I've been doing church communications for a long-time—bear with me for a few minutes for the reason while I tell you my history, there is a reason for it:
My first church communication memory was helping the church office print the bulletin using trays of blue gel. A Hectograph was the technical term for the device, and though it has long since ceased to be a fixture in the church office, Wikipedia now reports that it has become popular in the art world as a way to hand-produce prints. Wikipedia also relates how it was the system Stephen King used to create the first newspaper he and his brother published as kids. Dave's Rag, he called it. Who knew an out-dated church communication system would have such history and modern-day uses?
I remember it was messy.
The church office where I volunteered progressed to the Risograph with the purple ink and you always smelled the paper as it came off the machine. That equipment went through decades of improvement until today the technology creates communications at high speed and in multiple colors.
The next major tech advance in my communication career was when I got my first self-correcting IBM typewriter. That along with press-on letters enabled me to create church newsletters I was quite proud of.
I thought technology would never get any better.
Of course, it did and when desktop publishing was invented in the early1980's I got one of the first MacPlus computers produced (it was hand-signed inside the case by everyone who worked on it). Along with Aldus PageMaker software and the laser printer that cost so much I had to take out a co-signed loan for it, I started creating and teaching communications for churches and Christian ministries.
Then came the internet and the digital revolution, websites and social media. New ways to communicate, new tools, new technology continue to astound, challenge, and frustrate. I love learning new systems, new ways to communicate the timeless message of God's redemptive love in Jesus using every tool possible, but as I've seen this decades-long march of changing technology, there is one thing that hasn't changed—
The importance of the heart of the church communicator
Jesus told us "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh" is how the King James Bible puts it. The Phillips translation puts it this way:
For a man’s words depend on what fills his heart. A good man gives out good—from the goodness stored in his heart; a bad man gives out evil—from his store of evil.
What is inside, what is in our hearts is what will come out, in our words, in our church communications.
The technology we use to create them may change, but it takes a heart grounded in the Word of God, devoted to the service of God, committed to the Great Commission of sharing the good news of Jesus and helping his disciples grow to Christian maturity, to produce communications that accomplish the work God gave us to do.
The distracting challenge of otherwise wonderful technology
The reason I started with the reality of how long I've been in the ministry of church communications is that I trust one of the benefits is that the long view of a particular area of life gives perspective and one of the things that I've seen over the years is the continuing challenge of technology. Not only the challenge of mastering new tools, but even more that it is so easy to focus on and put our hopes in the latest technology, whether it is a piece of equipment or a new app or a new social media channel and to think that equipment, app or social media channel will make all the difference in the success of our work.
Along with the onslaught of these new tools one of the most concerning things I've seen recently is that our measures for success have changed. Changed lives aren't talked about nearly as often as metrics—the number of hits or likes or retweets seem are often seen as measures of success or failure.
That's understandable. Counting likes is much easier than discerning if hearts are changed. But if hearts and lives aren't changed by what we do, why are we doing it?
Please don't read what I've said in any way as bashing technology or the new apps and tools. I pray we welcome and use every tool, system, app that comes along if we feel it is useful to the particular group the Lord has given to us for ministry. But underlying all our work is that I don't want any of us as church communicators to lose sight of why we do what we do, which is to ground our work in the Word of God and to remember that the results that matter in that work are changed lives--people coming to know Jesus as Savior and grow as His disciples.
To help do that I want to encourage you with God's Word and I want to do it with my favorite new tech tool—a podcast.
I'm starting a new podcast, a very short one that will be available on Monday Mornings that will be a podcast of Devotions for Church Communicators. It is based on a book I wrote years ago that has been one of the most popular things I've written and I decided that this new format would be a new way to share the content.
These weekly podcasts will have one devotion each, with perhaps a few comments and ending with a prayer for you to start you on your day.
****UPDATE NOTE on Sept. 30--which hopefully I can remove in a few days: There seems to be a technical difficulty with the podcast playing on this website. This is a new problem as I have I've been using this podcast system for almost a year now on my websites, so I am concerned. I need to track this down, but until I do it will be a little awkward in that I will link directly to the home page of podcasts instead of having them play from this website. Since the podcast is fairly new, it also is not available through iTunes or a number of additional channels that again my other podcasts have been available on (Bible805 and EffectiveChurchCommunications Podcast). PLEASE go directly to the podcast link HERE to listen to the first 3 podcasts.
The background of the original book is below and in many ways repeats the reasons why I'm now launching the content through the podcast--the importance of focusing our hearts on God's Word so we can communicate His Messages in a way that is pleasing to Him.
Intro to the original book:
Introduction to Devotions for Church Communicators
Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. (Matt 12:34,35)
With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. (Ps. 119:10,11)
Above all else, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life. (Proverbs 4:23 )
Out of the abundance of the heart not only does the mouth speak, but our church communications are created.
The quality of what we produce in print and online never ultimately depends on circumstances outside ourselves. It's easy to blame tight deadlines, inadequate equipment, and the difficult, sometimes unappreciative people we work with for doing less than our best, but ultimately the quality and impact of our church communications reflects our hearts.
We always have choices within circumstances. Tight deadlines can challenge us to streamline our methods, to focus our work. Inadequate equipment can challenge our creativity to see just how much we can get out of outdated machines. Difficult people can drive us to prayer and force us to learn interpersonal skills.
It's in our hearts that we decide whether or not we believe that "God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28)."
If what is inside our heart is the key, how can we make it overflow with what is pleasing to our Lord?
Overflow comes from an abundance of what is already inside. Fill your heart with the things of God. Spend time in his Word; read your Bible daily; listen to Christian talks and music; be with other Christians in church and conversation. Think about God's promises and challenges; write his encouragements and promises on cards to post by your computer.
