Echo, God As Second Banana

July 30, 2009 by

Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether.” —Neil Postman

The second annual Echo Church Media Conference is underway this week in Dallas. I was there last year and had a great time. I really like the folks who make Echo happen and from the presenters to the participants, I consider many of these people friends.

But I’m a little concerned.

While I appreciate the nobility of Echo’s intent—”A conference for church leaders that love using media, technology, and the Internet to be more effective in sharing God’s story”—I’m concerned about the premise.

Lovers of media, technology and the Internet are not necessarily the first people I would go to hear or see more about the greatest love story of all time.

My concern is that what we love is getting blurred with who we love.

Gatherings like Echo should be first and foremost fixated on the who of the story. We need storytellers that love the story. Artists who love their creator.

My hunch is that Echo–and conferences like it–assume this about their audience. After all, why would a bunch of people come to an event like this if we didn’t believe in the story we’re telling?

This same logic would also assume that the people who make movies and music would all be lovers of the stories they are telling through their art.

I don’t think so.

The late Neil Postman, in his 1984 book Amusing Ourselves to Death, says “The danger is not that religion has become the content of [television] but that [television] may become the content of religion.” His words echo loud and clear 25 years later.

Postman continues: “[One example is that] on television, religion, like everything else, is presented, quite simply and without apology, as an entertainment. Everything that makes religion an historic, profound and sacred human activity is stripped away; there is no ritual, no dogma, no tradition, no theology, and above all, no sense of spiritual transcendence. God comes out as second banana.”

My prayer for people at Echo this week, and for other events like it, is that we may first and foremost be lovers of Jesus.

If we can’t say that, we have no business loving Photoshop, Final Cut or Faith Highway.

Post By:

Brad Abare

Brad Abare is the founder of the Center for Church Communication. He consults with companies and organizations, helping them figure out why in the world they exist, why anyone should care and what to do about it.
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56 Responses to “Echo, God As Second Banana”

  • Lawyer with a Gun
    July 30, 2009

    Thanks for a timely reminder! It’s important that we don’t let the logistics of our mission get in the way of the importance of our Creator. I think that sometimes, we may think too highly of ourselves. We feel that if we don’t deliver a certain image, the message will fail.
    1 Corinthians 1:18 makes it clear that the Gospel will be seen as foolish by those who don’t believe. Ultimately, it is the work of the Holy Spirit (not our creativity), working in the listener’s heart, that makes the necessary connection. Our methods are important, but not that much, and they are definitely not the last Word.
    Once we “get” that, God can direct our talents and efforts to deliver the desired (and sustainable) result, but in a way that He gets the glory.

  • Danielle Hartland
    July 30, 2009

    Awesome reminder, Brad. Agreed.

  • Nick
    July 30, 2009

    Hey, great article! As the creative person at our church, I am reminded of that everyday. Thanks!

  • Pastor Joe
    July 30, 2009

    First of, I sincerely appreciate the heart of your post. I do not disagree or have a problem with your statements. Furthermore, I do not know the guys at Echo, but want to present a different perspective for consideration.
    Could it be that first and foremost the interpretation of their heart is misconstrued? You mentioned your previous experience with them and didn’t have that concern previously.
    Could it be possible that the creators of Echo are ‘first and foremost fixated on the who of the story’ and out of the overflow of that and the God given passions they have for technology they have a conference for other leaders with similar passions who desire to use those passions most effectively?
    I’m of the personal opinion that they probably wouldn’t be hosting the previous mentioned conference if they weren’t first and foremost fixated on the who of the story and trying to inspire others who are already first and foremost fixated on the who of the story to use their passions for their respective God given artistry (media, technology, and the internet).
    I just did check out their page and what resonated with me was their desire to “turn ideas into a reality that impacts others for Christ”
    Interested in hearing your thoughts.

  • Jeremy Scheller
    July 30, 2009

    As usual, you provide great wisdom and understanding in your perspective.
    I think there’s a place for these conferences as long as we know without hesitation that mission leads us and the tools support us.
    Awesome Words.

