Phil Thompson is a husband and father who serves as a lay teacher at The Church at Cherrydale in Greenville, SC and works in the travel industry. He holds a MA in Theological Studies from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and an MDiv from Columbia International University.
In his commentary on Galatians 6:14, Martin Luther talks about bearing Christ’s cross as one of his followers:
“God forbid,” says the Apostle, “that I should glory in anything as dangerous as the false apostles glory in because what they glory in is a poison that destroys many souls, and I wish it were buried in hell. Let them glory in the flesh if they wish and let them perish in their glory. As for me I glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He expresses the same sentiment in the fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, where he says: “We glory in tribulations”; and in the twelfth chapter of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians: “Most gladly, therefore, will l rather glory in my infirmities.” According to these expressions the glory of a Christian consists in tribulations, reproaches, and infirmities.
And this is our glory today with the Pope and the whole world persecuting us and trying to kill us. We know that we suffer these things not because we are thieves and murderers, but for Christ’s sake whose Gospel we proclaim. We have no reason to complain. The world, of course, looks upon us as unhappy and accursed creatures, but Christ for whose sake we suffer pronounces us blessed and bids us to rejoice. “Blessed are ye,” says He, “when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad.” (Matt. 5:11, 12.)
By the Cross of Christ is not to be understood here the two pieces of wood to which He was nailed, but all the afflictions of the believers whose sufferings are Christ’s sufferings. Elsewhere Paul writes: “Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church.” (Col. 1:24.)
It is good for us to know this lest we sink into despair when our opponents persecute us. Let us bear the cross for Christ’s sake. It will ease our sufferings and make them light as Christ says, Matthew 11:30, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
William Wilberforce, a politician, saw the importance of integrating one’s faith with their work. Instead of reserving faith for ministerial work or for Sunday meetings, he saw the importance of Christianity in the mundane:
But in fact, so far is it from being true that the prevalence of real Religion would produce a stagnation in life; that a man, whatever might be his employment or pursuit, would be furnished with a new motive to prosecute it with alacrity, a motive far more constant and vigorous than any human prospects can supply: at the same time, his solicitude being not so much to succeed in whatever he might be engaged in, as to act from a pure principle and leave the event to God; he would not be liable to the same disappointments, as men who are active and laborious from a desire of worldly gain or of human estimation. Thus he would possess the true secret of a life at the same time useful and happy.
Following peace also with all men, and looking upon them as members of the same family, entitled not only to the debts of justice, but to the less definite and more liberal claims of fraternal kindness; he would naturally be respected and beloved by others, and be in himself free from the annoyance of those bad passions, by which those who are actuated by worldly principles are so commonly corroded. If any country were indeed filled with men, each thus diligently discharging the duties of his own station without breaking in upon the rights of others, but on the contrary endeavouring, so far as he might be able, to forward their views and promote their happiness; all would be active and harmonious in the goodly frame of human society. There would be no jarrings, no discord. The whole machine of civil life would work without obstruction or disorder, and the course of its movements would be like the harmony of the spheres.
Wilberforce has much to teach us in our social media age:
Acting therefore on these principles, he will studiously and diligently use any degree of worldly credit he may enjoy, in removing or lessening prejudices; in conciliating good-will, and thereby making way for the less obstructed progress of truth; and in providing for its being entertained with candour, or even with favour, by those who would bar all access against it in any rougher or more homely form. He will make it his business to set on foot and forward benevolent and useful schemes; and where they require united efforts, to obtain and preserve for them this co-operation. He will endeavour to discountenance vice, to bring modest merit into notice; to lend as it were his light to men of real worth, but of less creditable name, and perhaps of less conciliating qualities and manners; that they may thus shine with a reflected lustre, and be useful in their turn, when invested with their just estimation. But while by these and various other means he strives to render his reputation, so long as he possesses it, subservient to the great ends of advancing the cause of Religion and Virtue, and of promoting the happiness and comfort of mankind, he will not transgress the rule of the Scripture precepts in order to obtain, to cultivate, or to preserve it, resolutely disclaiming that dangerous sophistry of “doing evil that good may come.” Ready however to relinquish his reputation when required so to do, he will not throw it away; and so far as he allowably may, he will cautiously avoid occasions of diminishing it, instead of studiously seeking, or needlessly multiplying them, as seems sometimes to have been the practice of worthy but imprudent men.
