What difference if any has the introduction of TV cameras made, for good or ill?

Discussion in 'Preaching' started by Eoghan, May 4, 2019.

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  1. Eoghan

    Eoghan Puritan Board Senior

    I am interested what the reformed community thinks about TV cameras in church services?
  2. Edward

    Edward Puritanboard Commissioner

    Circumstance of worship.
  3. Eoghan

    Eoghan Puritan Board Senior

    I am disappointed to see that websites which host audio recordings of sermons are now starting to host video recordings of sermons. Is that a prejudice on my part or is there a genuine reason to note and resent the shift in emphasis?

    One of the texts that comes to mind is Romans 10 v17 "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ."

    In traditionally built churches there are almost certainly pillars. When there is a christening I have observed the extraordinary lengths people will go to gain a view. Yet when the minister starts to preach most are content to let pillars obscure the minister and be attentive to the spoken word, why? The answer seems to be that there is little lost by being unable to see the preacher. Indeed when creches have been set up to care for infants, to permit participation in the service, it has usually been sufficient to set up a speaker .

    The written word and the spoken word are inextricably linked. The written word is a record of the spoken word and I vividly recall the reverence given to verses written on parchment, found in Egypt. These written invocations of what had been spoken words were superstitiously regarded as potent charms.

    The Westminster and London Confessions state that having spoken at different times and in different ways God wrote it all down.

    "…for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing… "

    It has always struck me that we have no paintings or sculptures which are contemporaneous records of any of the authors of the Old or New Testaments. The visual is absent from the Scriptures. The Bible indeed has an Old Testament prohibition against making visual representations. Instead the Scriptures are invested in literary images.

    In contrast Neil Postman has described the peculiar nature of TV thus:

    "Because televisions primary means of information is the image, it's style of teaching is narration. And because of that, it is concerned with showing concrete people and situations toward which one responds by either accepting them on emotional grounds. Television teaches you to know through what you see and feel. It's epistemology begins and ends in the visceral." (Teaching as a Conserving Activity)

    The very way we consume TV gives licence to inattention, we don't expect the development of reasoned arguments. We wander in and out of the room not feeling it necessary to pause the video. In a more recent trend we multitask with laptops and smart phones while ostensibly "watching" something. This is how our culture consumes television and we are not immune to it's influence.

    My wife has an affinity for hospital dramas. Having used a gym the metaphor of a physical workout is prominent in my mind. Watching my wife's involvement in the lives of the characters portrayed I have jokingly called it her "emotional workout". There may be a grain of truth in that. When I watched a programme on "Flat Earthers". The format was documentary with occasional narration, as it followed them at work and at home. Going purely from what the show presented, you had to dismiss them as nuts or accept there was something to it. This, from an emotional, empathic evaluation of what you saw portrayed.

    Watching any drama or documentary you respond emotionally, with empathy and in a an enormous, and in my view erroneous step, believe you now have an understanding of what you saw portrayed. If it is global warning, drug addiction or international finance, you have a comprehensive understanding after sixty minutes (or less). Television does not have a structure that is amenable to additional information or future refinement. Formal education however is and so are the Scriptures. It has been said that the Scriptures are shallow enough for any child to ford and deep enough for an elephant to swim.

    Having written a review of FF Bruce's book "Are the NT documents reliable" I am very aware of the way Bruce documented the earliest documents and their reliability and how they are corroborated with other documents - propositional truth. This is the exact opposite of the approach adopted by Mormon missionaries. They will ask you to pray about the Book of Mormon and if you feel that it is true, that is all you need. Now feelings are transitory and subjective, not the best basis for making decisions. Eating cheese before bed may cause troubled sleep or a burning sensation in your stomach. These are more properly called insomnia and heartburn.

    So to summarise, preaching is primarily auditory and presents evidence and facts in a way that is primarily persuasive and challenging, it is propositional truth. TV is primarily visual and in a narrative style portrays lives and lifestyles, it requires an emotional response where the intellect is quiescent. This is why I object to video sermons supplanting the audio sermons. With TV the emphasis shifts, not only does post-production editing shape the message - so does the medium.

