The Medium is the Message

19 08 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… Hebrews 1:1-2

God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.  Hebrews 2:4

JesusMarshall McLuhan was the first to coin the phrase, “the medium is the message”.  In his instance, he was referring to the ushering in of the information age (specifically, television) back in 1964.  He noted that television (and other similar media) were more than just conduits of information, they were actually shaping and reshaping the message and were as much a part of the message as the message itself.  I suppose we could make the same observation today about social media.  Twitter and YouTube and SnapChat are literally reshaping how (and what) we communicate.  It just seems that, from time to time, a medium comes along that changes everything we thought we knew about messaging and communication.  When that happens, “the medium becomes the message.”

Never in the history of the world has this notion been truer than with Christianity.  In ancient days, God spoke His message through angels, He spoke His message through the prophets, He spoke His message through the law, and He spoke His message through miraculous signs and wonders.  But never was the message so clear and so divisive and so disturbing as when God spoke His message through  Jesus.  The very embodiment of God, representative of all His glory and power and authority, Jesus is “the Word become flesh.”  He is BOTH the medium AND the message.

For Christ-followers (for His church), we have a contemporary medium through the gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed among us.  For us, this is a visual representation of God at work among us.  But for the watching world, it is gibberish.  For that world, there simply is no clearer image of God than Jesus Christ.  His life is a canvass upon which God’s Word is painted vividly in living color.

There is a great deal of talk in the church today about messaging.  It is good talk.  Important talk.  Using all the media available to us to tell the Gospel story is, I believe, important.  But even as we discuss websites and Twitter and blogs and videos…even as we consider signage and platforms and lighting and projections…we must keep one medium ever before us: Jesus.  In the midst of all our new languages and vehicles, we must show the world Jesus.  Because, in the end, He is the medium which really matters.

Show them Jesus.  And let all the other messaging flow from that.

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




Let’s DO Have Hard Conversations…but NOT On Line

5 05 2014

Monday Morning Quarterback – Encouraging God’s people to be responsible, encouraging and uplifting in their use of social media.

We have said here over and over again that “the church” really must be especially effective at communication. After all, “go ye therefore and make disciples” is pretty much ALL about effective communication. We should not be the ones learning communication from the world…we should be the ones blazing trails in effective communication.

One fundamental concept of effective communication is truly understanding the limits of any particular vehicle. Every form of communication has its limits. We do not use post-it notes to write a doctoral thesis. We do not use texting to break-up a relationship (please, agree with me on that one). We do not use video to make a grocery list. Every form of communication, every vehicle, has its ideal purpose and use as well as its limitations.

difficult conversationSocial media is no different. You want to capture a fun moment in a photograph or video and then share it with friends instantly? Social media is ideal. You want to make the world aware of your opinion, even wisdom, on a recent cultural or political event? Social media works great. You want to reach out to a demographic and get some quick feedback on a particular subject or do some quick and low-cost marketing analysis on a product or service? Social media can help there as well. Even spewing your own spin on controversial topics is easily and effectively accomplished through social media.

But what about difficult conversations? What about the kind of conversations every Christ follower is called to be a part of from time to time, where emotions are running high and where genuine understanding of the other side is running very low? What about conversations that have been “hi-jacked” by groups with political agendas and extremists, which make it virtually impossible to read any statement at all without looking behind it for the real agenda?  Unfortunately, social media has proven itself over and over again to be the WRONG place for those conversations. In fact, trying to have those conversations on social media, with all its public pressures and biases and easy “cut and paste” options has ended up doing a lot more damage to those conversations than good.

Abortion has become one of those issues. Same-sex marriage is another. You can probably name plenty of others. For these kinds of issues, if all you are interested in is spewing forth your own position without listening to any opposing position, then social media works just fine for that. But if you are genuinely wanting to have a conversation, or if you at least want to be perceived as being interested in a conversation, then social media as your communication vehicle has lots and lots of limitations. You get no vocal inflection (all caps and exclamation points and emoticons will only go so far), you get no facial expressions, you get no body language…and all of those comprise a massive percentage of the key information we are accustomed to taking in during a conversation.

If being misunderstood is a genuine concern of yours, then you have probably already experienced this frustration numerous times with social media.  The thing is, we do need to be having these hard conversations. If you’ve been reading my thoughts very long, you already know how strongly I believe that. Having hard conversations is something leaders do…much more so, church leaders! But we should be sitting down face to face and having those hard conversations. Yes, it is less convenient than just lighting up a Twitter feed, but it is critical in order to really listen to one another.

To quote “Dirty” Harry Callahan: “A man’s got to know his limitations.” Church leaders take heed…Dirty Harry was right. Know your limitations. Know when to hit “send” or “publish” or “post” and know when to pick up the phone and set up a meeting instead.

