Yes, your small church can set up a podcast—no knobs or whatsits required.
Some pastor friends and I got to talking recently about sermon podcasting. I’m always disappointed when gifted preachers I know, whose sermons I’d like to listen to, aren’t available as a podcast. Some congregations put their sermon audio on their church’s website, but that’s not the same as setting up a podcast that can be searched for and subscribed to via iTunes.
Many medium-sized and large congregations have folks to record the service and take care of this technical detail. But what about small congregations? Yes you can! We’ve been podcasting at Tiny Church for a few years now. (Search Idylwood Presbyterian on iTunes, or click here.)
In my experience with a small church, many decisions are inevitably weighed in terms of stewardship of time and resources. Or to put it crudely, a cost/benefit scale. Is it worth going through the effort of podcasting if only a couple of people will avail themselves of it?
It is absolutely worth the effort because it doesn’t take very much effort at all. It’s also an easy and important method of evangelism—a way of being in the world, exactly where people are searching for inspiration and ideas.
Thinking about setting up a sermon podcast but not sure where to start? Let me put on a very old hat of mine, that of technical writer.
There are three basic steps to podcasting: recording the sermon, converting the sound file, and uploading it to a podcast service. Here is how I handle those three steps in a small church without an A/V team.
1. Recording. I use iRecorder Pro, which is a $2.99 app for my iPhone. I put the phone on the pulpit and hit record when I start preaching and stop when I’m done. (Protip: Write start/stop reminders into your manuscript or notes.) The microphone works fine whether I’m using a microphone or not.
2. Converting to mp3. Most recorders I’m familiar with save the recording in some other format. Podcasts require mp3. I download the audio from my phone to my MacBook Air and use Switch to convert. It looks like there’s a paid version of Switch, but the version I use is/was free. There are a ton of audio converters out there.
3. Uploading the mp3 file to your podcast service. I use SermonDrop, which I’ve been very happy with. The free version keeps the 10 most recent sermons. If you want more than that, you can pay. You upload the file to their site, and there are places to type in scripture text, name of preacher, whether it’s part of a series, etc. You can even upload Here is IPC’s SermonDrop page.
You do those three steps every time. There’s also an intermediate step that you need to do once, which is to register your podcast with iTunes so it shows up in their listing. Here are some instructions. Basically you’re telling iTunes “hey, my podcast exists, here it is.” So anyone who searches for your church name will find it.
As a pastor of a small church, you could certainly find someone to take care of this each week. But honestly? It takes me 10 minutes per week, and that’s mainly waiting for the computer to convert and to upload. There is no reason not to do it.
Does your congregation podcast? What tools or suggestions do you have?
Have preached variations of this sermon recently in different venues, including last weekend at Tiny.
(Yes, I admit sheepishly, some sermons are retooled for different contexts. Fred Craddock said that if a sermon’s not good enough to preach twice, it wasn’t good enough to preach once. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it! That said, this one’s done.)
I offer this in honor of my seminary professor Walter Brueggemann, whose book Sabbath as Resistancejust came out. Can’t wait to read it.
MaryAnn McKibben Dana
Idylwood Presbyterian Church
February 23, 2014
The Taskmaster’s Command
This morning’s text begins with the word “Afterwards”. Which leads us to ask, “after what?” To help locate us: the people of Israel are slaves in Egypt, captive to Pharaoh. Moses has been called by God through a burning bush, he has spent some time with his father-in-law Jethro, and Moses and Aaron have now united with people and given them the astonishing news that God has not forgotten them, God knows their misery and is about the work of liberation.
Now listen to this:
Afterwards Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.” ’ 2But Pharaoh said, ‘Who is the Lord, that I should heed him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go.’ 3Then they said, ‘The God of the Hebrews has revealed himself to us; let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness to sacrifice to the Lord our God, or he will fall upon us with pestilence or sword.’ 4But the king of Egypt said to them, ‘Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their work? Get to your labours!’ 5Pharaoh continued, ‘Now they are more numerous than the people of the land * and yet you want them to stop working!’ 6That same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people, as well as their supervisors, 7‘You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as before; let them go and gather straw for themselves. 8But you shall require of them the same quantity of bricks as they have made previously; do not diminish it, for they are lazy; that is why they cry, “Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.” 9Let heavier work be laid on them; then they will labour at it and pay no attention to deceptive words.’
