I am a pastor of a small church in rural Northern Michigan. I love my church and I love my community. I also believe we need local churches of all sizes to build the Kingdom of God.
Yesterday I received several calls and direct e-mails from a variety of Christian organizations encouraging me to send my congregation to other churches’ livestreams. The rationale went something like this:
Because you are a small church and not able to match the production quality of larger churches, you should send your people to one of these large churches, so they have a good online-church experience.
The truth of the matter is that, no, I cannot match the production quality of larger churches. But, in the same respects, larger churches cannot match the production quality of Netflix. So, if church wins on production quality, we all lose.
But I firmly believe small churches are better positioned to have a better livestream experience than anyone else. It’s true that I can’t beat production quality, but I can beat the larger churches and even Netflix in interaction every single time.
Small churches excel in relationships. Our strength is in our size – we know everyone.
So, as churches shift to online-only services during the Covid-19 pandemic, I think small churches can give their congregations a very fulfilling service for not a lot of money or technology.
Because I’m crunched for time (as are you) let me give you the bullet points:
1. Livestream your service or sermon via Facebook Live (it’s free).
2. Mount your smartphone on a tripod and keep the phone close to the action.
- No wide shots (so the microphone can pick up the audio)
- Move the tripod during the livestream to the musician if you need to.
- (Search for Cell Phone Tripod on Amazon for lots of inexpensive options)
3. Use a separate tablet or cell phone for the preacher to monitor the livestream.
- Remember to mute the audio on this device.
- Remember to change your settings, so this screen is always on.
4. During the service/sermon interact with those watching.
- Tell the audience you will be interacting with their comments.
- As you stream, you will see the names of people watching pop up. Say hello to them on
- Ask open-ended questions that you will later come back to
(i.e. what are your prayer requests?)
- Ask open ended questions during the sermon that you will read later on – keeping in mind that there’s a 20 second delay between what you say and the stream your audience is watching. (i.e. “When do you do your devotional time? What are some things that distract you from praying? If you could travel with anyone, who would it be? How will you apply the truth of God’s Word today?)
My friend Francisco Ruiz hosts the Retro Rewind Podcast. Part of that show involves livestreaming video game playthroughs on Twitch. Watching game streams is not my jam. But I watch Francisco because he is my friend and because he interacts with me when I interact with him. It is very engaging. I suggest you go watch one of his shows to see how it’s done.
And if you want to see how we handled our imperfect livestream last week, you can watch it here. Note that we have a Mevo Plus – but if we did not, I would go ahead and stick my phone on a tripod and do service like I have suggested above.
Our broadcast last weekend was awesome… because the people I served loved having an opportunity to connect with the people they already know and love.
I can’t compete with production quality – but no one can compete with me in relationships at The Orchard Church.
I am not sure how I stumbled across this message. It was likely on Twitter under the #ChurchToo hashtag. I am incredibly grateful for Diane Langberg, Ph.D., for her words of wisdom last year entitled Power, Deception, and the Church.
The entire message is worth listening to, but this quote (around the 31 minute mark) struck me as particularly timely for The Church in the Western World.
Here's some of what Dr. Langsberg said about loving Christian leaders who abuse their power:
"And yes, the abuser - like all of us - is invited to be part of the ungiven [the protective Christian community], but that only becomes possible (and hear me clearly) when the light is shining in the darkness, and the offender falls down before our crucified God knowing that it is against that wounded savior that he has sinned. And that abuser, who gets to that place, will demand nothing from any human – no position, no place of power, no restoration, no forgiveness. He will acknowledge (she will acknowledge) the inability to live in truth, and know better than anybody else knows that they are not to be trusted and that the actions they committed are theirs and theirs alone.
This is how we love abusers: By letting them be stripped of the trappings that they have used to deceive themselves.”
It seems to me that God is in the process of purifying his Church here in America. Part of that process is bringing many forms of spiritual abuse to light.
I am largely posting this so I can find this for future use, but I hope you find it useful too.
I want to offer a word of caution to my fellow pastors about seeking popularity.
As I confessed to my congregation in my sermon last Sunday, I have sought attention and popularity for much of my life. I lie to myself, thinking that if I were more popular, I could have a better impact on the world for Christ.
If I'm honest, though, that is a false virtue I try to wrap around my self-centered quest for personal glory.
Before most of my sermons I pray, "May Christ increase, so I may decrease." I must pray this. It is not a reality of my heart, it is a plea for God to change my heart.
God says: I am Yahweh, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another (Isaiah 42:8a HCSB).
A few months ago, I read Michael York's odd, yet satisfying memoir of filming the movie Megiddo: The Omega Code 2. In it, he recounted a quote from John Updike: Celebrity is a mask that eats into the face.
I intended to post John Updike’s quote for a few weeks, and then I came to Luke 11:42-12:3 in my sermon series through the Gospel of Luke. In his famous woes, Jesus condemns the Pharisees' obsession with popularity and attention: Woe to you Pharisees! You love the front seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces (Luke 11:43).
I used Updike’s quote here.
So this post is a caution, but mostly for me: Celebrity is a mask that eats into the face.
I have been slowly working my way through Preaching in Hitler's Shadow: Sermons of Resistance in the Third Reich edited by Dean G. Stroud.
Until this book, I had never heard of Pastor Julius Von Jan. He is not a major figurehead in the resistance against the Nazis. But his voice mattered.