There will be no capricious humours, no selfish tempers, no moroseness, no discourtesy, no affected severity of deportment, no peculiarity of language, no indolent neglect, or wanton breach, of the ordinary forms or fashions of society. His reputation is a possession capable of uses too important to be thus sported away; if sacrificed at all, it shall be sacrificed at the call of duty. The world shall be constrained to allow him to be amiable, as well as respectable in other parts of his character; though in what regards Religion, they may account him unreasonably precise and strict. In this no less than in other particulars, he will endeavour to reduce the enemies of Religion to adopt the confession of the accusers of the Jewish ruler, “we shall not find any fault or occasion against this Daniel — except concerning the law of his God:” and even there, if he give offence, it will only be where he dares not do otherwise; and if he fall into dis-esteem or disgrace it shall not be chargeable to any conduct which is justly dishonourable, or even to any unnecessary singularities on his part, but to the false standard of estimation of a misjudging world.
When his character is thus mistaken, or his conduct thus misconstrued, he will not wrap himself up in a mysterious sullenness; but will be ready, where he thinks any one will listen to him with patience and candour, to clear up what has been dubious, to explain what has been imperfectly known, and “speaking the truth in love” to correct, if it may be, the erroneous impressions which have been conceived of him.
He may sometimes feel it his duty publicly to vindicate his character from unjust reproach, and to repel the false charges of his enemies; but he will carefully however watch against being led away by pride, or being betrayed into some breach of truth or of Christian charity, when he is treading in a path so dangerous. At such a time he will also guard, with more than ordinary circumspection, against any undue solicitude about his worldly reputation for its own sake; and when he has done what duty requires for its vindication, he will sit down with a peaceable and quiet mind, and it will be matter of no very deep concern to him if his endeavours should have been ineffectual.
Commenting on Galatians 5:26, Martin Luther wrote:
The Gospel is not there for us to aggrandize ourselves. The Gospel is to aggrandize Christ and the mercy of God. It holds out to men eternal gifts that are not gifts of our own manufacture. What right have we to receive praise and glory for gifts that are not of our own making?
No wonder that God in His special grace subjects the ministers of the Gospel to all kinds of afflictions, otherwise they could not cope with this ugly beast called vainglory. If no persecution, no cross, or reproach trailed the doctrine of the Gospel, but only praise and reputation, the ministers of the Gospel would choke with pride. Paul had the Spirit of Christ. Nevertheless there was given unto him the messenger of Satan to buffet him in order that he should not come to exalt himself, because of the grandeur of his revelations. St. Augustine’s opinion is well taken: “If a minister of the Gospel is praised, he is in danger; if he is despised, he is also in danger.”
The ministers of the Gospel should be men who are not too easily affected by praise or criticism, but simply speak out the benefit and the glory of Christ and seek the salvation of souls.
Whenever you are being praised, remember it is not you who is being praised but Christ, to whom all praise belongs. When you preach the Word of God in its purity and also live accordingly, it is not your own doing, but God’s doing. And when people praise you, they really mean to praise God in you. When you understand this—and you should because “what hast thou that thou didst not receive?”—you will not flatter yourself on the one hand and on the other hand you will not carry yourself with the thought of resigning from the ministry when you are insulted, reproached, or persecuted.
It is really kind of God to send so much infamy, reproach, hatred, and cursing our way to keep us from getting proud of the gifts of God in us. We need a millstone around our neck to keep us humble. There are a few on our side who love and revere us for the ministry of the Word, but for every one of these there are a hundred on the other side who hate and persecute us.
The Lord is our glory. Such gifts as we possess we acknowledge to be the gifts of God, given to us for the good of the Church of Christ. Therefore we are not proud because of them. We know that more is required of them to whom much is given, than of such to whom little is given. We also know that God is no respecter of persons. A plain factory hand who does his work faithfully pleases God just as much as a minister of the Word.