10 So the taskmasters and the supervisors of the people went out and said to the people, ‘Thus says Pharaoh, “I will not give you straw. 11Go and get straw yourselves, wherever you can find it; but your work will not be lessened in the least.” ’ 12So the people scattered throughout the land of Egypt, to gather stubble for straw.
Several years ago, when Caroline was in first grade, our district made some changes to the bus schedule that meant that the children in our neighborhood were getting home later than they had been before. I didn’t think very much of it, but several of the other parents were bothered by it. Over time, the irritation grew into complaint, until the gaggle of parents decided that something simply had to be done. The children were getting home too late, these parents argued. They needed time to have a snack. They were going to be late to soccer practice, or violin lessons, or Cub Scouts. (Swim team. Language class. Art enrichment.) The change was simply unacceptable.
So these parents got together a petition. They made phone calls. They organized. Couldn’t something be done?, they asked Fairfax County Transportation Services. And then finally—success! The bus schedule was changed, the children started getting home earlier, and the bus stop moms—and a few dads—declared victory over the bureaucracy.
This change in schedule that had everyone celebrating?… resulted in the kids getting home four minutes earlier than they had before.
Now if Robert were here, he would have his head in his hands because when all this was going on, I talked his ear off about how silly I thought the whole thing was. It was almost all I could talk about for several weeks because it seemed so unnecessary, until finally he asked, “Why is this so important to you?”
It felt important to me, because I realized we were raising our kids in a culture that was so busy and time-obsessed that people would petition the county government for four measly minutes of extra time in the afternoon.
I cared, because I could feel the anxiety emanating from these parents. It’s good to want to give one’s kids opportunities to learn and grow. But that desire had tipped over into an almost frantic need to cram their lives full of activities and sports and enrichment.
And I also cared because I knew that while I personally didn’t care that much about the afternoon bus schedule, there were plenty of other ways in which that anxiety had begun adhering to me. I’m not sure what the dysfunction looks like in other households. But it’s been made very clear to me that there are so many young people from Northern Virginia trying to get into a good Virginia university that they’d better find a way to distinguish themselves from the pack. It’s never too early to start, I’m told by parents of elementary schoolers. A good foundation means a good college application, a good college means a good job, means success, means a good life, means I’ve done my job as a parent. That’s the message, and I’ve internalized it as much as anyone.
Now, living as we do in the suburbs of Washington DC, the type-A mentality is perhaps more acute there than other places. But as I travel around to other congregations and presbyteries and speak and lead retreats, I hear the same story. People are stressed and overworked. There never seems to be enough time. There’s always something more—something good, something worthwhile—that could and should be done.
And it’s not just a parent problem. The anxiety rans rampant in our culture. As we continue to claw our way out of this recession, there are still too many people looking for jobs and living in poverty.
And those who weren’t laid off, who have good jobs, are finding themselves expected to do the work of two or three people. Recently in the New Yorker, James Surowiecki wrote about the culture of overwork and said that thirty years ago, it was the low-paid workers who were working the longest hours, much longer than people at higher income levels. But “by 2006, the best paid were twice as likely to work long hours as the poorly paid, and the trend seems to be accelerating. And a survey of professionals found that ninety-four per cent worked fifty hours or more a week, and almost half worked in excess of sixty-five hours a week. Overwork has become a credential of prosperity.” But that overwork takes its toll.
Meanwhile young people feel anxieties of their own, worrying about their job prospects when they graduate, to say nothing of concerns over this warring and warming world that we have bequeathed them.
