Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. — Romans 10:17
Whoever has ears, let them hear. — Matthew 11:15
I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? — Galatians 3:2
But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. — Luke 8:15
Hear the word of the LORD, you descendants of Jacob, all you clans of Israel. — Jeremiah 2:4.
The Bible talks often of the importance of hearing — hearing the Word creates and strengthens our faith. That makes sense because in Matthew 18, Jesus tells us our faith should closely resemble little children, a group of people who can't read, and yet believe. Not only that, Christ used the simplest rhetorical technique to explain his teachings — stories.
In light of this, it shouldn't be surprising that audio storytelling — a medium that should have died once nearly every household had a television in the living room —is seeing a resurgence in a digital format. According to Ann Friedman, podcasts are in the middle of a "boom." Radio-programs-turned-podcasts are successful, like This American Life, Radiolab, Car Talk, and World Café. But new digital-only podcasts have been wildly popular, including Serial, Reply All, and 99 Percent Invisible.
This proposal outlines why and how we could produce The Lost Coins, a Christian podcast.
What are podcasts?
Podcasts come in many forms, but they are simply audio files digitally distributed through a platform like iTunes or a mobile phone app like the Apple Podcasts app or Android's Stitcher app. (When This American Life, launched a wildly popular spin off called Serial, they created this page and video explaining how to get podcasts. Like radio programing before, podcasts can be call-in talk shows, sports banter, comedy and others.
My favorite, though, are documentary-style stories that peel back the layers of a person or idea and show me a different part of the world. A story from This American Life that sticks with me is from "Episode 409: Held Hostage" about Matt Frerking, a man with a condition known as cataplexy. When Matt experiences strong positive emotions, his body slowly becomes paralyzed. He spent his granddaughter's birthday party collapsed on a couch and was propped up against a wall during his brother's wedding. The details of the story, the voices of the characters, and the music and sounds of the editing create emotional connections I can't shake. Hearing, in this case, is feeling.
Christian podcasts are available for those looking for devotional and uplifting material. However many of those podcasts are generated by non-denominational megachurches. These podcasts are typically audio versions of a weekly sermon or service. While the messages might be fulfilling for some Christians, the theology of the churches that produce them will not satisfy confessional Lutheran listeners.
Other "christian" podcasts are produced by former members of a church who have left organized religion for some reason. Bad Christians and The Liturgists are two examples. These podcasts will not help Christians grow in their faith and may work to weaken a Christian's faith.
What am I proposing?
I am suggesting students and faculty at Bethany Lutheran College and/or Wisconsin Lutheran College or other interested storytellers collaborate to create a documentary-style podcast called The Lost Coins. This podcast would tell the stories of Christians living their faith in unique ways. The name refers to how Christ used stories to teach and comfort through his parables. It also reminds us that every story about a Christian life is truly about a lost coin that has been found. These wouldn't simply be sermons or devotions, but would combine interviews, natural sound, narration, and music to tell the stories of the Christian life.
Good stories live in every WELS or ELS congregation across the country. We have unlikely conversions — like the member of my church who grew up Jewish and in the midst of the war in Afghanistan realized his spiritual life was lacking. We have Christians dedicating time to help others, like the group of WELS members who came to Florida to help with hurricane relief or the missionaries who are willing to visit remote or even dangerous places to share the Gospel. We have Christians living in places where simply being Christian is dangerous. We have regular moms and dads who are everyday heroes ensuring that their kids and their communities' kids are cared for physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I know my faith would be strengthened by hearing these stories.
How could we create this?
To make this work, we need two main types of resources: people and equipment.
- Senior producer(s)
- An effort like this will require one or two people to serve as senior producers. It would probably be appropriate for the senior producer to also be the show's "host." Consider the role of Ira Glass on This American Life or Sarah Koenig in Serial. That producer would create schedules, assign stories, coordinate work, and serve as the final decision maker for each episode.
- While anyone could be taught how to use the equipment and how to edit audio, this could be a great opportunity for students in our colleges to practice the skills they are learning in their classes. Reporters would be responsible for generating story ideas, conducting interviews, gathering information, writing scripts, recording narration, and editing the final story.
- Marketing and social media coordinator
- While this task could fall to the producers, it would be beneficial to have someone dedicated to spreading the word about the podcast and searching for ways to get more people in contact with this production.
- Recording equipment
The BLUE Yeti microphone The Zoom H4n Pro Handy Recorder The Zoom H2n Pro Handy Recorder
- A good podcast must have high quality audio. To do this, we'd need two types of recording devices: "studio" microphones for voice overs and in-studio interviews, and field recorders for doing interviews and gathering audio in remote locations. For studio microphones,
the BLUE Yeti microphone
connects to a computer through the USB port and costs $150.
Zoom H4n Pro Handy Recorders for $200
Zoom H2n Handy Recorders
for $160 would be good choices for field recorders.
- Editing computer and software
- This category could be as expensive or economical as necessary. Professional editing programs like Avid's Pro Tools or Adobe's Audition have seemingly endless features, but are often geared more toward recording music. Free software like Garageband, which comes installed on Macs, or Audicity, a Windows audio-editing program, could serve as well. The computer doesn't need to be dedicated only to audio production, but must be powerful enough to handle large audio files.
In my role as a journalism professor at Florida Tech in Melbourne, Florida, I created a podcast modeled after This American Life. The podcast, called This Florida Tech Life, focuses on telling stories of students and staff at Florida Tech. The 14-minute episode here, called "Time Management," includes music, interviews, narration, and natural sound. While I know my students and I can improve as reporters and writers, the skills necessary to produce professional sounding podcasts can be taught.
The podcast boom is upon us, and Christians looking for Bible-based stories have to turn to Christian podcasts that do not present God's Word in its full truth. The Lost Coins podcast could fill that void and reach people who otherwise might have never heard.
Martin, M. and Greenstone, S. (2017, Mar. 5) Christians Turn To Podcasts To Say Things They Can't Say In Church. All Things Considered — National Public Radio.
Freidman, A. (2015, Mar. 20). The economics of the podcast boom. Columbia Journalism Review.
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