#wearewitnesses

This was rolled out at church today. I’ve already posted my 3 sentence testimony and challenged friends on Facebook. Tomorrow, I’m going to post on twitter an challenge some people over there. You should do the same.

What if thousands of believers were talking about their faith online? How cool would that be?

Here’s my testimony:

What’s yours?

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4 Reasons You Should Make a “Discipleship” Movie

fcpxOnce in a while religious filmmakers can find themselves drawn into a discussion about Evangelical films versus what I call “Discipleship” films, which are films targeted at people who already have a relationship with Jesus. I have already written about this, and I fall firmly into the “do what God has called you to do” camp. If you feel strongly that films should be evangelical, go produce them.

But, if you are wondering about making a Discipleship film, let me give you 4 reasons to produce that film:

1. Your Primary Audience is Christians. Let’s be honest, unless you have Christian Bale as Moses and a biblical-epic-scale budget and effects, most of the people who see your film are going to already be Christians. “God’s Not Dead” did OK at the box office, but as an evangelical film I think it struck home with people questioning their existing faith more than any atheist who got suckered into watching it by their religious friends. The majority of people attending a religious movie screening will already be believers. Why not focus on growing those folks?

2. People in the church desperately need discipleship. While there are exceptions, generally half of the people who go to a given church are not involved in a small group Bible study. They get all of their teaching from the weekend service. Any pastor will tell you that’s not enough. Far too many people in the pew have much too little knowledge of what the Bible actually teaches, and what it truly means to live their lives according to those teachings.

Teaching truth through story was one of Jesus’ favorite methods. Do you think it is easier for someone to tell you the 3rd point of last week’s sermon or the plot of the last movie they saw? We can attract a Christian audience and teach them something that they can hang onto in the process.

3. The two kinds don’t have to be exclusive. A Discipleship film can have an evangelical element, just as a movie with a strong evangelical message can teach biblical truth to the viewer. Take for instance a movie set in biblical times. A movie on the life of Christ is obviously both a discipleship tool and a depiction of the Gospel message.

4. Movies may not be the best evangelism tool. OK, now I’ve made someone mad. I’m not saying the Holy Spirit can’t use a movie to lead someone into relationship with Christ. He has, he can, he will. What I am saying is that the percentage of faithful that asked Jesus into their hearts because of a movie versus because of a friend talking to them is pretty skewed. Personal evangelism is going to win out every time over mass evangelistic efforts. (I’m talking about Western Culture here.) One reason is that on screen conversions scenes feel really fake. And weird. It’s super hard to capture a scene like this in a way that feels natural. Just because something is hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, but a Discipleship picture will probably reach its goal much more effectively than an Evangelical one.

If you are set on using film primarily as an evangelical tool, do it. At some point I will probably write an Evangelical script. Right now most of my work seems to fall into the Discipleship camp. I’m passionate about helping believers develop a biblical worldview. If you are trying to decide what kind of film to make, give the Discipleship movie a shot.

Eternal Disappointment: Money Tracts

On Halloween I took my kids trick or treating. This post isn’t about that. Save it for next year. It’s about the house that was handing out religious tracts.

I was going to write about this earlier, but then Jon Acuff wrote about it, and I didn’t want to copy him. Then I figured, imitation is the best form of flattery, right? Besides, my story is a bit different.

A few houses into our candy run we had established a pattern. They would run to the door, and I would watch from the sidewalk. They would run back, and I would remind them to say thank you.

At this one house, the bowl was left out on the front porch. (Yeah, it’s that kind of neighborhood.) And the kids suddenly got very excited and began yelling about $20. After they calmed down they showed me a crisp $20 bill in each bag. For just about half a second I was amazed by the generosity of the treat-givers. Then I remembered that sometimes people make tracts that look like money.

My kids were very disappointed.

Now, I’m not against tracts. I wrote one (never published) when I was younger. It’s not even all money tracts. We have a $trillion tract at work, I forget who gave it to us. But no one would ever mistake it for real money.

But who though that making tracts that look like actual money was a good idea? Are they that desperate to get someone to touch it? Sure you grab them on the front end, but do you really want to start the most important conversation ever with disappointment?

