Monday, October 14, 2013

"There's something wrong with this microphone": pastors, power, and "microphoning it in"

photo taken from this ad. You've  heard of "The Cross and The Switchblade?"
This is the "Microphone and The Cross".  But are they compatible?
I told a bad joke in a sermon once (only once?)
Here it is:

There was a church that was not very liturgically oriented; in fact they were decidedly “low-church.” So the pastor wanted to teach his flock a bit of the richness of the liturgy tradition. He figured he’d start them out with a “win-win” that would be easy; the classic responsive that begins with the leader saying:

“The Lord be with you.”

You know the response:

“And also with you.”

And the pastor thought he’d have the congregation practice the responsive for several weeks, and then officially inaugurate it on Easter; a high attendance Sunday with lots of guests.
So every week they walked through it:

“Now when I say, ‘The Lord be with you,’ remember that you say And also with you.’” Let’s practice…”

They practiced. They were primed. Pumped. Throughout the countdown weeks of Lent, they became quite prepared.

Then came the big Sunday; Easter in all its glory. Lots of guests; an air of expectancy in the room; especially among the well-trained saints knowing they were about ready to show off what they had been practicing.

So the pastor stepped up to the pulpit with a knowing smile. But he noticed that something was wrong with the microphone. So before he realized it, he said aloud just that:

“There is something wrong with this microphone.”

Well, the congregation was so primed and practiced that they immediately shot back, before they realized it, with one loud and clear voice:

“And also with you!”

-whole sermon here: The Lord Be With You...Even When He's Not!" (more bad jokes alert)

I often follow that bad joke with a
                           good comment:

"I only know two things:

  • The Lord is with me


  •  There's something wrong with me."

But I sometimes feel part of the "something wrong with me" is that

I use microphones
                         at all.

I'm not a microphobe..
but I have a love/hate relationship with ...
                     and a healthy fear of..


Not just that they may not work,
         but that they will.

Technology is not neutral, and
                          medium is message/massage.

In a fascinating new article by Andy Crouch (based on his new book), he  calls the wireless microphone the

"one single marker of spiritual authority" in many churches (context).

Then he talks about the "Wireless Headset of Authority" (:

Ironically, when the pastor wears a wireless, particularly one designed (literally) to be


it can make the pastor look/sound/seem


Where is that amplified megavoice coming from?
Must be God...
             or at least the pastor
                       (oh, same thing).

 Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain..or microphone/mask!


..But in many churches, the wireless headset sets a very different tone. Its goal is not volume—it is intimacy. An audience of thousands hears not the thundering strains of a dramatically amplified voice; instead, they are able to hear a single person speaking as if that person was talking directly to them, face to face, friend to friend.
A top-quality wireless headset requires both electric power (fresh batteries, hundreds of watts of amplification) and technological power (meticulously designed circuits, expertly equalized sound). And it delivers extraordinary social power—the ability to address thousands with one-to-one familiarity. But once all that power is switched on, a good wireless headset is meant to disappear....
.. link 
Hmm, it still sounds like the intimately invisible voice of God.

Chapter 38 ("Microphones and Power")  of Doug Paggit's Preaching Reimagined should be wrestled with.

I find it intriguing to listen to megachurch pastors who either never wanted to be megachurch pastors, or who try to build in intimacy (Rob Bell, Greg Boyd et al).  Doug Paggit is one: Solomon's Porch  are so emergent/organic that they have couches, not pews.  They meet in the round, and the speaker sits on a stool in the middle, bot stands behind a pulpit up front.  BUT they are so large, they have to  (?? never jump to "have to") use a microphone.  Better yet, microphones.  The whole place is wired, so that if someone in couch #33 (way better than pew 22) speaks, they can be heard.

I'm all for the microphonehood of all believers..
but I worry it's already too late when microphones "have" to be used at all.
( as the EBay Atheist wondered, what's a stage doing in a church, anyway?)

I am not sure "the young man or woman in the 22nd pew" can help see/hear the "Wireless Headset of Authority" as "something more than sexual".

Still, role models are out there.  How can we use a  microphones, but not be "of it?"
How do we refuse/defuse the power that it uses?

How do we  (can we?) handle handling microphones without them manhandling us;
 wear headsets without altering our mindsets?

A heteroclite blogger once pondered Pope  Francis:
One of the first things I noticed about the new pope is that when he first came out on the balcony,
(microphones themselves raise crucial questions; see chapter 38 of  
"Microphones and Power, see chapter 38 of  Pagitt's Preaching Reimagined).

he tried to hold the microphone himself.

 He eventually let his (literally) righthand man )  (=servant)take it.

