Monthly Archives: August 2008

Podcasts/Godcasts…The Darker Side Pt. 2

While researching my previous post on podcasting, I uncovered podcast concerns Christians may want to consider when using this useful technology.

1. Be aware of pseudo religious podcasts
The iPod Alley listing of over 2,500 Religion & Spirituality podcasts, for example, contains many Pagan podcasts in their top 50 listing. Pagan and Wiccan podcasts total 120 of iPod Alley’s listings. Both of these streams of belief are contrary to Christian, Jewish, and Islamic belief structures.

Rather than using iPod Alley one might use a more reliable Christian podcast listing source such as GodCast 1000. Their listings rank podcasts by popularity on an ongoing basis. GodCast also categorizes podcasts in this manner:

• Bible Study
• Christian Music
• Christian General
• News, Culture & Politics
• Other
• Sermons
• Video
• Youth/Teen

Finally, and possibly most importantly, I find Apple iTunes to be an extremely dependable source of Christian podcasts. When I last checked, they were offering 2,227 Christian podcasts for subscription and downloading. I like the iTunes popularity bar showing those podcasts that have been most popular for downloading and subscribing, as I understand how it works. And…the most popular podcast right now is a video podcast “Mosaic Video Podcast”. Apple iTunes is a good place to start.

[img_assist|nid=129159|title=Various iPods|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=367]

2. Beware of unfounded belief structures
Many Christian podcasts confound, bewilder, and dismay. Rather, look for recommendations from other listeners for sites of merit. An example of a popular and respected religious podcasting source is “Through the Bible”, based on the J. Vernon McGee radio broadcast of many years standing. This is used for illustrative purposes only. Even this deceased preacher has detractors, as does almost every preacher. I suggest looking for extensive use of the bible in sermons, rather than reliance on demagoguery or storytelling. It’s easy to tell a story but more difficult to draw a complete lesson together from scripture.

3. Watch out for money pitches
Sometimes podcasts openly ask for financial support channeling a stream of cash into organizations not necessarily on the up and up. Some do so under the guise of being a master site for religious podcasts. Remember, Apple’s iTunes site, the originator of podcasting, is available for linking to thousands of podcast sites and is totally free. Many “support me” sites, plead for money to cover their operating costs. In reality, these are merely businesses fronting as “evangelism” playing on the heartstrings and looking for an audience. I take a dim view of the use of Christianity as a profit-making enterprise, but many do not. Don’t forget that you are their target. Your dollars are highly prized and sought.

4. A Religious Podcast is Not Church
It’s tempting for some Christians to treat podcasts as church. A podcast is not a substitute for church attendance. It can serve to facilitate review and recall of a sermon already heard, expose one to material missed during a live service or introduce you to new material.

One of the more incredible experiences I witnessed was a church service where a video recording was played, and the parishioners treated the recording as a real service including the prayer and alter call. This is robotic behavior to an extreme showing the hold the electronic church has taken on the hearts and minds of living, breathing, and thinking beings. Unbelievably, you can find the electronic church at work, pre-recorded, 24 hours a day with heart-rending appeals for money and offers of prayers. If you call one of the numbers displayed, a real person will take your credit card information. This is big business at its best.

I’m concerned podcasting is beginning to take the same path.

Christ Community Church…A Somewhat Closed Experience

[img_assist|nid=129499|title=Christ Community Church Sign on 100th Avenue|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=258]I had been intrigued by a church in the Campbell Lake area on 100th just west of Minnesota. I’d passed it a number of times on my way to a teaching assignment. After investigating I discovered it was Christ Community Church and paid them a visit on August 10.

Cool Arrival
Entering the church I passed through a small knot of members absorbed in busy conversation but too busy to note a visitor and extend a greeting. I picked up a bulletin from a table by the door into the sanctuary and took a seat. Finding I’d picked up two bulletins, I went back to return the extra one only to rediscover I must be invisible as still no one spoke to me. After sitting again, an older member, ambling down the aisle stopped and introduced himself extending a greeting. Another member also came over greeting me before the start of the service.

Large Musical Group for Church Size!
The service commenced with singing and playing by a musical group on the platform of the church. I counted 12 singers/players including the pastor, Tracy Simmons, who led out with guitar. Outside of church choirs, this was the largest group of musical performers I’d encountered in any of my church visits, all the more remarkable because of the limited size of the congregation. We were asked to stand and sing, and sing we did, standing for one of the longest 20 minutes I’ve ever experienced. Finally, some of the older worshippers sat down (in weariness I presume). I personally feel 20 minutes of standing and singing is too long regardless of one’s age and urge this church to examine this practice. Much of the music was unfamiliar to me but had somewhat of a folk bent. The music was good but as noted, a bit long.