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




Let’s Not Be Bullies with our Movie Critiques

24 02 2014

Monday Morning Quarterback – Encouraging God’s people to be responsible, encouraging and uplifting in their use of social media.

This year will see an unusual number of “Hollywood” versions of Biblical stories.  Son of God releases later this week.  One month later, Noah hits theaters.  And more will follow.  The Christian bloggers will, of course, be all over these movies with their critiques.

bulliesYou know what is annoying?  Have you ever been in a situation where a small “clique” of insiders who have developed their own expertise on a subject sit back and make fun of those who are on the outside and who do not seem to know nearly as much as they do?  You remember, don’t you?  It was a favorite middle school or even high school past time: the GT and AP students sitting together and making fun of the ignorance of other students…the athletes ganging up on the non-athletic types and making fun of them…the snobby musicians looking down their noses at the pop music lovers at prom.  And do you know why this is annoying? Because it is just a form of bullying.

So, I am wondering if we can make a sincere attempt to guard our testimonies in how we offer our critiques of these upcoming “Biblical” movies?  Let’s not become bullies in how we communicate. Let’s keep the snarky, judgmental, arrogance out of our comments and posts. In talking about these movies, here are a few questions we might ask ourselves before we click the “publish” button on our social media screen:

1. Did I actually go and see the movie…all the way through?  If not, then say that clearly right at the beginning of your critique.  And then stop and don’t bother finishing the critique, because nobody is going to read any further anyway.  Frankly, it is just best not to offer a comment on a movie you’ve never seen, for all the reasons stated here.

2. Why Am I Really Writing This Critique?  “Look at me! Look at me! Look how much I know! Look how smart I am!” Sometimes I cannot help but wonder if we just want people to appreciate how well we know our Bible.  We talk about all the ways this movie does not quite square with scripture, but what we are really doing is pointing out how Biblically literate we are, as compared to Hollywood…by the way, congratulations on that accomplishment.

3. How will this critique “build others up”?  I don’t mean to get all scriptural on you here, but Paul’s warning in Ephesians 4:29 is a good one: 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.  

4. How will this critique enhance my ability to speak into the lives of people who need Jesus?  There is already a prevailing mindset out there that “Christians” are arrogant and closed-minded and brainwashed and judgmental.  Is there anything about this critique that will unnecessarily foster those perceptions?

5. Can God use this movie to point people to Him? I see it often. We complain that there are not more Christian stories or Biblical stories being told by major Hollywood producers.  Then, when one of them takes on the challenge, we sit back and take pot shots at him or her for getting it wrong!  Isn’t the question that matters most whether or not God can use this film to point people to Him?  Does it really have to fit my theology to a tee in order for God to use it?

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




Bright Ideas Doomed to Fail

3 02 2014

Monday Morning Quarterback – Encouraging God’s people to be responsible, encouraging and uplifting in their use of social media.

I’ve not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.  Thomas Edison, on his experiments with prototypes for the light bulb

broken lightbulbIf I call myself a Christ-follower, and I’m not afraid to wear that label publicly, then it seems right to me that I should have some pretty strong buy-in to the great commission in Matthew 28: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  It is why we, as Christians, are still here…still breathing.  Even after our salvation is secured, God leaves us here in order to fulfill this commission.

If that is all true, then our messaging on social media becomes purposeful, doesn’t it?  We want to use our very public, very searchable, very permanent social media posts to point to God in some fashion…or at least to preserve our privilege to do so with readers in the future. So, in the spirit of Thomas Edison, here are some messages for us as Christians, which are guaranteed NOT TO WORK:

1. The candidate you voted for is… [an idiot, a liar, a lunatic, a buffoon, a criminal, a bigot, a murderer, etc.].  I don’t know, call me narrow-minded, call me naive, call me a bad American…but I’m pretty sure my starting our conversation with this message is not a good strategy for getting you to listen to anything I have to say about Jesus.

2. You are… [an idiot, a liar, a lunatic, a buffoon, a criminal, a bigot, a murderer, etc.].  Kind of the same thinking as above, but even more personal.  When I use my voice to call people out in this way, I may as well have just decided I do not want to tell them anything at all about Christ.

3. You are a sinner (or are living a sinful lifestyle or are making sinful choices).  First of all, just from an informational standpoint, I’ve wasted both our time by simply stating a theological truism…because we are all sinners.  But more importantly, it’s not exactly opening line material if an actual conversation (or even a friendship) is what I am hoping for in the end.  Is it true? Yes (for both of us). Is it good strategy to get you to listen to me? No.

4. Here’s where I weigh in on this extremely emotional and divisive and controversial subject…  Do the math. If the entire country is deeply divided on the issue, then a large percentage of the people who have access to my post are going to be offended by it.  If my goal is to build bridges for us to have honest and open conversations, so that I can share with you about the most important thing in  my life (Jesus), why would I start the conversation with a slap in your face?