    Christians used to be called "people of the Book", do we really want to be called the "people of the DVD"!

    This is an observation/reflection on trends and influences and as such it is neither comprehensive and tentative. I would ask that replies address the substantive issues raised rather than go down rabbit trails. For example I would be more than happy to discuss Neil Postman, just not here.
  4. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    When I give a speech, I find it is more effective if the listeners can also see me. Seeing is not as important as hearing, but seeing does help marginally.

    But I suspect the main reason churches have moved from audio recordings to audio/video is because our culture has made video accessible and expected. Twenty years ago, everyone had a Walkman and audio sermons on tape seemed like a real treat. Today, everyone watches YouTube and video is the norm—or at least an expected option. It's how this generation consumes much of its spoken content.

    And while I agree with you that most TV is primarily a visual medium, I'm not sure I agree that a video of a preacher preaching is a visual narrative. It's just a speech, much like it would be if you attended in person.
  5. Eoghan

    Eoghan Puritan Board Senior

    Thanks for your comments Jack. I agree that the switch is largely cultural - my question is what effect does that switch have? I too prefer to see the preacher but am not averse to looking away to read/reread the text or take notes (know that can be controversial).

    Not sure I said a video of preaching is primarily a visual narrative. If there is a real difference, I think it is in post production. How often does a conference video pan the audience while the speaker is still speaking? A steady shot on the pulpit for sixty minutes just isn't sexy. Our video culture demands two or three cameras and cutting to a close-up or further back. Watching the start of the video of Alistair Begg and Dennis Prager there are six cuts in the first sixty seconds, thats a switch in cameras every ten seconds.

    If my observations are nuanced and tentative it is because the influence of the medium used is ephemeral and nuanced. Time was when a preacher could address a church by projecting his voice (Whitfield). Teachers often address an audience in a similar setting 4-5 hrs a day 5 days a week, no mic required!

    Indeed amplification can be a licence to inattention in an educational setting. I frequently turned down a TV to ensure they were encouraged to listen.
  6. Edward

    Edward Puritanboard Commissioner

    What is the distinction between this and the the preacher not hiding from the congregation behind a curtain when he preaches.
  7. Eoghan

    Eoghan Puritan Board Senior

    If I understand you correctly Edward you are suggesting that I might prefer to listen in church without seeing the preacher, as was done during an era of persecution when the minister was secreted behind a curtain/screen to make detection more difficult. Am I upset at being able to see the minister in the same way that I am unsettled by the appearance of video downloads on what have been traditional audio only websites. If that is the question (and I am not entirely sure) then let me respond to what I perceive is the question.

    Attending a service I am able to watch and listen in real time, unfiltered and unmediated with no post production editing. Being present in a service there are no panning shots of the congregation unless I twist my head round (I usually sit at the front). It is the natural way to hear a sermon. I do not feel compelled to constantly watch lest I miss something. Indeed part of my participation is to take notes. My current notebook goes back 5 years. Having observed the change in church architecture, the pew no longer has the shelf for Bibles or hymn books/psalter which was attached to the pew in front. Instead we seem to have moved to stackable chairs, a move totally in keeping with the times. I now attend church with an Ikea bean bag tray which sits on my lap.

    As regards the curtaining of the preacher, it was no less a product of it's time. There is a brief description of that time of persecution in John Gill and the cause of truth p85. It also describes the way Baptists would revert to the psalter to pass themselves off as orthodox anglicans. I would not advocate the return of the curtain, it denies the congregation non-verbal communication with body language. Even with the passing of the years I still recall Eric Alexander thumping the pulpit in a sermon on the house that was built upon rock v sand. That was unusual for him but was totally in keeping with the earnest sincerity of his preaching. It was a small part of his preaching and little would have been lost without it.

