Aron Utecht: In a world where we're all flooded with information, what the church really has to offer is deep, meaningful relationships, and giving all of that information a context to make sense in.
Karl Vaters: Hi, I'm Karl Vaters and I'm a small church pastor, and welcome to the Can This Work in a Small Church podcast. My guest today is Aron Utecht. Aron is a pastor and the host of the Good Ideas for Churches Podcast. In this conversation, Aron and I talk about some of the positive trends he's been seeing in the church and among pastors, including a refocusing on mission rather than having an obsession with methods. We also talk about the value of podcasting for pastors and churches, including what question we must answer before we're ready to even ask ourselves,Should I start a podcast. And don't forget to stick around when the interview is done; I'll come back with an overview of the content and an answer to the question: Can this work in a small church.
All right. Hey, welcome to the podcast, Aron. It's good to have you on with us today.
Aron Utecht: Yeah, thank you. It's great to be here. Great to talk to you again.
Karl Vaters: You are not unfamiliar with the podcast area cuz you have done an awful lot of work on podcasts, on videocasts. Some of them with your friend, Matt Whitman, who by the way, was our guest for Episode 32 of this podcast, so our listeners are already familiar with Matt through that and through the Ten Minute Bible Hour. Give me some of your background. How did you come into the podcast and video space, and what is your new project - well, fairly new project that you're working on right now in the podcast space?
Aron Utecht: Yeah. I sort of landed here on accident. God has a sense of humor in all kinds of ways, right? I actually had a broadcasting degree when I was a college student at the University of Nebraska, and I decided that I was gonna go into ministry and I didn't need all that technical training. And so I resigned. I had a really awesome internship with the University of Nebraska Athletic Department, and I decided, No, I'm gonna be a pastor, and I shouldn't be giving my time to all this technical stuff. And look at the world now. You almost have to know… Every small church pastor especially is the VR guy.
So I have that in my background, and like so many of us, COVID forced you into being a video and audio producer. Of course you've got the sound guy and you've learned the soundboard and those things all along, but here we are all of a sudden and we're all home in our home office or wherever we're at, and we're putting videos up. And so my good friend Matt, he's done the Ten Minute Bible Hour for I think about eight years now, and so he gave me some tips and I started putting my sermon videos together. After a few weeks that we just absolutely blew everything up on a Zoom, we decided that I would put together a video, and then it would go out on a streaming service, and if people chose to, they could have a home group watch party for it or not. So for the months that we were on quarantine in Illinois, that worked pretty well, about as well it was gonna work. Now a huge part of my sermon was to write it and then deliver it into a little homemade studio, and got into that.
About a year ago - we started this conversation a while back - but I had the opportunity to join Matt in the Ten Minute Bible Hour, and really what we're doing, the ministry's called Eyes Up and it's a nonprofit version of what the Ten Minute Bible Hour is. And the idea is let's go work directly with churches and try to work in that space.
Matt, in his business, had created a lot of ministry opportunities and so I was added to the team to help pastors, help churches capitalize on all of the emails and questions that we were already getting, and actually just to help him follow up on those things. So that's where we got started. The podcast is called Good Ideas for Churches, and it's just that. We want to find one good idea that's gonna help a pastor or a church leader, and create positive energy that things are better than it feels. You hear all the discussions about deconstruction and people leaving the church and evangelicalism is failing, and it would be really easy to fall into that corner of the internet and feel like everything's failing. We want to give people a source for creative ideas, things that they can try, and a sense of growing momentum. There is more happening in the kingdom. God is not done, God is not at work, it's gonna look different than it has 30 years ago, and that's just great. But there's things happening and we want to find those people and use the power of the internet to bring us all together and to make it better together.
Karl Vaters: Very cool. Are you seeing any patterns emerging in the first few interviews that you've done with Good Ideas for Churches? What are you seeing out there?
Aron Utecht: Yeah, we've got six episodes so far, and I've got a number of other interviews so far that editing up and putting into an actual episode to put it out. So there's a lot of good things happening. Not all of it is deconstruction and bad leadership or church abuse. Almost all of these things that we've observed so far have come from people in smaller churches, and I think that's really interesting. The observation there for me is it tells me that we don't need to wait for one hyper-gifted individual to give us a template. The Holy Spirit has given empowerment and wisdom and gifts and skills and creativity to all of us. So far, I've had talk to people from both coasts so far - north and south, east and west - they've got something that's worked and they've been able to grow a church, or they've been able to bridge racial gaps in all of these different things that we're talking about. It's not… The answer is out there in all of us, and so I think that's a fun lesson right off the bat.