5.  I have a deep seated need to be a part of a tribe, and here’s the tribe I choose and the colors I wear and if you find it offensive, it’s your problem and not mine.  Tribes are a funny thing.  We all have them.  We all need them.  And there are ways for me to talk about my tribe that are calculated to minimize the offense to those who are not in it.  But when I throw it in your face and just expect you to “deal with it”, because you happened across my Twitter feed, I am losing my ability to speak truth into your life.

These are just some opening lines that seem guaranteed to fail to me.  How about you?  What opening lines have you seen Christ followers use that were ill-conceived and doomed from the outset?

© Blake Coffee

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




Get Outside Your World

27 01 2014

Monday Morning Quarterback – Encouraging God’s people to be responsible, encouraging and uplifting in their use of social media.

baby and worldOne common problem with conflicted congregations (a dynamic I can almost always count on being present) is what I call the “shrinking universe” phenomenon.  It is a simple concept, really.  When the only people we choose to listen to are the ones we agree with and who already think like we do, our “reality” becomes smaller and smaller and becomes more and more biased.  If I stand squarely on one side of a conflict and I surround myself with others on that same side, and we continue to have our little “pep rallies” where we spout off the same version of the “facts” over and over again, that version eventually becomes the only version I can accept.  My universe has shrunken down to accommodate my bias.

Social media not only has its own version of this phenomena, it is philosophically (and brilliantly) designed to further it.  You have already experienced this if you are a Facebook user.  Using some of the most sophisticated analytical tools the marketing world has ever known, Facebook has become remarkably intuitive, reading all your preferences (from the pages you like to the friends you message…from the type of computer you use to the cookies you may permit it to see in your cache…from your demographic info to your career info).  Facebook is constantly analyzing all of that information about you and then it is deciding for you which friends’ posts to show you and which friends’ posts to hide from your newsfeed.  So, if you have “liked” Fox news and you tend to message your conservative friends mostly and your posts are full of links to conservative blogs, etc., guess what posts Facebook is going to show you? Guess what ads show up on your feed?  Your “universe” has just shrunken down more and more to meet your bias.

And it’s not just Facebook which does this.  Pretty much every social media vehicle has similar bents built in to it.  Ever wonder how LinkedIn knows who you should know?  If you think about it, this is actually one of the things we love about social media.  It has made it easier than ever before to find other people interested in the same things you are interested in.  It is by design.  In one sense, it creates community.  But in another sense altogether, it only deepens the trenches already dug between factions in our community…because all of us have shrunk our universe down to meet our biases.

But it is not just social media which does this.  Search engines do it too.  Google and Bing and whatever other search engine you prefer are all reading you just like your social media site is reading you.  When you type in a search request, your search engine is accumulating all the possible answers and is then sorting it and giving you FIRST the answers it has determined you are looking for.  If you and I each key the identical search query into Google, we will get very different results…because Google reads us as very different people, deserving of very different answers.  It may ultimately be the same answers, but they are in an entirely different order for each of us.  So, even the instruments we are counting on for the truth are giving us bias according to what they think we want, i.e., a version of the truth which fits our demographics.  Sounds a lot like our current news syndicates, right?

So, how can we, as Christ followers, prove ourselves to be the kind of “listeners” and compassionate conversationalists and lovers of ALL people which Jesus was?  How do we accomplish that when our online world is filtering out so much of what we really should be listening to and understanding?  We have to be intentional about getting outside our world.  We must open our hearts and open our minds to genuinely seek out opposing viewpoints in order to truly understand not just the contentions, but the interests and the human beings behind those contentions.  We must get outside our shrinking universe and walk among those with other perspectives.  We must begin seeing the world through others’ eyes and feeling the world through others’ experiences.

You have to admit…it’s what Jesus did.

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




Best Not to Comment on Things We’ve Never Read

13 01 2014

Monday Morning Quarterback – Encouraging God’s people to be responsible, encouraging and uplifting in their use of social media.

I could probably spend the entire year using the recent “Phil Robertson/Duck Dynasty” social media frenzy as illustrations for this series of posts.  I think we, as the church, probably showed a broader range of “how not to use social media” with that outbreak than with any other popular issue in recent memory.  We may come back to that well often for these Monday Morning Quarterback posts!

One of the embarrassing things I saw happening (often) in the posts and comments, even from Christian leaders, was arguments which made it obvious the person had not even read Mr. Robertson’s actual comments.  As an attorney, setting out to either attack or defend something I have not even read seems, well, a little crazy.  But what I read was worse than that.  I saw arguments posted that were just plain ignorant.

