Almost everyone has heard this common definition of insanity: Insanity is when you keep doing the same thing, in the same way, while expecting different results.
Strangely enough, although almost everyone has heard the definition, rarely does anyone think it applies to themselves. Many understand the need to change in order to achieve different results. Few seem to think they personally must change, in order to make things different or better.
I’ve seen it often in churches. People in congregations continually voice concern that “Our church is not growing” or “Our church is losing its young people,” yet those same people insist on doing things as they always have been done.
I have seen this in the world of gospel magicians. In particular, I’ve seen it with the organized Fellowship Of Christian Magicians. Concern is voiced over, “Look at how many members we have lost” and “Look at how few now attend our national convention,” yet there is a strong push to keep things the same as they always have been.
We live in a world that is continually changing. If we do not change with it, we get left behind.
Some will suggest that change is compromise of belief and principle. They say, “God’s Word does not change. Gospel truth does not change. Therefore we must not change.” They resist change and excuse themselves by saying, “The results of our work are up to God. We just do what we do and let Him take care of the rest.”
Such a suggestion indicates erroneous thinking. It is absolutely correct that God’s Word does not change. we must not compromise His truth. It is also true there is a Christian responsibility to apply wisdom to the circumstance of life. This includes being willing to adjust to changing culture. There are times when Christians must readjust methods and alter familiar behavior.
In the book of II Corinthians 9:19-23 the apostle Paul said,
“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”
The apostle was saying he adapted to the needs of the people he was trying to reach. When the situation changed from dealing with Jews to dealing with gentiles, he changed how he did things. His statement, “To the weak I became as weak,” suggests, along with a change of methods, he was even willing to adjust his attitude and lifestyle when it helped him be more effective.
There is no such thing as one method of evangelism and outreach that works in every situation for all kinds of people. (Another great example is how Jesus Christ healed people. He used different methods to get the same results.) Those who serve the Lord must continually seek the Lord for wisdom and direction as they look for ways to convey the same, unchanging truth, to a constantly changing world.
If gospel magicians are going to be effective in these modern times (the 21st century) they must pay attention to how the world has changed in this century. If they have not done so already, it is time for some to adjust their thinking.
Here are several things, in light of changing times, that gospel magicians must especially consider to be effective in ministry.
#1. Gospel magicians must educate themselves about tools relating to digital technology.
This is the digital age. Nowadays, when churches book a performer, they typically ask for video to help promote the event. As well, rather than asking for printed materials to be sent, they want a short bio, posters and/or pictures in digital form. It is time for gospel magicians to have such things available. The attitude of I am too old to learn computer stuff needs to be set aside or we will be set aside. Those who are serious about remaining effective in ministry must be willing to learn new things.
In context of a performance, CD players and even CDs are becoming a thing of the past. (Cassettes are even farther in the past.) A phone, laptop, or other digital device is now the expected means of connecting to a sound system. Along with new means of playing music, technology has brought greater precision into how things are played. It is easy to create a playlist. It is easy to go directly to whatever songs need to be played. It is easy to pre-set the volume for a song. A person who shows up with an outdated music player and wants to fast-forward or rewind to find things, will be looked upon as out of touch with the times and one who probably is not credible.
Another way digital media has changed things is the visual aspect of teaching and performance. It has become common for churches to have large screens for showing video. It has become common to project whatever is happening on stage up onto these screens. Gospel magicians must learn how to comfortably accept the presence of cameras and projected images. They must learn how to use such things to their advantage. Powerpoint or Keynote presentations have become readily accessible tools. For many congregations, having something up on a video screen, to accompany a lesson or message, has become so familiar there are those who will feel something is missing if it isn’t there.
On a practical note, like all magicians, this is an age when gospel magicians must be careful not to announce the proper names of whatever tricks they intend to do. If the proper name of the trick is used, people will look it up on YouTube to learn the secret.
#2. Gospel magicians must pay attention to political correctness and the sensitivity of society against intolerance and prejudice.
This is not about compromising our message. It is about building bridges rather than barriers. This is not about failing to tell God’s truth. It is about understanding there are things which do not need to be said. There is no need to chase people away by way of open criticism of celebrities and government leaders. There is no need to chase people away by way of a politically charged statement. Even if a speaker is confident he or she is right in the criticism, is it helpful or necessary to voice the criticism?