Some of these tracts even ask “Disappointed?” as a way to start the message.

I have never heard of one person who gave their life to Jesus because they grabbed a fake $20.[Update: I have now heard of 1 person. She found her’s on the floor of a grocery store. Not a Trick or Treat bucket, or left as a tip, etc… So, 1 person in 45 years. She is the exception to the rule.]

But I have heard a lot of stories (both firsthand and second hand) about people who have been turned off by people who leave fake money as a way to witness. The worst are from waitresses who work Sundays. They serve on a huge group of Christians after church, and go to gather their tip to see two or three $20 bills along with a couple of singles. They snatch the money up to realize that instead of a $43 tip, they got a $3 tip and two tracts they will never read. Instead they will talk badly about these Christians who didn’t even care enough to leave 15% with their religious propaganda. If you must leave a religious tract (of any kind) at a restaurant, please make sure you leave it alongside a generous tip.

I’m glad my kids know about Jesus already, because if this had been their first exposure to Christianity it would have started with disappointment, not hope or love.

I will never understand the use of money tracts. If you want to use money to gain an audience for the Gospel, at least use real money! Hand someone a $20 and ask them to listen to you for five minutes. That will be much more effective than the eternal disappointment of fake money tracts.

Reflection on 337 Baptisms and the “Church”

tubSo it’s been a couple of days since the massive baptism service we had last weekend. As they were going over records, they actually had miscounted, and we baptized 337 during the “Not Ashamed” weekend services, not 335 as was previously reported. Today in staff meeting one of our pastor’s was talking about different things. He said something that surprised me.

This past Sunday looks to be be one of the lowest attended Sundays all year. Based on the report, almost 1000 people decided to skip this week. We have about 8500 people that rotate through on various schedules. Florida is a very odd place. If asked, people who come every third Sunday would probably identify themselves as a “regular” attender. According to this, we saw more people choose this week as their “off” week than we normally would.

But why would more people choose to stay away this week?

I had a conversation with one person, and they wondered if that many baptisms would be boring. I personally wondered if the day would be too much spectre, and not enough participation. (Having been through it, I can say now, it was a lot of participation) We don’t place enough emphasis on celebrating life-change. Here is a public symbol of a changed life, a key part of a Christian’s life of faith, and we see people choose to stay home.

Boring? How could any baptism be boring? How have we gotten here?

Did you know that 48% of SBC churches didn’t baptize one person last year? That 78% baptized less than 10 people? Some of the church growth books out there talk about how the population of the earth is outpacing the growth of the Church (capital “C” church). What has happened to the Church?

Do we not hold the truth, the only really important thing that matters in this life and eternity? Are we not in the business of making disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost? 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 explains that we are the ministers of the reconciliation.

God chose to use us as ambassadors, “as though God were making his appeal through us”.

Let that sink is for just a second.

Maybe people don’t want to attend a service devoted to celebrating changed lives because we know we have not really been doing a good job as an ambassador.

We celebrate 337 baptisms in one weekend because it rarely happens, but Acts 2:41 bears witness to almost 10 times that number being baptized at one time. Doesn’t the same Holy Spirit dwell in us? We saw 337 baptisms, not because that many people accepted Christ at one time, but because that many people got right with God about being baptized.

We must do better. This weekend far outpaced any predictions. But why? Why should it surprise us when God shows up, and works in the lives of our congregation? We need to be ready for God to work, we need to expect the miraculous.

And we need to be about the business of being God’s effective ambassadors to a very distracted, mediated world.

(Photo by Ken Miller)

337 Baptized During “Not Ashamed” Services

First Baptist Orlando baptized 337 people in it’s four services this weekend. We had 10 at our Ocoee venue, 73 on Saturday, 60 in our 9:00, and 194 in our 10:45 service.

A friend asked me what caused so many people to get baptized at one time. It can only be God at work. Annually we baptize more than 500 in a normal year. That’s not that big of a number considering how large a church we are (15,000 members, 6000 average attendance) We do two outdoor baptisms every year which have between 80-100 people participating. We have a baptism time during our Christmas Eve services, and normally see 30-50 there. The rest happen during the course of regular worship times.