Constitution

For example, I saw Christian leaders couching Mr. Robertson’s statements (and the A&E Network’s backlash) as being a “free speech” issue.  And that’s when all the lawyers and genuine journalists (and other students of the United States Constitution) cringed with embarrassment.  That is because people who have actually read the First Amendment of the United States Constitution know all about the requirement of “state action” in order to trigger a First Amendment argument.  Here’s the actual pertinent language of the amendment, with appropriate emphasis added…

Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech…”

When we, as church leaders, go public with our discussions of important issues (like the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights), we really do make the church look foolish when we do not do our homework.  I’m not contending here that we have to be experts before we can post something on Facebook, I am only suggesting that, ANYONE who takes the 15 seconds to actually Google the Bill of Rights or the First Amendment can read the language I’ve cited above and can see that Phil Robertson’s situation had nothing to do with any law passed by Congress abridging his freedom of speech.  Rather, it had to do with a private enterprise taking issue with something someone under contract with them said.  Not a First Amendment issue at all. Not even close.

And, by the way, not only do we appear ignorant when we post such comments, but we appear ignorant when we link to them or “share” them or forward them in e-mails as well.  In our haste to join the argument (or to be the first to get a blog post up on the subject), we don’t bother to do our homework and we end up looking ignorant. Or worse.

On the positive side of this concern, I also saw plenty of responsible church leaders actually making this same observation and “correcting” our brothers and sisters on these same issues.  Of course, by that time, the embarrassment was already done…and the damage to the church’s testimony done as well.

And, in the final analysis, protecting the testimony of God’s people (and God’s message) is so very much what these issues are always going to boil down to.

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




Social Media, New Wineskins and Church Unity

1 03 2011

Tuesday Re-mix –

Social media is here to stay. You may have sworn against Facebook, Linked-In, Twitter, and SMS (much the way you may have sworn against e-mail back in the day), but you may as well get used to them and do your best to embrace them…because social media is the communications vehicle of choice for at least the three youngest generations in the church today and is making pretty significant in-roads into the older generations as well. It is one of those “new wineskins” Jesus talked about which are necessary to communicate the gospel in our ever-changing world. As churches, we have moved way beyond asking whether or not we should engage this language. Clearly, we must. The only remaining question is: what impact will it have on our relationships, i.e., church unity?

I first started discussing this question here and here in previous posts. Now that I am a little further along in my own experiment with social media, I want to further explore the question about its impact on church unity. So, here are a few more observations:

1. A flood of testimonies of what God is doing. One of the things that builds unity the quickest in a body of believers is sharing testimony of what God is doing in our lives. Social media gives churches the opportunity for anyone to share that testimony through the written word, through video, through audio and then put that testimony out there for anyone to see/read/hear. It has never been easier to find out in a couple of minutes what is going on in someone’s life–someone with whom you may not have a close relationship, but from whose testimony you can still benefit.

2. Prayer concerns (and other needs) made easy and accessible. Yes, if you are able to come to the gathered prayer time of your church, you can probably see a list of all the prayer concerns (at least all of the ones who took the time to call the church office and share them). In my church, that means about 5% of the active congregation sees the concerns of about 10%. Social media will mean a much larger effective publishing of those concerns to potential prayer warriors. That doesn’t take the place of gathered prayer, it just casts the net wider for finding people to pray which, in turn, builds unity.

3. A “communication-rich” environment. Communication grows relationships. Social media changes my effective network of relationships from 100-ish to thousands. Granted, they are not all deep, profound relationships–we will still need face to face friendships for those few intimate relationships we all need–but we can be “connected” to so, so many more people through social media. In a day when a huge percentage of Christians are now worshiping in congregations of 1,000+, being able to connect on a larger scale is critical to church unity. As a result of social media, the church has never been more connected to each other than it is in this era. It is a simple formula: more communication means better relationships. And as for deeper relationships, I can honestly say that, with my involvement in social media, I have just as many intimate friendships now as ever before…maybe more.

4. Easy vetting. Now, when I have occasion to encounter a distant Christian acquaintance through this ministry or that one, I no longer have to operate completely blindly; rather, 1 minute of a quick look back over his “tweets” or her facebook updates, and I have a better understanding of him/her. Never again will a church call me to come and teach or speak without being able to go online and learn a great deal about my theology, my thought processes and my communication style. Through social media, we all live transparent lives, more accountable than ever before. Secret lives are harder and harder to maintain. We are coming closer and closer to the kind of transparency Christians in the early church had. With social media, it is not just the celebrities who live public lives…we all do.

Oh, there are many, many other implications to talk about. I suppose that means more blog posts in the future! Suffice it to say: if we as the church play this correctly, social media may just be the best “new wineskin” to come our way since the Gutenberg press. That’s saying something.

© Blake Coffee

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee. Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com







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