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Why Do Some Media Ministries Keep Shooting Themselves in the Foot?

If you’ve read this blog for very long, you know that I’ve struggled from time to time with naming specific people, churches, or ministries, who have done some pretty stupid things – especially in the media. From supposed “prophets” who sell prophetic soap, to TV evangelists that so clearly focus on a poor, urban audience and rake in the money, there are times I want to rip them to shreds in print. Part of the temptation is that those are the posts that most people read – not only here, but on other sites as well. Gossip sites like TMZ, PrezHilton and others, are some of the hottest blogs on the net. So in my desire for a wider readership, it’s tempting to take the critical approach.

On the other hand, my personality is more about being an encourager – pointing out what we’re doing right, rather than what we’re doing wrong. That’s a big reason I travel across the country teaching at workshops, seminars, and conferences. I rarely get paid anything, and even then they usually cover just the plane ticket or hotel room. But I still value those opportunities so much I’m willing to spend that time reaching out to encourage other producers. There are a lot of really good people slogging away in the trenches, creating innovative media projects that are making a difference. And rather than slam the lazy ones, I’d much rather congratulate the creative producers out there.

So despite the occasional temptation to nail the boneheads, the “encouragement thing” is what I’m really called to do.

But the big question is “Why do so many media ministries keep shooting themselves in the foot?” We live in a transparent culture, where it’s far too easy to find out information. Years ago, I worked with ministries that wouldn’t allow us to film any shots of the private jet, or show the Mercedes or mansion. They didn’t want the partners to know about them. Back then, it was easier to keep the riches a secret. But today, it doesn’t take much of a Google search to find everything from the DUI from your college years, to the yacht you keep down at Newport harbor.

But how do we get the message out? Do we publicly humiliate these guys? The problem with that approach is that it tarnishes the good guys as well. When the bad TV ministries are exposed, experience indicates that donations to the good ministries also drop, hurting the terrific things that the best media ministries are doing out there.

But can we afford to keep quiet? I’m always embarrassed that secular news organizations expose some corrupt or excessive media ministries because it’s something the Church should have done first. But time and time again, we’ve seen that if believers can’t keep our own house in order, God will expose it through unbelievers.

That’s why I want to call media directors and faith-based producers to challenge these excesses. I spoke with one media director who works with a pastor who recently went through a nasty divorce, and yet never took one Sunday off. Forget rebuilding your life and ministry – this guy never even paused for a single second. He’s supposed to be teaching his congregation about holy, Christ-like living, and yet not only can’t he keep his own marriage together, but he refused to even acknowledge that it’s a problem. I had to ask that media director – “Don’t you see something weird here? How can you continue to give your pastor a nationwide media voice, when you know this isn’t right?”

He said he viewed the pastor as being like King David in the Old Testament. Although David committed adultery, God never pulled him from his position as King. But I reminded the media director that although God used David in a powerful way, he was the political leader of his time – not the spiritual leader – as a pastor is today. And sure enough, God used Nathan, the spiritual leader, to hold David accountable.

Just last week I met another media director who works for a pastor (of a very large church) who was arrested in a city park allegedly with his pants down, cavorting with homosexual men who frequent that location for sex. Once again, he continued in the pulpit, in spite of the wide newspaper and media exposure (so to speak). One more time, I had to ask, “Aren’t you embarrassed? Don’t you find it offensive to the gospel that he continues in ministry as if nothing happened?” But he shrugged his shoulders and replied that some church leaders had finally pressed the pastor to get counseling, and he was seeing a therapist (although still ministering from the pulpit each Sunday.)

I get absolutely no rush writing these words. In truth, it depresses and saddens me. But as Christian communicators, how can we continue to support these guys? How can we justify it? Is a paycheck that important?

If you’re a media leader in a church or ministry, take that responsibility seriously. You’re not just pointing cameras or setting up slide shows, you’re giving that ministry leader a major platform to the community and eventually the world. You’re “aiding and abetting” as they say in law enforcement. If you see something out of character speak up. Act like the leader God has positioned you to be. Question decisions, ask for accountability, and speak to the elders or other respected leaders if you feel lines have been crossed.

Because as media leaders, I believe we’ll be just as accountable one day as the people we work for….

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  1. Great thoughts, Brian. However, I think that you leave out one thing. While it certainly takes time to build a working relationship in any new endeavor, there is a matter of past experience that a leader has to take into account. What I mean is that though I may be a new hire in a particular location, I am not new to the business nor my craft. What's more, in the process of applying for and obtaining the position that I am in, the leadership structure that hired me had to take into account my past work and accomplishments.

