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Friday, October 30, 2009

Flame ON!

On the good ol' interwebs there's a thing called a "flame war". In discussion forums and on blog comments some people think it's fun to start a fight. They pick out some characteristic or something and attack. Relentlessly. It can be a frustrating experience to be on the receiving end of a flame attack. There's no reasoning with a troll (one who starts a flame war). They just enjoy getting a rise out of people and keeping the argument going.

This can happen in church too. Have you ever heard: "Some people have told me they don't like the use of PowerPoint"? The 'some people' tactic is usually just a way to make the critique anonymous. The criticizer is basically a troll. They are inciting an argument, complaining for the sake of complaining.

Sometimes, you just need to disengage. Ignore. You can never win a flame war. Ever. Some people just argue and complain. Sometimes you just need to ignore and move on. You can't keep everyone happy. Don't try.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween and other hollidays

There are a lot of different opinions about how Christians should interact with holidays. Halloween is one of the most contentious. Should we avoid dealing with evil things? Should we ignore? Should we descry? Should we embrace?

On the one hand, if we completely ignore what is going on in the world we risk becoming irrelevant. But if we completely embrace what the world is doing, we become just as irrelevant.

One thing I like is to interact with the holidays - how has Halloween shaped our culture? How has the church shaped Halloween? Within the conversation is our relevance. Our world is tired of authoritarian commands to think or feel a certain way. They are hungry for a chance to explore and discover for themselves how to think and feel.

Let's provide that opportunity.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Windows 7: should you or shouldn't you?

The new version of Windows came out last week. Windows 7 has received some of the best reviews of any Windows product . . . ever. Wired gives it 8 out of 10 filled in circle thingeys.

Microsoft's loyal customers are finally getting the operating system they deserve with Windows 7, and it was well worth the wait.

First, to provide full disclosure (as critics have requested in our previous Windows 7 write-ups) yes, I am indeed a Mac user. But until heading to college, I grew up on a steady diet of Windows. (I made the switch after a system crash that resulted in the loss of an enormous school project.) With that said, Windows 7 thoroughly wowed me, dissolving the grudge I've held against Microsoft for many years.

The latest OS from Microsoft delivers a truly next-generation interface that will transform the way we use our computers, while addressing a number of nagging issues that have turned off Windows users in the past. The Windows team deserves a round of applause.

I'm updating soon. I'll give you my thoughts once I've had some time behind the wheel. However, if the critics are to be believed, this is one upgrade you should make.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

More Wisdom from Seth

Seth Godin again shares some thoughts that are valuable for church leaders:
"Notice me"

If the new web has a mantra, that's it.

So much time and effort is now put into finding followers, accumulating comments and generating controversy... all so that people will notice you. People say and do things that don't benefit them, just because they're hooked on attention.

Attention is fine, as long as you have a goal that is reached in exchange for all this effort.

Far better than being noticed:

* Trusted
* Engaged with
* Purchased from
* Discussed
* Echoed
* Teaching us
* Leading

Sometimes our churches act like this. We preach, teach, worship, and serve just so people will notice us. What if, instead, churches become leaders in the community? What if churches facilitate discussion in the community?

Flashy, well produced images can get you noticed, but sometimes a simple picture of a family that is being helped can have greater impact.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Performance Affects Perception

I recently saw this article over on Wired and it is just fascinating to me.
In a study of 23 non-football athletes who each kicked 10 field goals, researchers found that players’ performance directly affected their perception of the size of the goal: After a series of missed kicks, athletes perceived the post to be taller and more narrow than before, while successful kicks made the post appear larger-than-life.

The article goes on to explain that after each kick the participants were asked to use a model to represent their view of the goal post.

Interestingly, the change in players’ perception didn’t just depend on how many goals they missed — it also mattered how they missed their goals. Folks who failed because they didn’t kick high enough perceived the crossbar to be taller, while those who kicked to the side viewed it as more narrow.

Things really do look different to us based on how we interact with them.

So what does this have to do with preaching? As we represent visuals we need to be aware that past experience affects the way people will perceive visual input. If you are wanting your church to reach out to the homeless, it will be difficult for them to overcome their past experience (mental disorders, rude, frightening) until they have a new experience. Take video of a homeless person in your town and interview them about their life. Share that with the church to begin to change their perceptions and start to change their actions.

Friday, October 23, 2009

How to Engage Culture

My friend Mark recently blogged about how Christians should engage culture. He brings up some great thoughts:
I've never minded addressing matters about which Scripture is clear, such as dishonesty, greed, sexuality, etc., but I've never felt I had a vantage point from which to comprehensively stand in judgment on all of culture. Quite often, I've known intelligent, sincere Christians who have stood on either side of some issues. If we are going to be divisive, it has to be about matters of good versus evil, which simply cannot be glossed over and replaced with Republican versus Democrat, or vice versa.
The conversation turned to how Jesus addressed culture in his teaching and preaching. I think that Jesus was bold in addressing the cultural issues of his day, but he never aligned himself with any political or religious party. Jesus spoke in parables that would sneak behind peoples' prejudices and open their eyes to a different kind of culture. I think it was Michelangelo who said the best critique is to create something beautiful. Jesus critiqued culture by creating a better, beautiful culture.

