Sure. It’s funny to some, but…

kinnon —  May 8, 2010 — 46 Comments

North Point Church’s media department has produced this video. Some folk think it’s great that “we can laugh at ourselves.”

Me, not so much. More after the video.

(UPDATE: I should have noted the conversation at Jason Coker’s blog that prompted this post.)

Before I get to my “not so much” response to the supposed humour/satire of the above video, please allow me to chase a rabbit for a number of paragraphs.

Much earlier in the year I took a few seconds to write a post about the ludicrous nature of holographic preachers as apparently championed by church tech guru Tony Morgan and others. Many irony-challenged folk thought I was serious when I wrote,

Since so many of us in the west are convinced that entertaining pew fodder is critical to advancing “the gospel” and that only a very few have the necessary gifts to preachertain – this will become the “perfect” solution.

Christian Post picked up the quote and ran with it – but rather than linking to where it was written – which would have precluded some of the irony challenges – they chose to identify me as the writer of A Networked Conspiracy – my rather short book/long essay/audio CD from 2006. Better to quote “a published author” than a blogger, I guess. (And, hey, it did prompt a few more sales at Amazon. You can download a pdf for free, by clicking here.)

Tony Morgan is a true fan of the technology, seeing it as another example of what the church needs to embraceif we are going to speak the language of today’s culture.” For those of us who would question how technology is used to present the gospel, Morgan pulled out what has become, at least to me, a rather shopworn response,

“If I’m criticized for my passion to present the gospel and help as many people as possible experience a life-changing journey in Christ, I’m willing to face that criticism to live out my conviction

That’s right, Tony because I dare “criticize” how technology is used to “present the gospel”, I am obviously a selfish luddite. And, of course, I think technology is evil and it couldn’t possibly be used to help tell the life-changing Gospel story. Problem is that when it comes to this understanding of who I am, my career path would seem not to support that reading.

My 1978 Bachelor’s degree (and that from 1981 of my wife, Imbi) is in Radio and Television Arts from Toronto’s reasonably well-known Ryerson University. In the late ’70’s/very early ’80’s, I was Sony’s youngest broadcast equipment sales person in North America. I co-founded my first “high tech” production company in 1981.

In the mid-80’s, my wife, Imbi and I co-founded another production company that also included what became a broadcast-focused, medium-sized post house (editing, graphics and audio post) in the third largest production market in North America. (Our production company is 26 years old this September.)

Imbi can guarantee you that I’ve been responsible for purchasing too many 100s of thousands of dollars of high-tech broadcast gear – for which we two were personally responsible – and might I note that the bank(s) got all of their money back and then some. (A little different than one spending a church’s money, might I suggest?)

As well, Imbi and I have (in the past) consulted on design and technology with churches in the U.S., UK, Africa and our home country, Canada. We even briefly spent time on staff with a megachurch where we had oversight for most of the areas covered in the above video. (That experience left much to be desired.)

The past three months where I have blogged sporadically were taken up being involved in the design and production of the rather large NAB booth for one of the world’s largest broadcast software and hardware companies. (NAB is the biggest broadcast and production hardware & software trade show in the world.) Along with being involved in the actual booth design, my work included producing a lot of moving image material, along with producing 2 minutes of film resolution content – that 2 minute piece was commissioned and done less than two weeks before the show.

I’ve also spent a moment or two involved in local church leadership. And produced a minute or two of moving image content that tells gospel-centred stories.

So, perhaps I might have a somewhat informed voice in this conversation. Or not.

“Sunday’s Coming” Humourous? Not so much.

NorthPointSundaysComingPseudoSatire.jpg

Rather than comedy, the above video from Andy Stanley’s* North Point Church’s very well-equipped media department should really be seen as simply admitting the truth of something that won’t be changing anytime soon in that world. No doubt, some churches will even use it as a teaching tool for their teams who aspire to megachurch greatness.

In the past couple of days, Twitter has been filled with the “wink, wink, nudge, nudge, nod, nod” tweet response to this video (which went up on the 5th of May).

The “isn’t it great we can make fun of ourselves” response of many made me want to pick up my laptop and toss it across the room (into a stack of pillows so it wouldn’t be damaged, of course.)

People mistakenly want to call this “satire.” But the definition of satire is the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices.