    Let me clarify it this way: The person who hired me to work in my current location received a resume that listed my various experiences and accomplishments,as well as a demo reel of the work I have done covering the span and range of my career. To that were added letters of recommendation from a variety of past employers, co-workers, collaborators, and other professional colleagues. To that were added reference checks made by my new employer personally interviewed by key leadership personnel and everything was considered both intellectually and (as we mostly work in church media) through prayer and petitioning of the Spirit of God by the leadership before the okay was given to bring me aboard as an employee.

    In fairness, I have to admit that it can be daunting for any organization to put its image in the hands of someone who is not really known to them, even if they have checked them in every way they wish. I also admit that it takes some time to really grasp the vision of a new organization so that you can present it both accurately and effectively. However, I was hired because of what I can already do as shown by my experience and verified by those who made the call to hire me.

    Having made such an investment of time, money, and manpower to determine that I am indeed a producer and an editor who knows his craft and can do it well (at the very least, as well as this organization would like me to) I would expect there to at least be a professional-level trust of my ability to handle the media of this organization in an intelligent and responsible manner. All too often in my experience, however, ministries have hired me or contracted me, etc. based on my professional standing but have then proceeded to completely discount that I am a trained and capable professional and treated me as if I were wholly ignorant of the very skills that they hired me for. Content, in these situations, was left the prerogative of people outside of the disciplines of media and my skills, talents, and experience amounted to me being considered nothing more than a well-trained machinery operator.

    God did not tell Moses to find three people who were simply faithful, loyal, and obedient. God told Moses to find specific experienced craftsmen in specific disciplines and let them do the work: "every gifted artisan in whom the LORD has put wisdom and understanding, to know how to do all manner of work for the service of the sanctuary, shall do according to all that the LORD has commanded.” (Exodus 36:1)

    Furthermore, God never told Moses to "build a working relationship" with the craftsmen first, or to "share the vision" of the tabernacle. Moses didn't have to have "team-building" events or "seminars." Moses only had to put out the order:"‘All who are gifted artisans among you shall come and make all that the LORD has commanded:" (Exodus 35:10). Moses recognized that God Himself would see to it that the craftsmen would do the right thing: " …He has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom and understanding, in knowledge and all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of artistic workmanship… …He has filled them with skill to do all manner of work of the engraver and the designer and the tapestry maker, in blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine linen, and of the weaver—those who do every work and those who design artistic works." (Exodus 35:31-35).

    We are gifted artisans with wisdom and understanding to know how to do all manner of work for the service of our pastors and leaders. We have been so, some of us, for many many decades, all of us at least for nearly all of our adult working lives. We come not as novices nor as mere equipment operators, we come trained, already having had many attempts and failures, as well as a great many more successes. We come to bring success with us, already knowing how to do it. I assume that is why I am asked to do anything that I do, or at least that is what I am led to believe when I get the call that says, "Can you produce a video of such and such?"

  2.  Good subject.  I have worked in the media ministry fro 25 years and I have to say this is right on. The things you hear that are spoken from the pulpits in America just don't line up with the lives that are lived backstage. I just have not benn able to figure out how someone can get up on a Sunday morning and preach a word and tell people how wto have healthy realationships when there realationship is in the divorce.

    Where is the integrity of the people that preach one thing and live what they preach! As a staff member if I were to do some of the things these guys do I would have to  sit in a counseling sesion with a pastor on staff to tell me that I'm in the wrong and blah!blah!blah! Come on man get real. 

     That actual happend by the way, I lost my job because they wanted my wife to come in. I said, No, I 'm not dragging her throw this crap! I didn't even saying anything or do anything wrong, my name was just brought up.

    Another story, This Pastor I use to work for asked me to edit and produce a project for the business he has outside the church. I give him a quote, he doesn't like it so I drop the price, because I like him. I really kept it higher just because I knew what he was doing and got what I really wanted. Anyway, I complete the his project. Weeks go by, now I have to start putting a bug in their ear to get paid.. it drags on. I'm told well we just don't have the budget to pay you yet. That very same day I walk out to the parking lot and look who pulls up in  a brand new $150,000.00 sports car. I thought, I guess you don't have the budget. I was so angry I wanted to take a sledge hammer and bet the you know what out that car.

    I have lots of stories of things like this, and what gets me upset is the fact that here we are a production staff working our (bleeps off) I have worked many long night and into the morning, meeting deadlines makeing sure the program needs to be right. I won't send out a show that likes like someone shot it on a home video camera.