And how could we forget the internet and cable news, where bad news travels around the world before good news has even put on its shoes, where school shootings and natural disasters get their own logo and theme music, where a recent interview with a congresswoman about national security got interrupted to report on Justin Bieber’s arrest. We live in a media landscape where there’s more to read and learn than we could ever get to in a lifetime, in fact where 100 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute. A culture so full of information I can’t even keep track of what’s supposed to be good to eat any more. (Have you heard? Now multivitamins are bad and bacon is health food.)
It’s no wonder that anxiety specialist Dr. Richard Leahy has said that “The average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s.”
I have no way of verifying that statistically. It does make a good soundbite for a sermon. But I know that anxiety is rampant. Though it may not be unprecedented. Because as I read today’s story from the book of Exodus, I see a culture that positively reeks with anxiety.
It’s anxiety that goes all the way to the top, to Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who has enslaved the people of Israel and has bound them to him in crippling servitude. For Pharaoh, there’s only one reason why the people would be asking for time off and that’s laziness. And the cure for laziness is more work. He tells his taskmasters: No more handouts. Let them gather their own straw and make brick upon brick upon brick until that is all they see. How dare they ask for three days to worship “God,” whoever that is!
Pharaoh is so captive to his own fear that he doesn’t know God, can’t know God, because he knows only the contours of his own power and his fear of losing that power. There is no place for God in an empire fueled by anxiety.
But the people of Israel are caught in their own anxiety too. There is no freedom, no relief—just the constant lashing of expectations: do more, produce more, build more. But they are also captive to a distorted view of God. Did you notice what Moses and Aaron say to Pharoah? “Please let us go observe our festival or else God will fall upon us with pestilence and sword.” Their despair is so great that it infects everything, even their view of God. They are so imprisoned by Pharaoh that they see God as just another taskmaster, threatening punishment if they don’t comply.
…I wonder if there’s an anxiety that is holding you captive today.
I wonder if the problems our world faces seem so insurmountable, like a wall built brick upon brick, a wall so high that you can’t possibly see around it, let alone break it down.
I wonder if the spiritual life has become just another thing to do, another obligation in an already overcrowded schedule.
I wonder if you are feeling high on stress and low on joy.
If you are, I urge you to read the rest of the story. Because it doesn’t end here. It ends with God bringing the people out of the land of Egypt, flinging aside the waters of the Red Sea and letting the people pass to safety, and then giving them a peculiar gift, tucked in the middle of the ten commandments: the gift of Sabbath. A day every week on which the people rest, slaves no longer. A day in which the people exclaim to the world,
We are not slaves to the empire anymore! We do not have to work, day after day after day without relief, We are free!
God is not just another taskmaster, saying “Worship me or else.” God is leading us out of our captivity with the gift of rest and renewal, with the gift of what Jesus called abundant life.
Our family has been on a journey of Sabbath-keeping for many years. I wrote a whole book about it, to try to make sense of this practice that seems so easy but turns out to be hard, to try to help people find ways to live the practice more fully. And there turns out to be a lot of practical tips that I can offer, and you can read about it those in the book, but here and now I want to say only this.
Sabbath starts to mess with you, because Sabbath comes from God, and God likes to mess with us.
Our family started observing a day of rest because we were tired and needed a little R&R each week. But the practice is more than that. It changes everything. You start to see the anxieties of the empire and in your own heart—the fear of not having enough, the despair that seems built into the system. And you realize, Sabbath isn’t about being well rested so you can go back to Pharaoh’s job site. Sabbath is about realizing that you don’t want to make Pharoah’s bricks anymore.
It’s interesting to me that Moses and Aaron are right about one thing. They’re right about God bringing pestilence down—the plagues are coming. But they’re not raining down on the Hebrew people, but on the entire sick system of too much work and not enough freedom, too much anxiety and not enough joy. Pharaoh’s empire cannot stand, it is too rotten at its core. It will go crashing into the sea. And good riddance.
Our God is one who is not content with personal self-improvement… though self-improvement has its place, that’s not what the gospel is about. Our God is about nothing less than the complete transformation of our lives and our world. Our God is about setting captives free.
