We are not 'all in this together', argues Ben Lindsay, as he...
Comedian-turned-preacher Andy Kind muses on the new challenges faced by church leaders
Preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary, use funny memes and get all your congregants to smash that subscribe button!
Strange times indeed. As we get to grips with the possibility that the Mayans didn’t actually get it that wrong, for those of us associated with the exposition of God’s Word we are faced with a slight problem: that all our live work has been cancelled, the stage collapsing beneath all those finely-tuned interpersonal skills.
As a preacher and comedian, over the past 15 years I’ve come to see the stage as a sacred space, a thin place, the proverbial second home (although audiences object when you take a lovely bath during your new tour show). For any public communicator, losing the dynamic of live interaction plays havoc with one’s requisite skill set. Body language, eye-contact – all those mechanisms which conspire to communicate trust, safety and truth – have been drained of their power as preachers are relegated to delivering diary room-style monologues vacillating in tone somewhere between a Samuel Beckett play and a hostage ransom video.
While there may be those content-driven Bible teachers who consider the presence of other souls to be something of a blight on their sight-read oratory, the reassurance of other minds and faces in the vicinity is something most of us feed off...and is now desperately lacking. The seats are empty, the doors are locked; the zombies are surely only moments away.
During my darker moments, I’ve wondered whether this is the time for a change of profession, and there’s certainly no shortage of new job markets opening up: Toucan-beaked plague doctor; professional clapper and virtue-signaller. The manufacturers of the board game ‘Pandemic’ are hiring extra staff to help with their new project: ‘Everything is Fine’, so I wouldn’t be short of work.
However, for those preachers who don’t totally lose the plot, there is still a Gospel to preach, still a Word (just as living and active as ever) to exposit, and millions of people suddenly deprived of the myth that they were, in spite of all the evidence from history, somehow invincible.
So much of our societal comfort has been shorn away, so now we have a chance – the chance many of us have prayed for - to introduce people to the comforter. The fact that every church service now feels like an episode of Wayne’s World is unfortunate but also unavoidable. We are where we are (invariably, at home) so here’s some thoughts that we might consider as we try to get people from where they are (also at home) to where God is (more difficult to define).
1. Personalise the lens
Whether it’s your iPhone or a late-Victorian dry plate camera, look into the lens as though there’s a real, specific person there. Speak to them; see them. And make sure it’s a friendly face you’re imagining, somebody you know is for you – not your fiercest dissenter.
2. Break the fourth wall, but don’t walk through it
Remember, you’re talking to individuals, not delivering the Gettysburg Address to a faceless mass. Reduce the distance between yourself and your viewer by focussing on the commonality of the situation. "I hope you’re enjoying your breakfast", "Are you still in your pyjamas?" are both examples of inter-personalising a situation that may otherwise feel quite sterile. Equally, bear in mind that people you don’t know will be watching, so don’t over-personalise the interaction.
3. ABS – Always Be Storming
That’s a phrase I heard on my second ever comedy gig back in 2005 and it’s stuck with me ever since. The point is that you should act as though the ‘gig’ is going as well as you want it to. Whatever fears or insecurities you have about the context or content, don’t reference them. It’s good to be gently self-deprecating, but don’t deconstruct your own delivery based on a perceived fear of how people are responding at home.
The first pre-recorded sermon I did for my church (Redeemer King, Chesterfield) was, by my assessment, turgid and dull. I uploaded it on Friday morning, dreading that by Sunday night the view counter would have started going backwards and our members embracing nihilism harder than I embrace lockdown toilet rolls. However, on Sunday afternoon I received as many encouraging and thankful messages as I’ve ever had post-preaching.
4. Don’t worry about becoming a Youtube star
Most Youtube stars, with their Quazillion subscribers, are really good at playing computer games or looking attractive. They are not well-equipped for bringing a message of eternal hope to people. You are.
5. Try something new
People get bored easily, and weekly systematic preaching is only going to attract a certain audience. So share your testimony; interview someone over Zoom; recite a Psalm or something from one of the Metaphysical Poets. One of my most popular videos during lockdown (behind ‘5 meals you never thought to add blue cheese to’) was a memorised modern paraphrase I delivered of Paul’s letter to Philemon. I’m not a trained actor and it’s not something that will make my highlights reel, but it was something most people hadn’t seen before – and social media loves fresh content.
6. Special bonus one, this
Have a live cougar in shot the whole time: tied up but not irrevocably, and angry. I guarantee that nobody will be tuning out after 7 minutes. You may even get your own Netflix special.
I was going to include ‘Don’t set yourself on fire,’ but it’s bizarrely already a fait accompli and the viewing figures are astronomical, so I’ll leave the question of spontaneous self-combustion in your very capable hands. I hope you’re enjoying your breakfast. Are you still wearing your pyjamas?
Andy Kind is a comedian, preacher and writer.
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