    I think what I am trying to draw attention to is how TV changes everything. For one thing it changes the architecture and layout of the place of worship. At the back of the churches there is a growing trend of setting up a sound deck and video engineers area, partitioned off from the church by a small rail. Once the Video screens are in place, well they have other uses. PowerPoints become a feature of the service and the psalter gives way to an almost karaoke presentation of the hymn/psalm as one verse scrolls up at a time. Now participation is altered, the Evangelical Movement of Wales hymnbook preface suggested that a prayerful reading of the hymn was benificial before singing. You cannot do that with PowerPoint. Moreover I have noticed the tendency to "update" and "amend" the text of hymns to make them more "modern" and "culturally relevant". But I digress.

    There is a huge difference between the intrusive nature of TV cameras and video engineers in a service along with post production editing and simply screening off the preacher. The one is entered into voluntarily, the other is an impossition resulting from persecution.

    Currently our minister uses his mobile phone to call members of the congregation who are unable to attend. They then listen to the service as he places the phone on the lecturn. For now, audio only is deemed sufficient, and with that I concur.
  8. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Amplification of sound, as well as amplification of sight are both circumstances of worship.
  9. iainduguid

    iainduguid Puritan Board Sophomore

    I vividly remember attending Coral Ridge Presbyterian in around 1991 and noticing that D.J. Kennedy preached exclusively to the television camera, virtually ignoring the assembled church. That struck me as very strange, perverse even. On the other hand, a small video camera inobtrusively placed that captured the sermon for the sake of the sick and infirm could be a blessing. If it is beneficial for the gathered congregation to see the pastor, why not those who watch at home? If they can listen on audio through a cell phone connection. why not listen and watch online through a video connection? (Though churches should be aware of potential legal issues, if they stream the congregation singing songs that are still under copyright, which would apply to both audio and video).

    But it sounds like your concern is somewhat more diffuse, which makes it harder to respond to. Is it slick production values that you oppose? There's nothing to stop people from turning off the video and simply listening to the audio if they prefer. And if they are listening to sermons and conference talks as supplements to church for their personal edification, is there a "regulative principle of the internet"? A sermon read in a book is not an "audio" delivery, but it doesn't violate Romans 10. Is it that these "high quality" streamed sermons provide more of a temptation for people to stay home from their local churches? That can be an issue, but people in the past sometimes stayed home and read sermons instead of attending their local church. Is it using screens to project the words of the psalm or song? Overhead projectors were a thing in churches long before video cameras. Is your concern churches using cameras to project the pastor for the sake of those present in a large or poorly designed building (with pillars in the wrong places)? How is that different from audio amplification? Or is it just a general complaint about the impact of technology? It would perhaps be helpful if you could focus on a single clearly defined aspect of your concern.
  10. Eoghan

    Eoghan Puritan Board Senior

    Hi Ian, thanks for your comments. I don't think I outright oppose video, it is more the issues that surround it like giving up 10% of the floorspace to the video production crew. I remember being astounded to learn that our organist was a paid professional and liable to leave us should a better offer be made from another congregation. Are our cameramen professionals? There is so much baggage that goes with it that does not seem to be noticed or evaluated. Like the proverbial frog in a pan of water slowly heated.
    Visiting what I think of as my home church back in Fife I was shocked to see a montage of images projected during prayer - this was intended to "assist meditation". Once the technology is in, it tends to stay. Many churches no longer have church hymbooks thanks to projectors, the same is true of pew Bibles with the text being briefly displayed when it is read.

    Neil Postman's book Amusing ourselves to death is subtitled, "A scintillating analysis of television's effect on our culture". The nearest Christian equivallent is "Why Johnny Can't Preach". Yes our culture does change and yes we are influenced by it. I am just concerned at the way it affects us.

    The working title for a flyer I an working on is, "TV cameras in the church service - effective or affective?"

    That said I was unable to attend the John McArthur Conference "Strange Fire". I was however able to attend virtually by logging on and watching the live video in a local pub (Weatherspoons). That however was a conference and not Sabbath worship!

    Hope that answers your question Ian, the reason my post has no one point is that I am drawing attention to many. If there is one main point it is be aware of how the change affects us. Marshall McLuhan famously gave us the term "the medium is the message" That is the vein in which I write.
  11. Edward

    Edward Puritanboard Commissioner

    Close enough. I'll deal with your objections point-by-point.