One of the things that I see is long game investment. All of the stories so far, almost all of them, are really about what's your strategy for getting next to people and what's your strategy for just being friends and being human together? It's not a matter of a program or a budget or a big event. One guy did a big event. This was a fun story. He was a worship pastor and he met a guy in his neighborhood, and the guy had been a heavy metal drummer, and so they decided to do a Halloween night on their driveway. They did a concert where they just did nineties rock music and it wasn't religious at all, but really the music was a place for their relationship to happe. And all of these different things. One guy had a story of a hockey ministry in Dallas/Fort Worth, which was just this huge undertaking. Another guy is in Vermont, or excuse me, New Hampshire; they have a ski and bike ministry in a mountain town. All of these things, they're a place for the relationships to happen. And I think that may be where the church needs to go. Because if you look at our culture, there's so much skepticism about the church and institutions in general that I think the idea of getting close up to someone is what it's gonna take for people to learn to trust one another again.
So if you think like this. People might be anti-police, that's a discussion right now. But most of those people who are theoretically anti-police will know, Well, my uncle is a police officer, or there's a guy across the street, well, I trust him. Why do you trust him? Because you know him individually. I think that's where we're going and that's some of the stuff I see so far.
Karl Vaters: That's encouraging that what you're seeing is long term trends towards the great commandment. Love God, love others, is really what you're seeing there. Cuz for so many years we've had such a love of looking for new methods, almost an obsession. I've got this picture in my head of going to a conference and maybe sitting at the back - cuz I'm tall so I always sit at the back. That's my excuse, so that people don't have to look over me. I'll watch them as somebody's getting up and teaching, and they might give really long term eternal principles and people just stare. And then they say a clever rhyme and everybody's heads go down as they write that note. And I can just imagine there's now 300 churches next Sunday that are all gonna say together, It can make you better or it can make you better, because that's what the guy said. And it's like they missed the principle behind it because they wanted to grab on to the gimmick.
So what I'm hearing from you is while we're changing methods and we're willing to adapt to things from hockey to heavy metal, is what I heard.
Aron Utecht: Yeah. There you go. You got the slogan. I love it.
Karl Vaters: It's not about the hockey or the heavy metal, it's that these are ways of connecting people to each other and eventually to an understanding of who Christ is in their life. That's the premise behind it.
Aron Utecht: I'm hearing that. And the thing that makes it go is that is not the method. You're there because you're interested in the people. There's a shared interest. I'm gonna be here playing hockey anyway, so yeah, let's just build a really cool hockey league that will intentionally bring people under the influence of the gospel. We have a shared interest, and that interest could be anything. It could be heavy metal music or hockey, or the ski and bike guys at the mountain town in New Hampshire. But in every one of these cases, the thing that comes through is they're friends with these people anyway. It's not a project, I'm not here with a goal, I don't have five steps that I'm gonna move this conversation to something. Like, we're in here for the long game. And I think that's really key of what makes it work.
Karl Vaters: Doesn't it also feel like it takes some of the pressure off that I don't have to memorize this list of steps that I need to walk everybody through? I just need to be present in people's lives, and as I am present in people's lives as a believer and as someone who is on mission with God, I don't wanna say - who was it who was, I believe, misquoted or he never said - Share the gospel at all times, if necessary use words.
Aron Utecht: It's attributed to Francis of Assisi, I think.
Karl Vaters: Yeah. Which I looked it up and he never said.
Aron Utecht: Probably right, yeah.
Karl Vaters: It's not that because using words is necessary. We are called to preach the gospel. But I think years ago people used to be open to a pastor walking up and just simply preaching the gospel, at least, or it seemed that way. Because I think we held a certain esteem and respect by our title. And titles used to be esteemed and respected in the culture in general, the title of President to pastor, to doctor, to whatever, titles are not respected anymore. In fact, the higher your title, the more likely you are to have to earn their trust to overcome the title. And so we have to earn the right to be heard, we have to earn the right to speak. But if we can just simply relax a little bit and be present in people's lives, I think a lot of it will happen organically as people start to trust us enough to express their needs and we are able to engage in conversation and relationship with them in a way that helps to bring the redemptive power of the gospel into that conversation.
Aron Utecht: Yeah, absolutely. I think it does take a weight off. You talk about we need to really invest in people, but it takes the weight away, and you speak it easy. I just gotta be me. Now, here's the scary thing for church people: But I'm a mess, aren't I gonna make Jesus look bad? And I saw really a great tweet.