To desire vainglory is to desire lies, because when one person praises another he tells lies. What is there in anybody to praise? But it is different when the ministry is praised. We should not only desire people to praise the ministry of the Gospel but also do our utmost to make the ministry worthy of praise because this will make the ministry more effective. Paul warns the Romans not to bring Christianity into disrepute. “Let not then your good be evil spoken of.” (Rom. 14:16.) He also begged the Corinthians to “give no offense in anything, that the ministry be not blamed.” (I Cor. 6:3.) When people praise our ministry they are not praising our persons, but God.
Such is the ill effect of vainglory. Those who teach errors provoke others. When others disapprove and reject the doctrine the teachers of errors get angry in turn, and then you have strife and trouble. The sectarians hate us furiously because we will not approve their errors. We did not attack them directly. We merely called attention to certain abuses in the Church. They did not like it and became sore at us, because it hurt their pride. They wish to be the lone rulers of the church.
Christian Twitter blew up last week as John MacArthur, a prominent Bible teacher, said that Beth Moore, another prominent Bible teacher, should “go home” primarily because he disagrees with her regarding whether an unordained woman can teach the Bible during a Sunday service. Hardliners on both extremes have caricatured the other side or claimed misunderstandings of both parties. More middling voices have entered the fray, trying to argue for nuance or liberty. But most of the dialogue/monologue I’ve seen speaks in regard to Evangelicalism-wide issues that are beyond my control. My hope is to speak to an issue that is within the scope of my influence: how I, as a father of three daughters, should raise them in light of this “go home” mentality that’s present in some sectors of Evangelical life. To that end, I offer these 10 personal resolutions:
Resolved, to give the benefit of the doubt to women who minister in public. In order to create a healthy environment for my daughters to serve and minister, I want to lead by avoiding caricatures of women who minister and write and serve the church. This would involve more than avoiding slander but also avoiding quick sound-byte caricatures and denigration-by-meme behavior. Instead, I will treat my sisters as innocent until proven guilty of heresy (by confessional standards, not the whims of Twitter). Benefit of the doubt is an aspect of Christian love (1 Cor. 13:7), but it also mitigates against the reality that a large swath of Evangelicalism assumes that women doing public ministry are guilty of false teaching until proven otherwise, and the slightest amount of information that confirms such suspicion will be cited as gospel-truth.
Resolved, to avoid supporting ministers who demean orthodox women. Not every strong complementarian has spoken harshly or dismissively of orthodox sisters in Christ, but those who do will not be quoted favorably by me or given any honor in my household or teaching. While there is space for confronting heretics with boldness and with tears, women who differ with us on secondary matters should never be rebuked as if they have violated primary doctrines of the faith. In order to avoid sending mixed signals to my daughters, men who use positions of power to make these sorts of attacks will be marked and avoided.
Resolved, to support and promote women who minister well. I want my daughters to hear the names of well-aligned women in ministry such as Nancy Guthrie, Jen Wilkin, Jackie Hill-Perry, Trillia Newbell, and many more frequently mentioned in our household. I want them to see orthodox women who aren’t fully aligned with us on secondary and tertiary matters treated with respect and welcomed into the dialogue and bookshelves of our home.
Resolved, to use the Bible and doctrinal statements more than labels such as “complementarian.” While the label “complementarian” has been hijacked by those who see no role for women leading outside the home and church and those who see no vocal ministry for women where men might be able to listen (albeit inconsistent in that practice themselves), I find more stable teaching in the Bible and more helpful systematization in doctrinal statements. Instead of a complementarianism that only portioned off “some teaching” in the Danvers Statement and reserved gender distinctions in the home and for pastoral office in the BFM2000, we find a more restrictive version from its most vocal proponents. Instead of a sort of complementarianism that welcomed an R. C. Sproul who advocated women teachers in many aspects of church life, we find a more sectarian ideology that has calcified an array of male-only avenues of service in the church. Instead of the Paul who found room for women who prophesied and prayed publicly (1 Cor. 11), encouraged them to participate in mutual teaching in the gathered local assembly (Col. 3:16, cf. v. 18), wanted them to “teach what is good” (Titus 2:3), and relied on them for critical and vocal ministry roles in local churches (e.g., Rom. 16:1–2, 7; Col. 4:15), we find a small window of women’s ministry that primarily relies on a singular interpretation of Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2 in exclusion from the rest of the Pauline canon. Instead of a Jesus who included women in his ministry in important ways and extended a call for all his disciples to make disciples, baptize, and teach, we find a truncated Great Commission that allows women to only participate in ⅓ of its activities. If the latter is the new meaning of “complementarianism,” then I will not publicly use that label to define my theology even though I assent to the Danvers Statement.
