘cool’ youth pastor and a smoke machine at our youth services, will not the young people come to church and love Jesus? But what happens when the world offers them better entertainment or simply the church can’t afford to have youth services that smack of relevancy?

I don’t want to sound cynical or dismissive, that is not my heart. But this is a plea to the church to get back down on our knees and cry out to Jesus. Put your faith in the message of Jesus and not the medium.

So what does this mean for us as artists? It means that we should continue to create the very best art we can that will declare to the world how much we cherish and value our Saviour! It means that we should strive to offer Him all of our talents and follow Him wherever He may lead. But it also means that the art should not become more important than the message we are trying to convey. It means that we should draw attention to the message and not allow our art to detract attention away from the message. It means than in the end we realise that our art will not save people – the gospel will! And perhaps most important of all we should realise that if we truly desire to communicate the message of Christ through our art then people will walk away and criticise it…

‘For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;

the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.’ – 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Love in Him,

– Joe

6 thoughts on “Hope in the message…or the medium?

  1. We are in a day and age where the medium has become the message… and whilst this is entertaining, it is vacuous and empty.

    We have the most important message… but more often than not fail to communicate this message because we either get too obsessed in the medium or fail to give the medium enough credence.

    We need to stop being of the world but not in it… and get into the world and show an alternative worth knowing about!

    We need to move from relevancy to authenticity.

    Let’s move towards a holistic… all-that-i-am… expression of faith where who we are and the actions that come from our reformed character is as important (if not) more important than what we say.

    People are listening to us… not necessarily our words and defintely not always when we want them to. The communication of the good news that we have to share is no longer on our terms. We are observed… criticised… our every action followed. In this regard we become the message in our daily lives… our getting up, going to work, eating, drinking, day-to-day lives all reflect the message. We are the medium! To this end we need to live and love authenitically… obsessing about the minutiae of people and not the geekery of smoke machines and their ilk.

    Its about people and not about performance! There is nothing worse than performance… it is obvious to onlookers like a fart in a car

    At the end of the day, in the words of the song, when the music fades and all is stripped away… what is left? Is it a message and medium that is authenitic and robust… like the rock the Wiseman built his house upon? or is it a fake performance that is vacuous and empty.

    Tx

  2. “our getting up, going to work, eating, drinking, day-to-day lives all reflect the message. We are the medium! To this end we need to live and love authenitically…”

    AMEN!

  3. There’s a simple rule of thumb I find helpful when planning this type of thing; does the medium focus attention on the point of the message or on the medium. It’s like using technology just because we can.

    In many churches people with bad eyesight like projected words because they are massive and thus easier to read (and they don’t have to carry a chunky large-print hymnal around!) But do the words need an image or video behind them?

    Not if it distracts or detracts from the words.

    So I agree with you, but let’s not swing the pendulum too far the other way!

    (It also brings up the old question of perfection in church – at what point does striving to do your best for God tip over into performance?)

  4. Guys, thanks ever so much for your feedback. I knew as I was writing the article that due to poor communication on my part I could come across as a Luddite intent on destroying technology. Just for the record, I’m not 🙂 and I thoroughly enjoy having words on a screen. I suppose the root of my questioning has arisen due to a number of bad experiences that left me feeling pretty disappointed. I once asked why a church needed to buy an expensive new projector and the reply I got was ‘If a rich woman/man walks into the building, she/he needs to feel that this is a place where they can belong and feel comfortable.’ Now, I think the person answered on the spot and probably would answer differently now, but her answer left me wondering how I could reconcile that with Jesus’ teaching on wealth. I have a lot of questions and unsurprisingly very few answers. Please help!
    I guess my fear is that over time the Sunday meeting takes on a ‘club-like’ feel to the point where we expect the money we give to be spent on buying better coffee, a better sound system and generally increase the overall pleasant experience of the meeting. I’m exaggerating and pressing home the point that I think our desire for missions and making God known among all the nations is compromised by such thinking. Let me know if you agree – I just feel that such questions need to be asked.
    These song lyrics I’m working may help to express my questions (or that may not!)

    There is an old lady that I know
    She didn’t make it into the video for the church promo
    She didn’t have the right look they said, they didn’t tell her so
    Happy to leave her in the back row

    There is an old man that I know
    He asked if they could they could turn the volume low
    But they said the young people liked it so
    Besides it kept them coming to the Jesus show

    Refrain: And does it break you heart

    Chorus:
    God doesn’t need a PR manager
    He needs a church that encapsulates
    the call to love unconditionally
    But instead we embrace the world
    with a foot in both camps
    Trying to serve two masters
    we extinguish the lamp
    That should be shining on a hill for the world to see
    But they look at us and see their own reflection

    There is a young boy that I know
    He questioned where all the money went, why couldn’t it go
    To the poor and lonely on the streets
    But they spent it on some speakers they didn’t need

    More comments and feedback would be much appreciated.

    Love in Him,

    Joe

  5. I have led a group of Christian professional artists in bringing shows to churches in the Northwest U.S.for some years. Our theme was “testimony through art”. It was difficult to engage many churches because of their empahsis on music as their prime (if not sole) means of communiction. In those churches with who we did connect we found it to be useful as amplifying or restating God’s word, but we did very little planting of seed.
    It became apparent after some time that we were more in the “show” business than the “tell” business. We were not connecting with the known and unknown artists within the church as encouragers. The standards,(the bar)of so many churches have been raised to a level that it is in fact frustrating even intimidating those within the church who look for opportunity to grow in skills and community. Choirs and in-house gifts have been stifled and worse the expectation of the congregation has been elevated to the degree that emerging gifts are not being presented or recognized – by this rush toward entertainment. We are becomming jaded.

    All of this is to say that the minute we ignore God’s admonition “Neglect not the gift that is in thee” and I mean that corporately, we loose site of God’s intent for His church.

    Whether or not the artists within hit the “mainstage” within their church, it is important that if they are going to deliver
    God’s message you have spoken about to the secular world, it must be nurtured and leadship has to be developed somewhere. If not the church, where else?

  6. Hello!

    I am from Macau and I am new in this website!
    And this is the 1st article I have viewed just now!
    Dear Joe, I praise you for the sincere heartly share to speak out the truth. Actually, this is happening in most of the churches & ministries in the world! 🙂

    And Tx, thanks for your objective and encouraging feedback.

    Above all, thanks to all of your encouragement.

    I had quite a big reflection on my worship ministry.

    :)Keep in touch and share!

    sister in Christ,
    Jessie

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