Same story, new language - Word&Way

Same story, new language

By Jennifer Harris

Word&Way News Writer

Many scholars believe the church must bridge a divide before it can minister effectively in today’s world. In a rapidly changing environment, they insist the church still speaks the language of pen and paper while the culture around it communicates using technological advances.

Len Wilson, cofounder of Midnight Oil Productions, believes using technology is a new form of translating Scripture into a language people can understand. In what he refers to as the Ezra Principle, he recalled an Old Testament passage in Nehemiah 8, where Ezra rediscovers the Law, and the people are able to understand the word of God for the first time.

By bringing the message of Christ to people in culturally appropriate ways, the church is able to provide that understanding, he said.

“People often don’t recognize the use of technology in ministry because they become comfortable with certain technologies” they already are used to, Wilson said. “Technology has always been present in the church.” The Apostle Paul used technology in the form of letter writing and roads.

“When something new comes in, there is controversy, but it eventually settles down,” Wilson said.

“John 1 says, ‘Jesus is the Word.’ The problem is we confuse big-w ‘Word’ with the little-w ‘word.’ Ultimately the Word of God is Jesus. Often we think the printed word is the most important medium, when really it is just a medium, one way to point people to the Word of God — Jesus.”

Jason Moore, Wilson’s partner in Midnight Oil Productions, suggests the use of technology can help the church with metaphor. On their website,, Moore and Wilson define metaphor: “a tangible way to express an abstract story, thought or idea. Applying a metaphor to the message simply means communicating potentially abstract stories, principles and/or ideas with present-day tangible equivalents. Substituting familiar objects, stories and situations can make archaic and hard-to-grasp texts easy to understand.”

“We’ve gotten so far from the method Jesus gave us,” Moore said. “Most sermons are informational, mostly removed from story and parable. Jesus gave us the model for a reason. If Jesus didn’t say anything without using metaphor, what does it mean that we don’t use it at all?”

Moore recommends taking small steps to reclaim metaphor. “You don’t have to do everything the first time,” he said. “Do one thing really well.”

“Figure out how to tell stories — God’s work in lives,” Moore said. “One of the best ways is to use the youth. Parents and grandparents are excited when they see the youth excited about their faith.”

“Students and young people have access to equipment and incredible skill sets,” said Corey Carbonara, professor of telecommunication in the film and digital media division and director of the digital communication technologies project at Baylor University.

Carbonara suggests beginning with video. As technology has improved, the cost of video equipment has gone down considerably, making it easily assessable. “Most computers have the ability to create mini-movies,” he added.

By tapping into this medium, churches have the ability to create mini-documentaries or narratives, providing awareness of outreach programs, soup kitchens or mission trips.

With the rise of Web 2.0, or the second generation of the Internet, video is extremely important. “Now video is about two-way interaction,” Carbonara said. “Social networking sites, such as MySpace and Facebook, are rapidly evolving to include video.”

YouTube, a website that allows people to view and share videos, has escalated the idea of video as a form of interaction. Individuals are able to watch videos and post their own video response.

Churches can use the prevalence of video to stay in touch with missionaries and see coverage from life on the mission field.

The communications team at New Tribes Mission, which operates a training facility in Roach, Mo., is working to improve communications between missionaries and churches. The team runs the organizations website,, which is published daily and translated into four or five different languages.

The site is updated daily with prayer requests and news articles which are sent by daily or weekly e-mails or RSS feeds. RSS, or really simple syndication, allows people to keep up with updates to their favorite websites by channeling subscriptions into a single feed.

New Tribes Missions recently has given missionaries the opportunity to create their own personal sites using a template program the communications team designed. Missionaries are able to post updates quickly and easily with the fully automated system.

“The main reason keeping other organizations from allowing personal sites is that is is hard to have control over what they are saying or not saying—which can get the organization or the missionary into trouble,” said Andy Corley, who serves on New Tribes’ communications team.

Sometimes people communicate messages they don’t intend, so Corley and the communications team works to help missionaries communicate effectively. They have a system in place monitoring the personal websites for more than 600 keywords which may breach security or cause other problems for the missionaries and sending agency.

Writers and editors on the team are alerted when these words are used. The site also keeps individuals from publishing the site if certain words are used.

“Our job is to help missionaries communicate what God is doing through their ministry,” Corley said.

Corley has seen the missionaries’ message spread as people forward stories to friends and family, send e-mail responses to missionaries and donate funds to support missions. Corley said over 1.4 million dollars are contributed each year through the website.

“God can be glorified through technology,” he said.

As wireless networks continue to rise, there is more opportunity to connect with missionaries on the field, Carbonara said. “Even parts of the Third World are now connected.”

In order to fully utilize technology, churches must do more than simply use it, Moore and Wilson said.

“Churches need to learn not just how to put graphics on a screen, but how to communicate,” Wilson said. “Many churches don’t understand it is a different language. You have to learn the grammar—just like in written language.”

A majority of churches are using screens, but most use them poorly and struggle with ways to be more effective, he said.

“A screen is more than just a hymnal or bulletin replacement,” Moore said. “We hope people come to realize there is a whole discipline and field of study on how to use screens.”

Moore and Wilson recommend the book Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design by Gunther Kress.

“We all have and use technology. It’s around us all the time,” Wilson said. “We think of Sunday morning as an escape from the world, but Jesus is in the world, and we need to communicate.”