22 Feb, 2023 Is it time to think differently in crises – to ‘let our light shine’?
Might it be time to think differently in crises – to ‘let our light shine’ (Matthew 5:16)?
Times are changing. How might that affect our united efforts to help others in times of public crisis?
For much of history, ‘word of mouth’ was the primary way information was passed on. And all information passed on includes the perspectives of those passing it on!
Today, perspectives are significantly shaped by public media and public Education – not world of mouth! While word of mouth is still part of the picture – it doesn’t shape perspectives uniquely as it once did. This affects our witness – and addressing the tangible disadvantage our ‘invisibility’ brings (to the gospel) is the topic.
How does this affect our witness?
In leadership we get what we promote.
A nation also gets what it promotes – through TV, radio and education.
Parents seek to put certain values in their kids – while social media gives them other values. The social media is ‘winning’ a lot these days! Times have changed!
So what if our story is the one being excluded? Worse – what if our reputation is the one being maligned? Our reputation counts – because our reputation as Christians, is Jesus’ reputation! If people think Christianity brings BAD to a society – their hearts won’t be open to consider the God of love we serve. Reputation is important – and can be maligned!
We recently had some terrible flooding in New Zealand. Churches did an amazing job, engaging in the clean up (and many are still doing that at this time of writing). However, a pattern in public news reporting is identifiable – and to our detriment.
In my observation, public media are now deliberately choose NOT to highlight what churches do in communities to help. Observing what is reported in times of crisis is an easy way to assess this. Concurrently they ARE choosing to highlight Marae and also other faiths. It’s basic communication strategy.
Imagine a crisis – and relief centres or shelters are set up in communities to help people across a city. Media can choose which centres they go to – to interview someone, and to show how help is being provided. Councils can likewise choose which venues to make the bases of help being provided – whether a church hall, a Marae, a mosque or a school. Intriguing decisions are being made in many places – and it’s not all random or without meaning. For some it’s intentional – to exclude Christians from gaining any profile in the community. For others it will be simple inbuilt prejudice, never considering churches as groups they would partner with.
- Even the people the chosen for things as simple street interviews are not random. Anyone who creates media knows the importance of WHO you interview, or WHOSE story you tell.
- It’s simple leadership. We get what we promote!
- (It’s also marketing. Some stories and people are more interesting to audiences – and in all media, the funding is connected to the size of the audience.)
For example, mana-Māori has been undermined by the betrayals of the Treaty. Were Māori not to have lost lands as they did, it is possible they would be wealthy today – and therefore positioned to be a blessing to their wider communities – so long as infighting didn’t divide up the spoils by now anyway.
- As a part of our ‘reparations’, giving more mana to Māori is therefore a good thing to do – and that is what is being done. In TV news reports Marae are therefore visited – to show footage of food being prepared to be shared with their people (giving mana / esteem to the great efforts of Marae). The same is true of those interviewed on all manner of topics. Māori are targeted – so their voice is heard and visible. Consider the percentage of various skin colours (not races) in NZ – and then the percentages reflected in street interviews. There are identifiable patterns and strategies.
- To build a ‘tolerant’ multi religious society, giving profile to ‘other faiths’ is also helpful – so that is also what is being done.
>> To be clear – I’m not saying this is wrong. Quite the opposite – I applaud what is being highlighted, to shape the thinking of our culture in these areas.
>>> The problem is in the bias (if there is one)!
In my observation churches are conspicuous in their absence from news reports, when credit is being given for help within communities – because our contributions in the charity space are so significant. Yet there is hardly a mention.
When we consider the scope of church activities to help within communities – it is remarkable on all measures – which makes the reasonably consistent absence of any mention quite noticeable!
What change in thinking and approach might be needed?
I suggest a change in thinking is needed in which we not only do good works; we also consider how these might be seen.
I suggest this doesn’t have to be viewed as ‘self-seeking’. This is about wisdom – and communication – and witness. This is about letting our light shine in such a way that it can be be seen! Because we do have a ‘light’!