Resolved, to show unequivocal support for the abused and disenfranchised. As women young and old are frequent targets for abuse and inequality, I want to live in such a way that demonstrates that no quarter will be given to injustice or abuse. My words and actions must convey that my daughters can turn to me for support first upon the occasion that they might receive harassment or abuse.
Resolved, to encourage my daughters to use their gifts to the utmost in the home, the church, and in society. Outside of the case that can be made for the male-only pastorate and a unique kind of authority and teaching that comes with that office, I see no biblical restrictions that would restrict my daughters from selflessly exercising their gifts in every sphere of life. To that end, I will do whatever is in my power to help them walk in the Spirit and serve the church in a variety of ways in a variety of spheres.
Resolved, to coach and disciple my daughters to be meaningful disciple-makers and thoughtful theologians. Although never yet having been ordained, I have been blessed with opportunities to pursue doctoral studies in theology, to teach on the mission field, to contribute to published theological works, and even to speak as a lay leader in mixed audiences. Speaking as a dad, these are all opportunities that I hope and would be honored if one or more of my daughters may aspire to in order to serve their brothers and sisters in Christ. Whether they function as disciple-makers and theologians from the home, in the workplace, in the academy, or in the church, I intend to impart whatever training I can in order to make them successful at those tasks.
Resolved, to defend my daughters from misuse of Scripture. I’ve heard 1 Peter used to support requiring a woman to remain with an abusive husband. I’ve heard adult women (but not men) told that they need to submit to their dads until they marry. I’ve heard pastors extend gender roles into the workplace, arguing that women shouldn’t have leadership roles in business and government. As a father, I must proactively dismantle those misapplications of the Bible and help my daughters develop a strong heremeneutical toolkit necessary for them to apply the meaning of Scripture properly.
Resolved, to leave a legacy of healthy, biblical masculinity that neither caves to present culture nor idolizes stereotypes from other eras. I can finish a basement, hit a target, and split wood with the best of them, but I never want my daughters to associate these behaviors with masculinity. I want them to know see in their father a masculinity that restrains power and serves the powerless. I want them to see a dad who loves their mom and loves Jesus. In these ways, I want to counter cultural assumptions (old and new) about how men should behave and live according to the supra-cultural norms of Scripture.
Resolved, to never give the impression that the domestic sphere is the best place for a woman or of lesser significance than other spheres. Complementarians frequently claim or imply that the domestic sphere is the best place for women to minister (“go home”); egalitarians frequently claim or imply that the domestic sphere is a lesser calling (“why would a woman have to give up a career to raise children”). Instead, I want my daughters to know that all spheres belong to God and, as such, are good places to serve others. Should God lead them to use their gifts primarily in the home, that’s a wonderful calling. Should God lead them to use their gifts in the business world, in the church, in the academy, in government, etc., this would be an equally wonderful calling. In no way should women exclusively feel the responsibility of domestic ministry.
Note: I’m fully aware that I have and will fall short of these ideals. I want my friends to know that they may call me out when I do. I’m also fully aware that a group of evangelicals will take issue with being “too soft” on 1 Timothy 2, and I suspect that another group will be upset that I’ve made mention of any gender distinctions in the home or in the church. To both parties, I welcome respectful dialogue on your differences and welcome the opportunity to refine my views on this issue. Grace to you.
Today I lost my best childhood friend, my greatest mentor, and the godliest man I ever knew.
I first remember meeting Dave Vogelsang (“Mr. Dave”) when I was seven years old and attending Anchor Baptist Church in Millersville, Maryland. I didn’t know the kind of impact that he’d have on my life and on the lives of countless others. I wish I could sum up all that Mr. Dave has and always will mean to me, but I can’t. The best I can do is write down several cathartic observations about a life well lived, at the very least to serve as personal reminders to myself.