Sometimes Twitter's mostly bad, but once in a while you'll see somebody that has a real pithy gem. I don't even remember who said it, but this tweet was, Jesus’ reputation will never be harmed by your repentance. You think about that. My relationship to Jesus is exactly because of my repentance. And so we walk out into the world with all of our messes and dysfunctions and neurosis, and wildly insecure. Jesus is never harmed by me getting it wrong and admitting it.
Karl Vaters: And we are living at a cultural moment now, different than when I was younger and different, I think, than it was for generations, maybe centuries. For a long period of time, there was a sense that showing any vulnerability would lose people's trust in us. And we are now at a cultural moment where I believe in the general population, the idea that I show no vulnerability actually causes more distrust, and a show of vulnerability is more likely to open people up to identify with us. I think that's… Everybody always wants to point out the bad, but as you mentioned earlier, there's a lot of good. And I think one of the good things that's happening culturally right now is that people are open to leaning into people as they express their vulnerability and their brokenness, and then sharing that back with you.
Aron Utecht: Yeah. I don't have the answers to this, but I mentioned the idea of deconstruction. That's a huge topic. Lots of podcasts happening on that right now. And man, if you want a following, start having guests that are leaving the faith and angry for something. I think unspoken underneath that - and there's lots of hurt that's just very legitimate, it's not fake, I hurt for every one of these stories I've listened to - but underneath it, there's also a sense of there's gotta be more than the outward show here. And so it's a little terrifying, especially if you've been in church your whole life. But the tremendous opportunity for where the church is at right now. Is there anybody better set up to show people what real life looks like, and real authenticity? And if all our institutions, we feel like we're all being gamed by some angle from everybody we see, is there ever an institution better than the church to be like, No, here's our agenda, we're gonna be right up here, on our sign up front. We want to tell you about Jesus, but we also just want to hang out with you.
Karl Vaters: Yeah. There's literally no better place on earth than a healthy congregation to answer the needs that have always been, but that are now being more evident in people's lives than they maybe have ever been before.
Aron Utecht: Yeah.
Karl Vaters: And people are sensing that vulnerability in very real ways.
Let's move from the wonderful philosophical tone that we've had so far to things a little more practical cuz we always like putting tools in people's hands, as your Good Ideas for Churches podcast does as well. And as we were talking about this, we realized, Okay, both of us are podcasters. You've done an awful lot of podcasting, both video and audio podcasts. So what I want to do is let's talk together, asking you questions, and maybe I can throw in some things that I've learned as well, about podcasting for the average pastor of the average smaller congregation who, first of all wonders, should I even do a podcast, if so, how would I do it, what would be the purpose behind it, and all of that. So let's start with that first question. Should Pastors start podcasts, and if so, why?
Aron Utecht: I'll give an odd answer. Maybe not, but maybe. I want to be encouraging and I want… Maybe there's a listener here who is… They have a great idea and it could be the next thing, and so I do want to be encouraging, but be eyes wide open about it. There is a lot of noise to cut through if you're gonna build an audience. And I looked at these when I started this more officially in the last year: The average podcast, I think I'm gonna misquote this, maybe like less than 50 listeners, and they're all just very small. You never really get past… If you picture yourself on an island, and the waves are constantly pounding in at you. It takes a motorboat or something to get you past those breakers. And so how are you gonna get through? Is your idea really going to offer something new to the hundreds of podcasts that are out there. And you may have that idea, and I would encourage everyone listening to genuinely explore that. But if not, then where else could you channel that gift and that energy that might go to a better use, a better stewardship really of our time and resources.
So maybe some questions to help filter through that. Will it a augment my ministry? Will it amplify the church ministry, or will it compete with the ministry? There could be ways that you set it up and it works in concert with what you're doing with your message, and maybe helps people draw in their friends and neighbors to what you're doing on your Sunday morning, and maybe it's a kind of on ramp. It could also be a big drain on your personal resources. Now you've done this thing, you're starting to write your messages in with thinking of the audio channel instead of the sermon on Sunday morning in front of a real audience channel, it could shape negatively how you think about that. You might start posturing for two different audiences. There's just a lot of things to think through. So I actually would encourage people to consider it. But my initial answer: Should I start one? Maybe not, but also maybe. So those are some things to kinda think about. What will your podcast add to the conversation?
