Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A People of the Book

In Sunday's message entitled "A People of the Book" from 1 Peter 1:23-2:3, I talked about the centrality of the Word of God in the life of the People of God.

(If you missed the message, I think you'll find it helpful and explanatory. In it, I explain our worship service, the historical symbolism of the pulpit and the place of the Bible in the process of salvation . . . among other things.

I got this great email from Steve Potratz. He gave me permission to post it in our shared hope that it would stir up some dialogue. So let it roll . . .


Many times Jesus would say: “You have heard that it was said… but I tell you…” One of Jesus greatest teaching challenges was helping people unlearn.

Over the years our church has taught people to bring their bibles to church. Deane Keller consistently encouraged people to mark their bibles. One of his trademarked phrases was “circle the word…” I remember him joking about it when he preached at the anniversary.

I so appreciated your message Sunday and your emphasis on the Word. You were right on. I appreciate too your explanation of the service structure. In that explanation you invited comments on the Keynote slides. I would like to add my two cents: We visit a lot of church throughout the country. When pastors put the scripture in their presentation we consistently observe very few bibles being carried by the people. I know you have purposely not included the main scripture text. However, by including all of the reference text (I know you do it to save time – and I honor that) I have noticed fewer people using or bringing their bibles to Grace. Two weeks ago Sunday only 6 people in 20 sitting around me had a bible open during the message. I would like to suggest you not display any scripture in your Keynote slides. Encourage people to use their bibles by turning to the text – even if it’s just for one verse. I would also like to encourage you to encourage the people to mark their bibles. The more people use their bibles the more they will use their bibles.

I use my computer for my morning devotions. I use my handheld many times in church. I have noticed that this is detrimental to my retention of scripture – I need to carry and mark up a physical bible and do except on choir Sundays.

While I’m writing, I would like to suggest one other thing: I like your emphasis on the pulpit and the delivery of the Word. How about keeping the pulpit for ONLY this purpose? Have the scripture read from the pulpit and delivered from there. Maybe the pastoral prayer too – but keep all other uses to a side or other locations. In other words, I don’t know why we read scripture from a side mike?

Just some thoughts – I would love to see people learn to use their bibles more and understand the use of the tools built into their bibles. It is amazing to me to see how few people understand how to use the reference system in their bible or even why it’s there. As you said Sunday, the bible literacy is very low.

No need to respond. I really appreciate your leadership, your teaching and your love for the people. To God be the Glory.

Standing firm,


Steve obviously gets what we're trying to do and shares these values. What do you think of Steve's suggestions?

Do you think flipping around in our bibles instead of projecting complementary texts would be helpful? I know it would definitely slow us down, but maybe that's not a bad thing.

Do you think people are bringing their bibles less these days? Is that because of something we're doing or not doing or is that just the cultural trend? I sure feel like I say just about every week, "You've got to have a Bible open in front of you" and a whole bunch of other things to reinforce the use of bibles. Do you think we can/should do more?

While we're at it. . . how about some thoughts/feedback on my recent use of slides and fill in the blank outlines?

Here are some of my own thoughts at this point in time:

  • I am in a season where I am definitely rethinking some of this stuff. I am in a total experimental mode.

  • I still have a strong conviction that preaching is, by and large, an oral medium. Jesus used visual language and illustrations. He painted pictures, but with words. Romans 10 makes it clear that people must hear. God gives his Word, not a picture. Though Jesus was the "image" of the invisible God, both before and after the incarnation the emphasis was on the proclamation of God's truth. After Christ, God's truth then centered on the person and work of Christ. Paul most strongly commanded Timothy to "preach the Word." This was his dying charge near the end of the apostolic age.

  • I don't preach because preaching is the most effective means of communication in today's world, but because I believe that preaching is the God-ordained means of communication for all time.

  • My aim is to help people engage with the text and message. This is my driving ambition: to get God's Word into the lives of God's people. I am willing to use slides and fill in the blanks if they engage visual learners and don't compromise the message.