But as is obvious with what we know so far about Francis I... 
 (has always insisted on speaking on same level as his audience,  went to evangelical pastors meetings in Argentina and asked for prayer,  asked for prayer from the crowd at installation, rode the train and subway to work as archbishop, checked out of the hotel himself, and then took the bus with other bishops after installation
....  the guy is humble with his approach to power.
And he doesn't seem to be proud of his humility.
This will be interesting to see how we navigates all the trappings and pompenstance.  link
And  do read Crouch below.   But ask:  Is power "a gift to be stewarded" (Crouch)..or as others (Capon) might warn, to be avoided at all Jesus did (at least "right-handed power")  ?:

Anthropologist Geert Hofstede coined the phrase "power distance" to describe the ways that some cultures prefer that the powerful look and act powerful. In high power distance cultures, power is made visible and tangible, and dramatic differences in power are seen as a natural, indeed crucial, part of a healthy society.

In low power distance cultures, on the other hand, visible hierarchy and signs of power are discouraged. Those with power are expected to treat others as equals, not as subordinates. Charles Tidwell, who has taught Hofstede's power distance concepts, summarizes it nicely: In high power distance societies, "powerful people try to look as powerful as possible." But in low power distance societies, "powerful people try to look less powerful than they are."

Not long ago I was with a member of Congress, a man who in many ways embodied traditional power—imposingly tall, possessing a confident and deep voice inflected with a proudly retained regional accent. A group of visitors filled every seat at the small table in his office, so the congressman sat in his leather high-backed chair, separated from us by several feet of expansive wooden desk. It was a tableau of power familiar to generations of political and business leaders.
But less than five minutes into the meeting, the congressman became visibly uncomfortable. Suddenly he interrupted. "Wait, this isn't working," he announced. He stood up, lifted his desk chair nearly over his head, and manhandled it over the desk. He set it down on our side of the room, joining the circle at the table. "That's better," he said.

And it was. It was also an astonishing reminder of how the norms of power have shifted. Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill or Dan Rostenkowski, to name two powerful legislators when I was coming of age, would never have rearranged their offices to be closer to strangers. For all their bonhomie, they never would have thought to close the distance in the way that congressman felt necessary.

Our culture's attitudes toward power, or at least toward power's display, have shifted dramatically in a few generations. In the business world, the dress code of corporate leaders slid down a slippery slope from IBM's coat and tie, to Steve Jobs's turtlenecks, to Mark Zuckerberg's hoodie. America, today, is about as low power distance as it has ever been—and so is the American church.

Two Generations of Power
This shift in power distance in the church is perfectly illustrated by a father and son.
Dr. Charles Stanley, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Atlanta and a pioneer in television distribution through his organization, In Touch Ministries, preaches to this day in a suit and tie, a substantial Bible resting before him on a wooden reading desk. Born in 1932 in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, he came of age in a high power distance society, and a high power distance church.

His son, Andy, is the founding pastor of North Point Community Church, now a multisite church. In lieu of a sermon from the "campus pastor," most North Point affiliates project his weekly messages in high-definition video. Andy is universally referred to by his first name, has no doctoral degree, and usually wears an open-collared polo. He stands in a pool of light on a darkened stage cluttered with worship band gear, occasionally consulting notes on a café table.
Andy was born in Atlanta in 1958, just as that city began decades of growth that made it the center of a "New South." He came of age in a low power distance culture. And so it is not surprising that he helped create a low power distance church.

But this leads to a crucial insight from Hofstede. The difference between low power distance and high power distance is not whether some people are more powerful than others. That is true every time human beings gather, whether we like it or not. The difference is whether the powerful want to be seen as powerful.

When we in the church talk about power, we often talk about it strictly as something negative—something dangerous to be avoided—rather than as a gift to be stewarded.

Andy is no less powerful a pastor than his father. Indeed, you could well make the case that even at the height of his influence, Charles did not command as wide recognition, as much access to political and business leaders, and such great influence over an entire generation of church leaders as his son. (Some 12,000 people gather at the Catalyst conference in Atlanta every October, in no small part to hear from Andy and pastors he has mentored and trained.)
But in a low power distance culture, it is especially easy for the powerful to forget their power. A friend of mine was speaking with the senior pastor of a megachurch. "How do you handle the power that comes with your role?" my friend asked. "Oh, power is not a problem at our church," was the reply. "We are all servant leaders here."

It was a sincere answer; this leader's commitment to servant leadership is genuine. His church, like many megachurches, assiduously cultivates an informal, low power distance mindset—the daily wardrobe in its corridors runs a narrow gamut from ripped jeans (on the youth workers) to khakis (on the senior pastor). But I have felt the change in atmosphere when this leader walks into a room. It's as if someone had abruptly turned down the thermostat and shut off the background music. He is a servant leader. But he is also a person with power.

And this is the problem with low power distance, with the wireless headset and the informality of contemporary offices and dress codes: It can deceive us into thinking that power is not an issue that requires our attention, let alone a matter for discipleship. And the ones most likely to be deceived are the ones with the most power.  (context)
All I know is "there's something wrong with me."

But I love that two friends have identified two things I sometimes do right.

Tim suggested that I push toward the unobvious
Tom offered that I am a "low-key" pastor.

I take both as compliments and wear those badges with honor.
I'm just not sure I can wear a wireless microphone about it (:

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