  • Cameron Smith
    July 30, 2009

    I’m not sure I get this post, it seems very pointed.
    By saying “My prayer for people at Echo this week, and for other events like it, is that we may first and foremost be lovers of Jesus.” … it seems that you’re insinuating that these people are not already lovers of Jesus.
    I think Echo is a necessary conference.. and I love Jesus, first and foremost. There are conferences for leaders, pastors, communicators, ministry gurus, etc. — but Echo is the only thing out there for tech-heads who love Jesus. If I go to a conference to refine my craft – it doesn’t mean I love Jesus any less.
    If these guys teach me how to refine my craft in an effort to help advance the Kingdom, it doesn’t mean they love Jesus any less.
    Maybe I’m missing something, but.. I just don’t get it.

  • Jameson
    July 30, 2009

    A conference for church leaders that love using media, technology and the Internet to be more effective in sharing God’s story. -echo conference
    To frusterate, educate, and motivate the church to communicate, with uncompromising clarity, The truth of Jesus Christ. -churchmarketingsucks
    I am at echo and we are learning how to better market church and communicate Gods truth and share the story of Jesus.

  • Katie
    July 30, 2009

    Being an Echo attendee I can say firsthand that the presenters as well as attendees are absolutely in love with the story. They continue to return to the fact that it’s NOT about us or our skills but rather about GOD and HIS STORY and how he has equipped us to share that story and the tools he has given us to do so. I understand your concern and would pray the same: that we always remain focused on Christ and his story. But, I think it’s unfair to assume that people at this conference don’t have that focus. As Echo themselves made clear in the opening video: We are here to Echo the Gospel first and foremost.

  • Blake Atwood
    July 30, 2009

    At this morning’s keynote at Echo, Phil Cooke spoke about managing perceptions, both your own and the Church’s at large (if you’re a Christian), and he reiterated the fact that Christianity is constantly perceived badly, as everyone who writes for and reads CMS knows.
    If perceptions need to change, the people that are attending Echo are the ones you want doing it, utilizing today’s tools to do so… because they love God and care about His perception down here.

  • Los
    July 30, 2009

    Yea. This post is pretty short sighted.
    Read what you wrote again and you might want to rewrite it.
    You are pretty much calling out those who put these events on as lovers of Technology first and Jesus second.
    That’s a pretty ballsy accusation.
    And of the sessions I’ve been to, if anyone came here strictly for technology, they got Jesus blasted in their faces.
    And your prayer for Echo should be prayed for the church in general.
    And for me.
    Don’t just save that for conferences you worry about.

  • Nancy Thompson
    July 30, 2009

    Your title is misleading and based on an assumption that you admit might not even be true. You assume that the attenders of Echo conference put love of technology ahead of their love for God.
    I am at the Echo conference and can tell you that you couldn’t be more wrong in your assumption. Almost every discussion includes the concern that we don’t use technology to distract from the message of the Gospel, but to enhance it.
    Your title may be good marketing and bring you some site traffic, but at the expense of the truth.

  • michael
    July 30, 2009

    how can we analyze a conference like this before it’s even happened? seems that there’s some bias coming into the writing of this post.

  • Ben Arment
    July 30, 2009

    Ouch Brad

  • TJ
    July 30, 2009

    If you follow the critique you give Echo and conferences like it, you should probably only write articles that present the Gospel because to assume that everyone who reads this has a relationship with Christ is a big assumption. I understand where you’re coming from but I think you aren’t giving the guys who put these things together near enough credit.

  • Dave Anderson
    July 30, 2009


  • BG
    July 30, 2009


  • bill
    July 30, 2009

    whoa…what a post. Los calls it ballsy…I call it self gratifying. There is nothing but love and passion for our Savior and the Father that is driving the desire to make them more famous and doing so by using technology as the medium.
    I really hope you were just trying to encourage your readers to pray for the group of technical and media artist that conveigned on Dallas over these few days. If not, then your short sighted, legalistic view on what a bunch of believers that want to better their God-given skill in how they communicate the Gospel really saddens me as a believer. Your stereotype of this group is calling them out to be wrong because of how God wired them… Let’s edify the body of Christ.
    And if you really have issue with conferences like these, lets do the Matthew 18 thing and approach the leaders of those conferences. As for me, I am praying for them…and you.