  • I try and create slides that complement and support, rather than drive the message. I want the slides to be "invisible" in the sense that I am not verbally calling attention to them. If you listen over the radio or web, I don't want you to even be aware that there were slides.

  • I am hypervigilant for unintended consequences in the use of these tools. Fill in the blank outlines can dumb down content. Slides can create less engaged and lazy learners. The medium does impact the message. I think this is potentially dangerous stuff. We need to be continually thinking through these issues. Like in the area of bioethics, just because we can, doesn't mean we should.

  • I don't want to do things because our culture and the audience demands them, but because they might be helpful for some.

  • I don't want to compromise the Gospel, my own theological convictions, or the centrality of the God's Word in the life of God's people. I do want to connect with people and connect people with God's Word.

  • I don't know what I am doing! There is no script and I don't think the Bible says much about these things. I am doing what I am doing in a vacuum to a large extent. I reserve the right to stop creating slides and offering fill in the blank outlines.
Wow. I guess I have a few thoughts about these issues. What are yours?


Jacquelyn said...

Recently Phillip and I recommitted ourselves to bringing our own bibles to church. In the past few years I've left my bible at home so I wouldn't have to carry it along with a diaper bag, purse, etc. but when Zak started the 4s and 5s class his teachers really encouraged the kids to bring their own bible even though most of them couldn't read yet. It made me reevaluate the importance of coming to church prepared to learn from my own personal copy of God's word.
I agree with Steve, there is nothing like having your own bible in your hands to mark up and interact with :)
(Oh, btw, if any text is up on the screen I am usually to lazy to look it up. I vote for slides with the reference only!)

Lara said...

Interesting thoughts. For me personally, I like having the slides AND the Bible open in front of me. Sometimes the words jump out at me differently from the slides and I gain understanding I wouldn't have otherwise. But, I also love opening up the Bible and reading the verses surrounding the ones you speak about to gain some context. That is always invaluable. Plus the verses stay in front of me longer with my Bible open. I'm usually still pondering them, long after they are gone from the screen.

Penny said...

I agree with Steve. We should be bringing our Bibles and marking in them. Of course, these days I'm a "cry-room attender", and it's hard to have a Bible open in there without a baby grabbing a page. (Did you know there are consistently between 5-8 families in that room on a given Sunday 3rd service? That's a whole different blog topic!)
I'm also an old-school hymn lover, too, while I'm at it. I love opening a hymnal and singing them from the book. It's how I learned harmony as a child. So I'm not a fan of slides overall. Keep it simple and pure.

Pastor Tim Theule said...

Thanks for logging in, friends. I want to hear from some more of you.

In response to Penny . . . "simple and pure" according to 1950s standards for 1550s standards? Your standards or my standards. Simple and pure are pretty subject descriptors.

Young people today would argue that picking up a hymnal, turning to a number, staring at bunch of lines on a page and singing multiple verses of a song set in a musical style that they have no understanding of is anything but "simple and pure."

To take it further, this same young person might argue that having words projected on a screen, a familiar tune with today's lyrics, lights turned down low and an encouragement to "lift your hands" is the true measure of "simple and pure."

This was part of my point on Sunday. Music and even methodology ought not be the measures of all things in the church. Its important for all of us to recognize our own biases, tastes, preferences and desires when coming to worship.

Every Sunday, we have an opportunity to live the Gospel with one another by giving up some of things we want. No one at Grace gets everything they want when they come to worship. I don't. It sounds like Penny doesn't. I know our 80 year old seniors don't. The high school students don't.

On the leadership side, we talk about these things continually. We do the best we can, thoughtfully and prayerfully, to pick a spot on the spectrum using the unique and limited resources that God has given us, trying to take into account all the tastes and prefernces represented in our fellowship. Its not easy.