There are gospel magicians who, on stage, think they appear clever by making disparaging remarks about politicians and political issues. They do not seem to understand, even if much if the audience agrees with them, there may be some who are alienated. If a performer is there to share Christ, rather than run for office or lobby for a vote, why risk alienating anyone?
Apart from politically oriented comments and critical attacks on celebrities, there are other things a person can say, which do not need to be said. There are things which have potential to be divisive or offensive. Personally, I am not a health food nut. I think the current craze to “eat organic” and feast on things such as kale and tofu is silly. I have learned there are those, actually more than I expected, who do not view such things as silly. If I, during the course of a program, make jokes about such things, I can turn part of an audience against me. Why would I do such a thing? If my aim is to connect with people, why say things that might turn them away?
It should go without mentioning there should never be discriminatory behavior or remarks. God loves and equally values all people, no matter what color or ethnicity. The testimony of the gospel magician must be that of caring for everyone.
Again, I am not referring to compromising or failing to express biblical truth. I am talking about other things performers might say which are not biblical nor necessary. What we think about a national leader, what we think about a certain liberal or conservative agenda, and what we think about a current craze, is not an essential aspect of the gospel. We do not need to announce ourselves in favor of the border wall or against the nuclear treaty with Iran to reach people for Christ.
We are talking about new times and a new generation. I grew up in a culture where people were often admired for bold talk and willingness to announce their opinion about anything and everything. These individuals were seen as strong and tough-minded. There were many who would willingly follow the leadership of such individuals. Nowadays people are more cautious. Nowadays, if someone says something, people pull out their phones to check the accuracy. Nowadays, if someone spouts off an opinion, people know they can go to the media and find other equally credible persons who spout off the opposite opinion. Nowadays the statement, “You can believe it because I said so” just doesn’t work.
Those in ministry have always needed to rely on the authority of Scripture. In this new century, along with strong reliance on the power of God’s Word, there must also be extra care to avoid non-Scriptural issues which may antagonize rather than win an audience over. More than ever, gospel magicians need to “stay on message” which is the gospel of Jesus Christ and plain biblical truth.
#3. Gospel magicians must be careful about remarks and behavior which can be viewed as sexist.
This is especially the day and age to pay attention to how the opposite sex is referred to and spoken about.
Not long ago I was at a event where an older gentlemen who professed to be a Christian, approached some attractive young ladies and said, “I don’t care about being politically correct. If I want to tell a woman I think she has great legs, I’m going to do it!” Then he proceeded to give his evaluation of the looks of the young ladies. His words were intended to be complimentary, maybe even flattering, but the ladies were appalled. They did their best to keep their distance from him for the rest of the event. Had he tried to share some spiritual message with them, there is no way they would have listened. The man’s behavior was just plain stupid. Unfortunately, he did not see it as stupid because he was remembering a time, long ago, when a man may gave been able to say such things and get away with it.
References to a woman’s weight or figure are not acceptable. Jokes about women being silly are not acceptable. I once heard a preacher say, “I think just about every woman I know talks so much you would think she was vaccinated with a phonograph needle.” The congregation laughed. His attempt at humor did not seem to bother anyone. Nowadays, it would bother people.
Society has become much more concerned about any words or actions, from men or women, that can be interpreted as sexual harassment. Gospel magicians must be aware of this concern and wise about what they stay to or about the opposite sex…and about how they touch a member of the opposite sex. This applies to what happens off stage and on stage. If a member of the opposite sex is to be spoken to or touched, it must always be in an unquestionably appropriate manner.
Some may think such attention to being gender-sensitive and politically correct is foolishness. The attitude would be, Who cares what others think, I am going to say whatever is on my mind! I am going to act in the same way I always have! In response to that perspective I ask yet again: Why alienate the very people we are there to reach? If allowing ourselves to be more sensitive to what others are thinking and feeling makes us more effective in ministry, why not take a more careful approach in how we do things?
#4. Gospel magicians must treat volunteers from the audience in a polite and Christ-like manner.
From the early days of the past century a kind of magic was promoted that involved getting laughs at the expense of spectators brought on stage. Put-downs and belittling remarks were often used in the name of humor. (Such as asking someone to hold out a hand then saying, “Not that hand, the clean one.” Or looking at a person’s apparel and saying something such as, “I see you dressed yourself today…must have been in a hurry!”)
