Christian MediaEngaging Culture

Why Discuss and Debate Christian Media (including TV Evangelists)?

Over the years on this blog, I’ve generated some interesting responses about TV evangelists and the perceived excesses of some.  Many people have read and responded, and many were very passionate about their position.  But since I do get some criticism for my positions, I think it’s very important we look at why I created this blog and why this conversation about media, faith, and culture is so important.

First – I’m not interested in just criticizing. Anybody can do that, and frankly, there are a lot of blogs out there from people who criticize when they have nothing at stake and no real risk.  My goal is to start a conversation about the change revolution that’s happening in media, and how we get our message heard in a media-driven culture.

Second – at philcooke.com it’s not necessarily about theology or financial accountability. Those issues are important, but there a lot better experts and commentators on those issues out there.  We’re not here to discuss word of faith, Calvinism, eschatology, the rapture, or anything else related to theological issues.  We’re also not financial accountability critics.  I wish more religious media organizations were more theologically astute and had more financial integrity, but there are better commentators on those issues.  (And some really bad ones as well).

Third –  I have some risk involved. I’m not a “couch critic.”  I work with many of these churches and ministries, and some are clients right now.  As some readers have noted in their responses, I do have something at stake here – my business.  Could I lose some clients as a result of my positions?  Absolutely.  But I prefer to think of this blog in relation to faith based media somewhat like the movie “Galaxy Quest” was to “Star Trek.”  It poked fun at the Star Trek series, but as you watched “Galaxy Quest” you realized that the creators of that movie loved “Star Trek.”  They criticized and poked fun, but did it out of respect and love.  That’s the way I write.  I’ve worked in religious media for a long time.  I see the impact it can make, but I also see a lot of abuses, excesses, and bonehead strategy.  I don’t write because I hate these organizations.  Quite the opposite, I see their ships heading toward the rocks, and like a lighthouse, I’m trying to point the way out.  That might be a little melodramatic, but it’s about calling attention to problems, so we can get them fixed.  For way too long in this industry, we’ve seen issues and not spoken up.  This blog is that forum.  It’s time to call each other (including me) to a higher standard.

Fourth – This conversation is about the change that’s happening in media, and why we need to respond. It’s about the changes in the digital media world that are having an impact on our message.  It’s about why Billy Graham style movies don’t work anymore, the role media is playing in the emerging church, engaging our culture more effectively, and how to communicate in a media-driven world.  You’ll read (and see) more on this blog about those issues.

Will it offend?  If you’re stuck in traditional religious radio and TV, yes.  If you’re not interested in creativity and innovation, yes.  If you happy with where you are, yes.

But if you’re ready to see a change in the way people of faith communicate their message to he world, and ready to engage this culture, then this is the blog for you.

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13 Comments

  1. Phil, your views (and the blog) are a breath of fresh air in American Christianity today. Keep up what you're doing, you have the spirit and the mindset of a reformer!

    (and I hope we can have you come to Bulgaria soon 🙂

     

     

     

  2. You'll always work with others that are just trying to get by.  That's why I appreciate visiting your blog each day and reading about your experience and joining in (responding) with others trying to make trails into the next step of Christian Media.

  3. One thing that concerns me is how few ministries have “real” boards.

    Other non profits have a board that the head of the ministry actually reports to. They look at results, legal matters, ROI, capitol campaigns, salaries, perks. They are a governing body that serves both the charity and the public that supports it.

    In the ministry world, too often boards are made up of friends, family members, celebrities and long time staff members who have never worked anywhere else. Their role is limited to hearing and agreeing with the vision, rather than helping to shape and manage it.

     That creates a world where this is no accountability. For now, the church world is not required to file the same level of reports as other non profits, fund raisers are not required to register. But as many mega-ministries come under the spotlight of the media, those rights are in danger.

    The truth is, a typical visionary does not want to be held back by a board. I have worked with enough bad boards to understand their concern.

    But there has to be a better way …a way that God would be pleased with…what is it?

  4. I enjoy listening to teaching tapes on my way to work each morning. One of my favorite ministers is Ed Cole – the father of the men's movement. On a recent tape he said, that God isn't looking for "talented men" he's looking for "faithful men" [and women].  Faithfulness is the key to being successful wherever you are in whatever field God has called you to…including Christian media. Talented people will rely on their talent first and God second. Faithful people will rely on God first and their talent second. I know God miraculously led me to where I am in ministry. And when I find myself discouraged and confused by all the issues we have been talking about on this blog, I read letters from men and women from around the world who have seen their lives changed because of Christian television. One word from God CAN change a life. It's happening right now. Let's not let 20/20 or how many cars Fred Price has make us lose focus on giving the the world a Jesus who died on the cross and loves them with an everlasting love.  