Not long ago we received this threatening anonymous letter from someone that stated if we didn't start singing more traditional hymns, they were leaving the church. What do we do with that?

The easiest thing in the world would be for us to slice up the services and move toward a consumer model where everyone gets what they want. . . . a traditional service, a boomer service and a cutting edge rockin' service. . . and then we could just keep creating services for the niche groups that emerged. That would be the easy way. I think it would grow our church. But so much would be lost. I continue to believe that this is not the right way for Grace today.

Brianna Heldt said...

Honestly I'm kind of unnerved that during the church service people are watching to see if you're turning to the scripture, holding your own vs. a pew Bible, etc. We (myself included) love to make virtues out of things that are in reality personal preferences and subjective (not that there aren't benefits to these things).

Personally I find the slides helpful. We each can have different ideas, I suppose the trouble comes when people start fighting for their own way or saying there is only one right way to do church. Tim thanks for acknowledging the subjectivity with all of it and not alienating anyone for their preferences. (Okay Andy, let's see your comment!)

Joe Pollon said...

I find the slides are very helpful. But, I like the way you don't push our attention toward them.

When I do open a pew copy and read the text, my attention to your message is diminished as I end up scanning the context and sometimes jumping around. I don't know if others do the same thing. And depending on where you would really prefer us to be focused, this may not be a problem at all.

I think the multi-generational approach is great. I get a hopeful sense from seeing all the young people on campus. And judging by the generally happy expressions I see on the faces of the seniors, it seems they are enjoying it too.

One approach to "pure & simple" might be to occasionally throw out a service that is intentionally modeled from a different era (or area) and highlight its strengths.

andy gibson said...

To the person who wrote the threatening letter, you let them go.

Like you said, we're all compromising. If I had it my way, the college group or the Pat Little Band would lead service every day. Whenever I suggest that we have more college kids leading worship to Al, I get "the look", and that is fine. I understand the resistance, and I understand we have multiple generations.

I call a little BS on the argument about less bibles being opened. I haven't oberved that at all. When we brought this up at growth group (were avid fans of life together!), we all looked at eachother and chuckled because that seems and sounds....well, off. I'm sure it's generational, but there is no connection to us between having a few slides during the sermon and not wanting to open the word. You do an excellent job, I think, of putting some good information on the slides that we might not otherwise be able to absord by just hearing it. The core thing is the scripture reading, and I don't think my any means you intend to project that. People DO open their bibles for that scripture reading, but if you didn't utilize the slides for quick biblical references, quote, etc., it would take forever and take away from your sermon.

Basically, the slides have enabled you to cover more in your 40 (or 45, or 50....1 HR) minutes, but it has also enabled the experience to be more visual, which means more is being absorbed. Sure, you can slow it down with no slides (which I would NOT be happy with at all) and we could use our bibles more (I don't flip around in my bible during sermons for one verse here, one verse there, I'd rather just listen), but that absorption of the scripture would go down. Again, you have done an excellent job of keeping it balanced. I know of a few things you could add to it, how you could use it more, etc., but I know I have to compromise, and you came out the gates with concessions on each side.

And I agree with Brianna. There is something that irks me about some of these issues being brought up, again, probably generational. Why are people paying more attention to others usage of the bible? Wouldn't questioning it be Judgement? Focus on yourself and your growth in the scripture. And the pew Bible thing...we should be celebrating if they are being used, and celebrating more if they are dissappearing. That means we are reaching out to the people of the central coast, as we are called to do.

And the whole scripture reading from the pulpit vs. "side mike"? I don't understand why it matters. What matters is that the scripture is getting read PERIOD. And from a tech standpoint...most people which are unfamiliar with the equipment and are unexperienced in getting behind a pulpit have a tendency to not move the pulpit mike. I don't know why, but they will adjust a side mic to their height...less voodoo, I guess, with the side mic. The pulpit rarely gets adjusted and you can't adjust for it in the soundbooth without blowing out the ears off the congregation. So there is better amplification of the scripture reading throughout the church from the side mic when being read by a general member of the congregation.