He Had a Heart for the Next Generation
Mr. Dave taught the 5th and 6th grade Sunday School class at our church, and his was the class that everyone wanted to attend. And there was a reason. The reason wasn’t just the Tootsie Rolls that he generously gave out to all his students (he insisted that there would be no favoritism…everyone received and received alike)–although that was a definite perk. The reason was that Mr. Dave himself was the real deal. He cared about each of his students individually. He knew us and our parents. He made sure to visit the homes of his students at least once a semester. He wanted to know that we had a serious relationship with God.
I’ll never forget the day I was chatting with Mr. Dave after church and telling him about how much I wanted to be a pilot. He said, “You know, if you want to help me mow the church lawn on Saturday, I’ll take you to the airport and we’ll watch airplanes land.” Every Saturday for 4 years I mowed the church lawn with Mr. Dave. He (quite without my awareness) taught me how to serve. And then we’d grab Burger King and sit at the airport and talk. Not only could I identify every airplane and airliner at an impressive distance, but I also received the equivalent of a couple seminary degrees due to our extended theological conversations.
Over the years, even as college, marriage, seminary, kids, jobs, ministry, and so much more pulled our paths apart, I always knew that Mr. Dave was there in his little home on Alameda Parkway with Christmas decorations up year-round, praying for me. I never doubted that for a second. Sometimes he’d call and talk for no less than an hour. And he’d always send a Christmas card, with carefully selected poems and verses and a note scratched out in his ever-so-hard-to-read handwriting. Or sometimes it was a book–a love language we both shared. But I always knew he cared and that he always brought my name before the throne of grace–even when life got crazy and I forgot to call him back on far too many occasions.
He Had a Heart for the Nations
Mr. Dave’s Sunday School classes weren’t your ordinary classes. He taught the curriculum, but he always wanted to get to a missionary story. He would tell personal stories about his time with missionaries in Alaska (one of his favorite places on earth). He had an impressive grasp of geography and had instant recall of hundreds of missionary names, locations, prayer requests, and opportunities. He was the first to get missionary prayer letters and he always sent care packages (usually books) to our missionaries. He impressed on the minds of his students the importance of considering first if God would have us go to the nations before deciding to do anything else.
My call to ministry was directly impacted by Mr. Dave’s passion for missions. He knew my interest in aviation, so early in our friendship he handed me a book entitled Jungle Pilot in Liberia by Abe Guenter. As I read the book, my mind danced with the idea of serving God and doing something I was passionate about at the same time. Over the years, Mr. Dave would drive me to ground school and flying lessons. He would give me more books on missionary aviators. We would dream about what it would be like to land on a short dirt strip or on one of those pontoon planes that he loved so much in Alaska.
But more than that, Mr. Dave demonstrated his heart for the nations in his prayers. I remember the joy of praying with Mr. Dave on Wednesday night prayer meetings. He always prayed the longest (and loudest), but his prayers were always the most interesting. He would meander through missionaries I knew and didn’t know. He would pray for the kids of missionaries. He would pray for schools that trained missionaries. And he would pray for his little buddies like me to become missionaries.
One day Mr. Dave asked me if I’d like to go help out a church planter in inner city Baltimore. He helped me make the connection and regularly drove me into the city to serve alongside Pastor Fleck at New Southwest Baptist Church. Little did I know it, but Mr. Dave was a big part of awakening my vision for pastoral ministry and church planting.
He sparked the fires for Kingdom advance in little souls. And there’s nothing more he would have rather done than serve God on the foreign field himself. But there were reasons.
He Demonstrated Dignity in Suffering
At first all I thought was that he was just a little out of shape, and he walked with a cane at times. Eventually I learned that as a child he contracted the dreaded polio disease and his entire body was ravaged as a result. This weakened many of his muscles, but he was able to go on and recover significantly. He went on to serve in the US Postal Service until he took a bad fall and injured his knee. After some time sorting mail, he took disability and retired. During that time, he had married and his wife left him. In this chaotic series of events, there was a deep soul-crushing loss for him. There was physical loss–a lack of mobility that made travel and missions work challenging. There was an emotional loss–a spouse who deserted him, leaving him isolated and lonely. And there was a spiritual loss–for all of his passion for ministry, Mr. Dave believed that a divorced man could not serve as a pastor.