Beyond insults, it was not uncommon for magicians to take physical advantage of a person who had come on stage to assist. (Such as spilling water on their heads or asking them to get into awkward positions.)
Near the end of the past century this began to change. Magicians became aware of the need to be considerate of volunteers. With the advent of the 21st century, such consideration must continue and be magnified. A practical reason for this is the present-day concern with bullying. If a magician is not careful, he will appear to be a bully by taking advantage of those who have trusted him by way of their willingness to join him on stage. Once the audience deems a performer a bully, his ability to minister to them is over.
This should be automatically understood by the gospel magician. The thirteenth chapter of the book of I Corinthians wonderfully describes the love Christians are to exemplify. A key aspect of that love is kindness and well-mannered behavior. Apart from what people think is or is not funny, and apart from what other magicians typically do, the gospel magician must demonstrate the love of Christ in every action. Being on stage does not give one the right to misbehave. Let 21st Century gospel magicians never forget that before they are magicians, they are Christians!
#5. Gospel magicians should use stories to teach.
The fact that many in the 21st century have grown up in a media intensive environment seems to make them especially responsive to engaging narrative. There can be no doubt that stories have the power to increase interest and comprehension. Giving young people the facts about how illegal drugs can harm their lives may do little to change their choices. Telling them a story about someone who’s life was ruined by such drugs may lead to a life-changing decision.
It is one thing to teach, “Encourage others.” It is another thing to tell of a woman who was planning on committing suicide. She decided, before she ended her life, to go to the beauty salon and have herself made up to “look good” one last time. While at the salon, a hairdresser commented to her about every day being a new day and the fact that, no matter how tough things are, “the sun will come up again tomorrow.” The hairdresser had no idea what the woman was going through. She was simply, as was her habit, sharing a positive approach to life. The suicidal woman went home with the words of the hairdresser on her mind. In the end, she decided she too would wait for the sun to come up tomorrow. When it did come up, she went back to the salon to thank the hairdresser for literally saving her life.
A story like that will make the point much more powerfully than just telling people, “You may never know the difference your words might make.” As well, the lesson of such a story is very likely to be remembered.
Another truth about the new generation is it is used to commercials which convey messages in just a few seconds. Often, within those few seconds, a story is told. This means people are used to brief stories. It is good for gospel magicians to tell stories. It is not good for gospel magicians to be guilty of long-winded embellishments. The challenge to be a story teller is not about performing with more words than action. It is about mastering the art of telling good stories in a direct and to-the-point manner.
Tell a brief story about someone who’s life was changed by the gospel of Christ. Tell a brief story about how a biblical truth guided a person to find success. Tell a brief story about the consequences of sin. Tell a concise story that illustrates whatever concept you are seeking to convey. Near the end of a program, share a short yet powerful story that helps people know how to respond to the truth you are presenting.
#6. Gospel magicians should be prepared to work with large audiences.
The kind of gospel magic primarily demonstrated in the previous century was good for small church settings. Gospel magicians did not need to worry much about the visibility or size of their props and actions. A reason why is, up until 1955, most protestant congregations were small. There were some exceptions to this, but the rise of the megachurch did not occur into the second half of the 20th century. (A megachurch being a congregation of 2,000 or more.) It was not until the 1980’s and 1990’s that many such churches came into being. Now large churches are much more common. In 2010, the Hartford Institute’s database listed more than 1,300 protestant churches in the United States with 2,000 or more members. According to the same data, approximately 50 Protestant congregations now have an average attendance exceeding 10,000 per Sunday, with the highest recorded at 47,000 in average attendance (Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas). On any one weekend around one in ten protestant churchgoers in the US, or about 5 million people, attend a church service in a megachurch.
While it is true that most churches are still small (there are certainly far more churches in America today with less than 100 members than those with 1,000 members or more) the fact must be faced that, in general, churches are getting larger.
A concept relating to this, vital for gospel magicians to understand, is larger churches are often the ones looking for attention-gaining attraction-oriented programs. They are aggressive about reaching people. They have grown large because they focus on how to capture the interest of those who are non-churched. They are the ones who are likely to contact a gospel magician or Christian illusionist about making a presentation to their congregation. When contact is made, they will want to know can you handle our situation. In particular, they will want to know if a gospel magician can maintain the attention of a large group and if what the gospel magician does can be seen and heard by a large group.