One of our pastors was looking at the numbers and noticed that we baptize less than half the number of people that make decisions. So, we scheduled a specific special weekend of services. The whole time was reserved for baptism and worship. No sermon.

Three weeks before this service, our pastor preached on the importance of being baptized. We inserted registration cards in the bulletin for 3 weeks, and showed 3 different videos promoting the service. By Wednesday of last week we had 217 people signed up. Of those, only 13 were church members, The rest were people who attend or have some association with the church. Saturday, which runs between 500-700 in attendance, had over 60 people signed up (a much higher percentage than the other services.)

We also knew that we would call for people to come forward in the service to get baptized right then. We had counsellers prepared, and had purchased several sets of shorts and dark shirts for people to wear. In every service we saw people move. At 10:45 there were at least 70 people that had not planned on being baptized, but came forward during the service.

While we have a large baptistry, we wanted this service to have the baptisms front and center. We lined up 5 horse troughs, or “tubs” as I called them, across the platform. Our facilities crew rigged a pump from the heated baptistry to fill each tub. And had a pump on the platform to send water back to the baptistry. The tubs were placed in a sort of plastic pool to catch overflow. We laid carpet down to help stop slipping.

Because we expected so many, two classrooms were converted to dressing rooms with pipe and drape creating the spaces. We tried to contact each preregistered candidate prior to the service. They arrived, checked in, and were given a white T Shirt that had the words “Not Ashamed” across the front to put over their own dark undershirt. After instructions and getting changed, the candidates were staged outside of the worship center. We had a couple of different people managing the flow, and numbers in each group.

We had a plan in place, and for the most part we followed it. We divided the people into groups, and would send them to the platform in order.

Our pastor wanted very much to show a symbolic putting-off-the-old kind of life change. Each candidate would come on the platform with a brown robe on, over the white shirt. At every tub we had a microphone. They each told their name and said, “Jesus is my Lord! I am not ashamed!” At that point they removed the robe, exposing the white shirt below. After they were finished, they were baptized at the same time as the rest of their set. Then the next set would step up, while the brown robes were being passed to those waiting.

The logistics of this amaze me. Every team really worked together.

From a TV/video perspective, the most challenging service to video tape was the 10:45, where we used all 5 tubs. The other services used only 3. Each camera had a specific shot list, and we followed the same pattern during each baptism segment, changing up if need be. We iso’d every camera and made sure we got everyone on tape.

We also had photographer for each tub. They took before and after shots. Each tub had a person holding the microphone for the candidate. We put the mini-script on the teleprompter screens in case some forgot the words (some did). We moved cameras and musical instruments;most of which were on risers so we could have a chance of seeing them behind the tubs.

I was able to go out into the service for part of the 10:45. Watching whole sections people standing to cheer as people they knew got baptized was aawesome. After a group would finish, the congregation would respond with applause, and then worship. I will never forget this weekend. I’ve never seen anything like it before, but I hope to see something like it again. God was so present in the services you could almost touch Him.

We didn’t go to a beach, or lake. Really, we didn’t do anything over the top in the way of promotion. We just set aside the time, and let people know why they should do it, and gave them an easy way to get involved. 336 people, across 4 services, took a public stand for Christ through baptism. God worked, and we saw it happen.

Edit: After reviewing records, we found we lost count, and had missed two. How often do you have so many that you lose count?

Angel and Demons – Take the Chance

This weekend 2nd movie from Dan Brown’s series of novels opens in theaters; “Angels and Demons”. Much like the movie of his work “The DaVinci Code” this one will generate controversy. To be honest, having read both of those books and seen the previous movie, it is the controversy which sells this story line. The work lacks a bit. I say that readily admitting, I have done no writing or made no movie which is better. It’s easier to be a critic than a writer. Still, my wife and I rated the first movie and both books: lame. (And not just because of the historical inaccuracy).

From the books, it is clear that Dan Brown has a real problem with the Catholic church. There are much smarter and more knowledgeable people than me who can talk about the content of these works of fiction at length. However, his views have continually generated conversations about faith and truth.

The release of this movie is another chance for people of faith to interact with people in their lives who will already be talking about matters of faith and truth simply because they are talking about the movie. Do not let this opportunity go by.

