Smoke, Mirrors, and Delete Buttons

I will never forget the privilege I had of touring the production studios of one of America’s most famous TV and radio preachers. As a former DJ and radio guy, I was particularly interested in the technology they were using. It was cutting edge at the time although many home computers today contain similar software.

Our host made a very interesting statement to the group of pastors I was with. He said something like this,

“By the time Dr. _____ gets through with Sunday lunch, we already have a full transcription of his actual ‘live’ sermon he delivered in the 11am service. Our paper copy is complete with highlighted portions that we are to delete. So his personal staff takes all the guess-work out of the editing process for us.”

A member of our group asked, “What kinds of things are deleted from the pastor’s sermons?” The reply was quite telling.

“Well, of course we delete all lengthy pauses where the pastor struggled to find the right word. Some pauses are for effect. Other pauses are erroneous. We take all those out.”

That answer seemed pretty natural.  He continued.

“Then we delete all of the ‘uhs’ and ‘ahs’ although the pastor doesn’t do a lot of those. He has learned that it’s easier for us to delete a space of silence than to delete an ‘uh’ in the middle of a sentence. So if he is at a loss he will usually just pause. But if he says ‘uh’ or ‘ah’ it gets deleted.”

I was fascinated.

“And of course if he just makes a mistake…”

Those words caught me completely off guard. “A mistake? What do you mean, ‘A mistake?’ I thought. Dr. ________ would never make a mistake in the pulpit. I’ve never heard him make a mistake of any kind!”

But as our guide continued, I realized exactly why I’d never heard the good doctor make a mistake on his international broadcast.

“And of course if he just makes a mistake we take it out. If he misquotes a passage, (usually just giving the wrong reference) then we delete the erroneous part. If he gets tongue-tied or makes a grammatical error, he usually catches it and simply repeats the phrase properly. The congregation would never really catch why he did it. But the fact is, he did it so we could delete the erroneous part, and leave the accurate part on the recording. With the digital editing process you would never know it.”

He was right. I had never known it. But our guide wasn’t quite finished.

“And from time to time he might even make a Biblical error. A doctrinal or a factual error. It can be something as simple as misquoting a survey or saying, ‘Goliath killed David’ or ‘Moses built the ark.’ He once implied that Christ was a created being. Of course, anyone who knows his doctrine would know that was simply a misstatement. But with our world-wide audience, we certainly could not leave that on the recording.”

I was hanging on every word.

“The editing job is tougher when he doesn’t catch the error himself in the pulpit. When he does catch it, he self-corrects and it’s easier to edit. When he doesn’t correct the error himself, the splicing can be a bit trickier. It’s easier of course with the computer, but it’s still tricky.”

I knew our host was an old radio and TV man when he used the word "splicing."  That was a reference to the literal cutting and splicing of audio and video recording tape.  Even though they were completely digital in their studio and no actual "splicing" occurred, he still said "splicing."  In my mind, I wondered if he would like to have that word "deleted" and have the word "deleted" cut-and-pasted in its place.

While I was on the verge of being distracted by this technical faux pas, he concluded this part of the tour by saying, “And occasionally there is a sermon that just simply never sees the light of day again. No amount of editing will fix a poor sermon. That’s a very rare thing for our pastor but it does happen.”

With that final statement, several things rushed through my mind.

1.  Dr. ________ was really human.  I'd long-expected it.  But here was the proof I needed.

2.  If I had this guy working for me, no one would have ever heard me say that "Aquila and Priscila were 2 godly women." 

3.  If I had this setup, no one would have ever known that I quoted what the Apostle Paul said in the book of First Peter. :)

4.  The audio where I said, "We need a gully-washing, toad-strangling chog-froaking revival" would have never seen the light of day if I were preaching in this church.

5.  The mp3 file of me saying that "Truth runs off some people like ducks off a water's back" could have been erased with a few mouse clicks.  The offending phrase would have gone to that great Recycle Bin in the sky.

6.  The times I used a joke that just didn't work...or maybe shared an illustration that I just shouldn't have used...or chased a rabbit...or sounded angry...or got in the flesh...gone!  With the blink of an eye and the flash of a delete button...gone!

7.  Some of my sermons would have never made their way out of the editing room.

8.  If this guy worked for me with his trusty little zap-away-all-the-errors laptop, people all over America would be asking their pastor, "Why can't you preach more like Mike Stone?"  They would share my highly edited CD's, media links, and podcasts with all of their friends.  I'd be the rage of Facebook if this guy worked for me!

9.  While taking NOTHING away from the God-given ability of these great preachers, I came to realize...not even John MacArthur preaches like John MacArthur.  And Adrian Rogers in the flesh can't preach as well as the host of "Love Worth Finding."  David Jeremiah is good when you hear him 'live.'  He's almost as good as that guy on "Turning Point."

10.  "Crowd shots" on TV broadcasts are used to edit and delete dumb things the preacher said.

11.  If every member of every church could see this room they might be a little more grateful for their pastor's faithful preaching of the Word...uh's, ah's, duds, and misstatements included :)

I am grateful for a wonderful and loving church that lets their pastor preach the whole counsel of God without any additions...or deletions :)