I would be remiss in a sermon about our anxious culture if I didn’t say that some people are plagued with an anxiety that is diagnosable, and that God works through doctors and medications and treatment for that anxiety. But I’m also here to say that as followers of Jesus, we can be a voice of calm in an anxious culture.
The economic issues are real, the pressures are real. We have work to do. Important work. Kingdom-building work, and bill-paying work.
But the message of a Sabbath-gifting God is this:
We should not be content with captivity.
God has something deeper in mind for all of us than endless and joyless brick-making.
 “The Cult of Overwork”, James Surowiecki, The New Yorker, January 27, 2014.
An influential Houston church voted on Sunday not to defect from the nation’s largest Presbyterian body… The congregation of the First Presbyterian Church in Houston voted narrowly on Sunday to remain with the Presbyterian Church USA over a breakaway evangelical denomination. The alternative denomination — A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, or ECO — advocates a stricter interpretation of the Bible and prohibits openly gay clergy.
A supermajority (67%) was required for the congregation to leave the PCUSA. They fell just 36 votes short, with about 64.5% voting to leave. What this means is that despite a comfortable majority wanting to leave, they’re staying put.
Close votes are painful in the church. I know many people, from all over the theological spectrum, who are praying for First Pres, regardless of whether we see eye to eye with them on biblical interpretation. I don’t agree with First Presbyterian Church’s leadership on many issues. I agree with them that the PCUSA has changed, but I don’t agree that they (we) have strayed from the fundamentals. We are body of Christians who are “reformed, and always being reformed.”
But the congregation does good ministry too. And I feel for them wholeheartedly.
They will either find a way to move forward together, or they will split. And that hurts.
I’ll be returning to the PCUSA’s General Assembly this summer, this time as a commissioner (I’ve been an observer a few times). As I think about what we’ll be doing in Detroit, I think about the many church votes I’ve witnessed and taken part in. I remember a GA vote to overturn our denomination’s ordination standards prohibiting lesbian and gay clergy and officers. The vote was close. Very close. When the results flashed on the screen, there was a sharp intake of breath. There almost always is in close votes. (It’s right up there with the murmur that people make when someone shares a powerful story—not quite an Amen, I call it the Presbyterian Moo.)
Now, the gasp at a close vote can mean a lot of things—relief on the part the “winning side,” lament from those who lost so narrowly. But in the church, it’s also an expression of pain that we are not of one mind and heart on significant issues. The gasp is a realization that change, when it happens, is so hotly contested, yet so incremental. And yes, it’s a sympathetic cry of pain even from those whose point of view prevailed.
It’s hard for some people outside the church to understand that. The non-religious people I know, for whom the full humanity of LGBT persons is indisputable, sometimes find it puzzling that we’d be hurting for a congregation that wants to leave our denomination in part because of their apparent unwillingness to embrace that full humanity. “How are you not condoning bigotry?” they ask me.
First, I don’t find the label productive. It’s a non-starter.
Second, and more important: that sharp intake of breath is part of our witness. It’s not our only one: I expect that marriage equality will come to the PCUSA this summer, or perhaps two years from now, and rather than being a departure from our fundamentals, I personally see that as a faithful expression of them. And that action will be, I hope, a witness to the world.
But that sharp intake of breath matters too. In a world where we “like” Facebook statuses that we agree with, only ensuring that we see more of the same—in a world where cable news and blogs tell us exactly what we want to hear—in a world where narcissistic trolls have taken over internet comments such that meaningful back-and-forth debate is an endangered species—our unity in the Holy Spirit, in the bonds of peace, is a witness too.
Here’s a resource for ministry and for personal enrichment that I want you to know about!
My friend Casey FitzGerald is a biblical storyteller. What this means is that she learns stories from the Bible by heart and tells them to audiences and congregations. Casey is also a pastor, and she’s created Faith and Wonder, a wonderful website that includes videos of stories being told plus a wealth of fantastic resources, including additional information about the text and reflections questions for individuals or groups.