Happy, Brianna?

Brianna Heldt said...

why yes, andy, thank you for finally coming back out of the woodwork on life together. you have been missed. :)

Tim Weaver said...

I want my nose in the book. I love to flip to the side passages. It helps me to learn and remember where those passages are for future reference. If I see the reference, I won't remember it, but if I turn to it, I will have much better odds of finding it again later when my notes are long gone or are not with me. It does slow things down a bit, so you have to pick and choose which are the most valuable emphasis passages so that you don't sacrifice too much time. I intentionally read the call to worship from my bulletin so that if something strikes me and I want to ponder it a bit, I can stare at a it a bit longer instead of losing it because the next slide came up.

In both cases I can be distracted with the Word for a bit and have to catch up with the service. Sometimes it is unprofitable for me, but sometimes that is the Lord emphasizing something to me that I need to hear.

I am old school. I like to us a hymnal (so that I can ponder the words longer).

btw, I listened to the sermon on 890 the other week and didn't feel like I was missing something because I didn't have the slides in front of me.

I noticed that I used the word 'I' a lot in this post because it is just the way that I function. I realize that this is God's church, not mine, so He can have it any way that He wants it and it is fine with me. As long as we are preaching, teaching, and trying to live the Word I see no problem with it.

I can understand why Steve would be noting how many people have their Bibles open. How else can you tell what kind of effect something is having without observing? I know that Steve has a shepherding heart and so he has great concern for how the sheep respond to what is happening. He wants them in a situation which will most help them to grow spiritually. Not that I know that he was thinking that moment when he was counting, but after serving with him, I know his heart.

Erik Ernstrom said...

All four of my kids carry a Bible to church each week...ages 7, 5, 3, and 2. Their Sunday School teachers encourage them to bring them. In fact, my kids will get really upset if they forget to bring it.

But I agree with seems like fewer and fewer people are bothering to bring their Bibles with them. I see it downstairs in the junior high group every week. And it's getting worse. It used to be that just a couple kids would not bring one, and we'd have extras to hand out. Now it's the norm to not bring a Bible to church.

So if you want to talk "generational" issues, then I'd say that it's possible we're failing a generation if they're not understanding the importance of God's Word.

We should be reading it together, studying it together, underlining it together, memorizing it together, and making it our own.

If we were in a book club, we'd come to meetings with our copy all marked up, ready to discuss it. If someone was there speaking on behalf of the author, we'd be ready to scribble notes in the margins. And we wouldn't borrow a copy off the shelf of the bookstore, then leave it when we were done.

And God's Word is a little more important that that.

jeff martin said...

I sincerely appreciate the dialog on this subject and appreciate greatly where Steve is coming from.

During our growth group time last night, we had time to share this discussion hoping to jump in on this blog. The discussion ranged from using only the Bible to the Bible and only very subtle use of overhead medium only along the lines explained in Pastor Tim's bulleted items. However, there was a strong unanimous theme to make sure the Bible was really used at all times as the primary source of Gods word so as to set a clear example for the new and/or non-believers.

All agreed that introducing the importance of using the Bible was the way to go and not to sugar coat the importance of it in any way. I took this that using other medium instead of the Bible could send a different message that may dilute the importance of the Word which is simply the backbone of the Grace Church as I see it.

On a more personal note, I've known the tradition of bringing the Bible to worship service always. It was simply the way I was raised and pastored at childhood and I don't know much different than that. I also believe carrying that Bible that half a block to church on Sunday mornings gets recognized by someone who may not beleive. I hope and pray it makes others recognize that I hold it with great joy and importance and that it may have a silent effect on another person. May be wierd but that is just a small benefit of bringing the Bible with you.