I've had to learn this, and Matt's done this a lot longer than I have, and he's much more gifted at it. So lik,e we just spend a lot of time together and shift my mindset. Every pastor has enough people in their life telling them they're a great communicator, whether they are or not, but that doesn't necessarily translate to in front of a microphone. Those are things to think about.
Karl Vaters: I love that answer because my first question to you on that is actually not the correct first question that we ought to be asking. The first question shouldn't be, Should I start a podcast, or should I start or stop a Wednesday night service, or that kind of a thing? The right question should be, What are we called to do and what's the best way to do it?
Aron Utecht: Yeah.
Karl Vaters: So your answer - maybe, maybe not - is well, it depends on is a podcast the best way to do the thing you're called to do?
Aron Utecht: Yes. That's a great way to ask the question. I like that.
Karl Vaters: Yeah, because if we're starting a podcast cuz everybody's doing podcasts, I can tell you right now, it won't work.
Aron Utecht: Yeah, right. It’s hard.
Karl Vaters: I've been doing this ministry to small churches for - we were doing it for eight years before we even started having serious conversations about whether or not to have a podcast. And then almost a year of really setting the whole thing up and deciding what it would look like, what it would be called, what the format would be, so that we're now here recording what's gonna be the 34th, 35th, 36th podcast, wherever we are in our line right now. But the only reason I did that was because, okay, the next step in this ministry is to bring in advice, resources, and ideas from other people, and the best way right now to have conversations with other ministries is through the podcast medium. So the podcast became the answer to a higher question.
Aron Utecht: That's where we started as well. In trying to position ourselves to handle, like I said, the ministry things that were already coming in to The Ten Minute Bible Hour and people looking at that as a resource. Okay, let's start offering resources and then start to build relationships with churches and leaders and go from there.
Karl Vaters: And now a short break to talk about something else. If you like the content you're hearing, here are two things you can do for us. First, forward this podcast to a friend. Second, consider becoming a financial supporter through Patreon, Venmo, or PayPal. Just go to Karlvaters.com/support. For as little as $3 a month, you can help us put these resources into the hands of the ministries that need them the most. Our support link is in the show notes.
Okay, so let's make the assumption at this point that we're talking to people who have decided, Yes, starting a podcast is going to be the next best step for whatever ministry you are in, whether it's a church ministry, parachurch ministry, expanding a ministry, going deeper into it or whatever. What are the first things that we need to do in considering a podcast?
Aron Utecht: Great question. I would say, What's your concept? I struggled with this as I thought about it myself. Okay, so I've taught the Bible, but there's a thousand other men and women who have taught the Bible, so do we need another Bible podcast. What am I going to offer to the audience and think in terms of that? So what's your concept, and then take a few runs at it, I would say, for practice. Before you even buy gear, set your phone up with an audio recorder, take a few runs at it, how you think it's gonna work, and put it in front of some friends and ask them to be brutally honest. And that doesn't work, nope, yep, that sounds fine but that's not distinct in any way from a thousand other people that are doing the exact same thing. And just run those kinds of questions. So I think a concept, and idea. In terms of getting it set up, the gear actually is really cheap. You can get a mic and you can just use your own laptop and some kind of system to quiet your room down and get a recording. But the idea of the concept is good, and then you can develop a plan on where you go from there.
Karl Vaters: It really does need to match your mission. I started actually when COVID first hit and we realized I'm the teaching pastor at the church and all of a sudden I couldn't be doing any teaching for a few weeks, and then it turned out, Oh, not for a few months at least. And so that was when I immediately started jumping onto the video bandwagon. So I thought, Okay, I'm gonna put out a video a week on a teaching segment. And then I realized, because I can shoot two or three videos a day, instead of having to show up every single Wednesday night, even when I'm on the road or even when I'm sick, I can put them in the can and everybody knows on Wednesday at seven o'clock, this next teaching video - through the Sermon on the Mount was one of the ones we did, for instance, or through the life of Jesus - it's gonna come out, and I can watch it then or I can watch it later if I want to. And we actually started banking Bible studies. So we have a Bible study on Genesis, on Revelation, on the life of Christ, n the Sermon on the Mount. Right now we're doing an entire through the year Bible study. And the reason is so that people come to the church now and they go, Hey, have you guys ever done a teaching on Revelation? Everybody wants a teaching on Revelation for some reason. Yeah, we used to have to say, Well, 15 years ago we did one, sorry, you missed it. And now we can go, Actually, here's a link that you can actually follow up on. We started building a library of Bible studies for our congregation and we're getting surprising numbers of views on that as people are now watching it and handing it around. That works for our congregation. We discovered it because we couldn't meet physically, and so we had to do it virtually. But now we're continuing to do that. I put out a video every single week. Right now we're doing Through the Bible in a Year, which the audio version of is the Bible Reading Coach podcast that anybody can listen to whenever they want as well. We did it because we saw a need and we saw that either a videocast or a audio podcast was the best way to answer that need. And the first thing I did very simply was on my laptop with a camera on the laptop and found the room, just like you said, and just simply started recording it and putting it out there. And we've tweaked it as we've gone along because we've learned things as we've gone.