If you consciously work to fill your mind with the things of God, if his Word and will are your priorities, your heart and work will naturally and joyfully reflect it.
Much easier said than done isn't it?
I wrote the section above in the early 1980s when desktop publishing was still new to many churches and computers were often viewed with fear and loathing. I had already been teaching seminars on writing and church communications for about ten years, but when I began to teach people in churches how to create communications with the computer, many of my seminar attendees were having a very hard time making the transition.
Most of the problems were because of inadequate or nonexistent training. A frequent story I heard went something like this: a computer would arrive unannounced on a church secretary's desk and she'd be told that by next week she was to be creating the bulletin with it. No training supplied. Somehow it got done, but seldom without tears and resentment.
It seemed to me that the lack of training, the change in publications or the arrival of new equipment wasn't nearly as damaging as what happens inside people during transition times. For some, it seemed the arrival of the computer justified any actions needed to get it functioning in the church office.
As we shifted to new ways of creating church communications, as unimaginable opportunities to produce communications that were impossible for churches to produce in the past now became possible, I felt it was important to remind people that though technology might be new, our calling as servants and representatives of Jesus Christ never changes. We are to care for one another with concern and compassion; we are to do our work with a sense of ministry and mission no matter what the tools. When I saw the tools of technology creating as many people problems as they did beautiful publications, I wrote a little booklet: Devotions for Desktop Publishers to remind people that all our work, with the computer or not, is work for the Lord, to be done in his way.
The little booklet immediately became popular with my seminar attendees and the Lord graciously used it to help and encourage many. In the same vein, in my seminars, I reminded people that what they were doing was first and always a ministry to the Lord and that prayer and a focus on God's Word were essential tools in successful church communications. I was constantly surprised (and still am) at how many people would come up to me after the seminar and say something like, "I never looked at this work as a ministry before."
I'm not sure why this has happened, but the computer tempted even some church workers to think that communications produced by high tech means aren't as spiritual or godly as an old-fashioned type-written bulletin might have been. The typewriter is gone and with it, some seem to assume that digitally produced church publications and the office environment that produces them don't fall under the same commands of scripture for holiness, grace, and peace that other church work does. I realized that though difficult challenges in technology will continue, in all of this, we must always walk worthy of our calling as disciples of Jesus in all we do in our church communications ministry.
It seemed time to revisit the little devotions booklet and to update it for church communications work today. That little booklet is the core of the updated book available at the end of this post (and as the content of the PODCAST: Devotions for Church Communicators). The devotions have been revised and updated; additional ones have been added that previously appeared as editorials or commentary written for past blogs, articles, or newsletters. Some are new.
Technology changes, our minds and hearts shouldn't
Our technology-driven, secular culture, while it can be invigorating and exciting, will most likely not inspire you to think in a Christ-like way in your work. The characteristics of servanthood, sacrifice, humility, love, and relying on God to help us create communications of eternal value, do not come naturally.
The concept of "referent others" is useful here. This term means that we will tend to order our lives, often unconsciously, by values or a group of people we have chosen as a standard. What is important in this context is that we must be intentional about filling our minds and hearts with God's Word and doing our work with biblical standards, not the changing challenges of technology if we want to do work pleasing to the Lord. The Bible is the only life and work reference that is appropriate for those of us doing church communications.
In this book and now podcast, I've tried to make this conviction practical. I take situations in church communications and suggest ways to bring your focus back to the Bible in how you should react to them. In looking back over the entries, written over the course of almost twenty years, I've found I repeat a number of themes. My three most important ones could be summarized as follows:
#1 We serve a holy and sovereign God. Our lives and our work should reflect who we belong to and our reverence of him.
#2 Ours is a job of unimaginable grace—the Creator of all things has honored us with the job to create communications for him to share the good news of salvation in Jesus and to help people grow in their Christian faith.
#3 Ours is a job of unimaginable future glory—the eternal destinies of people are changed and heaven will be different because of the work we are doing today in church communications.
These themes are approached using different situations and examples, with some repetition in ideas and examples, but always with the goal of bringing your heart to focus on the words of God before you attempt to communicate his message to your world.
There are 52 entries, one for each week of the year. You can read through them sequentially or jump around. You can use them in your devotional times, share them with a church communicator's group, read through one when your work needs a spiritual boost. After most of them, there is space for you to journal your thoughts and prayers.
As I close this introduction, I can see your faces. I remember you from my seminars, from discussions at breaks, from emails and letters. I remember the samples you shared and the times I cried when I looked at a sample, though sometimes simple and unpretentious on the surface, that touched my heart because of the obvious love, care, and time put into it. I remember your questions and frustrations, your successes and stories.
As I remember, I'm praying for those of you church communicators I can see in my mind's eye and for those of you I haven't yet met, that the Lord will give you peace, joy, and strength today. I'm praying your heart would be pure, holy, and focused on Jesus and that out of a heart overflowing with love for Jesus and his church, you will create communications pleasing to him and that will change lives for eternity.
Blessings, joy, and peace to you as you serve our Lord in church communications today,
Note of clarification: I am no longer traveling to teach seminars, but am home in Ventura, CA creating resources and teaching online webinars and training through this website, www.effectivechurchcom.com. Much of my writing was created while traveling and doing seminars, and it would be awkward to change those references. At the same time I wanted to clarify that the majority of my teaching is online currently, hence this little note.
Devotions for Church Communicators by Yvon Prehn
The link above will take you to amazon where you can get a copy of the book in print and Kindle formats. If you would be interested in a discount, bulk purchase of the book for church communicators or other groups contact firstname.lastname@example.org.