After decades working in Christian media, I’ve noticed a lifecycle that happens in a significant number of churches and ministries when it comes to media. It’s serious, and I’ve seen it happen again and again, often leading to disaster. In fact, when a pastor or leader doesn’t start a media ministry with experienced advice and counsel (which is usually what happens), this unfolds in virtually every case. Here’s the timeline:
1) When a pastor or leader launches a media ministry – particularly radio or television – chances are, the organization was small, so they had to launch on a budget. Money was tight, and as a result, they couldn’t afford to hire experienced professionals, so they used church or ministry volunteers, or perhaps a local freelancer, or a local producer of other programming like news, fishing shows (I’m not kidding) or something else. In other cases, they had no clue who to hire, so they did the same thing – hired anyone they could find. Most with little to no experience, and all with inaccurate expectations.
2) With that motley but committed crew onboard, they begin producing, but although they mean well, they don’t know what they’re doing, so the programs are pretty poor. The pastor knows the programs aren’t good, but doesn’t know what else to do or what changes he should make. He would recognize a good program if he saw it, but because he has limited knowledge of media, he doesn’t know how to fix the existing programs. The pastor struggles inside, because after all, there’s a lot of people potentially watching these media programs – particularly when it’s radio or TV, and nobody wants to look like an amateur.
3) The embarrassment continues and before long the pastor or leader blows his stack. It’s not pretty, but the pastor has taken all he can, realizes that something drastic has to be done, and has a very tough meeting with the media team. He doesn’t mean to be upset at them personally, but because he’s so frustrated, feelings are hurt, people get angry – after all, they were inexperienced and didn’t know much about media to begin with, and now they feel the pastor is taking it out on them.
4) But within a few weeks, an equilibrium occurs, and the media ministry continues, however two critical things have happened:
A) The pastor doesn’t enjoy spending creative time with the team anymore, and so rarely communicates with them. His feeling is, “I’ll show up to preach, and you just capture it on video and edit the program.” He’s done with collaboration.
B) But the media team doesn’t understand this attitude, and the hurt feelings turn to bitterness, which sometimes turns to anger. They continue producing the program, but it becomes a paycheck rather than a calling. It’s about money, rather than the mission. They deliver the program each week, but cease to care.
5) This is the point where the media ministry collapses, or goes to the next level. At some point, the pastor – or someone on staff – is introduced to someone with media experience, perhaps a Christian media producer or consultant. That person comes in and immediately recognizes what’s been happening and sees there are only a few ways this can play out.
- In one possible direction, the pastor has had enough, and can’t possibly see his way to becoming close to the media team. At the same time, the media team can’t let go of the past hurt, and refuses to drop the emotional baggage they carry. Insecurity rises. In these cases, the media outreach continues hobbling along without unity, purpose, or creativity. For instance, if it’s a TV program, except for occasional flashes, it becomes old school, and looks like something produced a decade or more ago. After all, nobody really cares anymore. Not only do they not listen to new ideas (especially from an outside advisor or consultant) but they actively work to undermine his or her influence.
- In the other possible direction, both sides learn to forgive and let the past be the past. New ideas – wherever they come from are welcomed because they mean a better program and more inspired media. The pastor is willing to try again spending time with the media team, kicking around ideas, and making them feel valued. On the other side, the media team is willing to release the bitterness, the insecurity, and the anger about how they’ve been treated by the pastor or leader.
- And for the record, there’s a third possible direction, although it’s very tough, but sometimes necessary. That’s a situation where the media team can’t let go of the past, can’t get beyond their insecurities, and stays bitter. In those cases, it’s best to remove those members of the team. Bitterness is like cancer, and if it’s not healed or cut out, it will continue to grow. Sometimes, the only way for a church or ministry to move forward is to clean house and start with a new team.
Three options, and I can confidentially say that there are probably hundreds of churches and media ministries that are at step #4 above right now. After years (sometimes decades) of frustration, hurt feelings, and bitterness, if things are going to change, they need to make a decision.
I wonder how many of those pastors, leaders, or media team members are reading this right now. If you are, I can only tell you this: Grace has to come from both sides. Forgiveness has to come from both sides. Whatever side you’re on, if you can’t let go of the past, then you’re the problem, and it may be time to move on. There may be plenty of situations where people stay on a job they hate, but this shouldn’t be one of those situations.
And if you can let it go, the future is bright. I’ve seen turnarounds like this many times, but it has to be radically sincere and committed. Either way, have the courage to make a decision to let go or move on, so the proclamation of the gospel can continue through media, and you can finally be set free.