So maybe YouTube, Facebook Live, would that be the easiest first step for most people, because you really don't have to pay for it, and it's really very user friendly?
Aron Utecht: It could be, yes, it totally could be. I want to touch on something there that you said. You put stuff up and you had people come back to it. There's a connection there because part of what makes, should I do a podcast, or should my church branch out into this… There's so many places for people to get content and every one of them are better content deliveries than me. They're better teachers than me. They look better on a camera than me, or they have better gear. And so what's interesting to me is that you said your church has utilized that, and you can follow the metrics and you know that's working and people are sharing it. There's a connection there that they have to you, to your ministry. It's funneling towards the rest of the life of the church rather than just another piece of Bible content out there floating. And I think that's part of what makes it work. And so part of the decision process is, Okay, how is it going to, like I said, augment, how is it going to build up the ministry and funnel back in rather than kind be its own thing.
So YouTube, Facebook Live, those are an easy place to start. They also have their traps because you're really fighting against an algorithm. And so if you want your church people to watch your YouTube, it's a great free place to put stuff up, but you'll have to give the link to the people that you want to have it, because unless you get to a certain point, it's really, really hard for that video to get an organic reach, as they say. And those things are constantly being tweaked. It's almost impossible to just find the formula. If you're going to use those - and they're great places to start, they're a great service, they're free and they're easy to use - but what's your plan for it and how are you gonna use it. And know the limitations of it. There's a famous old maxim that if it's free, you're the product. So those are both free. And so what are you giving up in terms of your identity and those kind of things?
And I've wondered too… The ministry I had before joining Matt with Ten Minute Bible, we planted a church in Illinois. We met in the high school library. They had a multimedia center in the local library. It was a smaller city, the community was about 25,000, and so we were well known. It was, Oh, there's this new church that's meeting in the high school library. And the church wanted to live stream our services on Facebook every morning. And so we didn't actually end up doing that, but we did use Facebook quite a bit to promote it as we got started. And in a small community that worked really well because Facebook's algorithm uses zip codes and those kind of things, and so if you were part of the local buy, sell, swap group, then Facebook latched on, so you would get organic reach that way. I was worried, the culture becoming what it was at that point, even when we started, even more so now, what are you gonna say in your message, and are you willing to have the entire world hear that? Every pastor says, I want to be faithful to the Bible, and that's an obvious yes. Okay, but when I say hard things to my local congregation, my tone of voice is there, I can greet the new visitor at the door and I can give them a warm handshake and ask them their kids' names and do all these things, and you have a way to bridge that gap, versus if your stuff is just out there on social media, it's probably only a matter of time until somebody grabs it. Now, if you're a smaller church, of course this is much, much less likely. But eventually someone could grab ahold of teaching about marriage or men and women's roles, or any of the…even sin at this point. Anything that you're gonna talk about is eventually gonna be offensive, and the Bible tells us plainly that's gonna happen. It may be wise to use your social media in a way that funnels back towards where you really want people rather than, I'm gonna put it all out there on social media, making an on ramp rather than the whole thing.
Karl Vaters: Yeah. You talked earlier about how do you cut through the clutter. The quickest way you cut through the clutter is to do something spectacularly stupid online. All of a sudden, all of us small church pastors, we've all become, video and audio content producers, all of a sudden we're radio and TV stars. And we haven't been trained in it, and we're just saying the stuff that in a room full of people that we know, they know how to filter - he says that, but he actually means this. Or we just say something wrong and they aren't gonna run around screaming, He's a heretic. They're going, Yeah, he misspoke last Sunday, he didn't mean to say that. But somebody else grabs it and puts up a 32-second clip. If you're gonna go viral, you're gonna go viral on the stupidest thing you ever said in your life.
Aron Utecht: Yeah, it’s not gonna be for your brilliance and cleverness. That’s a great point, yes.