  • @branford
    July 30, 2009

    i don’t necessarily disagree with the part of this post that seems to suggest caution and self-investigation, but at the same time:
    IF you weren’t madly in love with Jesus, and put media/technology first, this conference would be a big waste of money and time.

  • austinklee
    July 30, 2009

    Wonder how many of the vendors on your “Don’t Suck” list are at Echo? Something to think about!

  • Jeremy
    July 30, 2009

    Brad’s post just seems like it’s an act of jealousy. Jealous because Collide’s network is growing and Brads CFCC kingdom is dying, and are you kidding me? flickr? really? Get a real website for your network bro, it’s just tacky as all get out.

  • Zach Pippin
    July 30, 2009

    thanks Los. very short sighted indeed.

  • Greg
    July 30, 2009


  • In the lobby
    July 30, 2009

    Sitting in the lobby at Echo. I see a lot of vendors who have relationships with both camps. This post makes me ill. Why do kingdom people always flame other kingdom people. Reminds me of a previous thread of one vendor flaming another. It gets prety old.

  • @chadmaag
    July 30, 2009

    I’m with Los – this article seems to make as much sense as a movie reviewer writing a review for a movie he hasn’t seen.
    Short-sighted indeed, and kinda mean-spirited.

  • Travis
    July 30, 2009

    Interesting comments Brad. Aren’t you the guy that played all the beer commercials and displayed the giant F-word last year in an effort to teach us what good marketing is? Just wondering.

  • Sean Salter
    July 30, 2009

    This post is so awesome.
    It tells us so much, which a person who has extensive experience dealing with foursquare international and Brad’s work, already knew.
    This is wonderful haha.

  • Len Wilson
    July 30, 2009

    Seriously, quoting Postman? If you love Postman why are you in this business at all? Go find an ivory tower job where you can sit on a pile of books.
    This post is really sad and disappointing.

  • Les Brown
    July 30, 2009

    Thanks for the awesome F-bomb on screen last year at Echo. Very Classy Act.

  • banana eater
    July 30, 2009

    Where are the bananas? I didn’t get no stinking bananas. Echo can haz not bananas.

  • Brad Abare
    July 30, 2009

    Thanks for your comments everyone. I had no idea this conversation would get so heated. This was not my intent at all. Really.
    I was using Echo—and conferences like it—as a backdrop for what I’m working on in my own life.
    Sometimes I get the priority of loving Jesus and loving what I do mixed up.
    I go to these conferences. I support these conferences. Nothing against Echo or any of the other fine people who participate.
    My intent with this post was simply to make sure we—myself included—are keeping our eyes on Jesus.
    That’s it.
    Forgive me if I went about it or communicated it the wrong way.

  • p|b
    July 30, 2009

    Wow. What a seriously disheartening post.
    I’ve come to expect pessimistic posts from time to time, but I wasn’t ready for such pointed and aggressive “insight” towards partners in the same fight CMS is supposed to be leading in.
    Let’s use our passions, and our opinions, for NOTHING but the honor and advancement of the Kingdom.

  • Kelly
    July 30, 2009

    So this blog is served to frustrate, I get it. I think the frustration has been taken a little to far in this post. Why do we try to compete with each other in this small niche that servers a greater purpose?

  • Matt Huggins
    July 30, 2009

    While Brad’s approach may have been less than pitch perfect, I have found that many of those who most vocally advocate heavy use of new media in (or AS) the church become highly defensive–or derisive (“you clearly don’t get it, old fogey”)–when anyone questions the efficacy or propriety of the media usage advocated. They appear to be threatened at the suggestion that their vocational passion might not fit within the church’s priorities or needs in the manner or to the extent they might desire. They too often do not exhibit humility in seeking to bring their gifts to bear. This is problematic when those gifts, by nature, tend to find highly visible expression within and without the church. (Paul, himself, speaks of how God afflicted him with a “thorn” in his flesh to keep his apostolic role from going to his head. He speaks elsewhere of the folly of appointing young men to be elders in the church.)
    The youthfulness of most of those engaged in (or targeted by) the development and exploitation of new media can be a liability. Intelligence and enthusiasm untethered from wisdom can quickly become weaknesses instead of strengths.
    This tendency is by no means limited to technology experts. As Paul makes clear to the church at Corinth, we all must guard against our tendency to exalt our own gifts instead of the Giver and to the detriment of those for whom the gifts are intended. Gifts are a means that have a perennial tendency to set themselves up as ends.
    Even if Brad dropped a bomb, with malice, in this space (and I am not saying it did), the responses of many in the comments do not reflect the heart of one who can respond, “I’m a lot worse than you can imagine, Brad, but I am thankful for the blood of Christ.” Some of the comments reflect the mindset of one who has turf to defend, who cannot afford to have his or her own righteousness or rightness called into question.