    We live stream the 9:30 service in real time, unfiltered with no post production editing (the live stream actually appears to be about a 2 minute delay). The service is then re-broadcast for the 11:00 hour.

    What does that have to do with broadcasts? (For the record, there are 4 hymbooks and two Bibles for each 4 people on the pews at our church. Since most folks have their own paper Bibles or phones and tablets, that's more than sufficient).

    At both the churches of which I've been a member, the sound guy has been in the sanctuary, but the TV crew has been in another location (once, a room off the balcony, the other time in the basement).

    No video screen in the sanctuary. In any event, whether the words are projected, in a book, or printed in the bulletin are circumstances.

    This isn't the 1970s or 80s. You don't need (and shouldn't use) large stand-behind studio cameras. The cameras are smaller than a shoebox and can be hung on a wall or from the ceiling.


    Another benefit of cameras is that the service can easily be piped into an overflow room when the main auditorium reaches legal capacity.
  12. Eoghan

    Eoghan Puritan Board Senior

    Hi Howard, I am intrigued by your use of the word "circumstamces". Can you explain what you mean. Your use suggests it has some explanatory role which is currently eluding me.

    I am aware that different churches have different setups regarding cameramen and sound technicians.

    Being from a Baptist tradition I am unsure what you mean by the "sanctuary", I am assuming it is the main building but could be referring to a prayer room where the minister may meet with elders before taking the service (other formats are available).

    I am intrigued to hear that your 9.30am service is re-broadcast as the 11am service if I understand you correctly. I know the Church of Scotland is experimenting with linking in congregations by video to make what ministers they have go further. I vividly recall visiting a small church in Stornoway where the music was an mp3 file and the sermon a DVD. I couldn't help thinking that reliance on DVD's stifles the development of preachers within the congregation.

    There is also a dynamic interaction with your audience - preachers should be reading body language and responding accordingly. It's a small part of preaching to be sure but replace the minister with a screen and you lose it.

    I am not totally opposed to video, it does however subtly alter the interaction of the congregation with the preacher. It is those subtle changes that interest me, they are "under the radar" so to speak.
  13. Edward

    Edward Puritanboard Commissioner

    I think you are directing at least this much to me rather than to "Howard".

    No, what I meant to say was that instead of the live 11:00 service being streamed, the 9:30 service is streamed out again while the live 11:00 service is ongoing in the main auditorium. Due to historical circumstance, the 9:30 service is usually full, and the 11:00 service about 60% full. Otherwise the 11:00 service tracks the 9:30. The same pastor will preach both services, the pastor assisting will usually change. Choir is more or less the same, and the same instruments are used. We will sometimes drop off a couple of ushers at 11. (The tiny 8:00 service has a different pastor and sermon on the same verse as the other services, no choir, and only basic instrumentation.)
  14. bookslover

    bookslover Puritan Board Doctor

    One advantage of video sermons is that, in hearing the sermon (and you do still have to listen), you also get the body language of the preacher, including his facial expressions and tone of voice, which can help you to understand the sermon better. Sometimes, we misunderstand each other on the Puritan Board or on Facebook or Twitter because we don't get the "context" of body language and tone of voice. Those nuances help with understanding.

    Also, with video, you can keep track of which ugly suit the pastor is wearing this week. Heh.
  15. Edward

    Edward Puritanboard Commissioner


    Not if the pastor is properly attired in his academic gown.
  16. Eoghan

    Eoghan Puritan Board Senior

    Yup body language is a small part of preaching. I wonder though if the entire service is broadcast do folks viewing it at home participate in the whole service. In the Free Church we stand to pray and sit to sing. If folks watch a service at home to what extent would folks stand to pray or sit to sing (or vice versa). If the body language of the preacher is part of the service (a small part) I think congregational singing and corporate prayer are a part too (probably more significant than the preachers body language).
  17. Eoghan

    Eoghan Puritan Board Senior

    It just occurred to me that when a church member attends church we often call them a worshipper. If a church member is watching a recording at home do they become a viewer?
  18. Edward

    Edward Puritanboard Commissioner

    That, of course, depends on the person receiving the broadcast (or narrowcast).
  19. Eoghan

    Eoghan Puritan Board Senior

    Anyone explain what this word means in the US?
  20. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Senior

    He's been referring to circumstances of worship, as opposed to elements of worship.
  21. Eoghan

    Eoghan Puritan Board Senior

    I am familiarising myself with "the regulative principle", after googling the phrases. I am pondering some of the changes in worship that seem to go beyond Scripture, while other changes seem to contradict Scripture.

