31 Mar, 2020 new media platforms not voices

We need new media platforms, not new voices

(Picture – ‘multi media’ from the Human Rights Commission. Very apt to this article).

 

During the crux of the Covid-19 outbreak our Parliament sat and pushed through one of the most extreme abortion laws on our planet today – which even many in the pro-abortion camp would disagree with.  No pain medication for babies being killed at 38 weeks; no palliative care for babies aborted alive; and the list goes on. (A TV poll shortly after quickly had well over 70% of the public against – and was pulled off the website.) Was this the right way to go about a law change?

 

This isn’t the only set of laws pushed through like this this year. Chris Hipkins changed Religious Education from ‘opt out’ to ‘opt in via a written letter’ during the end of the summer school holidays when everyone was busy getting back to work and school. This effectively spells a future end to Bible in School. The irony is that even one of the most avid haters of religion on our planet – Richard Dawkins, affirms the IMPORTANCE of religious instruction, because the Christian faith is the cultural framework behind so many of our values, and the lenses needed to understand so much of our history and literature. Concurrently a new syllabus was brought in for our age 11 to 14 youth on global warming, which tells only one side of what is a genuine conversation, and which is fairly labelled in articles I’ve read on this to be blatant indoctrination. (It is a new ‘religion’, and the attempt is to ensure there will be no conversation).

 

But the key issue, as I see it, isn’t either of these laws – but the way they were pushed through ‘under a cloak of darkness’. And the culprits are not only sitting in Parliament. They are in the newsrooms of our national public media!  While Covid-19 filled the headlines, someone somewhere decided to give no attention at all to these abortion law changes that were being pushed through at the same time. For example, our evening TV news channels said literally nothing. Many newspapers were the same. The role of journalism is to bring accountability to government and others. It is to present two views in such a way that the public can decide. What is to be done when they lose their impartiality, and collude, in pursuit of a singular ideology?

 

In the days following I heard of a few groups in Christian circles having various discussions, suggesting this person or that possible effort to somehow speak up and be heard. With the context now understood, what I want to bring in this article is a challenge to that kind of thinking. We do need to engage – but in these changing times, the real question is, how? What is the point in having voices that speak if you don’t have platforms from which they can be heard?

 

I suggest our nation just crossed another tipping point in public culture. It is as in the catch-cry, ‘Journalism is dead’. As a result, I suggest that the need for middle New Zealand isn’t actually for new voices to speak up, as so many have discussed. It is instead for new media platforms to be created from which our existing voices can be heard!

Yes – we might want to avoid any appearance of a ‘divide’ in news media (with the dynamics of many other Western nations in view, and in particular America and Australia). But what happens when news media stop being impartial? How long should we stay silent and ‘make peace’ – while freedoms and rights are ever-increasingly impinged upon?  Though we try to run, we can’t hide from this. Creating new media platforms is inevitable – or our freedoms are lost!

And that is my key point.

 

 

The role of denominational leaders

For those who have read my strategic book on the unity and public messaging of the Church (united) in New Zealand, you’ll understand that I define a denomination an a religious organisation like any other. Denominations bring accountability, training and support to sprawling groups of churches in different places. Regarding whether denominations are good or bad, I suggest that the key question is this: Is there anything wrong with an organisation that brings accountability, training and support to a sprawling network of local churches? Clearly not! So, there is nothing wrong with denominations!

 

But are denominational leaders the leaders of the Church (Capitol C – meaning national and united)? I suggest they are not at all. They lead support-organisations to local churches – just as many others do. Finding strategy for national engagement  requires full time focus. It is complex! Few are called to the work – and it would be more than difficult to undertake it in any truly strategic, networked and effective way while leading a significantly distanced group of pastors, just as also while leading and shepherding a busy group of church members. (The comparison would be leading a large church while having a full time job in a different field of work. Capacity would not be there for strategy, or for quick and necessary adaption in the faces of challenges or change).