  • Los
    July 30, 2009

    Sometimes our words are sharper than we think.
    I make that mistake all the time Brad.
    Thanks for your explanation and I’m sorry if I spoke in frustration earlier.
    I did.

  • Scott McClellan
    July 30, 2009

    As one of the people who helped put Echo together, this was a difficult post to read. A few of the comments were just as difficult to read. That said, let’s allow Brad’s clarification to stand.
    If there’s more to be said, let’s say it in love.

  • Michael Buckingham
    July 30, 2009

    I’m with Scott, I think Brad’s response shows where his heart is and brings clarity to the post.
    I do think the core of his message is a good one for us, creatives, pastors, etc. to keep in mind. What we do is not the most important thing. Whether that’s lighting, design, preaching, you name it…it shouldn’t be what consumes us the most.
    Anyone who knows me knows how passionate I am about creativity in the church and how desperate I am to help the church communicate with gusto…but I have to remind myself that that shouldn’t be my greatest passion. Christ, as my lord, should be my greatest passion.
    When the projectors are turned off, the postcards thrown away, when everything is stripped away Christ must still be evident and should be the driving force of my life.
    At least that’s what I’m reminded of.

  • Michael Buckingham
    July 30, 2009

    And for the record…I think Echo looks excellent and am making a point to have it on my calendar next year.
    Job well done!

  • Aaron
    July 30, 2009

    yikes! Hopefully we can put our water pistols away now.
    We getcha, Brad. I think it’s something worth saying and for us to take it to heart.
    Fellow #echo09 attendees – chill.

  • David
    July 30, 2009

    Let’s help to save the lost. Not preach about what is wrong with media at whatever level. Hollywood media is evil. But it doesn’t make me pitch a screaming fit! Let’s Love as the Word says and they (the lost) will know us by our love!
    Love one another brothers and sisters!

  • Cameron Smith
    July 30, 2009

    While I appreciate Brad’s attempt to clarify – I’m not too sure that I can be just as quick to let this one slide, personally.
    When you write a blog post, on a platform of this magnitude – you have to be willing to take the heat that you drum up.
    Bottom line, this post was pointed… if you weren’t intending on slamming Echo, why is it in the title of the post? Again… I don’t get it. In my humble opinion, I think you’re back pedaling and I think responsibility should be taken for what was written.
    I’m not trying to be a jerk, or mean spirited… I just think if you’re gonna write something… especially on a blog like this….. you need to own it.

  • Jeremy Scheller
    July 30, 2009

    I don’t know why I didn’t read into this post all the negativity?
    I like what Brad had to say. It’s all about putting Jesus first right? That’s it. That’s his heart.
    I thought it was a good word, and I love that stuff like ECHO is happening. I wish I could be at ECHO right now.
    I love knowing that the creative minds of our faith are getting together to sharpen their tools, their dreams and their knowledge base to better utilize technology to further the mission.