    How about this one. I work for a guy right now who is just a nasty tryrant, I mean when this guy walks in the room I thought Satan walked in. The staff lower their heads as if in shame when he walks in. I have only been there for a month and I notice these things. The atosmphere changes when he comes in.  I have learned a trick or 2 about how to see what a person is really like. If you go on an interview with a Pastor, try to meet at their house, if you can even get that far. If he has pets, see how his dog reacts to him when he comes in the room, if the dog is happy to see him that's good, if the dog tucks his tail and cowers that's bad. If you meet him at a resturant, watch to see how he treat the waiter. Just a couple of tips.

    I have a lot of stories as I'm sure alot of you do. It is very disapointing to see some of the things that go on in the church today. I think if Paul the Apostal were around he would have a field day. You know in the old roman arena.

    Would it be cool to make a movie or documentry about all the stories people have. Make like that movie of the fake band called Spinal Tap. Comedy maybe. I thinke we would have abox office hit.

    Well,  I could go on and on and end up with a book.

    Talk to you guys later.  Larry Walker

  3. Years ago I worked at a ministry where we jokingly renamed it "Ready-Fire-Aim-Ministries". We laughed because the preacher was notorious for giving us projects with short timelines and little preparation. Hairbrained ideas that had not been researched or thought thru. He wanted it now and wouldn't take no for an answer. Most often we had to come back and spend a lot of time and money to fix what should have never been produced in the first place. Ministries and businesses reflect the personality of their leaders. If the leader is a tyrant, then the staff will cower in the corner. If he encourages creativity, then  creative people will climb mountains to do the impossible. Unfortunately, leaders have little accountability – because most often that minister and his wife started the ministry and don't want anyone telling them what to do, or pointing out their shortcomings.  Years ago, I worked for a television network that kept telling viewers that "this was their network". But when the time came to sell it to a home shopping channel, guess who walked away with several million dollars? His board consisted of he, his wife and his college roommate. When staff members got tired of being scolded, he would remind them that there were plenty of people standing outside to take their jobs. Needless to say, everyone lived in fear. Phil's right when he says we are "aiding and abetting" when we promote people with moral or ethical failures who should be held to a "higher standard". I guess the real questions is: if you're just a producer, director, writer, cameraman or editor working at the bottom, how can you influence change at the top?

  4. I say AMEN to most everything my colleagues above have stated. Many of us could tell horror stories about hypocrasies, injustices and just plain manipulation and immorality we have seen and experienced by God's "chosen." I applaud my brother Paul's statement that you need to find your calling and remind yourself why you're in Christian media. I also understand my friend Larry's anger at being micromanaged to death, not being allowed to let his talents to rise to the surface. He's right; leaders need to hire good people, trust them, then let them do what you hired them to do. Effective, successful secular bosses do that. Why can't Christians? I think Jody's comment from the movie 300 was very apropos – come back with your shield, or on it. That's my kinda guy. Jody, I don't know you. But you can watch my back – and I yours – in a media foxhole any day of the week. Just name the battle – I'll be there. Last thought – church based media ministries need to determine whether they want to be a televised church service or a true broadcast media ministry. If a church service, make it the BEST church service it can be and cover it well. If a broadcast ministry, then your leadership needs to understand the true power (and the weaknesses) of TV, the genre they're producing in, how to tell a story effectively…and most of all, the importance of PARTNERING with your media/tv dept hand in hand to bring the Gospel in a relevant way to as many people as you possibly can. Get the best dedicated, experienced people you can, give them good tools, back them with a budget, let them think up outrageously creative things and don't micromanage them to death. Set them free to be today's Michelangelo's. If you do those things, I promise you you'll be on to something both God and you will be proud of. Oh, by the way, better live a Godly, transparent lifestyle with LOTS of accountability. Nuff said.

  5. Thanks, Phil. You are a man who practices what he preaches, and I want to encourage you for that ;o). Thanks for restraining your impulses to be critical, and hanging on to the good stuff. God is at work everywhere, and to simply throw around judgements – as warranted as they may seem – is arrogant at best and atheistic at worst. I struggle with this too, and I'm convinced that it is increasingly important for you to maintain that encouragement mindset, especially as your verbal activity becomes increasingly public. Only God can see the full picture, and we are only witnesses of what he's revealed to us.

    I always smile when I start reading James 3, "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways, and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body."

    God has chosen you to be a teacher, but by his grace this is not a job you take lightly. I am so thankful for the example that you are of faithfully doing your part in God's kingdom, without dividing up his body. "How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!"

  6. I recognize a few of the names of those who are commenting, so I know a lot of the people who they worked for and can only say that I have been through all of the same horror stories too, sometimes even with those same employers. Paul and Craig are really hitting the nail on the head with their admonition to remember why we got into Christian media in the first place.