Baptismal Experience
I counted about 50 worshippers including the one-fourth of whom were in the band. The pastor finally brought the singing to a close, saying he needed to go prepare for the baptism. and to “Say hello to one another”. He disappeared. This initiated a general visit and “meet n’ greet” time of which I was basically excluded with no one, to my recollection, greeting me.

As it turned out, the baptismal candidate was a young boy who got cold feet that day, literally and figuratively. The baptism was ultimately deferred with the pastor returning to the stage after a time. He was in jeans and barefoot, while the assistant pastor was in shorts. Overall, the church was extremely casual church with lots of jeans and other casual wear.

The theme of Simmons’ sermon was “Lost & Found”. Following the events described, I was unable to gain much relevance from his remarks. Very casual and informal, the service concluded with an alter call of sorts. I did detect a familial warmth among the members/worshippers but felt it was reserved for their “closed family”. I’m sure this church represents much to its members. However, I felt a distinct lack of religious cohesiveness during my visit. Nothwithstanding, Christ Community Church is worth a visit for someone seeking an informal service. As for me, it felt more like a community meeting than a vital worship service.

I know I hammer on this, but if this church extended themselves to outsiders, and tightened up their servicea, they could possibly make this a more inviting worship destination. Leaving the church and going to my car, I left alone and unnoticed.
[img_assist|nid=129500|title=Christ Community Church – Front View|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=224]

Can a Podcast be a Godcast? Part 1

The iPod and other portable mp3 audio devices have revolutionized the transmission of recorded material. I consider this to be especially significant for the Christian community. Many churches now release recordings of sermons and other talks in Podcast form offering potential visitors or even members, the ability to hear the type and style of message without attending a service.

I’m surprised only 5 of the 13 churches I’ve visited and blogged so far distribute their sermons in this manner. (See below for related iPod/mp3 sermon availability status. If I’ve made errors in this listing, I’ll correct them if brought to my attention.)
[img_assist|nid=129159|title=Various iPods|desc=|link=none|align=center|width=350|height=367]
Churches Offering iPod/podcast of Sermons
Abbott Loop Community Church (currently over 2 months behind on posting sermons)
Anchorage Baptist Temple
Anchorage City Church
ChangePoint Alaska
St. John United Methodist

Churches Not Offering iPod/podcast of Sermons
Church of Christ South Anchorage
Christ Community Church
Faith Christian Community (podcast shown but non-operational on website-Adobe flash offered instead)
First Congregational Church
First Presbyterian Church (CDs available for purchase)
Holy Family Cathedral
Rabbit Creek Community Church
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church

Churches offering podcasts to their members, visitors, and the community at large are to be commended for incorporating this technology in a meaningful manner and without charge to the user.

Nationally, many churches offer their podcasts on the iTunes podcast site. This is an excellent resource offering thousands of religion and spirituality podcast sites to choose from. I also looked at the PodcastAlley website which showed over 2,500 individual religion & spirituality podcast sites to choose from.
In a recent USA Today Story journalist Ron Barnett notes that “A survey last year by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that more people used the Internet to look for religious and spiritual information than to download music…”. Assuming one has a computer, the price of a 1 gigabyte iPod can be as little as $49. If the average 50 minute sermon is 10 megabytes, then 100 sermons could be downloaded and available for listening on-the-go on your iPod.

If local churches do not take advantage of this inexpensive and useful technology, they may be missing out on one of the most important tools to emerge in many years. And if they do use them and do not post podcasts promptly, they risk being seen as possibly lax in other areas of their ministry. Remember the old adage, “If airline passengers find a dirty seatback tray, they will probably wonder about the condition of the engines.” If you are a church visitor looking for a meaningful message, this may be a way for you to explore the spoken message at various churches.

In Part 2 of this series, we’ll take a look at the darker side of using this media.

Youth Lead Sunday Evening Service…A Pleasant First!

Recently I blogged my visit to Church of Christ South Anchorage. Despite favorable or unfavorable visit experiences, it’s unusual to be invited back by a visited church. Despite that norm, I did receive an invitation for a return visit, for a Sunday evening service, from Willard Holliday, pastor. I took him up on it.

Not Your Ordinary Presenters
What was so unusual about my return visit was the service was entirely led by youth of this remarkable church. Ranging in age from 11 to 18, they shared in the responsibilities of leading an inspiring service. I counted nine (9) participants leading music, praying, reading scripture, and officiating over the Lord’s Supper.