Over time, his physical trauma would only get worse. The first time I ever went to visit someone in a hospital was going to see my buddy, Mr. Dave. He had a standard knee replacement surgery and was hard at work doing physical therapy to try to get mobile again. But something went horribly wrong. One Wednesday night at church he told me about how badly his knee ached and that he needed to go in to see the doctor. When the results finally arrived, the doctors discovered that his knee had become infected and that there was no longer enough bone to re-insert a new knee. For the rest of his life on this earth (probably 20 years now), Mr. Dave would transport himself with a walker, his leg in a giant metal brace, and his foot in a shoe with a huge sole (to compensate for the lost length of his leg).
As the years went on, Mr. Dave continued to experience incredible physical setbacks. But it never deterred him from service. He would still climb up on the tractor and mow the church lawn. He would drive me around to all the shut-ins, and I would deliver audio or video tapes of the church services to them. He would come early and stay late for church services, unlocking and locking the building and running the sound booth during the service. And I’ll never forget probably one of his last trips outside of Maryland–when, probably against all the doctors orders to the contrary, he showed up at my wedding in Greenville, South Carolina.
He Valued the Life of the Mind
Mr. Dave is the person who first taught me that PhD really stood for “Posthole Digger” and that an expert was nothing more than a former (“ex”) drip under pressure (“spurt”). He loved passing himself off as a know-nothing and making digs at scholarly elitism. But I think part of the reality was that Mr. Dave had spent hours teaching himself the Word of God and reading Christian books. He could see through so much of the pretentiousness of academia, but he really did know its value deep down. What he lamented was scholarship for scholarship’s sake. He loved scholars who applied their learning to missions and international training; he loved scholars who wrote books that the rest of the church could read and apply. I acutely remember his theory that conservative scholars frequently didn’t write because they were afraid of getting attacked by fellow conservatives (a theory that has given me boldness in my present responsibilities).
A vast number of my first theological books in my library have an inscription from Mr. Dave. He took me to theology seminars and to free Bible college classes at my church (when I was still a young teenager). We would discuss Calvinism, Dispensationalism, substitutionary atonement, inerrancy, church history and so much more. We read Spurgeon together. He was the first person to tell me about “this excellent preacher and writer from Minneapolis named John Piper.” He urged me on to tackle ever-higher page counts in my yearly reading goals, pushing me to read systematic theology: Ryrie, then Thiessen, then Strong, then Erickson before I turned 17. He never left his house without a book in the bag on the front of his walker. To this day, alongside my desk sits a copy of C. H. Spurgeon’s We Endeavour, a short book with messages to Christian leaders. Mr. Dave gave me that book in 2002, and I read it roughly every year. And, in turn, I’ve purchased copies and given them away to young pastors and leaders. Undoubtedly, he passed on his passion to study the Scriptures and to draw on the insights of the church.
No matter how deep we could go, it always turned back to practical. I’ll never forget that urgency. You could see it in his passionate evangelistic activity even when laid up in the hospital. You could hear it in his “Amen” from the back corner when Pastor Counterman would begin to make his applications. You could feel it on the late night drives home from the airport when he’d lapse into one of the homilies he would deliver at the local nursing home. He knew his stuff, but he knew that it was more important to know the Savior.
He is the Kind of Disciple-maker the Church Needs More Than Ever
In his entire life, Mr. Dave never tweeted or posted on Facebook or wrote a blog. He never owned a computer, and his phone only made calls. He never had much money, and what he had he gave to missions. He served quietly on the periphery of the church. He prayed like I always have wanted to pray. And he knew his Bible backwards and forwards. His was a life of true piety, but it never stopped there.
He didn’t follow any disciple-making strategy that I’ve ever seen or heard of (besides in the first four books of the New Testament). There was no playbook, no leader standing over him telling him to invest in others. He had every reason to excuse himself from investing in the next generation. He could have allowed his pain and anguish over never getting to be a missionary or stand in a pulpit on a Sunday crush his soul. But instead, Mr. Dave cared enough to extend an invitation to serve in those little unseen ways alongside him. He overlooked the awkwardness of this quirky, geeky homeschooled kid to invite me into his life. It cost him a Whopper Jr. meal once a week and, okay, probably a decent chunk of book purchases on my behalf, but his investment will last for eternity. With absolute certainty I can say that I would never be the man I am today or serving God the way I am today without the life of Mr. Dave. And I’m not the only one.
