Category Archives: religion

The Art of Illumination

Tuk e vzproizveden list ot Kru... Digital ID: 1551201. New York Public Library

Tuk e v"zproizveden list ot "Krupnishkoto" evangelie (vzh. list 3, 4).Digital ID: 1551201. New York Public Library

I’m reading a book that’s totally awakened me to an art form I previously knew little about.

The book is Graphic Design and Religion: A Call for Renewal, by Daniel Kantor. The art is a historical technique known as illumination.

Illumination is commonly associated with Middle to Renaissance Age religious manuscripts. Considered the most sacred of all documents, these manuscripts were embellished with decorative borders, elaborate initials and detailed illustrations. Because artists created them in gold, silver and other brilliant colors, they appeared illuminated on the animal skin pages.

The Slavic piece shown here, exquisite as it is, is a somewhat muted example (it’s the only image I could find with copyright permissions). Comparatively, works such as de Brailes Hours or Biblia pauperum, two of many listed in the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, are much more intense. Imagine the time and discipline that went into creating any of these beautiful works of art!

While illuminations, as an art form, are fascinating, I’m most inspired by the ideals they represent.

Kantor described the illuminators as the finest of artists who remained “lifelong students of their craft” and “eschewed shortcuts that compromised aesthetic integrity.” They chose the most quality materials available to create visuals for a largely illiterate population—visuals that, as much as humanly possible, communicated the divinity of Christ.

Illuminators saw their work as “a ministry worthy of their best efforts,” writes Kantor.

The techniques we use today certainly have changed the way we visually communicate our faith. Graphic design and commercial printing are light-years away from those hand-rendered illuminations. Yet the ideals are still the same. The time we spend training and conceptualizing, the quality of materials we use and the dedication we apply to our work, all reflect the reverence we hold to Christ.

Communicating Christ, after all, is a ministry worthy of our best efforts.


Press Release: They Don’t Call it Free Press for Nothing

O.K. I admit I’m a bit ambiguous in my use of “free press.”

Journalistically, the term “free press” refers to the uncensored freedom our constitution offers American media. For our church purposes, this term carries an additional reference: a wonderful opportunity to publicize our message of Christ.

For free. As in no cost.

A press release is free publicity

Direct selling expert Jeffrey Dobkin says a well-written press release is “the most valuable single page in all of marketing” (or, in our case, mission outreach). A press release is a document sent to media editors who, if they find it interesting, will publish it or decide to further report on it. For free.

You can send press releases to newspapers, magazines, radio, T.V. and now online publications. There are even online press release services that help distribute your news for you.

Of course, there’s a catch: You have to write it right

Editors receive a gazillion press releases each day. They have a ton of reading to do and not much time to do it. If you write your press release right, it will not only get read, it will also get published.

Match your media
Make sure there’s a connection between you and the media. If you’re publicizing your church’s elderly day care, send a release to your local newspaper or AARP Magazine. The Onion newspaper would not be a good choice.

Contact the editor
After selecting a media, contact its editor and ask how you should send your release. Hard copy? Email? Addressed to whom? This is a good time to put in a quick plug: “I’m Joe, from Trinity Ministries, and I’d like to send a press release on our exciting Hispanic outreach program. Who should I send it to and in what format?”

Remember, editors are busy people. Get straight to the point. And call after the media has been sent to publication, such as the afternoon if it’s a daily newspaper.

Press Release format
Google press release template and you’ll come up with hundreds of helpful guidelines. They’re basically all the same and I’ve posted one here. Of course, since you’ve already spoken with the editor, you’ll know if he or she has particular preferences. Customize your release to meet those preferences.

Use the Inverted Pyramid
Another journalism term here. But, hey, when in Rome…

Think of your document as an upside down triangle, with the wide base on top narrowing down to a point at the bottom. The broad base represents your opening paragraph and your most newsworthy information. The point at the bottom represents the last paragraph and the least newsworthy. In other words, if the newspaper needs to cut out the last paragraph for lack of space, make sure everything the public needs to know is in the first paragraph.

Note: This style of writing may be absolutely opposite what you learned in school, particularly if you’re a pastor. Remember, think journalism.

Absolutely NO passive voice!
The media is about action. Write in an active voice. Use strong action verbs. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check this out.