  5. Phil, For many of us "second wave" TV veterans with serious scorch marks from our years of working for mercurial president-founders, it's a refreshing breath of air to have your blog as a place to kick around current topics and thorny issues. You said it well in that many in the past have not spoken up. To be fair, it might have been out of fear, frustration or isolation. There was no connectiveness to tackle issues that one thought only THEY were going through in their cubbyhole of ministry. The web has changed that connectiveness radically so that one can check in on trends, ideas and issues daily with friends, colleagues and even strangers rather than wait for an occasional conference or workshop. Geography, time and distance don't mean the same anymore in a digital world. Your points about risk, criticism, theology, financial accountability, etc., are very valid points. Your blog – as you've aptly explained – is about media & change. Those are the issues (primarily) on the table. The ministry I work for – led by one of the sharpest pastors I've ever met – is all about "bringing a living Jesus to a dying world." That's our missions statement. Are there problems? Sure. Like anywhere. But it's all about keeping a focus on that missions statement. If a ministry has lost it's reason for being, maybe it's time to re-evaluate calling and purpose. And how they go about media. And if a leader's lifestyle and ego are becoming issues, be careful. Both scrutiny and scandal can burn a toxic hole through a ministry pretty fast and do great damage to the gospel (near and far). To quote that great sargeant from Hill Street Blues: "Let's be careful out there."

  6. Phil, After reading through this entire series of discussion, this is THE HOT TOPIC that will rattle the most nerves. And unfortunately, we ALL have a lot at stake… If you work in Christian media close enough, you will see a lot of BIG PROBLEMS with the system.     I've admired and appreciated your position in leading REFORM and that's not easy with the social, economic and religious climate of this country today, especially when we put our own agenda at stake. I guess we all hope and pray we can operate independent of the secular world, and that MONEY is not the PRIMARY ISSUE, "ministry is." But that might be foolish to assume.  In a time where we have the opportunity to make the biggest POSITIVE IMPACT with the most important message, we find ourselves stumbling over each other in blame games, hurt feelings, selfish motives and pride. From the top to the bottom, I don't think anyone of us is completely immune or completely innocent. We've all probably been hurt or hurt somebody in the process of trying to clear this path for God to show up and show off through Christian media.  And that's exactly what some secular media outlets want, to show off all the flaws of Christianity and discredit God's work, so people are disgusted with churches and Christianity. And sometimes they do a really good job of it! How can we fix it?  CHURCH ACCOUNTABILITY:  Some of this is our fault. We know what our Pastor drives, his clothes, how much jewelry his wife has. The works. If it's too much for you to handle, don't give him 10% of your imcome. Whatever church you go to, you should know and trust your Pastor.  He hired his idiot kid to run a part of the ministry. Yes, I HATE that too. After twenty years of media experience, taking orders from a creative seven year old is tough!  Especially when he's getting paid double and my wife needs new shoes. But is it all that different from a thousand other businesses where the same thing happens. The boss will hire the kid if the kid can take working for mommy and daddy. It's human nature. I'm trying to teach myself to live with it and not get offended. Only in heaven will the best qualified person get the job. Because most of us would not want the job God gave His son. It is shameful that some churches payscale for media professionals is almost minimum wage, but we have a choice to take the job. I still blame myself for working for peanuts under the guise of doing it for Jesus. It's the same anywhere, if someone can take you for a ride, don't give him your car.  There are a lot of churches doing very poor jobs of managing their resources, and when all is said and done, God is going to hold them accountable. I wouldn't want to be in those shoes. I wish every church had a board of directors outside the family to run the ministry, but hey! We have a choice to go to those churches and support those ministries. We just have to take the blinders off and see it for what it is. Unfortunately, we need to do our homework before writing the check.  Us Christians can be very naive when it comes to trusting the church. So find the church you trust and remember that WE are the body of Christ, the people. Find Christians you love and trust and keep that community alive. It's about our relationship with God and we don't want that to suffer because of an organization. At some point in time, your church, just like your wife, kids or co-workers are going to offend you. How we get past that is going to dictate what we become. MEDIA CONTENT AND DISTRIBUTION  There are so many great things to be a part of outside the church for media creation. The 168 Hour Film Project is one of them. If your church is using your money to create content, then you may want to get involved. If it is not to your liking, don't support it. It's too much time, work and energy. Put your heart into something you love. Media is a rough business period! And the BUSINESS MODEL for Christian television makes it all the more CHALLENGING. Yes, I wish that TBN would pay for program development and offer better programming, but it's not my station.  All I can do is pray for them and hope that they will follow God's will, just as i have to do for myself and my family.  There is just so much to say on this topic and so much at stake. I really believe that we will get past all of this if we conduct our business with honesty. Treat everyone with respect and let them know what they are getting into when they take on a job. Don't try to take advantage of any situation in the name of Jesus, even if it costs us personally.  Keep doing the best job we can, like we're doing it for God and let Him do the rest. Personal accountability, forgiveness and selflessness will go a long way in accomplishing this GREAT COMMISSION.

