Thursday, April 23, 2009

Faith Works 4-25-09
Jeff Gill

Updating Your Glossary With a Word or Two

A few weeks ago I was updating my Facebook status with a Twitter feed from my cell phone texting function, which I reviewed later on Firefox from my MacBook.

Trust me when I say that the year I started seminary that sentence would have been so much gibberish.

Anyhow, my tweet had to do with my bemusement at spending a Saturday night finding a few pictures on Google Image search to use in the PowerPoint that would augment my sermon; other than Saturday and sermon, that sentence also would have competed in the “say what?” sweepstakes in 1985.

Add in the fact that said images and messages would be captured on digital video to ultimately be uploaded to YouTube for a congregation website that most of the church members subscribed to for e-mail notice of updates, and . . .

Let me say in my own defense that I had an e-mail account in 1978, which is not something many people can claim. Each account was awarded the munificent quantity of memory of, if memory serves, 500 Kilobytes. Keep in mind that we landed on the moon, 40 years ago in July of 1969, with a combined Apollo command module and lunar lander computer capacity of about 150 Kb of memory.

(And today your car probably has about 1 MB of memory running the emission control system and various elements of the automotive systems, which is impressive until you remember that your computer nowadays probably has 2 GB of RAM, so it’s 2,000 times more than your car, which is almost a thousand times more than the Lunar Module.)

All of which is to say: I started seminary in 1985, and if I had started seminary in 1960, most of what I learned about preaching and administration and leadership would have aged pretty well by 1985.

But here we are in 2009, and much of my 1985 knowledge base, about the basic tools of ministry, is scrap metal, by which I don’t mean the kind of scrap metal they run TV commercials about, telling people to not get electrocuted stealing that scrap metal.

The most useful content from that year of 1985 is what I learned of Bible content, and my seminary was busy trying to de-emphasize required coursework like that, plus most of the Bible content I know didn’t come from seminary coursework, other than Hebrew classes (which I will always be glad I took, regardless of relevance to the modern world). My Greek was and is fragmentary, but even that wasn’t required for graduation.

So, anyhow, I was doing a series of dialogue sermons with a pastor who wanted to open up some of the tough questions of Christian faith, and in one Sunday, where we were wondering what people already thought, we decided to try something a little out there even for 2009.

We started the message portion of the service with a “yes or no” question, and projected a slide with the two options, each with either his cell number or mine, asking the congregation to text a blank message to one number for “yes” or the other number for “no,” and over 70 text messages came to our two phones over the next five minutes, giving we two preachers a bit of data to work with as we worked to share our understanding of Biblical teaching into the modern world.

What is most striking to me about these tools for ministry is how simple and easy they are to use. Cell phones, digital video uploads, e-mails: they all are incredibly cheap, commonly available, and quite easy to use. Figuring out how to use a Biblical concordance or Greek lexicon is really much harder than making sense of these modern ministry tools.

It’s simply a question of being able to step out of the standard forms and approaches that were the norm from the 1950s to the 1990s, and trying on the virtual reality goggles of the post 2000 world. It’s a bit disorienting at first, but the twisted landscape makes quite a bit of sense once you figure out the new frame of reference.

And if you’re curious about how timeless truths communicate in new forms, you can search YouTube for melbrian1991 and click around, whatever that means!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a story or link him to your video tale with an email to, or follow “Knapsack” at Twitter.