Karl Vaters: We need to be aware of that potential risk cuz it's very real.
Aron Utecht: Yes, absolutely. It's a trap, or it's a potential trap, I should say. Now, the other thing there, I mentioned this, there's so much content online and it may really be worth it, and I think every church should have some kind of social media presence. In a world where we're all flooded with information, what the church really has to offer is deep, meaningful relationships and giving all of that information a context to make sense in. And so whether or not or how the church starts a podcast or social media and how you use the videography stuff, I would say do what you're good at, offer what nothing else in the world can offer, which is the human presence of a loving church family. And it's sometimes debated, but the idea of incarnational ministry. We are the body of Christ. Those are the language Paul uses. We don't want to make that too much more than it is, but we are the Jesus that people will meet. Funnel it back towards that somehow.
Karl Vaters: Yeah, absolutely. The best question is not, Should I start a podcast, the best question is what is the ministry, and if a podcast is the best way or one of the good ways to promote that ministry, we should do so. Beginning on Facebook or YouTube is not a bad place to begin, but it's free, you are the product. And the bottom line is if you haven't paid something for it, somebody else owns it. Every once in a while you see pastors get mad at Facebook. I've never once gotten mad at Facebook. They're giving it to me for free, they can do whatever they want. They own it. I should be aware of that. So if I want to own it, if I want to control it, it is truly gonna be mine, how do I do that instead?
Aron Utecht: I'm not sure. I've never read the fine print. I'm not even sure what Facebook's rules are. YouTube, you do have owner rights. And the difference, all of these are different places and they have their different mechanisms for how they work. So I think with YouTube you still have your own rights to your own content. You still own it. But if you're hoping that YouTube is going to put you in front of other people for you, that's not necessarily gonna happen. You could sponsor, your ads. They're a business. It could still be a very useful place. But again, what do you want it to do for you and what are you willing to exchange to make that happen, I guess I would say.
Karl Vaters: Okay. So again, another practical question. If somebody does want to do this, what kind of time should they expect to be putting into this in order to do it well enough that it's worth doing?
Aron Utecht: Great question. Great question. On the front end, it's gonna be a lot more time than you wanted. That's the first thing.You know that. All of that will depend on what your concept is. How long do you want your episodes to be? Do you want it to be a quick hit? We're gonna give you three application points from last week's sermon that highlighted what we talked about in length in the message and funnels it back that way. Is it gonna be an interview, a long form interview? Because then you're gonna have to line up guests and do all these things. How much post editing are you going to do? How polished do you want it to feel? All of those things. Even doing a monologue. If you're gonna say, I'm just gonna talk, I'm gonna be on the mic. Are you the kind of person that has to manuscript it, what you're gonna say? Even if you don't use those notes, are you gonna manuscript it or are you just gonna try to fly by the seat of your pants and go with it? All of those things will really depend on what kind of time it takes to it. The actual sitting in front of the mic shouldn't be that long and if you're just doing an audio, processing the audio, you'll have some time learning the software. We use Adobe, that's more expensive, it's more professional. There's probably more inexpensive ones, but that gives you a great finished product and you can treat your voice and setting all… But learning all of that is a big learning curve. So all of those are parts of the process to having a good podcast that is something people are gonna wanna listen.
Karl Vaters: Yeah, I'm gonna come straight out and say this, as the small church guy speaking to a lot of other small church pastors. If you believe that doing a podcast is going to be right for your ministry, but you are not a tech expert or you do not have tech experts in the church who are willing to put in a great deal of time, do something more beneficial with your time. Because you're gonna waste so much time, so much frustration on the technical aspect of it, producing an inferior product that very few people, if anybody, will listen to. Better to go visit someone, better to go to a hospital visit, better to put more time in sermon prep, to go and hang out in your community at the local coffee shop so you get to know the neighbors. You will get far more return for your time doing that if you don't have high technical expertise yourself or somebody else in your church who has high technical expertise. The amount of time that you will waste will not be worth it.
Aron Utecht: I would agree with that actually, as was why I started the conversation the way I did. Maybe not, maybe. You could be great. And I think most pastors that I've known... Gosh, we're all generalists, right? We're good at a little bit of everything. I think most pastors could learn this skill, but there's a tremendous amount of learning curve. And what it will take in terms of mental space to make that happen, to get that learning curve down, it will detract from your other things. Yes, you very well may have more ministry fruit if you just have your neighbors over on a regular basis. Go coach little league, build relationships. And again, that's where I go back to. There are a thousand pastors out there doing their thing, putting it up for free on YouTube, and that's great, there's nothing wrong with it. But in information dump right now, the thing that we do have to offer is our human touch that no one else can replace. Pastor listening to this, you are unique, and while other people may be able to make a podcast, there is no one that will replace your presence in your community, in your place, and God, I think, sovereignly designed that to be that way.
