Holidays Are Splendid…Except When You’re Blended

“If you think your life is hectic during the holidays, you ought to try coordinating schedules, dinner plans, and Christmas gifts with the parents of three households – most of whom don’t care for each other very much.” That’s how stepmother Sheree explained holiday stress to a family member.

As pastors and leaders of churches, whether small or large, it is very important that we take into account those in our church and community who are in blended families. It’s important in every season, but in particular during the holiday season. Author and speaker Ron Deal from FamilyLife Blended says that as many as 40% of those in our local churches are in blended families. Sometimes it is because a spouse has passed away, but more often it is the result of a divorce – in many cases, a divorce that one party didn’t ask for or want.

40%. Let that sink in for a moment. If you have 100 people in your church, as many as 40 of them could be part of blended families. If there are 10,000 people in the community that surrounds your local church, several thousand of those likely are in the same situation. While most of us don’t like divorce and we teach that God’s plan for marriage is “until death do us part”, the reality of our world today is that it is broken. The result is blended families.

Consider the ideal Christmastime in America. We have time off work, so we slow down and enjoy time with family. We celebrate family traditions, attend a special church service, and then open gifts around the tree. On Christmas Day, we have a big meal around the table with the whole family, perhaps including extended family members.

For most of us, the reality of Christmas is far from the ideal. Christmas is stressful and filled with too many obligations. And that’s without the complications of a blended family.

At Christmas and other holidays, children in blended families have to repeat the “family” process several times with different sets of parents, step-parents, grandparents, and step-grandparents. And divorced parents often celebrate a holiday, or at least part of it, at home alone because the other parent has the kids. Not so splendid, huh?

During the holidays, we should be sensitive to the needs and stress levels of those in our church and community who are parts of blended families. When planning holiday events and preparing and presenting holiday-related sermons, we should remember the added dynamics of these families.

In fact, we should do this not just around Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or Easter, but year-round. The challenges that blended families face are 365 days a year. I hope that you will consider starting a blended family ministry in your church and/or community to offer support and hope to these families in the coming year. FamilyLife and Ron Deal have developed a great set of resources called “Smart Stepfamily” that, among other things, contains a small group video study that has eight sessions.

Feel free to connect with me (via the contact page) so we can talk more about how to provide help and encouragement to those in your church and community who are part of a blended family.

Music for a High School Choir

Recently I shared the story of our Celebration Singers, the singing group that came to be because three singers asked for it.  Here is a list of 15 songs they’ve especially enjoyed:


Title Composer Publisher/# Voices
Come to the Manger Van Wormer Kjos 5877 SATB
Gloria! (recording) Stephens Alfred SVM01077 SATB
Hodie Christus Natus Est Bedford Choristers Guild CGA-490 SATB
Hodie Christus Natus Est Bedford Choristers Guild CGA-421 2 parts
Hodie Alleluia Lightfoot Heritage 15/1164 SATB

Lent/Holy Week

Title Composer Publisher/# Voices
In Remembrance (rec) Red/Larson Hope C5565 SATB


Title Composer Publisher/# Voices
Let There Be Peace on Earth Miller/Jackson, Ades Shawnee Press A0626 SATB
Shout to the Lord (rec) Zschech/Hayes Alfred 19952 SATB
Shout to the Lord Zschech/Hayes Alfred 19953 SAB
A Gospel Alleluia (rec) Gilpin Brilee Music BL439 3 parts
Weave Me, Lord Spencer Glory Sound A6332 SATB
Be Not Afraid (rec) Courtney Beckenhorst BP1388 SATB
Lean on Me Mathena/Kee Brentwood OT1003 (out of print) SATB
Psalm 139 Pote Choristers Guild CGA610 SATB
Shall We Gather at the River Lowry/Coates Glory Sound A6545 SATB


Happy singing! — Charles R. Snyder

Making the Most of Video in Your Church, Part 3

This is the third part of a three-part interview with Shane Sooter, the founder of City on a Hill Productions. The complete interview, which took place in late 2014, is available in Today’s Vital Church, Volume 1.

For Part 1, click here. For Part 2, click here.

Bolinger: I thought of a couple of other things, too, Shane, while you were talking.

Sooter: Yeah, hit me with them.

Bolinger: You mentioned testimonies. I think that’s a really good one. It’s tough to be put on the spot, especially at a baptism ceremony, when you’re about to get baptized. Some people are afraid of the water! They have to give their testimony in front of hundreds of people, and all they’re thinking about is that they’re going to get dunked backwards in water in just a couple of seconds. That’s a lot of pressure. It’s more pressure than public speaking in general. And they’re supposed to move people with their testimony. If you can film that in advance, like you said, and edit it for time, and leave out the areas where they stumbled, that’s a great, achievable use of video.

