This lead article proposes a way forward together as a global missional community in this key area of Media and the Gospel. The November 2012 thematic focus in The Lausanne Global Conversation provides the wider context for The Lausanne Regional Consultation on Media and Gospel in Kristiansand, Norway.
It is a great privilege this month to host a regional consultation on Media and the Gospel in Norway and to simultaneously launch the thematic focus in the online community through this article.
While preparing for these parallel activities, three brief sentences have regularly come back to me:
- “We are all media people!”
- “We are all Gospel people!”
- “We should all be Gospel and media people!”
These simple but profound sentences provide a challenging summary both of our key theme and our common missional task ahead.
The purpose of this article is to provide a framework for further discussion, reflection and action. This is done by focusing on significant concerns from The Cape Town Commitment and key insights from The Cape Town Congress, with a view towards (a) connecting various evangelical media communities and (b) combining three missional aspects.
Three concerns from The Cape Town Commitment
I can still recall an afternoon late August or early September in 2009. While working on the lawn in our garden, my thoughts and prayers were focused on how to formulate a holistic missional approach to the area of “media and technology” for The Cape Town Congress.
It gradually dawned upon me that afternoon in our garden that a new and fresh approach was needed, which integrated a spectrum of legitimate contexts and concerns. What I do remember is that this was the start of a week’s intensive reflective process which ended by identifying the three words “awareness”, “presence” and “ministries”.
This led to the further development of these ideas in my Cape Town 2010 Advance Paper with the title Media Messages Matter: Christ, Truth and the Media. Following on from the Congress, these three key concerns were included in The Cape Town Commitment in the section on Truth and the globalized media:
We commit ourselves to a renewed critical and creative engagement with media and technology, as part of making the case for the truth of Christ in our media cultures. We must do so as God’s ambassadors of truth, grace, love, peace and justice.
We identify the following major needs:
1. Media awareness
[We need] to help people develop a more critical awareness of the messages they receive, and of the worldview behind them. The media can be neutral, and sometimes gospel friendly. But they are also used for pornography, violence and greed. We encourage pastors and churches to face these issues openly and to provide teaching and guidance for believers in resisting such pressures and temptations.
2. Media presence
[We need] to develop authentic and credible Christian role models and communicators for the general news media and the entertainment media, and to commend these careers as a worthy means of influence for Christ.
3. Media ministries
[We need] to develop creative, combined and interactive use of ‘traditional’, ‘old’ and ‘new’ media, to communicate the gospel of Christ in the context of a holistic biblical worldview.
This section from The Cape Town Commitment provides us with the necessary framework for an appropriate missional engagement with the media.
Three insights from The Cape Town Congress
The Cape Town Congress was a unique event in so many ways, with a diverse spectrum of insights and experiences. In terms of the whole area of “Media and the Gospel”, I would like to highlight three insights which were formative for those of us who were responsible for media as a topic in the multiplex and dialogue sessions.
Our first key insight in Cape Town was that so few evangelical churches, mission organizations, and educational institutions seem to take media awareness seriously. Presentations, responses and discussions confirmed that media awareness and critique, to a large extent, is a forgotten missional dimension. But wherever technology goes, the news and entertainment media follow, with underlying secular and religious worldviews. On the one hand, the churches in the Global North have largely not been able (so far) to equip its members as disciples for this challenge. One the other hand, the churches in the Global South need to prepare itself for a missional encounter with globalization in general and technology and media specifically. This includes the urgent and shared need for strategic worldview resources for media awareness and media critique. An initial attempt to model such resources is found at EngagingMedia.
Our second formative insight in Cape Town was that too few evangelical churches, mission organizations, and educational institutions seem to recognize the validity and value of media presence. At least in practice, too few young Christians seem to be encouraged and equipped for a calling in the fields of news, documentary, creative programming and entertainment – or as public debaters and commentators. If this is a correct assessment, such a state of affairs speaks of an underestimated missional dimension. However, both the biblical concept of calling and the conviction that all truth is God’s truth provide a strong theological foundation and motivation for a credible Christian media presence. There will always be significant opportunities for Christian media professionals in the wider media world, provided that their work is characterized by creativity, credibility and integrity. In the face of pluralism and secularism, such talented Christian journalists, documentarians, commentators and storytellers may be able to introduce neglected stories, key ideas, new perspectives and new ways of reimagining Christian truth.