Karl Vaters: I love that. We come back to the core of the whole thing with that. That's awesome.
Let's get to the lightning round questions and see how well you fare with these four questions.
Aron Utecht: Okay, hit me.
Karl Vaters: Number one, what are the biggest changes you've seen in your field of ministry in the last few years, and how have you adapted to it?
Aron Utecht: I think the skepticism towards the church, but institutions in general, and I am seeing a big need for all of us to really focus on really more the human aspects and earn people's trust. There's just so much happening. And then you've seen the abuse stuff. Both the Southern Baptist thing that they apparently sat on these names for all these years. And of course in the larger context of society, Protestant churches will think of that one. But the non believing world, the outsiders to the church, they're gonna lump us together with the Catholic church. They just think it's, this is these Christians. And so you have that abuse scandal. And then a lot of people are talking about pastoral heavy-handed leadership and those kinds of things, and even forcing families back together when maybe there's an abusive spouse or something. All of that is coming home to roost and people are increasingly skeptical. We're just going to have to make friends and get people to trust us.
Karl Vaters: Yeah, earning trust again is gonna be, I think, forefront of what we're gonna have to do.
Aron Utecht: Yeah. I think another thing too on that, biblical literacy. The assumption that we can jump in and do 40 sermons on the book of Ephesians. I think the thing that I have gone back to over the last several years is taking people over and over and over again to the broad narrative of scripture, that Genesis to Revelation is a complete story, and do not underestimate the power of just taking people into the story. Story has a way of getting through the cracks that sometimes propositional truth doesn't always do.
Karl Vaters: I agree. The story arc of scripture I think is something we need to regularly remind ourselves and our congregations of, and then when we tell our testimony and our story, we get to see how my little part of that story gets to play a part in this broad story of redemption and salvation that God is telling through His word.
Aron Utecht: Yes.
Karl Vaters: And then it becomes less self-centered. It's not about how God fits into my story, it's about how we get to fit into His, which is a richer, bigger story.
Aron Utecht: And we weren't designed to carry the weight of being the center of the story. We all want to, and intuitively we kind of feel like we're supposed to, but when we're finally relieved of that, we breathe easier and lighter.
Karl Vaters: Yeah. It's also a great antidote to this cultural moment where everybody's stories is trying to be centered. I think we can provide a wonderful alternative. And the only way to do what you said earlier, story cuts through narrative. We need a better narrative and Christ has already given us that better narrative.
Aron Utecht: Yes, absolutely.
Karl Vaters: Yep. All right. Question number two. What free resource, like an app or website, has helped you lately that you'd recommend for small church ministry?
Aron Utecht: Free resource, small church ministry. Alright, I'll be a little shameless here. I learn so much from my partner, Matt Whitman. Matt talks about the Bible in a way - He is one of the best guys that I've ever listened to on historical context - but he makes it sound so conversational. And you get done, and he's given me all this background on Roman coinage and all this stuff, that's where the podcast has been lately, and I think, Oh, that was awesome and that did not at all sound like the wonky professor, I'm the Bible history expert. And I think that tone is off-putting. And so I just find myself listening to his stuff as a good friend and partner and I think, Okay, I need to grow in this. I need to grow in this. Because a church audience, they like the idea that I come across as a history, background expert, but people outside the circle, that is off putting. That's something that has just really helped me grow, and I think about how I present the timeless truths of the gospel in a way that makes sense to people that aren't already part of a church audience today.
Karl Vaters: Yeah. Matt Whitman, Ten Minute Bible Hour. He takes a subject very seriously and does not take himself seriously at all. There's a charm to that that's really compelling.
Aron Utecht: Yeah, so that's a little selfless plug for what we're doing, but that's my honest answer.
Karl Vaters: Yeah. And when the two of you are together on that, there's a great give and take between the two of you that's compelling as well, so that's great.
Aron Utecht: Cool, thank you.
Karl Vaters: Number three, what's the best piece of ministry advice you've ever received?
