A couple of ministry life lessons from vlogging

I’ve been vlogging on and off for almost two years. I can’t say that I’m terribly good at it, but it’s actually helped me to hone or build new skills in public speaking, talking under pressure while negotiating something, planning and improvising, and many other areas of life. I really enjoy it, even though I don’t have a high-energy, entertainer-like personality that we’ve come to expect from a YouTube vlogger. Here are a few lessons that I’ve learned along the way.

1. It takes time to get used to the camera

If you look at my first vlog… It’s terrible. It’s one of the first times in my life that I’ve deliberately stuck a camera in my own face. I don’t like being on camera, I have a slight stutter in real life that I have battled more with recently (especially when speaking Ukrainian), and I’m often nervous as my response to any kind of stress.

Most of that went away with practice. It’s taken a while, but even with my third video, there’s a huge improvement over that first video.

The easy way to apply this to any other skill is to be patient with yourself and don’t be scared to do the hard work. Doing anything well takes time, and you’re not going to be Andy Stanley or Casey Neistat on your first try. They also went through a long, hard journey to be who they are where they are.

2. You don’t have to follow an exact script

One of the things that I had to work on was knowing what I wanted to speak about and being able to speak from cursory notes. This is also something that I’ve had to work on with delivering sermons… And I’ve worked out a system for both. Here’s what my system is based on:

Now, my capacity for memorization is literally terrible. I can remember concepts very well, but remembering specific words is extremely hard work for me… nearly impossible. Another complication for this is my perfectionism. For sermons and some of these videos, I used to write our every word that I wanted to say exactly how I wanted to say it. Then, I tried the impossible task of performing or speaking live from the ridiculously detailed notes.

What ended up working for me is drawing my notes. I draw a “mind palace” and speak with the drawings in front of me. This relieves me from either trying to remember all of what I want to say, or from reading it word-for-word.

My application from this lesson is to find what works for you. There are some great preachers that I’ve come into contact with here in Ukraine. Mike Pratt, the pastor of the first church I served in, used shorthand notes that probably would only make sense to him. Benjamin Morrison, another preacher that I’ve talked a lot with about the art of giving sermons, actually writes out his entire sermon manuscript-style. I don’t think he preaches from that set of notes, but that’s a major part of the process for him. Other preachers around Ukraine don’t use any notes at all, or can fit all of a sermon onto a single page of bullet points.

None of that works for me. I’ve actually tried them all, and I never felt comfortable with any of those methods. However, when I discovered that “mind palace” thing and started to draw my sermons, something clicked. I’ve always had trouble

3. A good soundtrack goes a long way

My first few videos on the channel didn’t have any soundtrack. Big mistake! I quickly learned to get creative with finding different Creative Commons tracks on Soundcloud and CCMixter, but it wasn’t until I started thinking about how editing and music go together (thanks, Elijah Leschenko, for the tip!) that the videos started to get much better in their sound composition.

If you would like to see how much this is changed, you can compare this video (just watch the first 30 seconds or so):

To this video (just watch the first minute or so):

Life lesson: add a little music into your life. Aesthetics are important, and sound is a big part of that. It helps people to relax, to work harder, to enjoy a film, and even to open up and talk, depending upon the situation.

4. Creativity takes work

I’ve taken several breaks from vlogging, because it was simply too much work. To get one 5-minute video done takes a minimum of 4 hours. If I want it to be really polished and put-together, it can take me 8 or 9. That includes planning, shooting, searching for the right “free” song online, editing, finding pictures and funny images to add, adding titles, polishing the edit, and uploading onto YouTube.

This is obviously also true about any other endeavor. Preaching a good sermon, for example, requires, at least in my case, usually around 4-10 hours of preparation. I think Timothy Keller once said that he prepares somewhere around 15-18 hours per week on Sunday sermons.

The next project that I’ve been bouncing around in my head is creating a podcast. I actually have some 20 odd episodes planned out, but I don’t have the timing figured out yet. That’s the life lesson that I’m taking away from this – creativity takes a lot of work, but, if you plan it well, you can make some pretty cool stuff.

If and when I start that podcast, I will let you guys know.

5. Be concise

The latest thing that I want to get down is being more concise. That doesn’t mean that all of my videos need to be 2 minutes or less… I just want to work on saying the most relative information, not ramble, and be ready to change up my tactics when speaking.

If you watch my latest video, you’ll be able to see more what I mean.

My most recent vlog post:

Most people stop watching this video (I know by Google’s stats) by about the 2:17 marker. By that time, I’ve been sitting in my office chair and talking for almost exactly 60 seconds. It’s not that long, but the video is pretty low-energy already, and by that time, I’ve almost started to ramble.

If I could redo this video, I think I would break up the subjects that I wanted to talk about and set a timer. I would talk for 45- to 60-second slots, changing something visually every time I changed subjects. That could mean getting up from my chair and going for a walk, changing my shirt, saying “hi” to Katya, or something else.

I don’t think I can blame people’s inattention on how “inconsiderate” they are, that they aren’t happy to hear about our journey through seminary, or some other kind of nonsense like that, but that’s what a lot of pastors (my friends) do with their preaching. When people tell them they’ve preached a boring sermon, they say something to the effect of, “Well, if you were more spiritual, you would’ve gotten something out of it.”

Timothy Keller disagrees. I’m pretty sure it’s in his book “Preaching”* that he talks about how it’s your responsibility to both speak accurately and present accurately the Truth that God has in His word. We can use a metaphor for this: people enjoy their meal in a restaurant much more if the tables are clean, the floor is swept, and the music is peaceful.

In the same way, people will hear your preaching much better if there aren’t encumbrances, like a constant tendency to say “um”, a completely monotonous voice, rambling on about the same subject, etc.

This is something that I’ve been actively working on in my preaching. I have a pretty monotone way of speaking, which has, in the past, been hampered by my inability to take my eyes off of my speaking notes. (See #2!) Now that this has been handled, I’ve been able to be much more expressive in my way of speaking, even stepping away from the pulpit and walking around, because it’s much easier for me to remember a set of symbols that I just saw than a paragraph of notes.

*I’m not 100% sure, because I’ve read a couple of books of his about preaching, and it may have been in one of his other books.

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