Victoria University in Wellington did a study on religion which revealed that the ‘highly religious’ (who were mostly the Christians in their study) volunteered 2.3 times as much as the rest of the population (and donated 5.7 times as much). It’s a small snapshot to paint a picture. We have a story to tell. The question is, how do we get our story told?
We are also being consistently maligned – because telling a negative story about a church seems newsworthy, while applauding their charitable efforts does not.
If culture has changed, and our reputation – which is Jesus’ reputation, is being damaged, are we supposed to sit there and take it? Or should we act – if we can?
To consider the recent floods again
Many people of all faiths and walks are helping out in places like the Coromandel, Gisborne, Wairoa, Napier and Hastings currently. All deserve credit.
However, within that picture, the contribution of Christians and churches working together to meet needs, is statistically likely to be quite signifiant!
I’m connected with pastors who facilitate pastors’ groups regularly.
- Napier pastors are collaborating in an amazing way – with Hastings pastors joining with them, to pool resources, to meet needs. A group of pastors is now meeting weekly, to assess needs every week, to adapt and deploy their resources and people to meet those needs. It’s a remarkable level of practical unity!
- Some key people relief organisers have engaged with have been people of faith
- Some church venues are becoming integral to the aid effort
- In Gisborne the efforts of churches are multi-faceted, with different ones working in different areas – and yet working ‘as one (Philippians 1:27) – because they are connected.
I’ll have stories on these two places, which we’ll put up in this blog, in a week or two – to reflect the idea.
What this reflects in a positive way is that the united churches of our cities and towns ARE making the all-important transition from ‘coffee unity’ (relationship and prayer only) to ‘functional unity’ (looking to the needs of the city – to then consider what they could do together that they could not do apart).
- This is very positive
- And leaders in this process s- including the above, are demonstrating what this can look like not only in the floods – but in their every day engagements in their cities (Consider Te Hāhi – now embraced by churches in Gisborne and Hastings, in service to their cities).
So the question I’m asking is – what’s our next step, to ‘let our light shine’… …even brighter?
Our weakness – and strength – is that we don’t ‘blow our own trumpets’. We selflessly love and serve – without waving a flag – which in today’s changing world means we’re not even being noticed, while in the wider picture we’re quite consistently being maligned!
To make a point – others are making sure they are identified!
Destiny Church’s “Man Up” programme is an effective community programme – and they’re out their helping in their T-shirts (they are identifiable).
- (I’m applauding this. This is wise – and I’m suggesting we’d be wise to learn from their example).
Other organisations do the same – ensuring their organisation or brand gets profile when out there doing charitable work – because it helps fund their work if they are a charity, or helps to strengthen their brand if they are a business. They’d never think not to to this!
There are balancing truths here – and we’ve been generally neglecting one of them! Are we capable of a change? (I know we are!)
While some might initially feel motives are in question if we want profile for what we do – the balancing truth is that we need to be ‘as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves’ (Matthew 10:16). Jesus said this because his disciples were being sent out ‘like sheep among wolves’. The way the world works isn’t always just, or right, or good. That is why wisdom is needed!
The parable of the Shrewd Manager (Luke 16:1-8) is provocative. A dishonest man is the one who is applauded for his wisdom (though not for his dishonesty – to note the point). The message: ‘We need to learn how to thrive in a broken world – and God’s people can be quite useless at this sometimes!’
- There is wisdom in knowing how to work with both our left hand – and our right.
- As Ecclesiastes 7:18 puts it – it’s good to hold one thing in one hand without letting go of what is in the other.
What should our symbol or mark be – were the scenario a similar crisis?
This is firstly a creative and a ‘communication’ question.
A cross on a necklace doesn’t convey a sense of ‘team’ – but does say something.
- However, a cross on a necklace works in a workplace, to help first recognition of and conversations about a person’s faith to take place.
For wider community engagement, it could be a t-shirt or an armband, or a cap.
The organisational question and hurdle
The problem is, before a few hundred church volunteers can all wear a common armband or t-shirt, the armband or t-shirt needs creating!