Do any of you really think the North Point media team meant to expose the “stupidity or vices” of their Christotainment Sunday morning services which no doubt follow the very pattern shown in the video?

Hardly.

What-We-Win-3d-Reflect-4.jpg

Now onwards and upwards with more and better video, graphics, cameras, lighting, presenters, music and preachertainers – until Christotainment Excellence™ is achieved and the appropriate rewards handed out.

In my post from last fall, What is What? I link to Dan Whitmarsh (via) in his post, Anything to Make A Sale, referencing entertainment techniques in light of “youth ministry”,

… the strategy is: do something fun/cool/outrageous to get people in the door, then tell ‘em about Jesus.

Let’s be clear about one thing: the motivation is great. Telling people about Jesus is our highest calling. Creating opportunities to tell people about Jesus is a wonderful task.

But there was a dark side that very few people really wanted to talk about: this ‘wow ‘em and tell ‘em about Jesus’ strategy doesn’t do much in the way of creating disciples. Instead, it creates instant flash with no long-term impact. The fact that even 70-80% of Christian kids leave the church after high school ought to tell us we’re doing something wrong. That we’re not growing Followers, that we’re not raising Disciples. Instead, we’re creating Consumers who will always chase after the next big fix, wherever that comes from. We’re not raising young people who understand such basic tenets of Christianity as sacrifice, service, humility, forgiveness, love, grace and mercy. We are, in fact, temporarily distracting young people with smoke and mirrors, sneaking the gospel in there, assuming that, since they ‘said the prayer’ following the pizza and root-beer gorge, they’re ‘in.’

And here’s today’s problem: those raised in this world are leaving their youth ministry days behind and moving into senior leadership in churches across America. . .and they’re using the exact same strategies in the larger church.

I don’t find “Sunday’s Coming” remotely funny.

Sadly, it simply tweaks the Consumer-Driven church from within.

It is NOT a satirical take on megachurch culture designed to elicit change.

It’s an inside joke.

Please, feel free to grab your violins while the joke burns.

*I so identify North Point as Andy Stanley’s as that seems to be the convention used to describe most North American megachurches – as they are mostly built around the personalities of their senior pastors.

kinnon

Posts

A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

46 responses to Sure. It’s funny to some, but…

  1. These people will by and large only hear from those who tell them what they want to hear. So let them pat each other on the backs.

    What’s more funny to me is those who suggest that such services are “life-changing” and “make you feel good about yourself”. The life-changing help I need doesn’t come from derivative adult contemporary music and well-spoken speakers trying to appeal to upper-middle-class white people.

    It comes from the one who seems to be left on the margins by these “attractional” Christians, along with so many of us…

  2. Good points, Bill! I wrote a blog post or two about the move toward “holographic” preachers. That was a year or two ago now. The march is still on. I think this “Sunday Morning” video gives a wink and a nod toward these things while the creators of it seem to still be uncritically embracing every new technology “for the good of the Gospel,” as you said so well. I appreciate your pushback here on this one.

  3. You’ve pinpointed exactly what I feel when I watch this clip and other clips like it…but which I have been unable to name/label.

    It’s true that only a church who already does these things has the power and media technology to actually produce a clip like this….and they probably won’t be stripping any of it out of their church any time soon.

  4. Apparently being a curmudgeon comes with a high price, Bill. The North American church is desperately ill due to what Dallas Willard calls ‘The Great Omission.” I salute any voice–even a grumpy satirical one–that calls us back to the task of making disciples. Peace!

  5. Hi Bill!

    I am a total fan of your blog – and so often agree exactly with what you are saying. I guess with this one, I am someone who didn’t mind the video like you did. One reason is that it was North Point who made it, so it was directly poking fun at themselves in addition to other churches (we probably all see glimpses of us in that, even if not a large church or a tech-savvy church).

    I think for one with the video idea itself, you could take almost any time period of church in any culture and create a video that pokes fun at its rituals and things that they do. If not the rock band, then it could be robes pastors wear and the routine of planned services and liturgy etc. Or the order of a service at a small Baptist church somewhere and the things they do etc.

