Then vs. Now

ihscropped-COLLAGEFor many years I was used to hearing comments like, “You look younger in person than in your publicity photos.”

Then there was a time when I heard, “You look just like your publicity photos.”

Recently someone said, “You look older in person than in your publicity photos.”

Okay… I guess it is time for some new photos.

I believe in truth in advertising! I enlisted a good photographer, who happens to be my son, Jon, and spent a bit of time this month updating the website with new photos that I hope will give a more accurate depiction of what this actor guy really looks like. (If you like the photos and need a photographer, please consider Jon. Check out his work here:  Jon Neighbors Photography.)

chuck08-COLLAGEBut this whole issue of my not looking like I used to look got me to thinking about all the things we once took for granted that are no more. When it comes to my profession as a performer working in churches, I came up with these observations:

I used to hear, “We might book you for a potluck dinner.”
Then I heard, “We would like to book you for our worship service.”
Now I hear, “We don’t book outside artists or speakers.”

I used to hear, “Drama, that would be great for the kids.”
Then I heard, “We have our own drama ministry that performs in our worship services.”
Now I hear, “Drama, that would be great for the kids.”

I used to hear, “We can’t move the pulpit; it is bolted to the floor.”
Then I heard, “We bring out the pulpit after the band finishes their set.”
Now I hear, “What’s a pulpit?”

I used to hear, “No food or beverage allowed in the auditorium!”chuck11-COLLAGE
Then I heard, “Only water is allowed in the auditorium.”
Now I hear, “Grab your latte and find a seat.”

I used to hear, “Turn in your Bibles to Acts Chapter….”
Then I heard, “The scripture from Acts is on the overhead screen.”
Now I hear, “Click on your Bible app and scroll over to Acts…”

I used to hear, “We meet twice on Sunday and once in the middle of the week.”
Then I heard, “We only meet on Sunday mornings.”
Now I hear, “We watch our church service in our pajamas at home via livestream.”

I know, this all smacks a bit of the ol’ “Why, when I was a kid…” stories we heard from our grandparents. But maybe that’s not so bad. Times do change…some for better and some for worse.

For now I hope to hear once again, “You look younger than in your publicity photos…” Hey, a guy can dream!

Your Stories are the Best Stories.

Group of people watching boring movie in cinema

I was excited to hear a well-known author and speaker address a conference I was attending. I’d read this man’s books and had always been impressed with his stories and his ability to craft words in ways that move and inspire people.

As he got up to speak, my expectations fell like a rock. He opened his talk with a joke. A joke I had heard numerous times before. The audience laughed…but it was a “polite” laugh, giving me the impression that I was not the only one who had heard that joke before. He went on with his talk, and it was a good talk, but couldn’t get past the fact that this renowned speaker and master wordsmith would open with a joke.

A few weeks ago I was privileged to share a meal with another author and speaker. In the course of our conversation we were both laughing almost constantly with funny stories about our lives, travels, and families. At one point in the conversation he said, “I got rid of all my sermon illustration books. I discovered that I had more illustrations from my own life that were infinitely better than the ones in those books.”

It is not that those other illustrations were bad, and perhaps some were more dramatic or funny than his own stories, but they were not “his” stories. He discovered that his personal stories had more impact, humor and relevance than another person’s stories. When he told his stories there was a ring of authenticity that made the listener connect and want to hear more.

As I have watched the really good comedians over the years, my favorites are always the ones that focus on telling their own stories or observations, not telling jokes.

It is not that I don’t enjoy a good joke; in fact telling jokes was one of the ways I discovered my talent and ability as a performer. But I have learned, like my author/speaker friend has learned, that there is great power in telling your own stories.

So the next time you are preparing a speech, sermon, or emcee, don’t go digging through illustration books. Just spend a bit of time looking at a diary, photo album, old Facebook posts or even looking in a mirror. Trust me, there is some great material there!

(I’d love to share some of my stories with your church or organization. Check out Truth Be Told…from a Guy Who Makes Stuff Up or Go Ask Your Mother…a Father’s Story!)

The Parable of the Lost iPhone

IMG_1304The other day I was driving home from Costco. I had placed my iPhone on the console between the seats and as I made a turn a little too abruptly my phone slid into the little cavern between the seat and the console. It’s that area where you just can’t fit your hand. You try a few attempts while driving, making faces and contorting your body in ways that make other drivers passing you shake their head and wonder how a person with your condition ever got a driver’s license.

The only solution it seems is to pull over and get out of the car to do a proper search and rescue.

As I resumed my trek I was struck at just how panicked I felt for even those few moments when my iPhone was lost. Getting it back where I could see it and touch it suddenly became of the utmost importance. Before the iPhone went missing I was running lines in my head for my upcoming performance of Not The Way I Heard It. Since this presentation is a modern-day retelling of some of the parables, I suddenly felt the inspiration to retell this familiar parable of the The Lost Sheep. Think about it…Jesus used sheep in his parable—they were something of value that the culture understood and readily related to. I don’t think many of us would relate to sheep and place the value on a lost lamb in the same way we might other things today. If Jesus were telling that parable today it might sound more like this:

The Parable of the Lost iPhone

Suppose one of you had 100 tech gadgets
and then lost your iPhone.
Wouldn’t you leave the 99 other gadgets at home
and go looking for your iPhone?
And once found you can be sure
you would put it in your palm rejoicing!
And when you got home you would text all your friends and contacts saying:
“Celebrate! Like and share my Facebook status! I have found my lost iPhone!”

Count on it, there is more joy in the Cloud over one rescued user profile
than for 99 other user profiles in no need of rescue!