  • Len Wilson
    July 30, 2009

    While I appreciate the author’s clarification, and I mean no disrespect, I stand by my earlier response. I am also thankful for the opportunity for some clarification here.
    New media is such an easy target because of its youthful exuberance and lack of refinery. It is sad to me when even practitioners of new media take shots at it. Of course we all want to keep the main thing the main thing. But there is no sense in quoting a humanist’s rant against technology from 25 years ago. New media always brings fear. Socrates and Plato argued writing things down would dilute wisdom and truth. The Church in 1500 dismissed the press as inferior to the monastic manuscript tradition. And so on.
    I couldn’t disagree more that “on television… there is no sense of spiritual transcendence.” When it came to visualized spirituality, talking head sermons and theology roundtables were all Postman had for reference in 1984. What we do is different.
    Art, in any medium, does more than illustrate; it is primarily narrative in nature. Text is self-sufficient in its ecclesiastical function; the role of art is to bring a different level of interpretation – art tells stories, it doesn’t (just) make points.
    New media doesn’t come with a user manual. We all just figure it out as we go. So yea there’s going to be some mess ups. But that doesn’t mean we have to raise the red flag every time and give the same old warnings about making sure we “love Jesus.” Of course we love Jesus. That’s why we do this. Would we the same thing to a preacher or a writer? Let’s give our new communication system a chance.

  • Ron Forseth
    July 30, 2009

    Causing frustration can be frustrating.

  • Jim
    July 31, 2009

    regardless…the article and the comments have caused us to turn towards God and not our uglies…

  • erikcantu
    July 31, 2009

    I love the last sentence. I’m changing my bio on all my accounts to describe myself as “I am an artist who loves my creator.”

  • Rick
    July 31, 2009

    Jeremy Scheller seems to echo my sentiments best. And not everyone associated with new media is “youthful”.
    “The youthfulness of most of those engaged in (or targeted by) the development and exploitation of new media can be a liability. Intelligence and enthusiasm untethered from wisdom can quickly become weaknesses instead of strengths.”
    Some of us have been at this for quite a while. Right Phil?

  • Matt Huggins
    July 31, 2009

    “It is sad to me when even practitioners of new media take shots at it.”
    What is so sacred about new media that criticism of it should provoke tears? I suspect some were deeply offended when a critic or two dared to question whether television would ultimately prove to be a healthy medium for evangelism. Let the debate about media continue, in love.
    Did not Paul tell us that we carry Heavenly mysteries in fragile earthen vessels that God’s power might be made known by our weakness? To be an effective witness for the Gospel, one must get over oneself and the human means one possesses, including new media, if that’s one’s thing. I believe Jesus referred to this as dying to self.
    We, all of us, are so easily enchanted by the prospect of systemic solutions to our perceived problems. I’ll post a favorite quote of mine from E.M. Bounds from over 100 years ago (well before Neil Postman) on this point in a comment to follow.

  • Klreed189
    July 31, 2009

    To be honest this is a really pointless post, or maybe it was a misleading post that led to a lot of people getting upset.
    It is like fighting through text messaging. You have no clue what the other person’s emotions are and expression on their face is telling you as well. All you know is that they are upset because they are using ALL CAPS in their text.
    To be honest, using media is an act of worship because God has given us the ability to use all kinds of things to create and inspire.
    I understand your wanting to remind yourself about falling in love with God first and not technology, but you mentioned that no where in your post. But used other people to make your point.
    I will be honest with you all, I need to confess my idolatry daily. I spend more time with my computers than with my Bible.
    Does that mean that God cannot use me and my computer, I don’t think that is the case.
    I just hope this doesn’t start a battle of who is better and who is more spiritual.

  • Matt Huggins
    July 31, 2009

    That’s why I included “(or targeted by)” in my post. I am very aware that some of us in and around (and “onto”) the tech industry are growing a bit gray around the muzzle.
    A predominant theme among advocates of new media is that it is critical to reaching the new generation. (A generation termed “Digital Natives” by John Palfrey and Urs Glasser in Born Digital and “The Dumbest Generation” by Bauerlein in, well, The Dumbest Generation.)
    From a marketing mindset, the question is who are we trying to flatter?

  • Matt Huggins
    July 31, 2009

    From Power through Prayer, by E. M. Bounds (1835-1913):
    We are constantly on a stretch, if not on a strain, to devise new methods, new plans, new organizations to advance the Church and secure enlargement and efficiency for the gospel. This trend of the day has a tendency to lose sight of the man or sink the man in the plan or organization. God’s plan is to make much of the man, far more of him than of anything else. Men are God’s method. The Church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men. “There was a man sent from God whose name was John.” The dispensation that heralded and prepared the way for Christ was bound up in that man John. “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.” The world’s salvation comes out of that cradled Son. When Paul appeals to the personal character of the men who rooted the gospel in the world, he solves the mystery of their success. The glory and efficiency of the gospel is staked on the men who proclaim it. When God declares that “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him,” he declares the necessity of men and his dependence on them as a channel through which to exert his power upon the world. This vital, urgent truth is one that this age of machinery is apt to forget. The forgetting of it is as baneful on the work of God as would be the striking of the sun from his sphere. Darkness, confusion, and death would ensue.
    What the Church needs to-day is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use — men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men — men of prayer.