    With the whole “Sunday” focus of the video, I would agree that if a church was to only think what happens on Sunday is the end goal of the church, then I wouldn’t think it too funny either. But knowing North Point a little bit, as I have spoken there two different times for events they invited me to – they don’t see Sundays as the end goal. The are passionate about disciples being made, and they don’t just talk about it – they dedicate so much of the staff and building and energy to have small groups meet for relational connection and their Starting Point ministry is amazing etc.

    So I think they were able to poke fun at Sundays, but they know Sundays are only one part of what happens at that church. When I have spoken there and then got to meet people of the church, I heard so many stories of lives that were totally changed by the ministries of the church. People that trusted Jesus there and now are growing and thriving following Jesus – and it was just amazing to know how much life change happens and disciples are being made there (which isn’t just on Sundays). They have a ton happening with compassion ministries and global involvement that they steer people to. So although the Sundays are one part of it, they have so many things that really are the heart of the church which happens throughout the week, not just on Sundays.

    Anyway, just wanted to throw out a different opinion. I know that churches can buy into consumerism Sunday and it ends there. But at least from my experience at that church, they focus on really making disciples to the best I have seen most churches try to. Not just the focus on Sundays.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and I love reading your thinking! Hope we get to hang out one day!

    Dan

  6. Bill. I like you.

    I appreciate you pointing out the difference between and inside joke and a satirical joke. The first thing I thought after I watched it was “that didn’t hurt nearly as much as it should.” The brilliant hollywood movie trailer that it is copying took lots of digs that made you cringe (especially if you were in the movie industry I’m sure). This one was too nice, not nearly “subversive” enough and barely scratched the surface of what really is going on here.

    As soon as I saw it, I was upset because I thought I could have done better and really hit the church where it hurt instead of making fun of the worship leader and the pastors communication style.

  7. Bill, I called it satire but now I see: It’s simply following in the footsteps of corporate videos, the ones intended to get a laugh out of the company crowd.

    Do they realize they are prophesying?

  8. I agree with all your protestations, and your conclusions regarding consumer-driven church. And yet, I still laughed at the video. Is something wrong with me? Should I be more upset? I don’t know. I kinda got tired. I don’t think it’s resignation, I just got tired from being frustrated.

    And I seem to be laughing a lot more in general these days. But I probably laughed for different reasons than the producers of this video intended. I laughed because it’s all so ridiculous. And sometimes, ridiculous is funny. :)

  9. I liked the video, but agree with Nathan that it could have been a lot more hard-hitting. That it wasn’t, that it missed many chances, is no doubt due to its source, but I wasn’t considering the source when I chuckled through the video on my initial viewing. I kind of think the work should be judged on its own, apart from our knowledge of its source. For me that’s kind of another layer of the conversation. That the video comes from a church much like the one being satirized (I’m guessing here, not having any firsthand knowledge) makes me wonder if there isn’t a conversation going on there about how to negotiate these cultural biases, etc. Anyway, Bill, you’re making me think about this dang piece of fluff a lot more than I expected to, which is the sign of a good post!

  10. Dan – While I agree they have incredible intentions, I don’t think “they do other great things” arguement holds. So much the attractional church’s resources, time, and energy is spent in building the show…and for what? As Bill said above, they reach them with the show and therefore create show driven Christians. Great intentions – yes. Great hearts – yes. Horrible system others are modeling because it brings in massive numbers they need to own up to – yes.

    Also, the “lives are being changed” defense doesn’t cut it for me either. God will use whatever we give Him, regardless of how poor a tool it is. He spoke to Balam with a donkey…does that mean the donkey is a wonderful animal we should all seek to be like? – no.

    I agree with Bill. This video shows they know there is a problem; but instead of doing something about it, they are going to throw their heads back and laugh. It makes me sad.

    Bill – I thought your take was spot on. I saw the video first on the Stuff Christians Like blog. The responses there are very different than the responses here. I’m sure what to make of them. Thanks for a thoughtful response.

  11. Dan and Jeff,
    Thanks for both your comments.

    Dan,
    I have much less experience with North Point than you do and am encouraged to hear your favourable report. That being said, North Point’s model of Sunday Morning Service is aspired to by churches across North America and the wider Western World – many of whom, might I suggest, see Sunday Morning as an end in itself – its about getting “butts in chairs.”