The challenge here is that we – the Church – have no centralised leadership. We’re a bit incompetent in this space. I’m not trying to be mean. I think that’s a valid critique, which any neutral (secular) critic would quickly also give. Because we have no centralised leadership – and so much ‘independent spirit’ (The Book of Judges – ‘Everyone did what was right in his own eyes’) basic leadership questions like the one i’m raising here go unconsidered.
I don’t have an answer – but I do think the question is important – but also that God would want us to represent him well (noting the Parable of the Shrewd Manager) – which means change is possible!
Toward an answer: How would God want us to function together?
If this were a bit more like heaven, and God’s Church even further down its journey of adaption to our changing cultural environment… – do you think God would want us to be identifiable within our communities as Christians, when offering help?
Imagine bright blue shirts turning up – and those shirts being known to represent “the Christians, who always turn up where there is need to lend a hand.”
I think God would want that! In fact, I think that learning how to engage WISELY within our circumstance is the very point of the above Parable of the Shrewd manager, and the statement, ‘Let your light shine before others – that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven’.
It’s not about being visible for the sake of getting credit.
- It’s about our witness!
- It’s about protecting our reputation – which is his (God’s) reputation!
- It’s about creating the scenario in which a person suddenly realises that God does care – because they see that we care!
It’s actually really important!
My current conclusion
When the your world changes, we need to adapt – and the world really has changed!
- CITIES: Where the principles of ‘functional unity’ are taking hold (having successfully moved on from ‘relationship and prayer only’ unity), I think we’re already seeing increased collaboration for the city. It’s very positive. The above suggestion re ‘engaging in a way that can be seen’ is a way of thinking that isn’t far from where some are already at.
- NATIONALLY: Nationally I think we still have a bit of a journey ahead. I don’t think we’re ‘coherent’ enough yet within our wider unity (nationally) for very much leadership to be exercised at all, or recognised if it were preset. This is inherent to our structuring of ourselves denominationally rather than geographically. A change of thinking is needed (both structures can co-exist, but I believe we have the priority order of them the wrong way around – and no funding structure for the most important one). This needs more time.
> This means that national strategy amongst us is going to continue to be ‘ad hoc’ for some time yet, ‘led from the pews’ – and the limitations of this are probably to our detriment.
>> But regarding local (city and town) unity – we’re getting some good role models in places like Napier and Gisborne – not only in a time of crisis, but in terms of what some of these places are doing on an ongoing basis together, for their city!
Does Christianity bring good to a society – or bad? ***This is the ‘cultural battle ground’ right now!***
A person’s answer to that question will greatly affect their openness to our faith.
Negative press does shape the public perception – which makes it more important than a decade or more ago that our light really does shine in a way that can be seen
If anyone has any thoughts – I’d always enjoy hearing them (email@example.com)
For other articles by Dave on the same topic of Church unity
2022 – A vocabulary we can agree on (This one is a particularly important FOUNDATION if coherent national discussions on unity are to one day take place)
2020 – It’s time to take responsibility to educate our own children and youth again (On united direction and strategy – for city change)
2020 – A need for new media platforms – not more voices (How do we address the increasingly left-leaning and also anti-faith bias of public media?)
2020 – A vision for national Church unity (What might REALISTICALLY be within our reach to achiEve – if we merely thought differently?)
2019 – ‘In One Spirit’ – The purpose of the book (Written at the time of the book launch and press release)
2019 – United we stand (A blog just prior to the release of the above book, ‘In One Spirit’)
DAVE MANN. Dave is a networker and creative communicator with a vision to see an understanding of the Christian faith continuing and also being valued in the public square in Aotearoa-New Zealand. He has innovated numerous conversational resources for churches, and has coordinated various national nationwide multimedia Easter efforts purposed to open up conversations between church and non-church people about the Christian faith and its significance to our nation’s history and values. Dave is the Producer of the ‘Chronicles of Paki’ illustrated NZ history series created for educational purposes, and the author of various other books and booklets including “Because we care”, “That Leaders might last” and “The Elephant in the Room”. Married to Heather, they have four boys and reside in Tauranga, New Zealand.