Take this chance to talk about this story, and then share your own faith story with those around you.

Experiment in the Mobile Mundane

This past weekend we drove from Florida to Tennessee, over 680 miles in one day with 3 kids under 7. For fun I chronicled our journey on Twitter/ Facebook.

The responses ranged from people laughing to people we know in TN asking where we were staying and how long. I had instant (OK, quick) communication with my entire network of friends. No one’s life was changed.

Aside from a few people who needed to know when we were arriving, none of the information I shared was truly important to those reading. It was fun, and a few people had some laughs. My 7 month old behind the wheel was a popular picture.

I watched a video criticizing twitter culture the other day. I’m mobile or I would link it for you. Basically the premise was that Twitter had all this power and people were posting the most trivial chatter.

Think about it. Now, more than ever our sphere of influence is bigger than ever. Our access to information is greater than ever. I used maps, two kinds of weather programs, three kinds of social network tools, watched a movie and played games, all on my phone. Not to mention basic texts and email.

We have this power literally at our fingertips, and many of us use it only for inane chatter. Be careful, I don’t mean that you shouldn’t chat with your friends via Facebook or Twitter. Use this tool to help strengthen your relationships. Have fun.

There’s nothing wrong with letting people know tidbits about your life, but my challenge for you is to use this power God has let into your life to communicate more.

Tyndale, KJV 1611 and New Media Translation

I just finished Phil Cooke’s provocative book “The Last TV Evangelist: Why the Next Generation Couldn’t Care Less about Religious Media and Why it Matters” At one point Phil is discussing the effect of the first English translation of the Bible. He is talking about how this was the end of a major controlling aspect of the church, since normal people could hear/read the scripture and understand it without interpretation from church leaders. As I was reading it something struck me. Here’s a quote:

“…when the King finally authorized an English translation (which appeared in 1611), it’s been said that people filled St Paul’s Cathedral in London just to listen to the Bible being read in their own language. They would sit for hours as one person would stand in the pulpit reading. When that person would grow tired, another one would stand up and continue. People were transfixed as they heard God’s Word for the first time in their own language.”

Of course, the traditionalist in me immediately cries out, “why doesn’t that happen today?!”

We live in a post-literate society. The written word doesn’t carry that kind of power anymore. Back then that was the media of the time. That was how mass communication happened. This was the new media of the time. People could write things down, and communicate with people they have never heard of before. This was their version of TV or a movie.

And the Bible was content that impacts. It changes lives.

They were using a new way to communicate the most important message of all time. People were drawn to the content delivered through new media. We will never see a movement like that again in America. People will not stay for hours on end to listen as one person reads the Bible.

That’s a little disturbing, isn’t it? God’s instructions to use are written, not delivered through video or text message, or status update. How can we hope to communicate the message of the written Word to a culture that gets most of it’s information from video, audio, or short text messages?

Just as Tyndale translated the text of the Bible into English, we must translate the message of the Bible into the languages of New Media. The responsibility for translating the message of the Bible falls on the shoulders of those working in new media.

What are you going to do?

Christianity no Longer the Default Faith

I became aware of a study by Barna that reveals that Christianity is no longer the default faith of Americans.

In the past it was common for people to automatically claim Christianity as their religion. The article talks about the changes in this perspective, and some of the implications of this change.

One of the implications relates to evangelism:

Faith, of whatever variety, is increasingly viral rather than pedagogical. With people spending less time reading the Bible, and becoming less engaged in activities that deepen their biblical literacy, faith views are more often adopted on the basis of dialogue, self-reflection, and observation than teaching. Feelings and emotions now play a significant role in the development of people’s faith views – in many cases, much more significant than information-based exercises such as listening to preaching and participating in Bible study.

It is no longer acceptable to expect people to have a basic knowledge of Christanity.

It is more important than ever to engage new Christians is discipleship and Bible study.

We should not be surprised when people pick and choose parts of different religions, and disregard parts that are inconvenient for them. Decisions of faith are based in feeling not fact.

How will the Church handle this shift? Will it ultimately be a bad or good thing? Personally, I hope this results in less marginal Christians who claim Christ but don’t have a biblical worldview.