    I have personal experience of far too many churches in the mega and megawannabe world who aspire to exactly what this video displays – believing that if they can only do it like North Point they can experience the same growth and notoriety – ‘how many sheeple can we get under our steeple?’.

    It’s great to hear that North Point’s local discipleship is bearing fruit. Would that it bear similar fruit in the wider sphere of it’s influence as it moves away from what, at least on the surface, appears to be consumer-driven church.

    Jeff,
    I agree with you that there is a need to critically access the influence of the systems and models used to “bring the people in.” I may not completely agree with my fellow Canadian, the late Marshall McLuhan who said the Medium is the Message – but the Medium certainly powerfully influences and too often confuses the message. The Apostle Paul suggested our trajectory should be more Jesus and less me/us. I’m not sure that you can get there from here using Christotainment.

  12. Thanks, Nathan. And I like you too. :-)

    What’s funny is that I didn’t even recognize that this video was really a ripoff of the Academy Award Winning Movie Trailer – lowering my opinion of it further. The church has become far too adept at copying culture rather than critically engaging with it. (I loved the Movie Trailer spoof.)

  13. Jon,
    I guess if God was able to use Balaam’s Ass to speak to truth to power, (as Jeff points out) He is also able to speak through a Church media department. :-)

  14. Thanks, Steve. I appreciate your positive feedback (and even your negative feedback on occasion. GRIN)

  15. well, i must say … that certainly injects some *diss* back into discipleship, packs some *sheesh* into missional, and i bet they had a fantabulously splendiferous portmantofuriously great sermonette for christianettes.

    i am so elegantly impressed.

    oh, i know you can take this video different ways, but truly … whether one sees it as good or bad, we do need to remember that what one hears as *chic*, in reverse it sounds like *kitsch*. but i guess that’s bound to happen when you put a conTemplar-ary spin into the mysteries of your sunday morning template.

    will this spiritual formatation survive? best response i can think of comes from the (in)famous contextual words of SpongeBob Square Pants, “good luck with that.”

  16. Brian,
    I think people get sucked into “Christian” systems where they are convinced they are doing Kingdom work. Because it’s a church, and there’s a preacher and people singing about Jesus – this must be all a good thing. There is little to no critical engagement with what is really being communicated and how little that has to do with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

  17. Terri and Ray,
    Thank you both for adding to the conversation here.

    And Willard’s “The Great Omission” is certainly a timely book for the church in the West.

  18. Friends,
    Brad would be one of the voices I would suggest is truly prophetic in these interesting times we find ourselves in. (Even if his humour, which I happen to love, may be a tad Pythonesque for some, in a Monty kind of way.) Take the time to engage with Brad’s FuturistGuy blog if you want help navigating the rising waters of post-Christendom. Especially read his most recent post on the 100 Year Missional Plan.

  19. Shane Hipps in “Flickering Pixels” definitely had a point when he said that the medium not only carries the message but also becomes the message.

    I’m inclined to think that his warnings to use technology more wisely will fall largely onto deaf ears exactly because we are so in love with the “experience” the audio-visual production promises to deliver. And since many aren’t even willing to show up unless that kind of entertainment value is there, we continue to try to compete with the secular media in delivering what the majority demands. I’m wondering how this is affecting smaller churches who neither can afford all that high tech gear nor have all the people necessary to run such a show.

  20. Thinking about this video has made me very cynical about the church in North America. It seems to wink at the audience and suggest that the Sunday service is just a form of emotional manipulation. Let’s have a big emotional moment so we can go back to being ourselves the rest of the week. It’s like the white middle class people (including me) who watched Rent and felt something really passionate about the idea of the homeless and marginalized in our society and then ignored the actually-existing homeless begging for change outside the Royal Alex on King Street like I did on a November night in 1997. This seems to be admission, perhaps unwittingly, that the church is offering up a way to feel good about God so that we can go back to ignoring the actually-existing demands of the Christian life.

  21. I can see the point about the ‘in joke’, but perhaps because I’m European and (Thankfully) have very little experience with this kind of church, or maybe because I never heard of North Point (I thought you were talking about the military academy at first) I still found it funny, because it is authentic to the few experiences I’ve had. My own observations were:

    The way they pulled the cloth off a mixing desk so all the dust falls on it. If I did that my former boss would roast me on a stick.

