It doesn’t take a genius to see that many of the controversies in today’s Christian community intersect with religious media. Media is a critical tool for sharing our message with the world, but like other tools, it can be abused or used badly. Worse, in a celebrity driven culture, media has enormous influence over the people who use it. It requires a relentless drive for money – since them medium is so expensive – and as a result, much of American Christianity has focused on funding and business. As a historian said:
“Christianity began as a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. When it went to Athens, it became a philosophy. When it went to Rome, it became an organization. When it went to Europe, it became a culture. When it came to America, it became a business.”
There’s a lot of issues here – celebrity worship, setting up our leaders to fail, greed, lack of spiritual discipline, the influence of media, money, lack of spiritual knowledge and discernment and more. The question becomes, can we really use media effectively, or do the extreme stories impact the culture more than our efforts at evangelism?
As I have asked many times, does the corny, cheesy, over the top style of much of Christian media (especially television) drive away as many people as draws?
That’s why understanding branding and identity is so important. Media is more than the message. As Catholic Canadian writer and philosopher Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message.” Too many pastors and religious leaders today are saying, “Let’s change the method, but not the message.” I agree with the first part. We do need to constantly change our methods – especially in the new world of digital technology and social networking. But we also have to realize that the medium does change the message as well.
The message you see and hear in a church of 300 or more people, with live music, an excited pastor, and the electricity of the crowd, is dramatically different from the experience hearing it on the radio, watching it on TV, or downloading it in a little box from a website. It’s just not the same. Your experience is difference, and that impacts the message you receive.
So during times of controversy (and all the time for that matter) let’s remind ourselves of the importance of a real, genuine understanding of the power and influence of media. For some, like an addiction, it overtakes their personality. For others, it’s a wonderful release of innate gifts and talents. For some, it will turn them into a con-artist, on a relentless pursuit of money to keep the venture going. Few many, it’s about greed. But fortunately, for others, used with insight and discernment, it’s a positive tool to change the world.
Which one are you? Which one is the pastor or ministry leader you follow? The answer to that question, might keep you or someone else from being the next headline.