How do your sermons create beauty as a critique of culture?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What is the Gospel?

My friend Mike recently blogged about what constitutes the gospel. I like what he has to say:
What to you is the Gospel and where in scripture does this come from?
How much of the Gospel do you hear each week?
Does your minister/radio host/preacher always come back to Jesus even if he is preaching from Song of Solomon or Numbers?
Do you agree that each message should point back to Jesus every week?

I was really excited the way Ike Graul preached the Gospel this past Sunday as our youth group visited PUMP church of Christ. He pointed back to the sacrifice of Jesus and tied it to the Lord's supper. It was a very good way to wrap the entirety of our service to the Gospel of Jesus.

Good thoughts.

How do you preach the Gospel? How do you use images to represent the Gospel?

I like to use everyday things as examples to show how the gospel can be embodied in our lives. I preached a sermon this summer about obedience and I used a picture of a toilet seat. My point was that married men obey their wives and put the toilet seat down because they love their wives. Our obedience to God is also because we love him. That one image is what everyone remembered from the sermon. Go figure.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cable News is Ruining our World

Seth Godin is a student of culture and often offers insight about things from an entrepreneurial perspective that have great application to church work. Recently he discussed Cable News:
Cable news thinking has nothing to do with fires or with politics. Instead, it amplifies the worst elements of emotional reaction:

1. Focus on the urgent instead of the important.
2. Vivid emotions and the visuals that go with them as a selector for what's important.
3. Emphasis on noise over thoughtful analysis.
4. Unwillingness to reverse course and change one's mind.
5. Xenophobic and jingoistic reactions (fear of outsiders).
6. Defense of the status quo encouraged by an audience self-selected to be uniform.
7. Things become important merely because others have decided they are important.
8. Top down messaging encourages an echo chamber (agree with this edict or change the channel).
9. Ill-informed about history and this particular issue.
10. Confusing opinion with the truth.
11. Revising facts to fit a point of view.
12. Unwillingness to review past mistakes in light of history and use those to do better next time.

If I wanted to hobble an organization or even a country, I'd wish these twelve traits on them. I wonder if this sounds like the last board meeting you went to...

Worse, does this sound like a recent sermon? Friends, our job is not to persuade people to think like we think, or to entice people to fill the seats on Sunday morning. Our job is to speak as one who is speaking the very words of God (1 Pet. 4:11-12).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Be an Artist who is a Christian, not a Christian Artist

Over at Media Salt they discussed Christian Media a while ago.

When you hear a piece of media described as “Christian,” what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? For me, if I’m honest, it’s that it is probably a piece of crap. It’s watered down music that is a poor imitation of pop culture, with different lyrics. It’s a poorly written novel that’s “more acceptable” to read because it’s been sanitized of harsh language/circumstances and deals exclusively with faith. It’s a straight-to-video movie with a cheesy plot and even worse acting. Most of all, I think it couldn’t be further from what God expects us to do with all of our creativity.

Yup. I agree.

But it hasn't always been so. Once, Christian artists were at the forefront of the artistic world: Da Vincci, Michelangelo, Handel, etc.

I say we let people be artists and encourage them to express their faith (and doubt and fear and shame and anger) through their art. It doesn't need to be all sanitized, happy, touch-feely crap.

For preachers: learn to be a good public speaker. Trust me, your preaching skills don't necessarily translate. Join Toastmasters and see what it's like to get your point across in 3 to 5 minutes. I dare you.

Monday, October 19, 2009

G.I. Joe!

Sometimes the picture says it all. What images can you use that need no words to explain? How can your sermons become more powerful without you speaking? Weird thought, I know, but sometimes it is better to let people work through things on their own and to let the pictures stimulate the thoughts.

Friday, October 16, 2009


So Ignite is a series of presentations that can be no longer than 5 minutes and use 20 slides that advance every 15 seconds. It is a geek culture phenomenon that has reinvigorated presentations.

What we can learn from this is that brevity is highly valued in the geek/youth culture. Get to the point. Images are powerful vessels of meaning. Use them well. Timing is everything, as in comedy, so it is in presentations. Practice.

Check out one of the presentations below.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

PowerPoint tips and tricks #5

Jan Schultink over at Slides that Stick highlights how to stretch an image to fill a slide. There is nothing worse than have your image skewed or having awkward spaces around the sides.

Here is how to do it:

1. Right-click the image, select format picture and click "reset picture" to restore the original aspect ratio (between height and width)
2. Re-size by dragging a corner until both the height or the width are at least equal to the full screen
3. Reposition the image and crop the bits of the image that are sticking outside the canvas
4. Select the image, press format and compress pictures to reduce the file size of your presentation

Check out his post for some good example photos and more sticky, slidey goodness.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mustached Americans

Apparently Mustached Americans earn 8.2% more than their non-Mustached counterparts, but they also tend to save less of that money (11% compared to 14%).