Aron Utecht: Wow. Boy, there's a bunch of bests lists. I was just counseling this, talking to a younger pastor here this week and just giving him some tips on interviewing. I told him, when I was applying for my first job, I asked a professor, Okay, I'm going to my first interview, what do I need, what do I need to know. And he said, Their theology, you're gonna know that, this, that, you need to know who is the influential person in the church and can you work with that person. I’ve found that to be really true.
Karl Vaters: Yeah.
Aron Utecht: That same professor also said, Don't take yourself too seriously. And those are two good pieces of advice all the way back from seminary. Another maxim I've often repeated: What you win people with, you'll win them to. All of those are just so true. And one of the reasons - I'll be a little transparent. One of the reasons I struggle to take myself too serious is mostly out of insecurity. And I don't think I'm alone in that, in pastors. We stand up in front of people for a living, and so we all want to be in the seat of our professors that trained us, but just be human. Just be human. Don’t take yourself too seriously. That weight is relieved of us.
Karl Vaters: That's great. All right, last question. What's the funniest or weirdest thing you've ever seen in church?
Aron Utecht: Oh, man. I was preaching and a friend of mine, good friends of our family, he took his little boy out to the restroom in the middle of the message. And the church doors, the back of the sanctuary, were all glass. It was like a tall 12-foot window and then the glass doors, and they closed them during the service. And so the father, his little guy was three or four years old, and he held the door open with his right arm, and the little boy was kinda lollygagging around, gawking around. And instead of walking through the open door, he walked right into the glass. It was a kind of a quiet moment in what I was saying, and it went kadong into the whole congregation. And I saw a couple people's heads.... Because they didn't see it. It was at the back of the sanctuary, and I was the only one who saw it. And I saw it and I saw people's heads kind of cock, and I kept the laughter in and I kept going. It was the closest I'd ever been to losing my composure in the middle of a message, right in that moment. But it was a great story. So that dad and I, we had a great laugh about it afterwards and I said, nobody else saw it, but they heard it, and I almost lost it, and we had a good laugh.
Karl Vaters: That is some serious self control on your part, I gotta hand it to you for that.
Aron Utecht: Yeah, I think I went back and listened to the audio recording and I could hear myself, I went, huh, and then I went on with the next thought, and it's like, Okay, grab the pulpit, look at your notes, what's the next thought, and don't look up. It was a lot of fun though. When you get to know the congregation over years like that, you just have those little moments that you shared history together. That's a lot of fun.
Karl Vaters: Yeah. It is very cool. Hey, if people want more from you, how can they find you online or follow up with you on anything?
Aron Utecht: So our website is goeyesup.com. Eyes Up is the name of our nonprofit, and that comes directly from John 4:35 where Jesus is talking to the disciples and they're like, What are you doing, why are you talking to her, this woman at the well. Lift up your eyes, there's opportunities out here. So our nonprofit is Eyes Up, goeyesup.com, and you can shoot me an email from there. The podcast is listed there, the Good Ideas for Churches podcast. We're working on other resources as well that we're gonna put up at the website. If you've got a problem, there's things that we could try to help with. Reach out to us from the website and we'll see what we can do for you.
Karl Vaters: Perfect. Thanks, Aron, appreciate it.
Every once in a while when I tell people that this podcast is called, Can This Work in a Small Church, They ask, Is the answer ever no? Today we get pretty close to that, don't we? So can this work in a small church? As Aron answered, Well, maybe, but maybe not. In other words, before we start asking if a podcast is a good idea, let's remember to ask ourselves, What is it that our church and ministry wants to do, and what's the best way to do it? In a lot of situations, the best use of our limited time and energy may be to invest ourselves even deeper into the church and into the surrounding community with low tech hands-on touches rather than a podcast. If a podcast is right for you, by all means do it. Start with the free platforms, move to ones that you have to pay a little bit more money for, but make sure you've got the time and the skill to do all of the technical work that it's going to require. The bottom line is this: Don't get enamored with the tools and the toys. Know what God has called you to do, then do it in the best way you know. If that's a high tech answer, fine. But if it's old school pastoring, which it will be for most of us, stay faithful in that.
If you would like to support this ministry with a one-time gift or monthly donation, and help put these resources into the hands of the ministries that need them the most, check out our support link in the show notes. Would you like a transcript of this episode? It will be available within a few days of the podcast air date at christianitytoday.com/karlvaters. You can find the link in the show notes.
This episode was produced by Veronica Beaver, edited by Phil Vaters. Original theme music was written and performed by Jack Wilkins of jackwilkinsmusic.com. And me, I'm Karl Vaters and I'm a small church pastor.