I remember Mr. Dave’s frequent references to David Brainerd over the years. And one quotation from Brainerd that I suspect that Mr. Dave resonated with is this one:
“It is sweet to be nothing and less than nothing that Christ may be all in all.”
May our churches be filled with men and women who desire the sweetness of being less than nothing so that Christ might be everything to those who are far from him.
This article continues a series on church technology, particularly geared toward small to medium-sized churches. The previous article covered video production.
Video distribution is the process of taking a well-produced video and making it available on the web. Let’s look at several different avenues for video distribution and some tips for making the most of each one and some additional observations where needed.
Vimeo is a paid video hosting site that handles large video files in a clean, elegant interface. It’s important to think of Vimeo as a mom-and-pop hardware store. They don’t get a ton of foot traffic, but what they do, they do well. They provide a solid quality product, but you may have to go out of your way to find it. Here are some tips to make the most use of the medium:
As with all other platforms, add captions and a thumbnail for the ideal user experience.
Customize your embed settings and the player color scheme to match the colors for your ministry.
Change up the end screen to feature links, videos, etc.
Because Vimeo is a paid platform, it’s worth considering the pros and cons of using it for your video.
Vimeo gives you the most options when it comes to privacy. You can use this to your advantage when shooting video that addresses issues for members or that you want to keep from being embedded on another site.
Vimeo is the best ad-free, beautiful, and elegant video streaming player out there, bar none. If you want your video to look good on your site, use Vimeo.
Vimeo doesn’t downgrade your video quality, storing even the original video file for you to upload at any time.
Vimeo has stepped up its sharing tools, allowing you to push videos from its platform to YouTube and elsewhere with ease.
Vimeo is a competitor to Google-owned YouTube, and simply does not perform as well on Google search results as YouTube does.
Vimeo is not treated like a “social media platform” like YouTube, so don’t expect the kind of constant exposure that YouTube generates through subscriptions, especially among younger viewers.
Vimeo lacks tools for scheduling videos, exporting lists of data, and any sort of robust analytics. For example, I had to have a friend code an app to help me download a list of our videos on Vimeo.
Vimeo isn’t cheap. Expect to pay between $20–$99/mo depending on how much video your ministry is uploading. They do have a free plan, but its small upload limit may not be sufficient for a 30–45-minute Sunday sermon depending on its quality.
Facebook provides an excellent outlet for all sorts of church video content, but you should be aware of some best practices for that platform:
Make sure you have captions and thumbnails, as always. Note that Facebook requires subtitle files (.srt) to have a specific filename structure: name+.en_US+.srt. So, the filename should be sermon.en_US.srt.
If you have a video series, upload them in bulk as drafts via Creator Studio. Once they’re uploaded, you can schedule and craft the posts.
Figure out peak times for video engagement for your ministry. Usually I’ve found that pre-8:00am, noonish, and post-5:00pm are the best slots for us. Once you find these slots, make it a regular practice to publish specific types of videos at those specific times.
Post video natively to Facebook, and do not link off to Vimeo or YouTube unless absolutely necessary (or if you’re cross-promoting those platforms in addition to the video on Facebook). Native video auto-plays and is treated better by Facebook than cross-posted video.
Keep this one in mind, but don’t invest too much time in it. You can upload videos to Twitter’s media studio, and add title, description, thumbnail, captions, etc. One unique aspect of Twitter, is that you can add a call to action on this step. From there, you can schedule tweets with those videos. I don’t put a heavy emphasis on Twitter because Twitter is constantly a low-performer when it comes to video minutes watched. It’s simply not a medium where people go to consume video content.
The opposite of Twitter, I encourage ministries to invest heavily in YouTube. Here are some best practices and observations you should know:
You can use your personal or work Google account to start a new channel. Use YouTube’s studio to manage uploads, video details, analytics, comments, and more. Make sure that your channel name and description draw on your ministry’s branding and mission statement. Each week, review and respond to comments and follow other likeminded ministries.
