Sometimes when I come up with an idea for a worship video, at the moment I think of it, it is absolutely amazing. Outstanding. “A film that will alter cinema history!” But then I start to produce it. Producers know that the creative process often takes its own course. And there have been times that when I arrive at the story’s destination, I have realized that it simply doesn’t work.
Unfortunately, every weekend is not worthy of a People’s Choice Award. What do you do when the media piece you’ve slaved over comes up short?
Jesus had this problem once. The beginning of Mark 4 tells the story of Jesus working incredibly hard at making a parable relevant and insightful in the hearts and minds of his audience. He goes to great illustrative efforts- an epic parable, if you will. But in spite of all of his efforts, it comes up short. Both the crowd of seekers, and his cadre of followers, simply didn’t get it. Sometimes a parable doesn’t do its intended job, either because of production problems or audience confusion.
I have certainly had my share of production problems, both in creation and presentation. One weekend, about six months into my tenure at Ginghamsburg, I finally felt comfortable enough to leave the production booth. It had been my goal ever since my arrival to get out of there, both as a sign of trust and empowerment to my team and because my wife was sitting alone in this big new church where we didn’t really know anyone. The teams had been performing admirably in response to their training and every week I was feeling more and more comfortable. I had complete, working crews in place and much of my job had become sitting around with the headsets on, listening to them serve.
Although most of the early stuff was a combination of live cameras and computer stills, the team was slowly getting more comfortable integrating video playback, or “roll-ins,” with our live switcher. As we started to play back video more, I began to make more original clips. One of the things that I did early on was to playback all of the pieces that I created off of the same combined “Master Reel,” to avoid a generation loss copying a clip onto another tape (this was pre-nonlinear, when we were doing everything with a Hi8 dual deck and a Sony VX-3 camera, for those of you who remember).
This particular weekend we had an important video to play in the middle of the pastor’s sermon. It was a dramatic 2-minute clip about the Promise Keepers event and how it had changed the lives of some of our local men. All weekend long the piece ran smoothly- at our Saturday 5:30 and Sunday 8:25 and 9:45 services. At the 11:00, since worship was going so well, my wife was in worship and I decided to sit with her. The service ran great, less a few minor camera hitches, and when the time came for the video roll-in during the sermon I sat confidently planted in my chair, without an inclination to run upstairs to the booth. The time came and our pastor gave the cue for the clip. The lights faded, the screen faded to black, and no video. I patiently waited in my chair; sure they had just stuck it in pause. But still no video. For about 45 seconds the silence grew and the worshipful moment shrank. Then, finally, a video appeared on the screen, accompanied with the music of kids singing. Huh?! It was the pre-school promo from two months ago!
I leapt out of my chair in front of the sanctuary and hurried red-faced down the aisle and up to the booth. The completely inappropriate clip had been at the head of the current Master Reel, and the team had miscued the tape. I may have been harder on myself than the congregation was on me, but in my view the pre-school promo had completely ruined all of the work our pastor had done in setting up the power of the Promise Keepers tape. The experience was a failure.
My boss’ words to me after the service was done were healing: “Jesus is still Lord”, he said. I realized that we’d live on to produce another week.
Even if your production was all you could hope for it to be, audience confusion can still derail it. When nobody understood his parable of the sower in Mark 4, Jesus got frustrated. It’s one thing for the whole crowd to not understand his point, but the disciples? The disciples were so confused they came to him privately (vv.10-12) and wanted him to explain the whole point of using media one more time. So he did, and then says, “aren’t you ever going to get it?”
Do you ever wonder if Jesus wished he had picked different disciples? That he ever thought this poor group of dimwits was never going to be able to communicate the Word? The artist in me appreciates that sentiment. People should always be moved by my wonderful work! The reality, however, was that the disciples were still learning this new form called the “parable,” and they got more sophisticated with time. Jesus understood that, and slowly built them up even as he remained committed to parables.
The lesson in each case? Don’t quit. Keep plugging away at this new communication system. Both you, and your audience, will get better at it with each new production week. You’ll experience weekends that fail miserably, but that doesn’t mean you should fold up the screen and pack away the projector. Jesus didn’t raise his screen. He took the time to teach through the failures, and at each opportunity, stepped out into the public sphere and spoke again, with the same voice and in the same style (Mark 4:21-23). Make the most of your mistakes; if it doesn’t work explain the idea, even though, like a joke, explaining it is never as good as experiencing it. Then go right ahead and continue to make digital parables. And remember that Jesus is still Lord. Because as every teacher knows, the point of the parable is, and the greatest impact occurs, when the receiver deduces the truth on his or her own.
Next issue we’ll look at ways to make digital parables that do work, and are received with power by their target audiences.