Communicating the Gospel: Look for Moments to Educate

It is essential to not give the impression that music and worship are synonymous. Music is an element. It's equally essential for musical and technical presenters to work as partners.

If you had the opportunity to read Communicating the Gospel: Philip and the Ethiopian Go To Church, the article posted on August 20, it touched on three areas of service, beginning with connecting in worship, then the welcome, and lastly, the church news and offering, but there are additional aspects of the service in working to communicate with each member of your congregation, even those visiting your church for the first time.

Looking further, let's take a look at:

Don't turn a deaf ear to comments by members of your congregation that the music may be too loud.

Musical Worship

Scripture abundantly illustrates how powerfully music brings people into communion with God, yet music in worship can be confusing.

"Why do we stand to sing?" Philip is asked.

Soon, the singing ends, and the pastor then says, "Thank the worship team for a good time of worship."

After which tanother question comes, "Is worship over?"

It is essential to not give the impression that music and worship are synonymous. Music is an element. It's equally essential for musical and technical presenters to work as partners, so that a congregation singing remains engaged with God, and is not distracted.

Be careful in the verbal language, body language and technical presentation of musical worship, so that the gospel is not overshadowed. Keep guests at ease by reminding them why standing for music at church is different from standing at a pop concert.

If song lyrics are printed as well as projected, point this out before singing begins. Find opportunities to reassure the audience the music is scriptural, even if it may not sound "sacred," and to make certain that they understand why, and what they are singing.

1) Translate Lyrics: Whether or not hymns are "dated" is not relevant in this context. What is applicable is whether the hymns that are chosen contain words whose meaning is lost.

Even if they like the music, do listeners really comprehend some lyrics? For that matter, do the singers know the definitions or are they just singing, because the songs were selected for them? As Paul may ask, "how much more, then" would our worship be enhanced by a brief "evangelical English" lesson? Would "A Mighty Fortress" be mightier when comprehending "a bulwark never failing?" Would the "Fount of Every Blessing" to which we come, flow more abundantly, were we to recognize a "fetter" and realize that we are not uplifting Mr. Scrooge when we "raise mine "Ebenezer."

For that matter, would "contemporary" songs, often criticized for their "lack of theology," be enriched were there occasional nods to the Psalms or other Scriptures which motivated today's authors, as they had inspired the craftsmen of yore?

In short, look for moments to educate.

2) Make Projected Lyrics Legible: Paginate lyrics on the screen according to the rhythm that they'll be sung, changing lines at the end of a phrase. This might mean the projection operator will need to attend a musical rehearsal or two, and sing along as an audience member is expected to.

Don't fill the screen with words and stage directions. When lyrics are not superimposed over live video, project no more than four lines on a panel.

If a word or phrase is to be sung a certain number of times according to the music chart, avoid putting the number on the screen (such as "Oh" (7x); or repeated lines with the same lyric, such as "His Love Endures Forever," "His Love Endures Forever." Each illustration gives a subliminal signal, whereby participants start counting instead of singing. In such cases, multiple panels or revealed lines in PowerPoint may be inserted. It's work worth inputting.

In short, plan time for review and rehearse your projections before the audience arrives.

3) Listen for "Feedback": When audiences can't hear, they stop listening. They often can't hear, because the volume is too soft or too loud. Anticipate this by performing a proper sound check before and monitoring the sound throughout.

Don't turn a deaf ear to comments by members of your congregation that the music may be too loud. Although the opinion may be subjective (read: "complaints"), there may be objective solutions worth pursuing as well.

The room acoustics may create bounce, despite the contention that "the people will absorb the sound." The band may drown out the singers. Loudspeakers may not be placed properly. Whatever the possibilities, take time to balance the sound (this includes audio that's streamed or recorded). One handy tool, an app, worth investing in is a decibel meter that can be monitored through a service, and that can be used to defuse complaints.

4) Be Lights Sensitive: Similarly, monitor lighting. Atmospheric lighting for musical or dramatic elements enhances. If house lights are needed for notetaking, use dimmers rather than abrupt switching. The shock between off and on hurts the eyes of those in the audience and will destroy the mood. Ditto for stage lighting, especially during singing.