    The domination of music. Basically it’s a lot of music (backed up by audio visuals) and a guy talking. Where did we lose the storyteller in modern worship? (and tough if you don’t get on with musical worship)

    Okay, so I’m a European eco-freak, but The film was all based around the experience of driving and suburbia. What does this say about people attending the church?

  22. It’s not funny because it’s cynical.

    Cynicism is necessary to keep doing what we know is killing us.

  23. Well, the cynicism isn’t funny. Despite that the video is a third generation of ‘literal videos’ I’ve already seen (“Movie Trailer” for example), it is kinda funny :)

  24. What’s most ironic is that this church is creating a knock off of an internet phenomenon the same way their entire communication style is a knock off of other pop culture.

  25. Uh … yeaaahhhhh …

    When is the church going to be comfortable in it’s own skin? I can’t laugh because it’s just not funny. It’s really sort of dumb … like a cheesy rip-off of a bad SNL skit. Like the people who made it are geeks who are trying too hard for people to like them. Look … just be geeks and people will like you. Don’t try to be cool geeks, that’s weird. Just embrace who you are and move forward. But stop this endless chasing of coolness, relevance and hipness. It’s just sad … like a used whore.

    Oh … yeah. I’ve read that somewhere before. Joel, anyone?

  26. Well, the Abbess has a wonderful Mother’s Day conversation with her 14 year old son about this. We came up with a number of other important words … all of which have eluded me at the moment. I’ll have to ask him when he get’s home from school. May have to Tweet them.

    The conversation started with me telling him that it is important to say what you mean and mean what you say — and that what passes for “good manners” in the world often is just “white lies”. Saying something because it seems “nice” or “polite” can results in someone actually BELIEVING what you say … and when they come to realize that you did not really mean what you said. Then. Well. What do you think about your relationship with them?

    Like someone who tells you that they love you … but they never have any time to spend with you … and, even worse, when they do spend time with you they complain that you are inconvenient.

    Really feeling the love, eh?

    And yes…totally a rip-off of the Movie Trailer…except that they needed to have folks in the audience, er, congregation adding in their “chat” as well….

    Like with Andrew TSK had to say about this today….

  27. Definitely classic Bill Kinnon. The sad thing is, many will laugh and do exactly the same thing next Sunday, and the Sunday after that. I think there is a word for that…

  28. I find it hard to believe that so many are spending excessive energy expressing their outrage at a church like Northpoint. So what if it doesn’t do church the way you think it should? So what if your church doesn’t do things the way Northpoint does? The bottom line is not the style…it’s the mission or better yet the “commission”.

    Criticizing megachurches for being megachurches isn’t changing a world desperate for Christ. And assuming that churches like Northpoint care nothing more than for numbers is ridiculous. I was a small groups pastor for years and we used their curriculums all the time…it was accessible, engaging and helped create some amazing spiritual growth. Like everything else Northpoint did, it was done with high excellence.

    Let’s temper our dividing of the body of Christ to soothe our earthly opinions of how we think God would have it done. Let’s spend more time reaching out to each other and a broken world regardless of style…because we have a unified message in Christ.

  29. I don’t think that the point is that North Ponis completely “bad”

    One of the points being made is that this video is self-indulgent. It’s a way to be self-deprecating while still doing all the same things:

    “Hey, it’s not really all that bad as long as we know how ridiculous we’re being!”

    It’s isn’t that mega-churches are bad….it’s that the “formula” for running most mega-churches is a highly packaged media campaign.

    Maybe the Amish were onto something with no

  30. oops…”with the no electricity/electrical technology thing”

  31. I love entertainment just not the so called Christian variety disguised as group recruitment commonly known as evangelism! Time to get commercialism out of our religion????

  32. I wonder what the response would be if some of us did an actual satire of this “inside joke”. I mean, if they are willing to laugh, nudge, and wink themselves into an even more comfortable acceptance of churchrtainment, they are just begging for those of us how are fed up to go all Jonathan Swift on them.

    Just saying.

  33. We can be cool with any style (even those that make our skin crawl) a Church may choose to use. However, when any style stops being something we use and starts being who we are, it’s appropriate to speak up. Loudly.