 

To note the key distinctive between denominations and God’ Church located in a city or town – denominations cannot lead in mission – because mission is geographically identified by its very nature. Denominations can instead only endorse their local churches to engage in local mission where they are – and to do so as an accountable part of God’s wider Church in that city or town.

 

These small distinctives do not threaten anything denominations do or say, but they do have profound implications for how we work together. What this affirms is that Church unity in each town and city is really important – because their mission to their whole city is their shared responsibility; and also because God could raise up from amongst them different individuals who can bring leadership to different areas of their united function at different times.

 

To put this all differently: God’s Churh in our culture has two primary structures (because of our history, and how that affected us). The two parallel structures are our denominational alliances (which I personally enjoy), and the united Church within the city (which I love). What we need to work out, if we’re to have a functional Church in our nation capable of engaging with the challenges of our times, is how to work as one. These two distinct ‘structures’ – and all their various leaders, need to come together to a place of unity in vision, heart and focus! 

 

About Church leadership – with a capitol C

The real distinctive here is that denominations, as support organisations, are structured. In contrast, I suggest that the biblical descriptions of our Church leadership (with a capitol C – meaning united across a city, region or the nation) are NOT structural. These aren’t support organisations.  These are ‘the Church’ (united) in that city – and the leadership of the united Church is a thing of the Spirit.

 

To articulate this further, Church leadership (meaning of the united Church – as compared to the leadership of a single local ‘church’ – by which we mean an individual congregation) is about a way of thinking in which we understand that it is God’s purpose that he raise up different people for different things at different times. Our responsibility as his servants is therefore to be actively discerning these things, so we will recognise and support those he raises up at different times, so the can do what they are called and positioned by God to do.

 

 

How to empower a Church voice

With these understandings, we are getting nearer to a paradigm of thinking and acting that could enable united efforts from amongst us, capable of having culture-wide effect within our nation. This is about giving importance to the function of the Church – as contrasted to only considering the function of individual congregations.

 

So – to consider, how could a church ‘voice’ work? I suggest that efforts to enable a voice in our times would need to be multifaceted. So we’re not talking about one person! It would be about many ‘organisations’ working in unison, as one.  This is how change works! And to be clear – it would not be about the establishing of an organisation to represent us – because I don’t believe God’s will here is for us to establish our own papacy and Pope. Instead, it’s about anointed individuals, working in the ways the can – independently – and yet concurrently from a place of unity, and quite possibly toward some commonly defined and shared goals! (What? How does that make sense?)

 

 

The law of the 5 

I suggest it takes 5 independent organisations saying the same thing concurrently to convince key leaders around the nation that that thing is ‘true’. One organisation or person saying something alone won’t do it.

 

The suggestion that these organisations are ‘independent’  might sound counter-intuitive to some, but the point here isn’t about structural unity – as much as it is about understanding the nature of public communication if you want to bring measurable change. These 5 independent voices can be fully united in their heart and goals. But they understand that their effectiveness will be through the combined effect of their ‘independent efforts’ – which are actually in unison. They realise that, were they to unite as one organisation, their audiences would then hear only one voice – and that wouldn’t be convincing.  (Is this making sense?)

 

Where this takes strategically is toward a multi-organisational view of things. We need 5 key organisations ‘fundamentally convinced’ of a thing before we can lead national change within the Church (and through the Church to the good of the nation).  Put differently, if you really do want to see change in our nation – stop thinking your organisation or denomination is so important. Instead, realise it will be the interplay of many individuals and organisations that generates a broarder change – in which case the question is, what is the goal we’re going for, and what roles can we play so as to achieve this great thing together?

 

But can the Church really be changed nationally?

The topic here is ‘change theory’ – which is the premises of my book, In One Spirit.

As an easy illustration, in mid-2019 I invited some friends who each lead a Christian organisation in our nation for a conversation. To begin, we discussed our perspectives on HOW the Kiwi Church came to change its views on biculturalism nationally, which I suggest happened specifically between the years 2012 and 2017. (The fact that we could and did change nationally, and together in this area of thought and action is already a profound point, because it transforms how we understand this conversation.)

 

A white board was filled with the details of all the things those in the room were aware of, that had happened to contribute toward this change in God’s people nationally. On that board, a certain pattern is then revealled. The process was:

  1. Academics and key strategic thinkers (1970 – 2012)
  2. Creatives – to disseminate the information (2012-2014+)
  3. Key leaders – won over to a view (2013 – 2017)
  4. A wider body – won over by their leaders (2014 – 2017)
  5. A critical mass achieved – tipping the whole (2017)

I write about this process in more detail in my book, In One Spirit, with some details in footnotes – but a 20 minute discussion with a white board and a group of well-connected church leaders  in our nation can give a tangible illustration of it quickly!

 

What is proven? We CAN be changed. And what is profound is the for some, the above change wasn’t random, or by accident.  There was a natural timing – but there were key players, and there was intent amongst  a few, that slow passed to the many.

 

The question begged is this: How could we repeat this process in a few other areas, to reposition the Church nationally to better engage with the conversations and challenges of our times? This is the conversation that I have been attempting to engage for 9 years! But I’ve worked out that it makes no sense sense until we first believe we can be changed – and nationally so!

 

With this faith-perspective in view – let’s now journey back to the core point.

 

 

 

Why new media platforms?

When the Hope Project started there hadn’t been an every-home type of ‘gospel’ effort in our nation for about 30 years. Passionate secularists were furious – and they told us! They believed that the public mention of Christian things ‘violated their rights’.  Of course, the were wrong – because our nation has been strong in the area of personal freedoms of speech and religion. But the point is simple: The freedoms of speech and religion are a matter of ‘use it or lose it’. If we don’t use them – we will lose them! And by using them – we protected them!

 

In 2014 we had about 1000 complaints form people who ‘couldn’t believe we existed’. By 2019 we hardly had 10 complaints of that nature. Meanwhile levels of engagement with media continued, and even increased in some areas like online. Hope Project is only one small part of a bigger picture – but to note it, it’s existence helped to protect the right to speak about Christian things in the public square, through public media.

 

But Hope Project hasn’t stopped the ethical slide of our nation and of our media practice, has it!  Neither has the work of Family First  – who are our nation’s primary ‘news feed’ regarding a rational and conservative perspective on current issues. So – what are we missing?

 

To go back to the ‘law of the 5’ – we’re grossly under funded and under engaged in our PR (public relations) work. To change thinking I’ve suggested we need 5 independent organisations working in an area, to convince a growing group that a thing is true!’ And currently, all we have is the above two  – who work in different areas of public communication, along with Rhema Media – who provide the Christian community with the most amazing platform to stay connected ever!

Logan Craft – and American pastor, academic and movie producer who now resides in New Zealand, at the Thinking Matters conferences in 2019 made an insightful point. He said, ‘What is important is not only the freedoms of conscience, speech and religion. We also need the ‘freedom to hear’ – because without opportunity to hear differing views, we are not aware. If we are not aware, are not the freedoms of conscience, speech and religion therefore muted.’

Our national media have colluded to the point where the ‘freedom to hear’ is being inhibited.  This is a cultural shift – to which we must respond. So,

  • How about a provocative newspaper or magazine that’s gifted to 1m home once per year, telling just a few key thought-shifting things that public media aren’t really telling?
  • How about as NZ equivalent of ‘Fox News’ –  but maybe just starting with a one hour news programme that is both online, and on one TV channel, titled something like ‘News from the other side’? If it had a 2/3 toward ‘common news’, and 1/3 toward bringing a more balanced reporting on key issues, this could draw audiences. The point of this would be to call other public news agents to account – to return to a fair journalistic approach, rather than being tools of a specific ideology.
  • And what else could be done – and who has the ‘mana’, capacity and favour from God to actually achieve it?

 

Why we can’t do this

It is simple. God’s Church is not organised! We have a weak understanding of Church leadership (while we ironically have whole Bible College courses on local church leadership).

 

How could we become organised?

It is simple. We need to change the way we think about the Church (capitol C), and about our relationship to it – including our accountability to it (for we are all a subset of it – so what does that mean?)!