About AMI

The American Mustache Institute, the bravest organization in the history of mankind behind only the U.S. Military and the post-Jim Henson Muppets, is the world’s only facial hair advocacy and research organization, with more than 700 global chapters. AMI battles negative stereotypes and discrimination against Mustached Americans. Based in St. Louis due to the presence of the world’s largest mustache – the Gateway Arch – the organization is committed to recapturing the mustache’s glory years of the 1970s, when there existed a climate of acceptance, understanding, and flavor saving for people of Mustached American descent.

Why do I share that with you? Because it's funny! Sometimes humor can make a point more powerfully than any other emotion. I wonder if Jesus was chuckling when he talked about the camel going through the eye of a needle. One thing, though. Humor has to be contextual. Don't just tell a joke to tell a joke and then move in a completely unrelated direction. Rather, make sure your humor relates to your topic. In this case, if you were preaching about equality or financial stewardship, this could be a good humorous example.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

I recently read Don Miller's new book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I like it. A lot.

He writes about story and how his learning about story has helped him to change the way he lives real life in order to make it a more compelling story. I dig it. I think that story has a lot to teach us about life. Stop and think about why almost every story has the same basic elements. And it never gets old. There is something about story that speaks to a deep part of us. Story stirs a deep longing within us.

Sermons can be stories. Jesus was a master at using story to captivate and educate people. In order to be a good story there has to be a plot and conflict and resolution. I won't belabor the idea of preaching in stories, that's been done before. Rather, think about how images can powerfully evoke a sense of conflict or resolution. Images can guide people into and through the story of the sermon.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Know your Memes

So if you watched The Office recently, you saw Dwight rock a sweet t-shirt with three wolves howling at the moon. But, did you know that it is an internet meme found on reviews?

Later on, during the wedding people start dancing down the isle which is a direct take off of a Youtube video of an actual wedding.

The whole show was filled with memes, and that kind of referential humor is a huge component in the communication of younger people.

Some churches are using the memes to their advantage:

How are you going to address this?

Friday, October 09, 2009

Your Church is Wheelchair Accessable - is your PowerPoint?

Ok, maybe you don't need a ramp up to your slides, but you do need to think about people with disabilities when you present. What about those who are hard of hearing? Make sure that if you are using a video clip or playing music that at least the key words are clearly communicated (subtitles maybe). What about the blind in the congregation? Make sure that you mention the image on the slide so that they aren't left out. This is also a good thing to do for podcasting, so people can get the point without having to see the slides.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

You must consider copyright

Lifehacker posted about how to understand copyright law. That got me to thinking about this oft neglected topic. I have rarely heard discussion about the copyright of sermons or the use of copyrighted images in PowerPoints. Guess what, you have to think about it. As a preacher you need to have the highest standards for your work. Don't plagiarize - give credit where necessary. Don't steal people's images. If they are a commercial image - seek permission.

Now, I will admit to grabbing pictures from Google Images from time to time. The line isn't always clear. I usually think about how I might be impacting the livelihood of the photographer. If there is no way that they would make money, I use the image, if I'm taking money out of their pocket, I will pay or find a different images.

Also, don't steal a sermon from someone else. If you were inspired, that's fine, but give credit. Mention the book or sermon that prompted your thoughts. There's no shame in being inspired by other works, but there's a bunch of shame in stealing from other people.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Glance Test

Nancy Duarte nailed it. She blogged about the "glance test" which says that a slide must be comprehended within 3 seconds. The principle is that we cannot both listen to a speaker and comprehend a slide, therefore the comprehension must fit within the spaces in speaking - no more than 3 seconds.

Do your slides past the glance test?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Semiotics: how words create meaning

Semiotics describes the study and use of signs (words usually) and how they bring meaning. An image alone caries meaning, but pairing an image with text can amplify meaning, or change the meaning.

For example:


Totally different meaning by just changing the words

Monday, October 05, 2009

Brain Rules: What's Wrong With the World - Edition

Here is a great interview with John Medina of Brain Rules. He talks about some shortcomings in the current generation as far as the cognitive neuroscience is concerned. This is part 1 - in later parts he will discuss things that are encouraging him.

Check it out!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Demitri Martin

Visuals need not be complex in order to be effective. Demitri Martin is a funny guy who does a great job using his visuals, even though they aren't fancy-schmancy. Enjoy.

Demetri Martin: Material Enhancers (Standup Comedy) - The funniest home videos are here

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Toward a Theology of PowerPoint #7

Way early on in the history of the church the Christian apologists came into contact with Neo-Platonic philosophy. In some places they showed how Christianity is at odds with this philosophy, but at other places the early Christians attempted to show how Christianity was compatible.

At some places this has been a bad thing. The Neo-Platonic thinkers said that the ultimate God was unchangeable, and impassable. The Christians agreed, and absorbed that theology which said that God could not feel emotion nor change his mind. I can't see how the jealous, passionate, weeping, God of the bible could be without emotion. I can't see how the God who argues with Moses and Job and Abraham could be unchangeable.

When we present God as one who doesn't emote, it seems like he doesn't care. If God doesn't care, then how is it good news to be a part of his family? In creating presentations, it is important to show that God cares. Use images to evoke emotion and to show that emotion connects us to God, who feels.