Although I have not been specifically looking, I have also observed few Bibles open during the service but have not really thought of it until now. Just an observation. It must be they have it memorized because I cannot seem to remember anything. Feeble brain and all...:)

The sermon last weekend was right on the money and I was so encouraged with the message. Solid Biblical teaching and worship is absolutely key and I feel so fortunate that this Church is sticking to the Word and is not pandering or weakening to today's popular culture.

Steve and Pastor Tim have brought together some very important concerns and pictures of Church examination that we should all learn from...

Thank you for sharing and thank you for reading.

Jeannett Gibson said...

I haven't really noticed whether people have their own bibles or not, but I guess that's likely because I'm finding myself in the cry room every week. Either way, I think that whatever the case may be, I truly appreciate that Grace is a bible based church and that sermons are based on verses, one after the other and not flinching when we get to the tough stuff. It forces me to get out of whatever rut I feel like I'm in personally and focus on the word in general. A pastor (I don't think he was at Grace) once commented on how he really didn't like the "women's study bible" or "single male's study bible", etc. that you find in bookstores because it focuses the whole bible reading on YOURSELF, rather than just reading and focusing on the Word for what it is: God's Word. That is seems to become a spiritual version of a self help book.

Anyway, maybe a little off topic, but my two cents just the same.

andy gibson said...

Ok, so for those of you that think there is less Bible opening in church, and we're failing a generation....why?

Powerpoint (or Keynote)? I don't think so...if PT was posting the entire scripture reading, maybe that argument would close, but not as it is currently used as an enhancement tool.

Bibles on PDAs, Treos, Blackberries...ebooks, per se? Maybe.

So here we all are, likely focusing on the wrong things. I think Eric and Jeff made some good points that I may not agree with, but have my gears turning. I will still argue until I'm blue in the face (it happens alot!) that the slides are a enhancement, but the issue goes far beyond that and we're missing it. For the same reason we're caring whether the bible is read from some side mic or the pulpit...really doesn't matter. I think we might all be missing the bigger picture.

So, in Jr. High, High School, etc., what is causing it and what do we need to fix? It's not technology...because as observed, it wouldn't jumpstart people to start bringing their bibles as Tim hasn't implemented it long enough to have a standing effect.....

Penny said...

I didn't mean anything by my "simple and pure" comment. I am not saying throw out slides in favor of hymnals. And I did not write the anonymous letter, either! I guess I was just waxing nostalgic. "Simple" to me means preaching God's Word, which is exactly what you do each week. "Pure" is a loaded word, to be sure, but I thought that phrase sounded better than the other popular phrase that's out there.
I am so glad Grace doesn't have different "themed" services each Sunday. I love seeing different generations worshipping together. In particular, I am always blessed by what I see when I'm helping lead worship on stage... young and old alike singing praises to the Lord. We might have varied preferences, but bottom line, we're there. Worshipping God. Together.

Steve said...

We all agree on our desire to see people in the Word. I believe Pastor Tim's greatest desire for the people is Phil 3:10 (Amplified). The question on the table is teaching methods - what can be done to encourage the use of scripture. Joe, I agree with the use of slides - i think they add to retention. However, as a teaching method it might be more effective to just have the reference on the slide and encourage people to actually look up the verse in their own bibles. It may not have any effect... but I think anything we can do to encourage people to be in the Word is good.

Steve said...

OK. Perfect time for a slide. My guess is most of you don't have an Amplified and missed the richness of Phil 3:10. Here you go...
Philippians 3:10 (AMP)
10 [For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection [which it exerts over believers], and that I may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed [in spirit into His likeness even] to His death, [in the hope] 11 That if possible I may attain to the [ spiritual and moral] resurrection [that lifts me] out from among the dead [even while in the body].

Suzette said...

I guess I am a week late, but want to comment any way.