Strong in Faith
Other churches may use their youth in a similar fashion, but I’ve not seen it. It’s common to criticize the direction the youth of today sometimes take. However involving them responsibly in spiritual matters is certainly a huge step in the right direction. In my previous visit blog about this church, I wrote I was pleased the scripture reading was given with diction and feeling by one of the youth, something I’ve also not seen in other church visits.

The boy who delivered the lesson this evening was 13. He was a little nervous but did well drawing his lesson from Ephesians 4. This was a well-attended, warm and sincere service. This church is to be commended for giving their youth an opportunity to put their budding talents to good use. Thanks to this church for asking me back this time. And my best wishes to Joseph, Lee, Patrick, Michael, Aaron, Daniel, Norris, Anthony, and Shaun as you continue to grow in your Christian experience.

Anchorage City Church…Charismatically Quiet

[img_assist|nid=128596|title=City Church – Sign on Side of Church – (Main Sign Missing)|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=180]I’ve long intended to attend Anchorage City Church. I was intrigued during my Abbott Loop visit when Dick Iverson mentioned he needed to finish his sermon as he was due to speak at City Church that day at 12. The City Church main webpage used to describe what one might expect during a visit. However, it had been removed prior to my visit. A charismatic church experience was suggested in the previous verbiage on the website. Not having a charismatic background, but prepared to be a witness in worship, I was traveling blind. I arrived at 11:50 A.M. July 27 for the 12 p.m. service.

No Welcome
Walking in the front door, expecting to be greeted by the dozens of people sipping coffee and chit chatting in the foyer, I finally realized something. This church was going to be no different in this respect than most of the other Anchorage churches I’ve visited over the past 6 months. No greeting or recognition was given. No one was handing out bulletins at the door to the worship room. I found a seat in the back to facilitate a quick exit should it be required (my normal habit during church visits). The worship venue resembled a gymnasium and had many flags hanging down from the ceiling. Dual large screens were hanging above the stage to facilitate display of song lyrics, and as it happened that day, a wonderfully entertaining children’s ministry video. As 12 o’clock neared it was obvious that less than half of the seats would be filled.

Strong Beat
At 12 p.m. the nine person band and musical group assembled commencing to play and sing. I found the music quite loud and in praise style. Over the course of the service the band played about 40 minutes which I personally felt was a bit long. The bass volume was so intense I felt it in my chest more than any other service I’d attended in recent memory. I wondered if this would present a medical challenge for a person with heart issues. As noted in previous posts, I’ll be posting well-researched information about the use and misuse of religious music and musical beat in a future blog.

Although City Church is charismatic, there were just a few evidences of it. Charismatic worship is often accompanied by speaking in tongues, raised hands, “holy laughter”, dancing, and other manifestations. Clicking on the bolded charismatic words in this blog entry will take you to a explanatory Wikipedia entry.

Visitors in a Box
My favorite part of the program is always the “Meet n’ Greet”. (Just kidding here.) This is the moment most churches, in my experience, try to get their members to extend themselves to each other and outsiders. Most everyone around me seemed to do their best to avoid me, greeting the ones they did know, despite the pastor’s request to welcome someone “you don’t know”. I extended welcomes to others around me and finally gave up due to low interest, which is a term for when a person turns their back to you when you head in their direction. City Church also has this wonderful moment (I’m also kidding here.) when visitors are asked to stand and make themselves known. The visitors are recognized and are told to go to the information counter at the end of the service. I dropped by to pick up a bulletin but the sole person attending the booth was so busy with another she didn’t seem to notice I was there so I left.

Unusual Start to the Sermon
The pastor, Dick Irwin?, (remember, I didn’t have a bulletin), finally came out to center stage with two questions, “How is everyone? Groovy?” and sat down on a stool behind a stand for his notes. He stayed there for the entire time of his remarks; another FIRST for this church visitor. I only learned the title of his talk because during the offering, which you took to the front of the church to deposit in attended offering containers; sermon notes were offered on the stage. The title was CONFLICT: Keeping God’s Purpose in Mind. I will not describe the sermon. You can listen to the 10 a.m. version of it here. Irwin closed by inviting people up front for prayer groups and it was over.

Suffice it to say, Anchorage City Church was not a great experience for me. A very casual church that outwardly appears to love the Lord, but they also seemed to be a contradiction in terms, somewhat closed, and clearly not welcoming to visitors.

[img_assist|nid=128597|title=City Church – View from Minnesota|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=106]