  • Craig Littlejohn
    July 31, 2009

    Hey Brad… welcome to adventures in missing the point. I have read the blog post and then the comments. I don’t get it…what are people reading into this blog that I am not ? As I read it you are encouraging us to make Christ first… right ? And make sure that things that we are prone, as humans, to make into idols… technology, entertainment, whatever you “love” do not take His place. Please help me out… I don’t get what is wrong with saying that. And I don’t understand why so many people are “frustrated” with someone pointing these pitfalls out to all of us. Anyways… keep “frustrating” !

  • Andy
    July 31, 2009

    I have no idea what Echo is, but I can see where the wound comes from – the opening quote of the post seems directed at them, and then it seems as if their mission statement (or whatever it is) is altered to state “A conference for church leaders that love media, technology, and the Internet and want to apply it to sharing God’s story.” Though I’m sure they love the medium, the point is that they love USING the medium. It reminds me of the recent post about using media illustrations during a sermon.
    That said, Brad’s apology iterated that his thoughts were more of a projection of how he’s feeling about the things he’s struggling with rather than negative response to Echo’s methodology.
    Still, words and semantics matter. I love that as church communicators we have these powerful tools at our fingertips, but clearly we need to communicate with care.

  • Jeff Goins
    August 1, 2009

    Great stuff, Brad. Well thought, and well written. I’m always amazed at how transparent you guys at CMS are and how careful you are to not fall too in love with the medium over the message. It’s surprising to find on a blog that advocates for better marketing for and by churches, but it’s a good kind of surprise. It tells me that you guys have your priorities in order.

  • Dawn Nicole Baldwin
    August 1, 2009

    I have to admit when I first heard about [then read] this post I was disappointed.
    Not in Brad or his attempt to remind us that Jesus needs to be our primary motivator–but the way this has played out across the board. We’re not giving each other the benefit of the doubt.
    I’ve known Brad for close to 7 years now and have always been impressed with his integrity and character. I fully believe it wasn’t his intent to slam any of us that are leading conferences this year, even if this post leads readers to believe our hearts may need to be questioned.
    In reality, we should always be checking our motivations to ensure our focus is in the right place. And I can say with conviction the leaders of Echo, STORY & Cultivate want nothing more than to use our gifts to help advance God’s purposes.
    But what disappoints me the most is the harsh comments that have been left on Twitter, this blog & flying around the water cooler.
    Brad posted an apology in an attempt to clarify his thoughts. Saying people shouldn’t be allowed to “slide” is just mean-spirited and completely absent of the grace God has so freely given us.
    I think Klreed 189’s post summed it up best. I hope everyone can just forgive each other & move on. The world is watching and all this bickering completely undermines the most important message we’re wanting to communicate.

  • Adam Rushlow
    August 3, 2009

    I think Brad raises some good questions in his post. Anytime I read reactionary responses that tear down someone for asking questions, I wonder about those responding. One post even ridiculed and tore down Brad with the accusation that Brad was flaming others. How is that response any different than the accusation? (notice i say accusation)
    Why are you so against self-introspection and evaluation? What are you afraid you might see if you ask God if this is a struggle in your life?
    I live my life working with technology, creative design, marketing and pretty much everything else in the church that my dad didn’t do 30 years ago as a Baptist Pastor. When I stop and ask God to show me if my focus is shifting too much away from him, I sometimes don’t like what I see.

  • Randy Jeteer
    August 10, 2009

    Wow, that couldn’t be more opposite of my experience at ECHO. I went on my own dime (church is strapped) and will go again next year. I came away equipped and inspired to use media/technology to build His Church, not just my church. I BELIEVE IT IS A SIN TO MAKE THE GOSPEL BORING.

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