  34. I was amused for perhaps the first ten seconds of the video; then I realized it was yet another instance (though admittedly an instance with quite high production values) of the Christian subculture imitating the rest of the world – reference not only the Academy Award Winning Movie Trailer but also the BBC’s brilliant Anatomy of a News Segment. After that realization, I was simply frustrated by the whole thing.

  35. I rather liked this video. I respect that despite how much effort that North Point puts into their public worship gatherings, they’re willing to treat it lightly. The whole “consumer-driven church” problem is one of idolatry. If they’re willing to poke at the entertainment idol, which is what this video is doing, then that’s a good thing. I’ve been at churches where if they could have openly poked at their idolatry of liturgy, classical music, or tradition, they would have been much healthier. None of those things needed to be destroyed, they just needed to be put in their place.

  36. With you on this Bill. I avoided blogging on it because I couldn’t think of anything nice to say. You’ve put my unease into words.

  37. That was exactly my problem with it when I first saw it. It was a knockoff of a superior “secular” comedy video. There are some fun elements of Sunday–like the hip young man who shows his tats “so you know I have a past”–but all in all, it’s just another Christian t-shirt.

  38. More good thoughts on this sadness…

    link to naruacomdeus.blogspot.com

  39. I’m taken back by most comments here. You guys got to lighten up a bit. I think you protest too much. This video was just fun thats all.

    Gammel said it best and I agree. We all could use more Grace when comes to True Worship in Spirit and Truth. We need Gods help and Grace to Worship Him appropriately whatever style is used, and I trust those at North Point know this.

    From many comments here I’m not sure others do. I don’t desire to be critical or pretend I know better, but Dude this was funny…..

  40. Of course church was much better when the (just as predictable) order of service was a traditional liturgy, .. er.. wasn’t it? Maybe not. Well then, it was better when we were all being “led by the Spirit” ala Toronto, and lying on the floor making silly noises …. no, wait a minute, that became predictable too. So, why is is not OK to have a preidctable, contemporary liturgy? Why do we have to knock something that obviously appeals to a large number of poeple?

  41. thanke you for nice blog.
    Articles pertaining to golf and other sports are written by golfers for golfers. This is place to let out your frustrations as a golfer or congratulate a mate on a great round. Anything you want to talk about in the world of sport and especially golf is up for grabs. If someone is giving you the sh…then let us know! If someone you know has cheated in a round of golf then tell us! If someone you know has out performed himself and you want to give him a pat on the back then go for it.
    http://www.thegolfblog.com.au

  42. nice blog i like this.
    Articles pertaining to golf and other sports are written by golfers for golfers. This is place to let out your frustrations as a golfer or congratulate a mate on a great round. Anything you want to talk about in the world of sport and especially golf is up for grabs. If someone is giving you the sh…then let us know! If someone you know has cheated in a round of golf then tell us! If someone you know has out performed himself and you want to give him a pat on the back then go for it.
    http://www.thegolfblog.com.au

  43. To me, it seems that it was almost an attempt at reverse psychology. “Lets show them that we’re aware of how produced we are so that they will trust us despite how produced we are.” I never cared for the catchy lines, the new and cool graphics or whatever else they put up on the stage. More often than not, its a distraction instead of being helpful. At the same time, I believe there is a place for well made presentations… I just don’t see the point to try and show off for the sake of showing what you can do.

  44. I know I’m (way) late reading and responding to this post, but I completely agree with this comment. As a Lutheran with an affinity for contemporary music styles, I find myself straddling a fence between two worlds. I see this video as poking fun at the style of worship prevalent in many modern megachurches, but I also see it as an opportunity to address pitfalls in ANY church that makes its style of worship more important than the worship itself. Being Lutheran, I see “traditional” churches and services experiencing the same level of idolotry, just without the electric guitars and drums.

    As an example, the latest craze at my local Lutheran church is exactly how our congregation observes communion – the logistics of how we line up, receive it, and return to our seats. People get so worked up about it, forgetting that the observation of the sacrament is the important part, not the logistics of how we do it.

    Sanctimoniously pointing fingers at megachurches for having an idolotrous worship style is kind of missing the point. Any church with any worship style can fall into this trap. It’s called a worship service because we serve our worship up as an offering. If we’re only attending because we like the music or the preacher or the lighting, then we’ve made it about us.

What do you think?