If you’ve experienced biblical storytelling as a listener or a practitioner, you know that the story comes to life in a way that it often doesn’t when someone simply reads it. There are pauses. There are gestures. There are interpretive decisions. There are nuances. There is humor (gasp!).
For years I’ve wanted to go through the training and certification process offered by the Network of Biblical Storytellers. So much cool stuff, so little time… But the next best thing is to just start learning some stories, and Casey helps you learn how. I’ve learned several stories over the years. It’s a devotional practice, to let those words seep into you. And for those of you who lead worship, it can enliven your worship services.
It was my joy to be part of the service of coronation installation of my friends Meg and Jarrett McLaughlin as co-pastors of Burke Presbyterian Church, where I served for 6 1/2 years as an associate pastor. It was an amazing day—I thought the building was going to levitate off its foundation, the energy was so high.
I was asked to give the “charge to the congregation.” For BPC members and friends of Meg and Jarrett who couldn’t attend, or anyone who just wants a glimpse of Presbyterian inside baseball, here it is:
Of all the lasting memories of my time at BPC, the overarching theme, the thing I tell other people when describing you all, is that this is a congregation that says Yes.
There is a permission-granting spirit to this congregation, a sense of adventure and a willingness to try something new. It’s all-too-rare and it’s wonderful.
The tagline of this congregation has long been “for behold, I am doing a new thing.” But BPC is not a new church any more.
The tagline may still work for you. Or you may find, with new leadership and a new chapter, that it doesn’t fit anymore. But I’m sure you’re not interested in getting dull and stodgy either!
So, at the risk of turning this into a long-range planning meeting, I humbly invite you to consider the “spirit of Yes” as an image that might drive you in this new chapter. “Yes” is exciting, it’s inviting, and it’s biblical: God is constantly defeating the powers of death and gloom with a life-giving Yes. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are the ultimate Yes that is bigger than any No the world may dish out.
And it’s this spirit of “Yes” that I charge you to bring to your relationship with Meg and Jarrett, these good friends of mine who have said yes to being your pastors.
Here are three quick ways to think about that spirit of Yes.
1. Make sure you’re saying Yes to the right things. A spirit of Yes doesn’t mean you do everything. Yes doesn’t mean adding more and more to an already overstuffed schedule, or hopping on board with every ministry fad. It’s about saying Yes to being the church God has called you to be. Keep your eye on that goal, always.
And help Meg and Jarrett stay focused on the right things, too. Did you know that in scripture, the job description of pastor has only one bullet point? The pastor’s job, according to scripture, is to equip the saints for ministry. That’s it. Their job is not primarily to serve your needs. Yes, they will love you and care for you. But their job is to give you support, formation and love so you can be Christ’s hands, feet and hearts in your community. Help them stay focused on that Yes, and everything else will fall into place.
2. There is a No within Yes. You can’t pursue God’s Yes without also saying No. Meg and Jarrett need time away from ministry. They will go on vacation. They will need to tend to one another and their family and friends. And as a member of their preaching group—and there are four of us here today—we expect to see them any time they are not gestating babies! (Meg and Jarrett are expecting twins this spring.)
And who knows—there may come a time that the ministry you love needs to be downsized or even eliminated.
Trust that Meg and Jarrett, and any of us in church leadership, whether teaching elders or ruling elders, sometimes have to say No in service to a larger Yes. We don’t always do this perfectly, of course. But a spirit of Yes means that the gospel of Jesus Christ is more expansive than any one program or ministry—it’s bigger than any of us can imagine.
And 3. A joyful Yes is the only Yes worth saying. Grudging obligation is not in the spirit of Yes. You all excel at joyful Yeses, but it bears repeating anyway. A current favorite quote of mine comes from Howard Thurman and speaks to this joyful Yes:
Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
It will be exciting to see you all come alive together. Congratulations, and may God continue to bless this fine congregation.