Thumbnails and captions are absolutely critical on YouTube. Those thumbnails show up in all sorts of places. A good thumbnail guarantees good traffic. While Google auto-captions videos, those auto-captions are generally quite terrible. Quality captions get crawled by Google, letting the internal content (not just the titles) of those videos show up on Google searches as well as YouTube searches.
End screens should be unique. We talked about this under video production, but you need a unique video file with a special 20-second outro that allows you to point to a subscription section and to other videos. Play around with this before you commission an outro video so you’ll know what to request.
Schedule your videos. The biggest mistake that I see ministries make is that they get excited about YouTube and then they dump all their content onto the platform day one. But YouTube for all intents and purposes is a social media site, not a video storage site. So treat it like that. If you want people to see your content, don’t post more than three items each day. If you have a big backlog of video, count your blessings and schedule them out for the next year or two. Never, ever, ever, dump them all at once just to “build a large channel.”
Use your community feature. Once you start getting subscribers, you can begin sharing posts with text, photos, GIFs, polls, etc. This is a great way to keep your audience engaged with your video content. I try to use this feature to flag a new video series.
Build playlists. You can do this with your own videos or with videos of other ministries. These can be really helpful, especially if you are trying to provide your people with worship music that you tend to use on Sundays or preaching/teaching on key issues. But certainly build playlists of your sermon series. More on that in a sec.
Tag wisely. Choose tags that reflect your “brand” as well as the content of the video. You can set a series of channel tags that will be the default for any videos you post on your channel.
Build out your homepage. Make a featured videos for subscribers and non-subscribers that auto-play on your channel homepage. This will help tell people what you’re about. You can customize the sections of your homepage by grouping your playlists and presenting them as “sermon series” or “teaching series” or “testimonies” for those who land on that channel page.
Weigh advertising carefully. You may eventually reach a threshold where advertising becomes an option for your channel. This creates a revenue stream, but it also clutters up your video with ads. The one upside of advertising is that it unlocks some unique features of YouTube, such as linked cards and links on the end screens. These are quite powerful for steering viewers to your website, books, podcasts, etc.
Write good descriptions. Don’t just echo your video title. Make a description that’s catchy and put links to your site and other relevant resources down below (e.g., study guides, recommended books, landing page on your site, etc.).
Crosspost where you can. Many churches have a strong Facebook following but a poor YouTube subscription audience. Try linking the YouTube videos or subscription link (maybe with a video thumbnail or other picture) to push followers over to YouTube.
Engage with your audience by calling for comments during the video and then interacting with those comments. Don’t engage with trolls.
LinkedIn is a great option for video, especially when it comes to reaching the professionals in your church. I may need to come back and revise this section at some point, but my preliminary work with LinkedIn video has limited me to 200MB uploads (even when I’m not selecting anything for advertising). This limits video length substantially. So, if you have a short 1–3 minute video for professionals in the community, this is a great way to do it, and you may end up getting better analytics than you would with Facebook given that LinkedIn is less algorithm-heavy in their newsfeed.
Consider making landing pages for each of your sermons that would include the embedded YouTube video, audio links/player, and a full-length transcript of the sermon audio. The key is the transcript. These will get picked up by Google and make inroads on Google searches. The more text content you have on your site around particular topics builds up its site authority on those topics, pushing up your ranking on those search terms.
ORR: Other random recommendations
I don’t use HootSuite/Buffer/other schedulers for video for a few reasons. (1) They tend to be more prohibitive with upload sizes (often taking a lowest common denominator approach). (2) They frequently don’t give me as much control over the custom aspects of videos that the native uploaders on the platforms allow me. (3) Videos are such a small aspect of most churches’ social media posting that you’re not really gaining much in terms of efficiency.
Watch what performs well and consider how to make repeat wins. Learn the nuances of each platform and its respective audience. Over time, you’ll be able to make the best use of each platform and each video.
Find ways to repurpose old content. Maybe a longer video or a panel discussion can be chopped up and released over a month rather than a single video on a single week.
Try to distribute new content around particular seasons in the life of the church. Quite literally, videos around Advent and Easter are valuable resources for the church body.
What other insights do you have from your experience distributing video? I’d love to hear your feedback. Any other recommendations or questions you’d like to have answered? Leave a comment, and I’ll address it.