Five W’s and an H
Who, where, what, when, why and how? These are journalistic questions you have to answer. Is your church sponsoring an overseas missionary? Tell who she is. Where is she going? When will she go? What mission work will she do? How will she do it? Why?

Why? Because of Jesus
The public media hardly seems a receptive tool for spreading the gospel of Christ. If you come on too preachy, you’ll likely never make it off the editor’s desk. Jesus was often subtle in his manner of teaching. We can be subtle too.

“Building a new school during tough economic times is a challenge,” says John Jones, principal of Abiding Word School. “However, we know God has a plan and we trust it will be a good one.”

Imagine how the Holy Spirit can use a quote as simple as this to work miracles in the hearts of thousands. Talk about free press!

Press Release: You Gotta Have a Format

Writing a press release? Follow this easy template.


Contact Person
Company Name
Voice Phone Number
FAX Number
Email Address
Website URL

Headline Announces News in Strong Active Voice,
Ideally Under 80 Characters

<City>, <State>, <Date> -The lead 1-2 sentences must contain your most important information in 25 words or less. Answer who, what, when, where, why and how.

Keep the following paragraphs short, with no more than 3-4 sentences. Some say the total word count for your release should be no more than 800 words. I think even that’s too long and prefer to keep it to 500-600 words. It must be written as factual, with no hype or salesmanship. Any information that is considered subjective, such as an opinion, should be expressed as a quote.

Use the last paragraph to inform the public of your church or organization. Follow up with: “For more information, call or email…”

– END –

Type “End” after the end of your story to let journalists know this is the end of your release. If your release goes onto a second page, type “MORE” at the bottom of the first page.

If relevant, include a quality, black and white photo image relating to your story.

Public Relations: For Churches Too?

Happy Inauguration Day!

Whether you’re Democrat, Republican or an Independent, you’ve got to admit President Barack Obama certainly has captured the public’s attention. Yesterday alone, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Obama reiterated his strong stance on public service and thousands of Americans joined in volunteering.

As Christians, we can easily parallel this agenda with God’s command to love one another. Because he first loved us, we too reach out in love to others. But in doing so, how much attention do we attract? What kind of attention? Do we want attention? Does attention communicate the message of Christ?

Here’s where the term “public relations,” a.k.a. PR, comes in.

Yes, once again, we’re applying the business world to our church world. Can we rightfully do this?

Yes, we can.

Read my disclaimer

Will this business tool bring lost souls to Jesus? No, of course not. Only the Holy Spirit can do that.

Might the Holy Spirit use this tool for his purposes? Of course. Along with his command to spread the gospel, God also gives us knowledge—practical knowledge that can be used completely to his glory.

PR can be God’s outreach tool.

What is PR and how does it apply to our job of communicating Christ?

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) gives a lengthy definition of PR. In college I learned a more succinct definition: Using communication to create a positive image of an organization or product to the public.

News articles, T.V. interviews, web site, advertising…these are a few of many ways we can communicate a positive image of our church, and ultimately Christ, to the public.

Has your youth group recently held a food drive? Send a press release to your local newspaper. Has a member participated in humanitarian work overseas? Promote it on the Internet. Is your church raising money for a mission? Put up a poster showing your results.

Isn’t this bragging?

Jesus tells us we are the light of the world. He describes us as a city on a hill that cannot be hidden. Furthermore, he says “…let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven,” Matt. 5:14 & 16.

PR can allow our light to shine. PR can glorify God.

In a time when the media commonly portrays Christianity in a negative light, it’s imperative we counteract with a positive light. It’s vital we communicate Christ.

Coming next: Writing press releases that get published.

Marketing: One of Many Business Evils?

Use the word “marketing” in a church setting and you’re likely to evoke arguments as hot as Wisconsin is now cold. A perfect example of this is Christianity Today’s recent article by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson today titled “Jesus is not a Brand.” Within days blogs everywhere responded with followups.

While Stevenson makes some very good points, his 8-page article is so convoluted with analysis he loses context of God’s simple command: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation,” Mark 16:15.

Whether we refer to it as outreach, evangelism or marketing, our goal is to spread the good news of Jesus. To do that, we have to get out of our jar and get out into the public. Simple as that.