A wise gospel magician will think in terms of preparing for audiences that may number several hundred people or more. If the gospel magician is serious about pursing the doing of programs in many churches, he or she will need to think in terms of working with audiences that may number 1,000 or more. Gospel magicians should become intentional about playing as big as they possibly can.
This does not mean it is necessary to have big stage illusions (although having some available for use does seem a good idea). By way of video projection and cell phones small tricks can be enjoyed by large audiences. The props themselves do not have to be large, but the gospel magical should think through and have ready a program that will work for a large audience. Their must not be the assumption that the programs I do today will take place in places similar to the church I grew up in. Nowadays a person who grew up in a country church of 75 people may well end up in front of an audience of 750 people, or even 7500 people.
A key to “thinking big” is the development of strong showmanship skills. A small audience, that may contain a good number of people who already know the performer, will be patient with a performer even when his or her presentation is sloppy. A large audience becomes disinterested and distracted much more quickly. A large audience will contain few people who are already “friends” with the performer and ready to give him or her some slack. They will have high expectations. They will be looking for quick confirmation that the performer is credible. To hold the attention of large groups it is critical to understand timing, emphasis, production value and stagecraft.
In the previous century many gospel magicians were content to be “doers of tricks.” As they showed their tricks, they shared their faith. The average gospel magician did this kind of thing in front of small groups. Showmanship was not a serious concern. The important thing was good intentions, a little bit of fun, and a spiritual message. Nowadays, much more than in the past, gospel magicians need to be “communicators” and “showmen” with the ability to share with many people at once. There must yet be good intentions, fun and a spiritual message, but there must also be skill in commanding the attention of an audience.
#7. Gospel magicians must forget about having a big set up or a lot of tables on stage.
Another thing which has drastically changed since most of the 20th century is how churches do their music. Up until the 1980’s the average American church had an organ on one side of the stage and a piano on the other. A single song-leader would stand behind a pulpit to lead the congregation by way of his voice and arm movements. The singing would be from a hymnbook. The concept of a “praise team” or “worship team” was new and not welcomed by many congregations. Choirs were familiar, but usually located in a choir loft or designated space separate from the main church platform.
21st century churches have drastically changed this approach. Now it is rare to find churches that yet use only a piano and organ. In many churches organs are no longer used at all. There are not nearly as many choirs as there used to be. In this day and age, church platforms are filled with guitars, drums, a keyboard, a bass and other instruments. Mic stands are spread out in almost every available place. Rather than a single song-leader, there will be a group of people. Rather than hymnbooks, there will be a projection screen or a projector which puts the words to songs up on a wall.
What does this mean to the gospel magician? It means he or she cannot plan on setting up a variety of equipment on stage before a presentation begins. Mic stands, music stands, cords and musical instruments will be in the way. It may even be a problem to put up a backdrop because it will interfere with the light path of a projector.
What must the gospel magician do about this? He or she must adjust. It is time to learn how to play big while having a quick setup. It is time to learn how to work from tables and equipment that can be easily rolled on and off stage.
An example of this aspect of needed change is the use of the old-fashioned suitcase table. It is something a gospel magician unfolds and puts in place previous to a program. Some props can be kept safely inside the table, but usually other props are carefully balanced on top such a table. The magician must then watch carefully to ensure no props are accidentally bumped or moved by people passing by. Nowadays, the assumption should be made that, if such a table is in place on stage, it will get bumped. If it does not get bumped or moved around, there will be musicians who are unhappy with the magician for invading their space and hindering their musical presentation. It would be much better for the magician to work with a different kind of table, such as one with an open top, which can be rolled on immediately before his performance and otherwise be kept out of the way. Ideally, if a table is needed, the magician should be able to bring it on stage with him as he makes his appearance.
Note: In the past century there were magicians who took pride in how many tables they would use on stage. Along with side tables, it was fashionable to have a central table which looked similar to a small pulpit. This table would often have a special design or logo on the front. For most situations, this is no longer a good way to do things.