Here’s another one that I saw at our church. You mentioned music videos being easy to do because you don’t have to incorporate the audio portion; you just play a track, just play music. We had a video done where some of the youth of the church held up hand-painted signs on cardboard. On one side, it was something they had been struggling with, and the other side showed what happened when they let Jesus take control: “Now I’m at peace.” “Now I have reconciliation.” “Now I have forgiveness.” It was very, very powerful, and it was very easy to do.

Like you said, it’s all about creativity. When we get creative, we will have ideas that we can do even if we’re novices with filming and editing a video. It will be impactful. And the next time we do something, maybe we can do something a little more challenging or elaborate than what we tried in that first very moving video that we did.

Having a Creative Arts Director at a Small Church
Sooter: The point really is just the sheer creativity. It’s the giftedness to be able to do that sort of thing.

My first church was a really small town Baptist church and I just remember there was the pastor and there was the church secretary, and that was the church [staff]. There are a lot of churches like that. There was this kind of growing awareness that you needed to have somebody whose focus is youth, and there was the rise of the youth minister as a position in churches.

Worship at this church was led by a member of the congregation who got up and told people what page to turn to in the hymnal, and sort of waved his arms while a volunteer played the piano. And there was this growing understanding, this kind of movement in the church, that the worship minister is a position. It’s not really something that you can just fill with stand-ins. It’s a question of giftedness and, when you bring somebody with giftedness into that role, it transforms the life of the church.

I think that we are well into an age where people understand that there is another role in the church. It is called by many different names – the church media director, the producer, the creative arts director – but there’s a recognition that the ability to look at the message of the service and to be able to bring all manner of the arts to bear on the communication of that issue is a specific gifting. I understand that all churches are not going to be able to go out and hire a creative arts director, but I just want to put that on people’s radar.

You would never assume that you’re going to have a great youth ministry if you don’t have somebody who’s gifted in communicating with youth in that role. I’ve worked with a lot of creative pastors, and they come up with a lot of great ideas, but their core job is teaching and preaching. While they can come up with a lot of great ideas, it’s not quite the same as somebody who is essentially an artist whose job it is to bring the arts into church.

Bolinger: I agree 100%, but I’ll go back to the small or midsized church that I grew up in and that, until recently, we were still attending. A couple hundred people, maybe a few more, maybe a few less. In a church of that size, to have somebody who is gifted in the area of youth ministry, you may have to go with volunteers. It’s not a staff position because you really can’t afford one, so you have volunteers. But volunteers often can be gifted and talented and commissioned to work with youth.

I think that, in the same way, lay people (who are not on staff) may be gifted and talented in this area of being able to equip the people of the church through media. They may be creative, artistic folks. They may do this in in their jobs; they may be using this technology and using media in their jobs. So as long as the pastor is giving direction from a biblical standpoint, I think you can leverage these folks.

Another thing that I thought of is that a lot of these folks are going to be younger.

Sooter: There’s probably somebody in the youth ministry in any church who’s got a YouTube channel with 50,000 subscribers.

Taking Chances
I have one other point on this issue of how do we get into it, what can we do with a safe budget, what are the good ways to get started. We’ve listed a whole lot of great ways to get started, but my last point on the topic would be to get started with vision and get started boldly. Don’t be afraid to be ugly or to make mistakes.

I had some great tools when I first started this at Southeast Christian Church, but they were no better than the tools that any church in America can afford right now. I frequently show at conferences the very first video that I did. If you saw this video, you would never, ever guess that the person who wrote and directed this video went on to continue to work in that field and just produced a movie that opened in theaters nationwide a couple of weekends ago. You would never believe that. If you were feeling charitable, you would say, “Don’t quit your day job.”

Is your church going to be around in 10 years? Most people would like to believe that their church will be around in 10 years. Where can you go with this in 10 years? The journey for me over a decade was starting a video production ministry that now has created dozens and dozens of hours of content, probably close to a dozen different major projects, and has done feature films. It’s all because we started and we stuck with it, and we were willing to take risks, even though the results weren’t always pretty. Leadership was willing to give grace and to stick with the vision and great things have happened.

Making the Most of Video in Your Church, Part 2

This is the second part of a three-part interview with Shane Sooter, the founder of City on a Hill Productions. The complete interview, which took place in late 2014, is available in Today’s Vital Church, Volume 1.

For Part 1, click here.

Potential Starting Point: Testimonies
Another incredibly powerful thing that we discovered in our progression is testimonies. I think that storytelling is such an incredible tool and drama is such a compelling medium, but at the same time I think anyone who has heard a life-changing story of the work of God understands that you’re just not going to top something that God actually did in somebody’s life.

