I might be one of the earliest adopters of technology for ministry… or maybe not. Let me take you back to the scene of the crime, tell my story, and let you decide.
It was a nondescript spring weekend, Easter in fact, 1989. The little church I pastored had thirty-three people on a typical Sunday. On Easter… thirty four! We met in a small building with three rooms on the first floor. It was a public building in Factoryville, PA, and we had just purchased it. For years it was the public library, and decades before that, the jail. There were still bars in the basement embedded in the walls.
We would remodel later in the summer and open up that first floor, making it our main auditorium. The entire footprint? Twenty five by thirty one feet. Minus a stairwell that would need to be cut in to get downstairs without going outside. Fifty people would pack the place out. We would hit fifty later that year, in October.
But that Easter weekend I would make a very daring move, a decision that my survival in that church could turn on. If I did what I wanted to do on Easter morning, I could be termed a charlatan, a light weight, a huckster pastor who was more interested in technology and entertainment than preaching a powerful Easter message on the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the pure, unadulterated, Word of the living God!
But my imagination was so moved, my emotions so stirred that Saturday before Easter, that I wanted my people to experience the same thing. I wanted them to sit in wonder, in silence, in amazement at what it might have been like all those Easter weekends ago around 30AD in the city of Jerusalem. I could stand in front of them and read from one of the Gospels, toward the end, about the Resurrection, or I could allow them to experience what I experienced. Never before in my short life of twenty five years had I been so moved, so fascinated with… The Story.
Early in the evening on Saturday I decided to go for it. I prepared my equipment and tested it. I thought it would work but I was nervous. How would they respond? Would they have the same reaction to it that I did? Would their imaginations go crazy like mine? Would they hear and think of the Resurrection Story in a different way than they ever had in their lives? What I was about to do was just not done back then. But I was young, brash, and willing to bet my ministry, on the most important Sunday of the year, that they would.
Easter Sunday was on March 26 in 1989, but on March 25 I had heard parts one and two of the Adventures In Odyssey program called The Imagination Station… on the radio. No Internet back then, cassette tapes were all the rage. You might remember the Imagination Station that John Avery Whitaker had at Whit’s End in Odyssey. The weekends of March 18 and 25 that year marked its big debut, and Whit would use it in many future programs.
On that episode, "Digger" Digwillow goes on a life-changing journey — and witnesses the most important and exciting event in history — when he climbs into Whit's special Imagination Station! He goes back in time to just before the crucifixion, to the Garden of Gethsemane. He witnesses the betrayal by Judas, the trials before the Jewish and Roman leaders, the beatings from the soldiers, the carrying of his cross, the Crucifixion, and then the Resurrected Christ. Back then, in 1989, if you closed your eyes and listened, it was like being there, and your imagination painted a picture for you that you always wished you could have created yourself from just reading the text alone, but you never could.
So on Easter Sunday, after welcoming everyone, singing the hymns, praying, giving our offering, and reading Scripture, I did it. I briefly explained what I was going to do, then before anyone could scream out or leave, I set the boombox on the communion table (sacrilege!) and pushed play. I sat down in the front row and listened with them, as episodes 66 and 67 played in their entirety, as I had recorded them off the radio the day before. It was magical. They loved it.
After the service, as the people were leaving and I was greeting each one, the second oldest lady, at 78 years old, took my hand. She said, and I will never forget, “Pastor, when you put that radio box on the communion table, I thought very ill of you, and was not very happy.” Then, with a childish twinkle in her eye, and a grin on her face, she continued “but it was WONDERFUL! I have never thought of the Resurrection like that before, it was like being there! Thank you for playing that!”
And with those words my calling was saved. I could continue as pastor. I had just buried her husband and that year I would bury her daughter. But that Easter Sunday, from her lips, I learned that technology could take our imaginations where they alone could not go. In 78 years she had never once sat in wonder and awe of the Resurrection like she had that morning. I was so glad I played it!
I have a thought. How do you use technology? Do you have a “200church” of twenty, thirty, seventy-five, or one hundred? Are you busy and stressed, with too much to do and too little time to do it? Why not let technology help you? What if you had one of the best preachers in the country visit your church and speak to your people one Sunday out of the month? Scores and scores of fantastic preachers put their sermons online in High Definition quality, and you could watch them with your people, and then stand and provide application to them, because you are their pastor, and you know them. And, more importantly, you love them.
Doing this, or something similar on DVD or through sites like RightNowMedia.org, LifeChurch.tv, Northpoint.org, or Saddleback.com (I get nothing from them!) might just give you the monthly break you need to survive, get ahead, spend time visiting instead of studying, etc. Really, the options for quality online preachers, message series, and steaming sermon videos are almost endless. It would expose your people to some phenomenal teaching, yet in the context of your shepherding. Why not? Oh, I know…
You’re afraid. They might think you’re shirking your responsibilities. They might like the other guy better (just break the projector if they do). They might not like it because “it’s just not done” by responsible pastors. Well, pastors of 200churches need to do things creatively. They need to try fresh approaches that allow them to have the time to counsel, visit, build new relationships with people who are not in their church yet, or just spend time with those kids who won’t be in their house forever. You know you have more to do than time to do it – using technology just might give you a little more time.
Doing church the same way we did it back in 1989 is not an option, and in 1989 I did something different that set me on a course to do many things differently for years to come. Oh, and just one more thing, don’t ever forget that no matter the size of your church, 20 or 200 or 500, your leadership matters huge in the Kingdom of God! It really does.
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