With this thought in mind, let’s examine a simple plan. Yes, it’s a marketing plan and, yes, it originally developed in the business world. But before you get all riled up…

Read my disclaimer

Will this business tool bring lost souls to Jesus? No, of course not. Only the Holy Spirit can do that.

Might the Holy Spirit use this tool for his purposes? Of course. Along with his command to spread the gospel, God also gives us knowledge—practical knowledge that can be used completely to his glory.

A marketing plan can be God’s outreach tool.

So what’s a marketing plan and how can we apply it to our outreach?

As Wikipedia defines it, a marketing plan is a written document that details the necessary actions to achieve one or more marketing (or outreach, in our case) objectives. A marketing plan helps us define our outreach goal, what we need to do to achieve that goal and in what order. It helps us organize our thinking.

Marketing plans vary but they usually examine three main points:

1. Define your product, service or unique selling proposition

O.K. This one’s a no-brainer. Jesus. Only Jesus.

Who is Jesus? What are his physical or spiritual features? What benefits does he offer? What sets him apart from anything else? What worldy things compete with Jesus for our love and attention?

2. Define your customers

Or, in our case, to whom are the people you want to evangelize? A specific neighborhood? Your city? A worldy mission? The online public? By defining a specific evangelism field, we can better deliver God’s message according to individual cultures and environments.

What are their demographics? Age? Gender? Income?

Where do they live? Where do they work? What are their habits and lifestyles?

What is their current faith status and affiliation?

3. Define Your Plan and Budget

How have you previously reached out to this mission field? What results could you see? What was most effective? What was your cost, in time and budget, to reach out?

What is your future outreach plan? What amount of your budget is allocated to this plan? In addition to God’s heavenly Word, what earthly tools can you use to implement this plan? In what order will you implement these plans and use these tools?

Happy Epiphany

Epiphany…the twelfth and last day of Christmas. The day Magi visited the Holy Child. The day John baptized Jesus. Or, the day Jesus changed the water into wine.

Depending on the tradition, this ancient church holiday commemorates any one of these events. Above all, Epiphany (Greek for “manifest” or “to reveal”) celebrates God’s revelation of Jesus Christ as his own Son.

As a kid, I remember my parochial school teachers saying we shouldn’t take our Christmas tree down before Epiphany. Now, as an adult, I’ve grown beyond such ideas, not out of apathy towards a somewhat forgotten holiday but because our tree—which, by the way, we cut only three weeks ago from our own woods— had dried to a crisp and threatened to ignite the whole house.

Who cares about a tree?

Instead, let’s think of Epiphany as the celebration it is. A celebration of God’s love.

Being the mortal humans we are, there’s no way we can fully comprehend an immortal God. Yet, when God revealed himself as a man on earth— someone people could see, hear and touch—he gave us an opportunity to better know him, to more easily understand his saving grace.

Wow! God did all that for us!

Epiphany in those terms certainly outshines any effort we put forth in sharing our Savior’s message. In spite of that, we have our own God-given command to reveal his message and tools with which to do so—words, visuals and, oh, so much more. My goal this year is to use them to his glory.

Politics from the Pulpit?

I’m a writer, not a preacher, so I can’t authorize what comes from the pulpit. But “Politics from the Church Newsletter” just doesn’t have the ring to it, and as we all know, it’s all in the headline.

No matter. Whether it’s from the pulpit or the newsletter, the same thought applies: Politics are a no-no.

As we approach this autumn’s political firestorm, it’s important to remember the tax-exempt status of churches, religious organizations and ministers. This “favorable treatment,” as the IRS refers to the special tax laws applied to non-profit organizations, does come with restrictions.

What does this mean?
Well, if your organization feels compelled to communicate a political endorsement, think again.

By law, Section 501(c)(3) Tax-Exempt Organizations are prohibited in becoming directly or indirectly involved in campaigns of political candidates. Like all laws, this has become subject to interpretation, whether you’re preaching from the pulpit, publishing a newsletter or hosting a speaker.

Interpretations or not, apparently the IRS doesn’t overlook the law.

In Pasadena, CA., an Episcopal church nearly lost its non-profit status because of a stance on the Iraq War. In Minnesota, a suburban church came under scrutiny when it invited a candidate to speak on its premises.

So why take the chance? Why disobey the law? Our nation was founded on the ideals of separation of church and state. That includes us too.

“Render unto Caesar…” Luke 20:25.