The problem is that doesn’t mean that the person who is the recipient of God’s work in his life can tell his story well. He almost certainly can’t get up in front of a congregation and tell his story well. I can’t remember the statistic, but public speaking is one of humankind’s top fears. Here’s what we recommend: Take somebody who may freeze up in front of the congregation, or as he’s telling his story he chases a million rabbit trails, and just not tell it well. Get him in front of a camera. Have him talk to another person. Have some conversation before the red button is pushed, so that he is relaxed and natural. He’ll forget there’s a camera there. He’ll tell his story in an intimate setting without the pressure of an audience viewing it. Then put that story, which may be an hour a half long, in the hands of an editor who cuts it down to three to five minutes. Then put music with it. And now you’re telling really just the heart of God’s work in a person’s life, and it’s truth. It doesn’t just feel true. It is true. It’s a real-life story, and that’s just really hard to beat.

That’s an incredible way that you can use media in a church of any size.

The Quality Question
Bolinger: When we look at the people whom we’re trying to reach, these are people who are accustomed to seeing multimedia. They get it on their phones and on their computers. We used to watch TV; now we’re watching more videos on our phones, especially if we’re young adults or youth. When I used to present in a business setting, I would joke about how I had a multimedia presentation when I used PowerPoint slides and added a flipchart, to draw pictures on the flipchart, because a multimedia experience is a more enriching way to learn.

And it’s arguably a better way to worship than just having a single style, a single presentation during the worship service.

Sooter: I feel like you’re preaching my sermon.

Bolinger (laughing): I’ve spent some time with you.

Let’s consider a church that hasn’t done a lot with video but is looking to get into it now, to do more than just record the sermons but to try to incorporate some video elements into the worship service and other church activities. They really don’t want to go out and get something they found on the Internet – although those can be powerful – they’d like to do something on their own using their people because it’s more impactful to do it that way. The bar is pretty high now. There’s a lot of high-quality stuff out there. So what are some things that the church that is just getting started can really focus their energies on as they’re kind of learning what they can and cannot do in the video realm.

Sooter: You say that the bar is really high. That’s true, in a sense. If you’re going to try to pull off some sort of high-concept video production or something that is a scripted piece of drama that requires really good performances and needs to be shot well and you need to be able to hear that audio well and you need to light it well so that it looks compelling. Once you start to play in that world, the comparisons that you invite are pretty brutal. You’ve got to be playing at a pretty high level.

But at the same time that our bar is so high, our bar has never been so low. With reality TV and, worse, just with YouTube, we as a people are accustomed to watching really finely crafted, beautiful art and junk in pretty much equal measures and enjoying it all. So I think that playing more to the reality TV or even to the YouTube side of the scale in the beginning is a great way to get started.

More Potential Starting Points
Things like “man on the street” interviews. If your pastor is going to look at a certain truth in Scripture, such as why God allows suffering, you send your team out on a busy street with a camera and ask 50 people that question, and you’ll get some really interesting answers. Some of them will be really insightful – most of them won’t be – and some will be funny. As you show that at the beginning of the worship service – not right before the sermon – it will get everybody’s mind thinking about that question. The video can end with, “There’s a lot of different answers to that question. We’re going to see what God has to say about that question.” During the worship service, the question is, hopefully, reinforced by the worship sets and everything up to the teaching.

There’s going to be no quality bar with that. People expect that to look like what in production we call “run and gun”. Just somebody out there with a camera and a microphone.

Something else that brings a level of relevance to specifically the preaching or teaching moment is if you can find a reason to take the sermon out of the sanctuary. One of the first times I saw this was when one of our pastors at Southeast Christian was giving an illustration that he could have just as easily given in in the worship service. It had to do with being in a boat and rowing in the boat and the different kinds of power it takes to move a boat. I think that it had something to do with the Holy Spirit. You can talk about that from the pulpit – what does it take to row a boat versus using the sails. Instead, they went out and they filmed that in a boat. Just seeing him out there giving the illustration physically, visually, rather than just in words brought a lot of relevance to it. It was great.

Bolinger: That would help somebody like me. I benefit a lot when I see something. A prop or a still photograph is good for me, but frankly a video is better. Some people would get it if he just talked about it, but I would prefer what you said, even if the filming is simple. Show him in the boat. Show him putting the sails up. Show him rowing. Show him getting the electric motor out. I would retain that better, even if it wasn’t particularly well done from a quality standpoint on the video.

Sooter: That’s something you can do very, very easily.

In Part 3, Shane discusses who at a church should be in charge of video production and how a church needs to take chances to be successful with video.