    I just wanted to contribute that any proper minister wouldn't take his car to a mechanic and then proceed to instruct the mechanic on how to repair his vehicle. He wouldn't go to a restaurant and tell the chef how to prepare his specialty dishes. He wouldn't go to the doctor and show him how to perform a procedure. Yet, minister after minister in my experience feels that they can hire media professionals and then tell them, step by step, sometimes going so far as to writing out exacting instructions, how to create their crafts.

    I imagine that this is because, unlike the janitor (who they don't instruct so precisely on cleaning his toilets), the media arm of any organization is an extension of the platform upon which the leader's message "from God" is carried. The weight of the high accountability placed upon teachers in the scriptures must cause them to become acutely aware of the need to have the message be presented exactly right. As a result, fear of spreading a flawed message leads to micromanagement even when the leader is completely ignorant about the medium he or she is managing.

    At this point, I would challenge ministers to take a closer look at Exodus chapter 38. When God commanded Moses (a ministry leader of some renown) to construct the Tabernacle, God didn't tell Moses to do the work himself. Instead, God commanded Moses to seek out craftsman in woodworking and metalworking, etc. who would use their skills and talents to make what Moses needed. All Moses had to do was find these people and let them do what they were gifted and called to do and when it was over he would have precisely what he needed to build what God commanded exactly as God wanted.

    A Tabernacle or a television show (or, heck, just video announcements) requires specific skill sets that not everyone possesses. A ministry leader, alone, can not possibly master all of these skills plus all of the skills for every other part of the ministry plus what he needs to be a successful ministry leader. What's more, God doesn't require him to. Like with Moses, God provides smiths, workers, and craftsmen to build precisely what the leader needs and they do it without the need for the leader to hold their hand every step of the way. Left to their skills and God's inspiration, they will provide their leaders with precisely what they need to accomplish exactly what God wants of them.

    Sadly, this realization seems like a pipe dream in most church production houses.

  7. Emilio, I think bringing up Exodus 38 is good but for another reason that I don't think we covered yet.  Most ministers build their ministry and/or church from the ground up.  Like Moses, they are in it for life (which is why so many find it hard to step down when they fall).  Those who built the Tabernacle were with Moses for 40 years and followed his "exact" blueprint or vision from God.  In the 25 years I've been in television (22 years for one ministry) I've seen many – not all – who have careers in media that "move up" or "hop around" from ministry to ministry.  They don't stay in one ministry or church for more than 3 years.  I'm not saying this is wrong – especially if it's God's will for their life – but from a minister's lifetime perspective it doesn't give them much stability they can count on.  Over the years I've trained new staff and students: some come in ready to learn the "ground rules" and run with it while others challenge everything.  So, I can understand a minister that started out with a great television media "support" team to a team constantly challenging his vision to a younger team that he "molds" through micromanagement.  It comes down to our EARNING the minister’s trust and that takes time to: listen (for the minister’s wants and vision), attempt, fail and succeed.  I've worked years with ministers to do this so that I end up wasting less time on what isn't going to fly (air) and more time developing what is.  If you are tired of your hard work getting lost in the day-to-day ministry machine and not getting the “notice it deserves” then build your own tabernacle! ministry! company!  Plus, I've had to learn to be flexible with different ministers within the ministry.  One tells you what they want from what they see in their head and another minister needs to see something before they know what they really wanted to begin with.  You can stay in a state of frustration or – with God's help – you can put it aside ("Darn it, God put me here for a reason!") and rise to the occasion and see God work through you to bring to visual life the vision – the blueprints – of the minister.  When you've earned their trust you'll hear what I hear from time-to-time after "can you produce a video of such-and-such": "YOU KNOW WHAT I WANT". —– Brian Sinks – Oral Roberts Television – Senior Editor, Producer; IN1ACCORD Productions – Owner, Producer, Editor
  8. Man, did this strike a nerve in me. I really do want to see this get better, but what are we in the Christian Media going to do about it. I didn't want to get critical of ministeries and how they deliver the word or what they do behind the set. I can look at my own life and I'm sure I can make a book out of all the things I've screwed up. Really what can be done? How do we hold not only ourselves accountable for our actions, but our brothers as well? It makes me wonder what do the people in the secular market think when they see us acting the way we do. To be honest I don't see anything different, only once in awhile or it's few and far between. I use to work at a studio in Hollywood and sometimes it looks and feels just as cut throat as that studio in Hollywood. Sad, but sometimes true.  "CAN'T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG!" Maybe we could all just start our own show. Seems to me there is enough talent here.

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