Our third significant insight in Cape Town was that evangelical churches, mission organizations, and educational institutions do not seem to have reflected sufficiently on the implications of operating media ministries in a dramatically changing media context. At least, too few Christian leaders seem to have reflected on the fact that new technologies gradually are turning every Christian church, organization and institution into a media outlet. The channels for this radical democratization of the media, of course, are the internet, the mobile and the increasing use of various social media. This constitutes clearly a new missional dimension, with significant implications both for the traditional specialist media ministries and for churches and mission organizations in general. Wherever we are situated in the Christian media world, our shared identity and task are as salt and light (Math. 5:13-16). Media technology is gradually becoming essential for any public or personal communication of biblical truth. The current strong tendency toward social and interactive media has a formative influence on all our communication practices, and this certainly includes the sharing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Connecting three evangelical communities and combining three missional aspects
We may thus conclude that media awareness, media presence and media ministries are three legitimate, significant, and complementary concerns. I would like to suggest that these key concerns actually enable us to connect three evangelical media communities and to combine three missional aspects.
Christians who enter the media world do that from different angles and with different purposes. Some of us are primarily media academics and media critics, working with educational institutions, independent institutes or think-tanks. Others are involved in various professional media roles in the general media, whether in news, documentary, fictional media or other entertainment media. Most are involved in various Christian media ministries, either in classical specialist ministries or in various media work in churches, organizations or institutions. These categories represent three different evangelical media communities. It is my hope and prayer that we – within the wider Lausanne community – may be able to significantly increase the mutual understanding and appreciation between these communities.
Recently, the vision of Lausanne has been reformulated in the following way: “Lausanne is a global movement that mobilizes evangelical leaders to collaborate for world evangelization. Together we seek to bear witness to Jesus Christ and all his teaching, in every part of the world—not only geographically, but in every sphere of society and in the realm of ideas.”
The key concerns of media awareness, media presence and media ministries may be a strategic way of combining the three aspects mentioned in this vision. This could be expressed in the following way, without exhausting all the possible connections and implications:
- Media ministries are crucial in order to reach out geographically in Christian mission to every part of the world.
- Media presence is highly significant for bearing witness to Jesus Christ and all his teaching in every sphere of society.
- Media awareness is absolutely critical for understanding and engaging the realm of ideas.
Invitation to participate in the ongoing discussion
Let’s conclude where we started:
- “We are all media people!”
- “We are all Gospel people!”
- “We should all be Gospel and media people!”
As a global missional evangelical community engaging the world of media, we need to be committed to the Truth of Christ, to critical thinking, and to creativity. But this needs to be worked out in appropriate ways in different contexts and callings.
We hereby invite the wider Lausanne community to contribute to the further online discussion on Media and the Gospel. We certainly welcome your insights and reflections on how to “bear witness to Jesus Christ and all his teaching” within the complex, dynamic and strategic media sphere(s) of contemporary society.
For further reflection: A brief set of initial questions
- Media messages and information technology increasingly influence and impact our lives. How should we respond with as Christians?
- How can we develop proper media awareness as global Christians?
- How can we as Christians be present and visible with truth and love in the major news and entertainment media?
- In technology-rich countries, young people live in a media world of internet, movies, television series, computer games and social media. In many other countries, young and old are increasingly influenced by mobile phones, the internet and Western media. How should we respond in mission?
- How to equip young Christians globally to become media missionaries and media professionals?
- How can we remain committed to the Truth of Christ and personal holiness in a challenging media world?
For further reading: A brief list of initial resources
- Cape Town Commitment section “IIA. Bearing witness to the truth of Christ in a pluralistic, globalized world” (2011)
- [Cape Town 2010 Advance Paper] Media Messages Matter: Christ, Truth and the Media (2010)
- [Lausanne Occasional Paper 48] Media and Technology – The Rainbow, the Ark and the Cross (2004)
- [Lausanne Occasional Paper 26] Radio in Mission (1989)
Several Christian leaders have been asked to continue the conversation by responding to this lead article.