Maybe it is a really good sign that there are more people at church who are not opening their Bibles. To me it means we are getting new people who may not have ever been taught the importance of the Bible. Praise God they are here and getting the chance to taste and see for themselves! It reminds me of when I first came to chruch. It takes awhile to aquire a taste for the Word of God; to work up an appetite for spiritual food, to come hungry and be prepared to get stuffed full. It took me a long time to learn to really feed on the Word. And even longer to learn that I could feed myself at home and not be totally dependent. I like that we are giving away Bibles. Maybe they never owned one before. Keep emphasising it Tim. I have heard that people need to hear things multiple times before they will remember them.

I think it is great that Steve is being observant. How can you help new people to grow unless you care enough to see them, know about them and gently lead them. I did not see any judgement in his comment only concern and caring.

On the subject of music or worship style. I think Al does a great job. I enjoy each Sunday(I get everything I want 100% of the time - no compromise). I am amazed that this is an issue. I guess I am easy to please. I do have a great suggestion though. I discovered this back when we were having a lot of trouble getting to church on time an missing some of the music. I got seriously hymn deprived(we get there early now, but still end up late to service due to talking too much in the court yard- we're working on it). Any way I have been collecting music to listen to in the car on the way to church. We have a bit of a drive (40+ minutes). I can listen to almost 30 hymns or a whole worship CD or one of my favorite Christian artists or K-LIFE has great music as well. If your drive is really short - take the long way. If you are longing for a certain type of music, then you can satisfy that need before you even get to church and be ready to enjoy what God has planed for us as a group in worship.

I like the slides. I am the type that needs to see it, hear it, write it. I have heard if you do all three you will retain more. I write a lot during the service and I used to get really frustrated if I couldn't finish my thought or if I did then I missed the next referece and felt lost. Now, I still look up the references if there is time. It helps me to learn. Even if it is a topic we have covered some before I know God has something for me in it and I don't want to miss it. Looking up the references helps me get the big picture. You could slow down - please do if you nix the slides. With the slides I keep up fine. Sometimes you mention references not in the notes or the slides and I like to write those down too so I can look at them again as I prepare for growth group. Some times it is a quick reference and then on to the next. The slides help me keep up and focus and I get more out of the service. I think if people are noticing a tendency in themselves to not look up the reference and it bothers them, then they should make it a priority and not let themselves lean on the slides. If you loose the slides I will miss them.

I have been really enjoying this series and look forward to next week.

Pastor Tim Theule said...

I like Suzzette's thought above. . .that maybe less Bibles is a sign that more non-belieivers or those who don't yet value the Bible yet are with us. I pray that's the case!

I also like her thoughts about worshiping on the way to worship in the way your prefer so that you're ready to worship with others when you get here.

Also, yesterday did you notice these two things:

1. I spent a little time talking about bringing your own Bible.

2. I had us turn to a couple of near passages in Hebrews (I did enjoy hearing all those pages turning!), but also had a couple of slides for further away passages.

I call your attention to these things, because your input here at Life Together matters. I listen to it and think about it. Thank you. Keep it up.

andy gibson said...

Yep, I noticed. It was a nice plug. At the same time, you should have plugged the blog....oh well. I almost laughed when you mentioned the bible thing since it was discussed at length here. Does the blog exist to complement the service, or does the service exist to complement the blog? (just kidding, I know the answer to that).

Everybody around me that I could see had a bible open on their lap, EVERYbody. I did count a handful of pew bibles, maybe 20%, but they were open, and I saw the girl next to me writing in it. Amen to that.

Tim, again, it was an excellent balance, that is what I am talking about. For the sake of time and retention, the slides are an awesome thing, but also flipping to the close's invaluable too. I think you're on the verge of finding a really good balance. Nice job.

Steve said...

I agree. It was a great morning. I loved hearing the pages turn and thought the use of slides was also valuable and appropriate. Most of all, I loved hearing the Word preached so well. I have read and reread Heb 10 since then. I especially enjoyed the tie in during communion. Well done.