It is possible to do a good program while starting with a clear or nearly clear stage. As well, it is possible to end a program with a minimum of clutter on stage. It is time for gospel magicians to learn how to do this. Many modern church situations require it. (Putting props on castors, working from open top tables, creating a staging area apart from the main church platform and bringing things on and off from the area, working from bags and boxes that can be used to carry props on and off stage quickly are all part of accomplishing this goal.)
#8. Gospel magicians must learn to “do the time” and no more than the time.
This is another matter which has become a larger concern because of another aspect of ministry which became “new” toward the end of the last century. This aspect of ministry is now firmly in place for this century. It is the idea of churches having multiple services. There was a time when the common expectation was for church services to start around 11 AM on Sunday morning. Now there may be services at 8 AM, 9:30 AM, 11 AM, etc.. (Churches also may now have services on Saturday evening.)
The reality of multiple services requires a congregation, in particular its leadership, to stay on schedule. If an early service goes overtime, it hinders the services that follow. Out of respect for child care, Sunday school class time, transportation needs, moving people in and out of the auditorium and getting the church platform organized for each individual service, all services need to finish at a predetermined time. This has created a more serious focus on time and careful planning than what churches seemed to have had in the past.
As well, it seems the larger the church, and the more aggressive a church is about having many fruitful ministries, the greater the concern for doing things in a timely manner. Nowadays there are churches which exactly schedule every aspect of what they do. A chart is made that allows three minutes for the first song, one minute for the opening prayer, five minutes for the announcements, etc., until everything adds up perfectly to the planned service length. (Whether or not a believer approves of this approach, the reality must be faced that it has become the approach for many. Not all, but many.)
What does this mean for the gospel magician? If a church leader says, “You have ten minutes,” the performer should do no more than ten minutes. If a church leader says, “You have twenty-five minutes,” the performer should do no more than twenty-five minutes. If a performer is given forty minutes, then forty minutes is all he or she should do. If the performer goes beyond the given time, and extends a service longer than originally planned, that performer is not likely to be invited back again, nor will the program receive a good recommendation.
It has always been a good approach to do things in an “on time” and “within the time” manner. It is part of being professional. Even so, in the 21st century it has become more important than ever. Now, when people look at the time they do not see clocks with hands moving over a round space. They see specific numbers telling them the precise moment. Precision is an expectation. Gospel magicians should practice and discipline themselves to know precisely how long their presentations are and how to craft them to fit whatever the expected time frame might be.
#9. Gospel magicians must except the reality that personal appearance is associated with credibility.
In spite of the old saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” people typically do make decisions based on the first thing they see. This has pretty much always been true. Nevertheless, it is a critical concern in this postmodern time.
The prevalence of visual media means the public is aware of trends and imagery. When style changes, people know it. Near the end of the 20th century, the style for magicians changed from tuxedos with ruffled shirts to open collar shirts and a sport jacket. By the end of the 20th century, “with it” performers were going on stage in jeans and untucked shirts. This transition, from tuxedo to untucked shirts, took more than thirty years.
When the 21st century began, it took less than twenty years for a transition from untucked shirts to tucked in shirts, then to suit jackets and even a neck tie to reoccur. In this year (2018) entertainers (this applies to the entire entertainment world) seem to be returning to fancy suits and rhinestones. It appears safe to assume styles will keep on changing quickly as this new century continues.
There are always those who defy the trends and get away from it. It is not a requirement to be dressed in a current style to be able to communicate with the modern generation. However, in general, for the sake of credibility, it is needful to remain somewhat close to current expectations. If one appears to be “out of touch” with current society he or she is liked to be judged as “out of touch” in message.
There is a tendency, it seems especially so for Christian leaders, to remain in whatever style they chose while in their early twenties/thirties. If wearing a suit and tie for church events was the thing to do at that time in their life, they lean toward always wearing a suit and tie for church events. If blue jeans and an untucked shirt was what they learned to do for church events, they tend to always want to be wearing jeans and such a shirt.
In the past, gospel magicians have tended to do the same. Many still have the tendency. There are those who wear the same costume on stage today they wore twenty or more years ago, or even back when they first started performing. (Some may do this because they are thrifty. They don’t like spending money on new costuming!)
It is better to understand that, when possible, we should look like we understand modern culture, style and expectations. One way to achieving this “look” is by dressing in a manner consistent with the present entertainment or teaching world (depending on your personal emphasis). When our appearance suggests to an audience that we understand the culture, our audiences are more likely to assume we understand them and therefore our message is something for them. There is a definite connection between effective communication and the one who is communicating having the look that he or she “knows what she is talking about.” Gospel magicians need to look like they know the people to whom they have come to minister.
Note: Gospel magicians who see themselves primary as teachers or preachers will not have the same style of apparel as those who see themselves primarily as magicians and entertainers. (That is, magicians and entertainers who yet share their faith.) Those who are primarily entertainer/magicians will be more flamboyant. Those who are primarily teachers/preachers will be more conservative.
#9. Gospel magicians must be sensitive about modern day taboos.
In the 1970’s and even early 1980’s there were magicians who would use the following joke: They would start a card trick, then look out over the audience and ask, “Is there anyone here who does not like card tricks?” They would pretend like someone said, “Yes.” Next they would pull out a handgun loaded with blanks and fire it in the direction of the person who supposedly had spoken. This was followed by the words, “Is there anyone else here who does not like card tricks?”
In light of present culture, it is hard to believe such a stunt ever got a laugh, but there was time when such an action occurred without objection. Many thought it clever and humorous. In this present day, a magician who would do such a thing would likely face legal repercussion including arrest.
As times change, so do the feelings of people about a variety of things. In the early days of the 20th century magicians could get away with pulling a rabbit out of a hat and holding it by the ears. Later in the 20th century, no one wanted to see a rabbit held by the ears. Nowadays, there are many who do not to see a rabbit, or any animal, used at all in a show. Society has become extremely sympathetic to anything which indicates an animal might be made uncomfortable or abused.
Does this mean it is time for gospel magicians to take rabbits and doves out of their shows? Not necessarily. In some circumstances, and some local regions, there may yet be no problem with the use of animals. On the other hand, there are circumstances, and local regions, where a show using animals may be publicly protested. If not publicly protested, there will be private complaints sent to those who book the show. (Consider how, in this 21st Century, major circuses have either closed completely or found it necessary to avoid public outcry, to take elephants and exotic animals out of their shows.)
A gospel magician may continue to use livestock, but should assume there will be times when it is not good to so. He or she should design a show that can be strong with or without animals. It is not wise to have as one’s only “closer” an effect that requires a dove or rabbit. The occasion may come when public sentiment, or even actual regulations, will not allow it. On such an occasion another, equally strong, “closer” should be available for use.
Another issue about which the world has drastically changed is the use of fire in a show. During most of the 20th Century tricks with fire, tricks with lit candles, and tricks with flash paper were used without concern or restriction. Toward the end of the 20th Century public awareness of tragedies caused by fire in crowded venues put strict rules in place.
In this 21st century most places have rules against the use of fire. There is a trend for churches to no longer use real candles in weddings and at events such as Christmas eve services. Battery operated LED lights have taken their place. In almost all theaters and pubic auditoriums the use of fire is strictly forbidden unless a representative from the local fire department is on hand to supervise. There is an expectation for this representative to be financially compensated for his or her time on the scene.
This means a 21st century a magician who wants to to feature tricks involving fire is foolish. He or she is crafting something that will have limited use. In many situations it will not allowed to be used at all.
In the least, in this modern day, if a gospel magician wants to do something with fire there should be a “backup plan” for the same effect so it can be done without fire when necessary.
Another place where change began in the previous century and yet needs to be understood in this present day is showing proper respect for foreign cultures. There was a day when it was popular to decorate magic tricks with supposed “Chinese” designs. Magicians would make references to asian signs and names, often not even knowing what the signs and names meant. There were a number of magicians who had an actual “Chinese act” which was separate from their regular magic act. In context of this act the magician would don oriental robes and speak in a sing-song manner. “Back then” such a thing could be done. Today, it would not work so well.
A gospel magician, who wants audiences to be open to his message, will understand the need to avoid anything with potential to be offensive to another culture. If one owns props decorated with a Chinese or oriental motif, it would be good to redecorate the props with non-culture related symbols. In this day and age, anything that seems to make fun of, or minimalize, a race or group of people will be a barrier to effective ministry.