When the Nazis began to their attack against Jews in November 1938, Von Jan spoke out against the Nazis. I have included below, some quotations from his sermon, O Land, Land, Land: Hear the Word of the Lord! Shortly after this sermon was delivered, he was dragged from his home by approximately 500 Nazis, beaten publicly by the Nazi mob, and imprisoned.
He survived the war. He is not household name. As far as I know, the only available English translation of his sermon must be purchased. And yet, his voice mattered. His courage mattered. And I think he still speaks to us today.
This last Saturday we laid to rest Evelyn Tonnessen in Staten Island, NY. For as long as I had known her, a sign hung on her front door: Velkommen.
"Welcome" in Norwegian.
Evelyn often quoted her late husband Walter, “If there’s room in your heart, there’s room in your house.” And she not only welcomed me into her house, she welcomed me into her family.
At the funeral, one family member reported that Evelyn always said, “When my time of service is over, I want to go home.” She served her church, her family, her friends, and her community up until the day she died. Evelyn was a servant among servants.
I can still hear her voice. Still hear her laughter. Still feel her welcoming warmth.
The church (a rather large church) was packed. It felt like a state funeral. But it wasn’t because Evelyn was famous, or powerful. It was because Evelyn loved people, like Jesus loved people. A single life filled with pain and turmoil that was submitted to Christ and transformed the world around her.
Evelyn was preceded by her husband, Walter, who passed away in 2002. He was a builder, and she missed him tremendously.
She spent Valentines days with him.
My wife told our children, “Granny’s husband built houses. He passed away a long time ago, and he spent all this time building a home with Jesus for her.”
As a theologian I can’t verify that statement, but as an artist I know it’s true.
Evelyn’s passing is a huge loss. My grief, and the grief of her family is incredible.
But our grief is not without hope.
She trusted Jesus – the Resurrection and the Life.
Though she is dead, she shall live forevermore.
This prayer is my immediate response to the article posted today by the Houston Chronicle. I am praying this prayer as a pastor of a small SBC church in rural Northern Michigan.
Eternal Heavenly Father,
Why do you allow the wolves into the fold?
Why do you allow your servants to ignore the predators in their midst?
Why do you allow us to ignore evil in your name?
Why do you let us ruin your name, trample upon your glory,
when we protect the wolf,
and turn out the lamb?
Is now the time of your justice?
We deserve it.
We have honored you with words, but our hearts are far away.
Far away protecting our own institutions
instead of your Church.
Far away using your Name to build our glory.
Claiming your power as our own.
You have shamed us.
You have shamed us before the whole world.
We deserve it.
Thank you for using the Houston Chronicle to expose our nakedness.
For Robert Downen, Lise Olsen, and John Tedesco.
Help us, O God.
Help us to repent.
Help us to produce fruit consistent with repentance.
For the churches who have protected their flocks by exposing evil
– may you increase their tribes.
For the churches who have failed to protect their flocks from the wolves
– may they repent in tears.
For the churches who refuse to protect their flocks,
who feed on their own sheep,
who re-victimize their victims,
who claim your glory as their own,
who take your name in vain
by calling what is evil good,
and by doing this evil in your Name,
- may they be anathema.
- may they be judged.
- may your wrath be revealed.
- may you fight against them with the sword of your mouth.
We pray for the victims, O Lord.
We do not know how to pray.
We do not know how to help.
Many will never again enter into a church.
Many will never experience good fellowship with your people.
Many will never walk with you.
Be with them, O Lord.
Send them friendship, Father.
Comfort them, Spirit.
Cradle and hold them, O God.
May they feel your embrace and know they are loved.
For the Southern Baptist Convention:
May all pastors renew their covenant with you to protect the people they serve.
May all elders and deacons worship you, and you alone.
(Fearing you, more than man.)
May denominational leaders take swift action to protect victims, and expose evil-doers.
May we, in our pitiful and broken state,
as we lay crumbled in our complacent guilt,
lift a broken and weary finger to heaven and say,
“Look at us,
Look at us.
We are proof.
We are evidence,
that all of humanity needs Jesus.
Our knowledge has indicted us.
Our knowledge has made us the chief of all sinners.
As we wallow in the sewage of our pathetic failure,
We know better than all that we need Jesus.
For the forgiveness of sins.
For the redemption of our souls.
For the redemption of our bodies.
For adoption into God’s family.
from our self-imposed slavery to our own selfish desires.”
We do not know how to pray.
We do not know what to pray.
Teach us your ways O Lord.
In Jesus’s Name we pray.
Note: While prayer should always be the first response of a Christian, it is not the final response. In my personal ministry context, my primary focus is to guard the flock in my congregation. To that end, you can hear some of my thoughts and practices in this sermon which has been posted on the front page of the church for the past year, and pinned to my personal Twitter profile for the same amount of time.
What will happen if the church ignores sexual abuse? It will destroy us.
Today is a big creative day for me!
On my show, the Untold Podcast, we release our 82nd story: "Who Argued for My Soul?" by R. E. Diaz.
And my short story, "How to Bury a Child Molester" is released in The Crossover Alliance Antology Volume 4 - Monsters.
Get it here.
Or directly from Amazon.
As I continue preaching through 1 Corinthians I was humbled to see a particular way Paul loved the Corinthian church. Over and against the chaos of their daily lives, he instructed them to conduct their services in a peaceful order.
Amidst the chaos of everyday life, church can and should be a calm amidst the storm. Peace in the face of disorder.
I also addressed the text that many use to oppress women in the church.
Listen here if you'd like.