  7. First, always remember that Money follows Ministry – not the other way around. Second, I do not give my tithe to a pastor, I give my tithe to God and He holds ministry leaders accountable. As a preacher's kid, I know what it's like for my family to be criticized by members of our congregation because of what we wore or the car we drove. Third, we can talk about business models and marketing plans until we're blue in the face, but because most of us work for "mom & pop" ministries, things will always be done a different way – no matter how much we want it to function like "a business". And oh, by the way, if you think salaries are low, try working for $175/week like I did when I started at PTL Television in 1978. 

  8.  Not to offend anyone. We do tithe to God but we put it in the hands of a caretaker. And we want that caretaker to be "good ground" to sow into. As a Christian I want to feel comfortable that my money is doing the right thing and that people in need are being taken care of, and that people are being ministered to with compassion and truth. I'm not supporting a family business. I am glad that i feel that way about my church and Pastor and I trust them. Which is not the case with a lot of ministries I have dealt with.   I've seen some real abuses when it comes to using people to accomplish ministry goals. TV/Film/Media can be a vanity project that a ministry is not ready for. "Money follows Ministry" or vice-versa is a fine line. Doing things a different way or doing them the right way is always a matter of opinion, but the motives behind the money are what most of us are questioning?  No one cares if the pastor has a Mercedes or a jet, as long as it is in balance with ministry giving and helping those in need.  Society has gone off on a game of one-up and showmanship and we are afraid that the church is falling into the trap, and sometimes using media and God to support their own personal agenda. It's dangerous ground and the faith of millions of American's are at stake.  When is enough, enough. Look at the sports world, show business, the business world. When it creeps into the ministry, we have a real problem.  

  9. There really should be a big difference between the church and society. I agree with you Mike, the excess of the sports world, show business etc. should not enter the ministry, yet it does. Humans can rationalize almost anything. In fact many of those in ministry really believe they deserve large sums of money, the best private jets, multiple houses, ten cars……whatever else they want. I think a lifestyle that is self centered and based on all the "toys we want" does not lend itself as a good example of a Christ follower. Needless to say human nature would like to take us all there. Over the top extravagant lifestyles are bad enough when someone has created a product or service and made the millions of dollars it takes to live that way. What bothers me is when someone takes donations and uses them for their excessive lifestyle instead of the money going to it's intended purpose.

     

    I think Billy Graham did it the right way. He limited his income, was accountable to a board of directors, kept his books open for the public to see, and always tried to live in such a way that there was never an appearance of evil. I think he realized that living any other way could hurt the cause of Christ. I do hope ministers/ministries will be able to avoid the temptation of lots of money and low accountability.

     

  10. Hey Phil, I love your passion for what you do. I may not comment much, but I do enjoy reading all the blogs. We do work in a very interesting field, don't we?

    And concerning your plane, I guess you do most of your blogging while waiting in the airport, so if you had a plane would we still have this blog?

  11. Phil, bring it as the spirit leads brother! Keep it real and keep telling us how you really feel … that is why I and others are here and hit this blog daily to see what the latest discussions are. I am encouraged to see people here use their real names, put their work and websites on the line and come out of the closet with their Christian beliefs and “Christian media” beliefs.

    For too long I’ve been the type to criticize complain and hide under an alias of some sort. When I first saw this blog and saw that you were willing to lay it on the line with your associates, clients and such, I was drawn to take part in the conversation and do the same.

    Thanks for leading the way and keep up the good work.

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