Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Another "gem" from Larknews

Virtual Pastor Pleases Picky Church Goers

"LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Don Lawrence preaches three times a week to an appreciative congregation at Life Baptist church. His sermon tapes often sell out, and this year he is leading the people through a study of Matthew’s gospel.
But Lawrence is not a real person. He is a virtual, on-screen pastor whose sermon topics, personality, even mannerisms are chosen collectively by his congregation.
"We’ve never been happier," says head elder Louie Francesca. "We finally got the pastor we all want."
Virtual Pastor, a UK company, began pioneering the "virtual pastor model" in 2005, and has created a dozen lifelike, on-screen avatars which preach, joke and give personal anecdotes as if they were real people. All their sermons and personal stories are scavenged from the Internet.
When a church subscribes to Virtual Pastor, each person in a congregation helps "shape" their pastor by entering likes and dislikes into a response box during services. This live feedback is fed into the company’s servers and helps to change the pastor’s sermon topics, hair style and more in following weeks. The result is a pastor perfectly tailored to the will of the congregation.
"We unify churches and remove any reason for quarreling," says co-creator Gavin McReady, standing next to the servers in Scotland where all the virtual pastors reside. "It’s a monumental achievement."
It takes eighteen months for a congregation to fine tune their pastor so he becomes a perfect representation of what they want, he says. The shaping include gestures, physical appearance, personality, hobbies and sense of humor.
Different churches have produced widely differing results. A congregation in Huntington Beach, Calif., adopted the Virtual Pastor model last year. Within weeks their on-screen pastor stopped wearing suits and started wearing Hawaiian shirts, shorts and flip-flops.
"We loosened him up quite a bit," says one congregant with a laugh.
The pastor also stopped preaching expository sermons in favor of topical sermons like "How to Make Life Matter" and "Surfing through Paul’s Greatest Hits."
Some church-goers have been surprised by the results. A woman in Bangor, Maine, was alarmed to see her virtual pastor turn progressively more "British and tweedy." He began quoting C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton, speaking in a British accent and wearing wool vests.
"My church was a bunch of Anglo-philes," she says. "You learn a lot about people by how the pastor gets shaped."
McReady and his programmers also like to throw random events into the pastor’s life, such as an unexpected crisis, decision or funny occurrence. A virtual pastor might walk on-screen one day and announce he is going on a diet to lose 35 pounds by Christmas. That theme plays out for the remainder of the year as he announces his progress week after week.
"People like surprises as long as it doesn’t impinge on their basic control of the pastor and his message," McReady says.
Churches with virtual pastors say troublemakers tend to quiet down or leave because they don’t have a real person to target with complaints.
"People can’t pin their problems on the pastor anymore," says an associate pastor who handles day-to-day matters at a Virtual Pastor church in Idaho. "He’s their creation. They can only blame themselves." •

....'nuf said


Jeano said...

I couldn't resist adding this comment from another post. It rings true.

"Well James, I realized very early on that the best way to avoid being impacted by a sermon is to analyze it. I knew that if I could pretend I was there to study it and dissect it from the outside, I could save myself all the hassle of actually learning and applying the message to my life.

James Lipton:
So instead of being a participant in the worship experience, you’re an observer?

Yes, exactly, although in that last sentence I would have worked a little harder to achieve alliteration. You could have easily said, "So instead of being a participant, you can be a pretender?"

James Lipton:
But is that what you are doing? When you critique, are you really pretending?

Good question. Some people do discuss the sermon because they want to learn from it. For me, I'm just trying to pretend I am listening and look super duper holy. To that end, I find there are a few phrases every master complainer must know:

1. I'm just not being fed.
What a fantastic way to look as if you're more spiritual than the pastor himself.

2. That message was not meant for me.
You are so generous to have sat there patiently while someone else that needed that sermon was able to receive it. What kindness.

3. That didn't feel like church.
What a perfect smokescreen of vagueness. How can anyone argue with your feeling? What does that even mean? More organ? Less organ? Better lasers? No lasers?

4. There wasn't enough Bible in that for me. That felt like a business leadership book.
What's enough? No one knows, which is why this is such a gem.

5. I'm not sure that sermon works in a postmodern world.
I'm not even sure I know what the word "postmodern" means, but it's fun to say. Few things make you look smarter than repeating this word. Repeatedly.

James Lipton:
A master at work, truly a master at work. In closing, I'd like to leave you with a thought Drew Barrymore shared with me: “I've always said that one night, I'm going to find myself in some field somewhere, I'm standing on grass, and it's raining, and I'm with the person I love, and I know I'm at the very point I've been dreaming of getting to.”

What? That's how we're wrapping up this fictional conversation?"

Maureen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maureen said...

OMGoodness...this is a joke....right?!?!

Maybe we can do the same thing for the Bible and get rid of all those pesky rules.

Jeano said...

Yeah, it is a joke, but there is a ring of truth to it!

Thanks for reading my blog, by the way!

Alida said...

"The result is a pastor perfectly tailored to the will of the congregation."

What a scary thought!! I know this is not real but there are some who would truly like their pastor to be tailored to their will.

Jeano said...


Joe Lombardi said...

And I thought it was hard to find a pastorate before. I guess those of us who are trying to be REAL and AUTHENTHIC (especially for all those post-moderns out there) pastors don't have a chance anymore. Perhaps I can earn some money "posing" to be one of their on-screen avatars.

Love your blog, Jean.

Jeano said...

What's sad is that the "Virtual Pastor" thing really comes close to reality in some ways.
Thanks for visiting my blog.
Check Jim's out at: