We serve a holy God.
There is a tendency today for some in church communications circles to use shocking or flippant language or advertising with the excuse of making the church appeal to the unchurched, or to make their communications appear cutting-edge, professional, and contemporary.
This is wrong. As Jesus’ ambassadors and representatives our words and lives are to mirror Him, not the current cultural fad. The Bible is clear in how this relates to our communications:
Eph 4:1; 25-31: Live a life worthy of the calling you have received. . . . Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. . . . .Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.
Col. 4: 6 Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.
Graceful, worthy words, no corrupt communication, are just a few of the many, many worthwhile terms that should characterize our communications. As obvious as these passages seem, their message of holy, worthy words is not universally accepted in all circles of church communications today.
Some believe that it is OK, in the interests of sharing the messages of the church, to use language that shocks, offends, or frustrates. In addition to language that would have caused my mother to wash my mouth out with soap, some of this persuasion believe sexually suggestive images on billboards and sermon topics will get people to church—where of course then a proper biblical message will be preached.
I categorically believe this is an unbiblical and unworthy approach. Jesus somehow mastered the ability to be totally relevant and yet completely without sin. Perhaps if we study him more, rather than aping what appears to work in secular marketing, we might become better at relevance without irreverence.
Snarky, profane, and cynical is the default mode of secular communications, not Christ’s followers
This is not easy to refrain from being snarky, profane, and cynical.
I struggle greatly with it. I grew up the daughter of a WW2, drill-sergeant, career military father, whose language was colorful to say the least and often critical. Like most kids, I naturally talk like my father, and it is a constant struggle to make my speech and communications reflect my heavenly Father and not my earthly father. But that is what they must be if I am to communicate for Jesus.
Whether part of our upbringing or not, it is often easier to reflect the cynical, critical, superior tone of contemporary secular communications. That is the default tone of our sinful nature. To pick apart, to find fault, and to laugh the superior laugh of those in the know as opposed to those who create church communications that don’t please our refined taste, can be delicious fun, especially if we can share it with like-minded cynical souls.
To carry that attitude into our church communications, to mimic the flippant, irreverent attitudes of the secular world in our communications becomes a goal. Thinking we have to communicate like the world to communicate to the world seems to be the savvy thing to do. But it isn’t right.
Make it a matter of prayer
Pray for discernment in your choice of content, words, and images so you reflect our holy God in all you create in your church communications. Pray for discernment so you will create what is pleasing to the Lord as your primary audience, not an online coterie of witty communication critics.
This is an extremely serious issue, not one to be taken lightly or to be relegated to matters of taste or to dismiss it as the viewpoint only of old, out-of-it folks who don’t know how to relate to the younger generation.
No matter what age group we attempt to reach, how we initially communicate the gospel message will have a lasting effect on how people live out their faith. If Jesus is presented using profanity, off-color language, or overly sexualized advertising (which some members of the Christian communication community do and if you are not familiar with their work, consider yourself fortunate), how can we ever, with integrity challenge these believers to purity in speech and life? How can snarky become sanctified?
We must go beyond bad language and a critical attitude to make sure our communication correctly portrays Biblical reality. If Jesus is presented as the giver of your best life now and all the goodies you can desire from parking places to first class upgrades are yours if you follow him, what will we say when the new believer who bought into this version of Christianity is laid off with no health insurance and his wife discovers she has cancer? Or when a drunk driver kills a child? Or when work is downsized, hours cut, and even feeding the family becomes a challenge? How do you explain believers in other nations who are starving or the victims of genocide?
It is impossible to guide new believers to Christian maturity if you misrepresent the foundational truths of the Christian faith. Bait and switch in any area of advertising results in resentment and anger. Bait and switch in the presentation of the gospel can have eternally harmful consequences.
We can create professional, beautiful, and effective communications without reflecting the voice and values of the world around us
We are to be salt and light. This isn’t easy to do, but it is what we must strive for. No matter how we do it, at the end of the day we always need to look at what we have created in our church communications and always ask, “Does this reflect a holy God? Is this Christ-honoring?
I’m reminded of one of the prayers of the early Christians. As they waited in the dungeons below the amphitheater before being taken out at dawn to be torn apart by wild animals, they knew clearly what awaited them. There would be a huge crowd, screaming for their blood.
They also knew this was their last earthly chance to represent Jesus. How they died would be their last chance to witness for their Lord. History tells us they prayed:
“Lord Jesus Christ, don’t let me cause you shame.”
May that always be our prayer as we create communications for Jesus.