    As a Baptist adhering to the London Confession, I do not subscribe so much to the WCF assertion of the "...or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture".
  22. Eoghan

    Eoghan Puritan Board Senior

    Some ministers labour long and hard over PowerPoint presentations in their sermon preparation. Is this is an "element" of worship (taught at seminary) or a "circumstance"?

    When PowerPoint is a part of the sermon it does indeed involve preparation, time and effort. Might one argue that in a zero sum game, time spend on PowerPoint graphics is time taken away from the text? Given a choice between wrestling with the Hebrew/Greek or wrangling with PowerPoint - what's the call?
  23. iainduguid

    iainduguid Puritan Board Sophomore

    Note: I have never used power points for sermons (though I do create them for classes)
    Clearly power points would be a circumstance, not an element, in the same way that pews, amplification and electric lighting are. They would be comparable to having a bulletin (which I do spend time laboring over), which might (or might not) include the main points of the sermon. Having a screen doesn't directly affect the question. It wouldn't take much longer to create such powerpoints than setting up and checking the sound system (also a circumstance). Perhaps there are people that spend an inordinate amount of time on their power points, but probably they wouldn't spend that time on Greek and Hebrew given the chance. They might spend it on sermon illustrations, which might (or might not) be more profitable.

    I would imagine that the point in sermon preparation where powerpoints would be made would not be the beginning (where you wrestle with Hebrew and Greek) but at the end, where you clarify whether you have a coherent message. Some men are taught in seminary to create a propositional sentence that sums up the message. I don't follow that practice myself but I can see the value of being able to explain simply what your sermon is about. Crafting that sentence carefully could take some time. Preparing a powerpoint might perhaps serve a similar clarifying focus: do I have main points that can simply be summarized? Are there Scripture passages that would be helpful for people to have in front of them without looking them up? None of that, it seems to me, need conflict with the basic sermon preparation time. If it does, you probably need to allocate more time to sermon prep.

    Again, I'm not arguing for powerpoints. The scholarly literature thinks they are of dubious benefit even for lectures, especially if they are loaded with words. But I'm not going to assume that a pastor who uses them hasn't done his homework properly.
  24. Eoghan

    Eoghan Puritan Board Senior

    Thanks Ian. I agree. Having given some consideration to the question and prompted others to do so. I think we have aired the matter sufficiently and I would prefer to end public discussion here.

    I know my "father in the faith" spent every weekday morning in close study of the text for his sermons. He had to educate his congregation that it was a worthwhile use of his time - they came around, given the quality of his sermons! In contrast I recall being kicked out of a manse (figuratively) after 11 pm on a Saturday because the pastor needed to start his sermon for the following day!
  25. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Puritan Board Doctor

    Other than the kind of thing that Dr Duguid mentioned, I don't know how much it has impacted services. Many of the churches that broadcast on Sermon Audio, for example, only have a few dozen people watching at any given time. The most popular ones might have 200-300. The most popular sermons might have a few thousand views or listens, even after several years. That's hardly D. James Kennedy territory. But I suppose that there can be some subtle changes and temptations even in such "small time" scenarios.

    But I do wonder whether from the viewers standpoint something like Sermon Audio with all of the messages being broadcast live simultaneously can lead to a form of consumerism. I've found myself saying "I'm not interested in what Pastor X is preaching this week, I think I'll check out Pastor Y instead." There's certainly no obligation to watch a particular service or to watch any at all, but I wonder if sometimes it is similar to channel surfing. And it makes me a bit uneasy at times, although I'm not sure whether or not it should. To me the live nature of it just feels different than deciding what book to pick out of the shelf or which recorded audio to listen to.
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