Strobes and chasers are high-energy and can be exciting, yet, must be used in relation to the overall mood. Do they contribute to contemplation of The Lord, or do they break the mood by inadvertently creating a "concert" atmosphere, or worse, disrupt contemplation through a blinding flash?

The Message

Whether it is by invitation from a friend like Philip, a social post ad or a connection via the internet, people generally attend church to hear a preacher. The message may involve various methods a straight on lecture, an interactive interview, or video elements. If none of the other communication elements work properly, The Message must be clearly comprehended: audibly, grammatically. 

"I do not understand," says the guest.

Philip turns to another Scripture. The guest pauses him.

"The words do not translate in my language."

5) Watch Your Language: About the Word "Christianese" is a foreign language. Two words are particularly problematic in these times "sin" and "evangelize." Example: "Sin" is only used in relation to church, and even there, the word "sin" can be misunderstood. Occasionally, it may be helpful to connect with those in your audience by substituting a different verb. For example, read Romans 3:23 and substitute "disobeyed" or "rebelled" for "all have sinned." How might such a substitution have a deeper impact among people who disobey and rebel each day in their homes, but only come to church occasionally? What about the faithful attendees who hear about "sin" frequently and thus react in a lukewarm fashion to such references? Either shift in such language may serve as a brain stimulus for them to re-engage and listen closer.

"Evangelist" and "evangelical" can use a similar clarification. The Apostle Philip was an evangelist (Acts 21:8), meaning he spread the good news of the gospel of Christ. Philip was not engaged in politics as modern definitions imply. Do not look to avoid the word in the guise of "spiritual correctness." Simply, be aware of multiple interpretations and take advantage of clarifying when possible, so as to not interrupt the gospel message. Examine the scriptures and seek other words or phrases that may need stronger context without undermining the gospel.

Message Static

The best-laid plans, the most creative outline, the most engaging personnel, can sometimes be derailed by two seemingly disconnected items: Typos and fuzz.

6) Proofread: Typographical errors, especially in projected lyrics or sermon outlines, call wisdom into question. The audience has a reasonable expectation of a presenter's expertise. Words on the screen speak. Don't just copy and paste content (especially lyrics). Once the text is inputted, make sure to read the copy aloud to determine whether the word should be "their," "there" or "they're." And is it "it's" or "its?"

Develop a ministry stylebook for printed material, starting with the Associated Press Stylebook as a guide. Then create your own addendums for specific items for your congregation. For example, when referring to God the Father, Jesus Christ or The Holy Spirit, is the pronoun "him" or "Him?" Be consistent. The same principle applies to "Lord" and "lord." And by all means, make certain you know the difference between "god" and "God."

7) Manage the Mic: Singers and pastors must be familiar with the mechanics of mic usage and placement. More emphatic presenters can actually undermine their efforts, if they're too close or too loud and subsequently eat the mic, so that their words end up not being understood.

Some speakers disdain microphones, adamantly proclaiming (or boasting), "I don't need one." Gently explain why you need them to be mic'ed and help them prepare. When using handhelds, remind the singers or speakers whether they are using directional or omnidirectional mics. Guide them in mic placement in relation to their mouths right in front, rather than over the top, for example.

When doing congregation testimonies, appoint a host to hold the mic rather than handing the mic to a speaker. (Think TV interviews.). It controls the volume and the length of the talk.

A few older friends in the church I once attended had assorted complaints about not being able to hear. Sometimes, the complaints were during the service.

We addressed the issues in three ways:

1) We provided personal amplification monitors, which could be picked up at the sound booth each week;
2) We adjusted control of the monitors in sections where it was hard to hear;
3) We turned a chronic complainer into a team player by working out a few hand signals he could flash (Think baseball, i.e., a third-base coach) during the service, if the volume was too soft or loud.

In such cases, remember, those who complain about sound want to hear and be heard.

You may already be tending all of these elements well. You may have limited resources and personnel.

Tending to these elements may not cause those who are not church folk to return.

However, if we were as to the Lord to make certain we do not distract from God's message, we can be certain the Holy Spirit will do the rest.

From here to Ethiopia.

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