 

The key principle by which all this works is in my book, In One Spirit. I suggest it to be ‘voluntary accountability.’  It’s a way of thinking that I believe we need to understand. It isn’t about setting up a singular organisation to lead us. And it definitely isn’t about one person to lead us.  This is about understanding from the outset that God’s PURPOSE is to thwart our human pride and desire to control everything. And yet also that he wants to bless us with leadership! So his solution is to raise up different people at different times for different things – and he does all this without regard for our denominations, organisations, theological and other training instutions – and everything else we esteem. He picks Gideon – from the least family of the least clan and tribe. He picks Samson – who’s pride and independence are intolerable, and yet who would be your best possibly ally when in a battle. He picks Ehud and Japheth (also from the Book of Judges) who are untrustworthy types, coming from unknown places like Hokitika and Ruatoria respectively. (I hear Ehud used to steal cars for a living).  Yet, if we can somehow ‘get’ how this leadership stucture for the Church works – it does work!

 

Remember, God’s method is men and women full of the Spirit – not the machinery we create in our church organisations. Is the ‘machinery’ important. Absolutely! Nothing I work on would work without administrative acumen, people and communication skills, databases – and the legal obliged annual accounts! Yet, the organisation must serve the worker – not the other way around. Also, sometimes when a key leader moves on, that organisation has actually done its job already, and should close. Why? Because God, in his wisdom, just called a hippy-like Maori girl from the Hokianga up North to his service. Her name is Deborah! (The allusion is to the Book of Judges again – in case it’s missed). God’s leadership selection process is about thwarting our pride – while also blessing us with the leadership we need. It’s profound – and it’s brilliant – and our human desire to control things doesn’t like it!

 

 

And regarding the financing – if we can understand that we are all part of the Church in the nation, and are accountable to help it thrive in it’s entirety, then we can look to see what God is doing nationally and fund it! Instead of giving to things because that’s what we used to give to 50 years ago, we can release ourselves to consider who God has raised up in this season for this time – and could support them.

And, with the hundreds of millions that go through our local churches annually, if just $20m can find it’s way to a few strategically positioned people (and the organisations that support them [or whose brand they hide within]), we could begin to address some of our PR (public relations) problem as the Church in Aotearoa. We could also create the platforms needed to get our message heard and known better to. And we could begin to engage with the issues and challenges of our times a bit better as a result too! 

 

 

A conclusion

My analysis of our culture suggest we don’t need new voices to speak up for us. We already have voices. The challenge is that they aren’t being heard. What we therefore need is new media platforms!

 

My analysis of our Church culture also suggests we don’t yet understand how Church leadership (at the city and national levels) works sufficient to release and support the kind of leadership we might need. But maybe I’m wrong!

 

As a faith statements: I think the vision and capacity is here in a range of key people, to do new things. And although we don’t know who some of those key people are yet, if we continue to strengthen our united gatherings, united prayer and united efforts – God will raise them up in our midst!

 

(As a challenge in this journey – I think we’re quite ‘bound’ by our many organisations that are past their best, and also many small churches that are no longer actually viable. This ties down a huge amount of our finances and manpower. There is no solution to this that I can see other than courageous leadership).

 

Yet I personall hold genuine hope that we are actually coming to a place where we will be able to unite in a way that will enable a few necessary things in upcoming times!

 

What do you think?

And, whether you agree or disagree with all points made, what points from this reflection could you think on further, regarding how we might achieve a more functional unity amongst ourselves as God’s Church within this nation?

 

Dave-director-smll
DAVE MANN. Dave is a 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 recently coordinated a 5th nationwide multimedia Easter project purposed to help open conversation between church and non-church people about Christianity take place, including regarding the specifically Christian origins of many of our nation’s most treasured values. Dave is the author of various books and booklets including “Because we care”, “That Leaders might last”, “The Elephant in the Room”, and available for free on this site: “The What and How of Youth and Young Adult ministry”. Married  to Heather, they have four young boys and reside in Tauranga, New Zealand.  
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