|An Interview: Greg Asimakoupoulos
Questions presented by Fred Peatross
Thursday, June 20, 2002
Greg Asimakoupoulos (pronunciation key: Awesome-uh-cope-uh-less) is an ordained minister with the Evangelical Covenant Church having served congregations in Washington, California and Illinois. For the past five years he has served the broader Church through his position as director of creative communication for Mainstay Ministries (the creators of the 50 Day Spiritual Adventure). Greg is the host of both Preaching Today, an audio tape series for pastors produced by Leadership Journal and The Pastor's Update produced by Fuller Seminary. His is the author of five books including: The Time Crunch (Multnomah) Jesus, the People's Choice (Mainstay)and Prayers from My Pencil (Mainstay) and Heroic Faith (Voice of the Martyrs). He is also a frequent contributor to numerous Christian periodicals. Greg's experience as a creative thinker and father explains why he is a frequent contributor to such publications as Focus on the Family, Leadership Journal and Christian Parenting Today. Greg and his wife Wendy have three daughters and live in Naperville, IL.
1) Greg, I understand that after twenty years of pastoring you, in a sense, changed occupations when you became director of creative ministries at the Chapel of the Air in Carol Stream, Illinois. Can you tell us a little about your responsibilities and how you have developed this ministry?
For the past five years I served a sixty-year old organization that was transitioning from a daily radio broadcast ministry to a publisher on innovative resources to help ministers and church leaders create "unforgettable Sundays." My role in that process was to create sample sermons and worship ingredients that illustrated how Sunday services could be a seamless event. In other words, my goal was to help those planning and leading worship understand how everything that goes on during that hour can (and should) underscore the theme of the morning message. In a sense, I wanted ministers to grasp how the whole service can become the "sermon" as songs, drama, visuals, bulletins, interviews amplify the Biblical truth of the preaching text. Too often the thrust of the preacher's message is forgotten by the time the person in the pew reaches the parking lot.
In an attempt to help preachers and congregations be more intentional in their preparation and application, I helped our staff create an eight week resource called "The 50 Day Spiritual Adventure." This felt-need based sermon series offers a 300 page manual filled with creative ideas for preaching, worship, drama and children's messages so each Sunday's theme becomes "unforgettable" and can be acted on. In addition to the notebook for the church leaders, we publish Adventure journals for the congregation. These life-application Bible studies allow people to focus on the topic of the previous Sunday's sermon each day all week.
2) What is the biggest adjustment you have had to make as you have transitioned from pastor to director of creative ministries?
The biggest adjustment was accepting the reality that I no longer had a public forum in which to share insights I was discovering from God's Word. As a pastor I always had an outlet for bringing issues of the heart and current events together. It is true that as director of creative communication I was writing material that hundreds of pastors would share each week with their congregation. My ideas and influence were being multiplied many times over.
All the same, I had no idea if my thoughts and contributions were connecting with those who were receiving them. Unlike my days in the pulpit, I couldn't look out into the congregation and detect people's responses by their facial expressions.
I suppose that indicates that I am still a pastor at heart and desire to use my creative (and innovative) instincts to lead God's people in worship and shepherd them through life with observations from His Word. When I joined the team at Chapel of the Air, Sunday mornings became (and continue to be) the most difficult time of the week. After nearly twenty years of orchestrating worship and preaching, I can't help but sit in the pew and contrast what is happening up front with what I would do or say.
3) Can give you us a few creative ideas you've used, or plan to use, to help the Christian community think outside of its four walls?
I strongly believe with Kennon Callahan that the local church in our generation is really a mission outpost on a secular frontier. Thus, we need to think like missionaries who live in another culture. Instead of forcing those we are attempting to reach to learn our "coded" Christianese, we must learn the language of the culture and then speak it. That means we need to continually evaluate how we are coming across in the words we use on a Sunday morning. By making necessary changes inside the church, we will be equipping a congregation that knows how to communicate Kingdom concepts outside the church walls.
One of the dialects of our culture is that of movies. Thus one of my favorite ways to engage the church is by using clips from current Hollywood films as a way of illustrating issues the Scriptures address or illustrating God's solutions through the metaphors found in screenplays. Blockbuster video stores are a veritable goldmine when it comes finding graphic scenes that connect with out "sight and sound" culture. I've used vignettes from movies like Simon Birch, Dead Poets' Society, Braveheart in preaching or teaching sessions to provide a visual window for a point I was attempting to get across. Showing a scene grabs listeners more than just telling them a story.
Thinking outside the four walls of the church can be as simple as expanding the role of church ushers. In addition to having them seat people, distribute bulletins and collect the offering, they can also be visual reminders to the congregation of the theme of the message. For example, one Sunday I was preaching on the mission we have to be lifeboats to those capsized and adrift in a sea of relativism. I drew heavily from the movie Titanic. The ushers wore lifejackets over the Sunday morning attire. This was a subtle way of reinforcing the bottom line theme of my message. Granted, it's not the way we normally think about using ushers. But it certainly utilizes proven methods of merchandizing (that is a central communication device in the world today).
4) As you know, no congregation can import the ministries and ideas of another congregation and expect them to work in their community. We all have to speak in the heart language of the culture we're located in. With that said, how far into the postmodern transition is the congregation where you serve? And can you give us some characteristics to help each of us determine where we are in the transition?
The congregation of which I am currently a part is making slow strides, but are moving forward. That's the preferred direction. Right? Music is where we have succeeded the most. Our worship team is committed to excellence in contemporary music. No token "tip of the hat" gesture here. We use arrangements that sound as though they have been lifted from Jars of Clay or Third Day soundtracks. Lead guitars squeal. Drums rivet. Keyboards do a whole lot more than chord. For the generation of people who attend our church, that is the style of music they relate to.
In our church, preaching has become more conversational and less oratorical. That's a reflection of our culture that is less formal and yet desires authentic communication. In our adult education, course offerings reflect "stage of life" groupings and "felt-need" topics. We are part of a generation that demands to know how the Bible relates to the world in which we live.
5) How do leaders move a membership from mildly interested to engaged?
When you say "mildly interested to engaged", I'm assuming you mean "engaged in the culture." My initial thought is by personal example. Pastors must be pace-setters. For example, they can't just say "Use movies as a way to build bridges with your non-believing neighbor." They had better use scenes from popular culture routinely in their messages to demonstrate the effectiveness of this method to communicate Biblical truth.
Leaders must also be constantly holding up a mirror to the congregation as a way of saying "Take a good long look at yourselves. You are a product of the world you are trying to reach. How you look at things is the way your neighbors do too. Just what is important to you?" This can be accomplished by having seminars at church on cyber-communication, internet evangelism and twelve step. Experiment with forming reading groups that look at secular fiction (popular novels) that attempt to uncover "spiritual themes" or movie discussion groups that do the same.
Interviewing members of the congregation during the worship service is also a very helpful and positive way to keep the "real world" we are trying to reach in front of our people. As a variety of people (who are attempting to live out their faith in the workplace) what kinds of issues they struggle with given their unique work settings. Have them relate the values their colleagues embrace. Have them discuss with you what they think the church needs to be doing to be relevant to such as these.
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