On a practical note, although not offensive, a gospel magician should be aware of the fact that messy tricks such as those with confetti can be disturbing to audience members who worry about the mess made and how it is going to be cleaned up. To keep positive relations with clients and venues, gospel magicians should plan on cleaning up after themselves. If a show makes a mess with paper, mouth coils, water, confetti, etc., gospel magicians should pick up after themselves or vacuum things up when the show is over.
On a positive note, it is interesting to notice how the attitude toward card tricks has changed. Early in the 20th century, almost all churches frowned on tricks with playing cards. Toward the end of the 20th century, many churches were fairly comfortable with card tricks. In this 21st century, apart from extremely conservative and fundamentalist groups, card tricks are usually accepted. (Even in some conservative and fundamentalist churches card tricks will be greeted without offense.)
#10. Gospel magicians must have a commitment to excellence.
In the past, many people might only see one or two gospel magicians in their lifetime. When they did see a gospel magician, they would have nothing to compare the magician to. He or she would be the best they had ever seen, because they had not seen much. The very novelty of being a gospel magician would be enough to attract a crowd and generate excitement.
In this 21st century, via YouTube, other applications and social media, people can compare anything they hear about or see with other things heard and seen. As well, they are accustomed to reading reviews about options they contemplate. Facebook is a place where opinions about shows and other experiences are constantly voiced. Gospel magicians may not find themselves rated like other consumer offerings would be, but they can be sure opinions about their work will be published. If the performer is sloppy, the fact will be broadcast and soon well-known. If the performer is skilled and effective, this too will be broadcast and soon well-known.
There has always been a need for those who minister through gospel magic to do so with excellence. The 21st century need for this is greater in the sense that repercussions caused by a lack of excellence come faster and harder. If a gospel magician does something silly, if he or she makes a mistake through lack of practice or by ignorance of their craft, video of it is likely to soon go up and become viral. Those who oppose the gospel may use it to mock the faith. A performer who hopes to have a career in gospel magic may have a difficult time recovering from the message of ineptitude unintentionally created for himself or herself. Essentially people will say, “Since this person clearly does not know what he or she is doing, this person must also not know what he or she is talking about. How can anyone take this person seriously!”
The other side of the issue is postmodern people connect competence with credibility. This present world pays star athletes big money to endorse products often entirely unrelated to the athlete’s special skill. (Such as a basketball player who is a spokesman for underwear. Playing basketball wonderfully does not make one an underwear expert!) Nevertheless, for no truly logical reason, the assumption is, since this person is so good in a sport, the person can be trusted in whatever he or she endorses.
Gospel magicians will find their efforts to communicate greeted with greater trust and receptiveness as the quality of their performance increases. The effort to become skillful as a magician and showman can translate into being a much more powerful communicator.
In the past, gospel magicians, in particular the International Fellowship of Christian Magicians, has exhibited little quality control over their work. Sloppy, uncouth and lame presentations have been allowed, and occasionally even smiled upon. (An example is a time, at a national FCM conference, when the wife of the president of the organization was asked to come on stage then lay on her back. She was wearing a dress and totally unprepared for what she was asked to do. Although uncomfortable, because she did not want to be a spoilsport, she cooperated. A juggler then stood over her body and juggled, while making jokes. The jokes were not off-color, but they bordered on disrespect for the woman and her husband. The woman certainly was in a disrespectful position while on stage. No one stopped the performance. No one apologized for the performance. No one disciplined the performer. It was laughed off as, “just one of those things our members do.”) In this new generation such a thing cannot be allowed.
No longer can a “good-old-boy” mentality be the face of gospel magic. To reach people in the 21st century we must have their respect. To have their respect, we must respect our own craft and ministry. This is accomplished by insisting on gospel magic being well-represented. For it to be well-represented, individual gospel magicians must work hard to do whatever they do extremely well. Organizations of gospel magicians must demand that those who teach and perform at their events meet high standards.
Gospel magicians must be earnest and intense about making the message of the gospel and God’s truth heard and understood.
For gospel magicians the message must always matter the most. There must be clear vision for the truth that goes beyond all tricks and techniques. Gospel magicians are not to be about the doing of “tricks.” They are to be about effectively showing people biblical truth and the way to know salvation through Jesus Christ.
Special thanks to Kerry Kistler for his motivation to write this article and to Dr. Chris Beck for his suggestions about concepts to be included within the article.