 

What a Pastor would Like Artists to Know

Guest Blog from a Pastor (name withheld)

(In my previous blog I shared 3 Things that Artists Want Pastors to Know. I offered for a pastor to write a counterpoint to the article and got a taker. These are great insights for artists to heed as we work together in ministry!)

Pastor praying for congregation

Please allow me to offer some balance to the discussion.

Performers might not realize that in some cases the congregation is not really interested in having anyone come to sing or act during the time that is normally used for congregational worship and preaching.
From my experience it seems that more and more the preacher has to sell the church on the idea of a live performance . . . (I have personally had great experiences with performance ministry. I have taken part in it and have supported it through the years, so I know how good it can be) . . . so when things don’t go well, it turns out to be a bad reflection on me, the preacher, who made the decision to have the performer come.

Just for information sake areas of criticism include:

1. The performer was late and has kept people waiting and even caused the service to be delayed.

2. The quality of the performance or ability to connect well with the audience/people during the performance and/or after the service is lacking.

3. The information given at the end that’s used to raise money for the sponsoring ministry appears to be more important to the performer than the spiritual message of the performance itself.

4. The performer exercises too much poetic license and even distorts scripture during the performance.

Even if/when these sort of things happen, the performer leaves with money both contractually promised and graciously given while the preacher is the one who receives the criticism and must endure comments like, “I hope we never do that again.”

Those of us who make the decision to have performers come to our churches are putting a lot on the line and are placing a very important part of our own ministry/reputation in the hands of someone who may or may not do the job as well as advertised or anticipated.

As I see it, Performance Ministry is heavily dependent (now and certainly even more so in the future) on the relationship the performers have with church ministers. I think it good advice for the performers to consider the minister’s position in all of this and to understand that we have a lot riding on what you do when you visit our congregations both in regards to members and those who might happen to visit that day.

Make sure that what you bring is equal or better than what we are risking by having you bring it.

3 Things Artists want Pastors to Know

brownmandmsI recently returned from a few days of retreat with some fellow artists who are ministry minded. Many, myself included, make their living serving in churches where they perform almost every weekend.  With a gathering like this, you are almost guaranteed to hear a statement resembling this:

You are not gonna believe this one church I performed at….”

If you are a pastor or church leader, you most likely will not want to be the leader of the “church” the artist is about to reveal. Oh sure, it might be a wonderful testimony about God’s grace and power, but more likely it will be a horror story about how the artist was treated by said church. We all have our stories, both good and bad. We have our stories about wonderful life-changing events where things went perfectly, and we have our stories about being bumped off, turned off, and ripped off at our performances. (And to be fair, I’m sure a gathering of church leaders could offer some equally amazing stories about artists that you have invited to your church—I have heard a few myself…oh my!)

As I reflected on the stories that were shared, I thought it might be good to come up with a list of a few things artists would like churches to consider in order to make a great event.

  • Be Prepared. Yes, the Boy Scouts’ Motto is good for all of life. I’m not talking about a greenroom and a candy dish with all the brown M&Ms removed (Just Goggle the most ridiculous artist riders). But if the artist has provided a list of “needs” for their time with you, take the time to go over the list and do what you can to accomodate. Sound needs, props and rehearsal time all need to be considered. I actually covered a lot on this topic in a previous blog here: A Stage That Is Hard to Fathom. The artist is a guest and needs to be hosted. By this, I mean there needs to be someone to greet and orient the artist to the appropriate people/places for set up, rehearsal, etc. If not the pastor, then another person to act as sort of a personal assistant. This person can also be a great help at the end of the event. The artist needs to be free to interact with people after the event. They will often have a resource table to staff in addition to visiting with the people that want some of their time afterwards. There is often that person who monopolizes the artist’s time with their own stories, and making it impossible for the artist to greet and speak to other people. This is where an assistant from the church can be a huge service, serving to rescue the artist from the monopolizing fan.
  • Honor the Agreement. It’s no surprise to me that many of the stories artists talk about fall under the catagory of the church not doing what was agreed upon. Most of the time we are talking about things that were agreed to in a written and signed document. At the top of the list is not honoring the financial arrangement and not giving the artist the time alotted. I had one pastor want to change the agreement moments before I took the stage and when I tried to challenge this he accusingly said, “I brought you here to serve!” — implying that satisfying our agreement meant I was not serving.  Another church had agreed to a freewill offering for my ministry and informed me they were just going to give me a gift; “but don’t worry it will be generous” (it was far less than what I have received in offerings from churches half their size). The offering, for many of us is our livelihood. A single worship service on a weekend will often translate into a week’s wages. With that in mind, please be careful how you explain the offering to your congregation. To say simply “defray the cost of having an artist come” is not accurate or fair. The audience will be thinking they are covering a tank of gas and a pizza rather than providing for the actual livelihood of the artist.
  • Trust the Art. If there is one thing that makes an artist bristle, it’s for someone to get up and try to tell the audience what the artist just said throught their art, be it music, acting, dance, painting, or spoken word. I understand that this can be a tough one for a pastor who is concerned, and rightly so, that the message be recieved. The artist’s gift is to communicate the message differently. If they are good at what they do, let the audience be free to absorb and receive the art…even though they may not all get the same message. It’s okay to add a few words of commentary and/or personal impact about the art. We just want you to resist the urge to preach a sermon on what they have just seen and heard.

I’m sure there are other things artists would like the church to know, and perhaps some of them will chime in through the comments. And we who are artists are not without sin. There are examples of us not being prepared, not honoring the agreement and not trusting the church as well! I am also certain a posting from the pastor’s perspective might be in order. Perhaps one of you would like to submit a guest blog to me on “3 Things a Pastor wants Artists to Know!”  Any takers?

UPDATE:

We have a response! Check out the next blog: What a Pastor would Like Artists to Know

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