“Think of the church as a VCR. If you have newer DVDs, you can’t play them on your old VCR – You need an entirely different device.” **
Maybe we have set up a false choice in the life of the church between relevance and obscurity. I believe the message of God in Christ revealed in scripture can have just as much impact in contemporary life as it has in earlier generations. The problem is how we engage that story. It is like trying to watch VCR tapes. They were once the primary mode of watching movies at home. Although some people still have them, and may even prefer them to other mediums, most people have moved on to other deliver methods. Even DVDs are dated. Today we can watch movies on Blue Ray, we can stream them from Netflix, Hulu Plus and other carriers, we can watch our favorite clips on YouTube, and everything we do is “on demand.” Besides that, we no longer just watch movies, or any media for that matter. We expect to interact with it. We go online and make it our own, comment on it, share with other people talking about it to compare our ideas, and post just about everything.
It is not just young people using social media. A Facebook post I recently shared from Dr. Leonard Sweet of Drew University stated, “In 2008, 1% of US seniors (65+) used social media. Five years later (2013), 43% were on Twitter, Google, Instagram, Facebook (TGIF).”
As the church, what do we do with this change of delivery systems? Are we still playing VCR tapes? Look in many churches and you’ll still find a TV/VCR. How many are metaphorically doing the same? Are we? The story of Jesus is too compelling, too life-changing, too important to keep playing on the medium people are not paying attention to anymore. It doesn’t make the story of Jesus irrelevant. VCRs are irrelevant.
The medium is not the message. But it could become the message if we think VCR tapes (or their symbolic equivalent) are the only way to communicate the story. Martin Luther once taught, “To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe in that one with your whole heart.” *** The church (and its current form) isn’t God. It is the medium to communicate who God is and what God is doing in our lives. We aren’t being unfaithful by utilizing new mediums to communicate. We should utilize our creativity. We just need to be mindful not to make innovation our god in the process.
The Fable of the Buggy Whip
The fable goes something like this –
Years ago two companies made buggy whips. They were dependable. They looked good. They served their purpose. Most of the population used horsepower to get from place to place, so the buggy was one of the primary forms of transportation. Then a third company introduced the automobile into their market. People started buying cars. Less people rode horses. The horse buggy became less and less common. The two buggy whip companies responded differently to the introduction to the horseless carriage. One made brighter, fancier, more trendy looking buggy whips, hoping to entice people back to the right way to get about. The other started making automotive replacement parts.
Which company do you think soon went out of business?
The EPIC fail
People still need transportation. What they don’t need are buggy whips. People still watch movies. They just aren’t using VCRs to watch them. Sometimes I think the church is in the business of creating the latest version of the buggy whip, by failing to notice that people are driving. Or we are preservationists, making sure that the VCR tapes on the dusty shelf are not disturbed. By the time some in the church start to think about how to start utilizing the horseless carriage, the world has already been through the jet age, the space race, and has entered the digital revolution. That doesn’t make the story of Jesus irrelevant. The buggy whip is irrelevant. So are VCRs.
People still long for connections. They still want to make a difference. They still want their faith to matter in their lives. How are we going to try to connect the story of Jesus to those needs? By offering new and improved buggy whips? Plugging in our VCRs? Or by finding new means? Len Sweet offers an EPIC approach to our epic failure to adapt to an increasingly complicated and diverse world.****
Experiential – How do we help people connect the story of Jesus to real life?
Participatory – How can we invite people into the good news of Jesus: by sharing their own history and current challenges? Their own hopes for the future? Their own ideas on what action to take?
Image driven – What does this look like?
Connected – How can we share in the story together?
Instead we can utilize our own experiences, participation, perspectives, and connections into sharing our love of God (and God’s love for us) with others. This EPIC approach isn’t another program to collect dust up on our shelves. It is a way of being, learning, growing and serving together – as God continues to reach out to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus here and now. The Spirit is blowing, and God is on the move.
Please don’t set your VCR. Leave your horse behind. Start thinking in EPIC terms. Let’s join God in the real world and share the story of Jesus…with others…together.
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:6-7)
* Thom and Joani Schultz, Why Nobody Goes to Church Anymore. Loveland: Group Publishing, 2013, p. 45.
** Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost. The Shaping of things to Come. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003, pp. 34-35.
*** Martin Luther, “Large Catechism,” Book of Concord. trans. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000, p. 386.
**** Leonard Sweet, Postmodern Pilgrims. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2000, p. 28.