Saturday, January 19, 2013

Why I Cried at The Miserables

I took my parents to see Les Miserables a couple of nights ago. Dad fell asleep twice, I did once, and Mom wasn't sure what to think. Needless to say, our ride home looked nothing like the video below, but if you haven't seen it yet, you must. This is AWESOMAZING!

There was crying in our theater, however, it came from me when I realized that they weren't going to talk between the songs. Isn't that what normally happens in musicals? They speak, then burst into a catchy song about their favorite things or sweeping chimneys or a really fast car, then they speak some more as if that is normal behavior. Look, I saw The Sound of MusicChitty Chitty Bang Bang AND Grease. I KNOW musicals! About two minutes into this movie I thought, "Seriously? They're going to sing this whole thing? For nearly three hours? REALLY?" When people sing for three hours straight, mostly lines that do not have a melody or rhyme, isn't that called an opera? I know that this isn't the popular opinion. Everyone is raving about the beauty and the grandeur and this timeless story. Based on what I've been seeing in the blogoshpere, I should be writing an article on how the message of redemption is magnificently displayed in this epic production, then tie the whole thing into the gospel. SPOILER ALERT: That's not gonna happen here.

Now before I get any hate mail, let me clarify that I'm not calling any of that into question. I can appreciate it all. However, personally, I was too distracted by the mode of presentation(or medium) for my heart to deeply be touched by the message. I freely confess that this is largely due to my failure to appreciate some of the finer of the fine arts. Ten minutes into my first ballet I asked, "Are they really just going to just dance the whole time?" Fortunately I'm not alone in my cultural depravity. Particularly here in East Texas. On a broader scale, I know that many people have a similar problem when watching foreign films with subtitles. For them, there is simply a disconnect in the method of communication that they cannot overcome. Which led me to this question: "How often do people fail to hear the gospel, the  greatest redemption story of all time, not because the story is lacking, but because the presentation doesn't connect? Maybe it's culturally irrelevant to them. Maybe it seems like they're hearing it in a foreign language. Maybe it's just bad storytelling?

I've heard it said of gospel presentations, "The medium may change, but the message stays the same." I completely disagree. This notion flies directly in the face of what media genius Marshall McLuhan said nearly a decade ago when he coined the now-famous phrase, “The medium is the message.” Point being that how we communicate something plays as much a role in it's impact as what we are trying to communicate. If people don't "get it," our presentation may be more at fault than the state of their hearts. As believers, it is much easier to blame hard hearts or credit a sovereign God than to scrutinize our own efforts. I would go one step further and say that it takes much more creativity, investment, effort and research to present a message that connects well than one that does not. As a pastor who has prepared many sermons, I can certainly attest to this.  It is much more expedient to just rehash something you've done before, or another church did, or possibly worse,  recreate a low budget Christianized version of something the world did five years ago. And when I say research, I don't just mean of the scriptures, but also of the people we are trying to reach with them. In ministry we rarely, if ever, do any research or follow up with our target audience in order to discover how well they comprehended our intended message, why they did or didn't like it, or how they think we could present it better. I'm not talking about changing the message to appeal more, I'm talking about changing the presentation to communicate better. We could easily believe that something is amazing and heart touching because that's how WE perceive it, while all the while it has little to no impact on those who need to hear it most. In the commercial sector, Research & Development is often one of the largest budget items. Products are tested, revised and retested. Movies are screened multiple times, rewritten and reshot, often at a massive expense, based on audience interviews. Have you ever heard of a church with an R&D department? Have you ever heard of Community Research as a line item in a ministry budget? I can tell you this: if it's not in the budget, it's not important. Your budget says more about your values and mission statement than your website. Why is it that we, who believe that our "customers" have the most to lose, spend little to no time or money researching how well we're connecting with them? How can we do this better? I'll be digging in to that and more on Monday. Until then, enjoy your weekend, and maybe even go see Les Miserables if you haven't. But don't say I didn't warn you. They sing for the entire movie... almost THREE HOURS!


  1. I remember going to see "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" with my mother. About 5 mins into it I thought the same thing - "Seriously?"...AND it was in French. The longest two hours of my life.

  2. It was not a musical, it was opera... I think

  3. I love your blog, and I wish you were still at Christ Fellowship. A message from you 2 years ago changed my life forever. (Well...that, and God.) Blessings to you in Texas!

  4. Pastor John,

    You make a great point that we must invest in & strive for excellence in communicating the gospel relevant to the impact of media/technology on the collective.

    Nonetheless...surveys, communication effectiveness metrics & subsequent tweaks, can't compare to the Holy Sprit powerfully working through a humble, sincere, transparent testimony that shares personally experiencing God's saving grace first hand. What the church desperately needs today (more than addt'l media savvy) are people with genuine, humble hearts who TRULY delight in CHRIST above ALL else (including their perceived effectiveness). Who better an example than the apostle Paul? How far would Noah have gotten if he was focused on his perceived effectiveness vs unadulterated obedience?

    Pretty sure you drilled those priorities into our hearts and minds while under your teaching @ CFCP :)

    btw-why no new posts?!?! ;)