Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"Religion Works Because of Media"

Reflecting on media and ministry*

This clip is a great example of what good messaging looks like. It is from Meet the Press when former Secretary of State Colin Powell announced his endorsement of Barack Obama before the 2008 election. And it is beautiful. We find ourselves captivated by this picture he paints for us, and are drawn into his message. Monday, the Beatitudes fellows participated in a media training program in which we learned what to say and how to say it so maybe we too can speak so powerfully about issues we care about. This is the reflection I wrote for Faith in Public Life's blog Bold Faith Type.

Media and Ministry

"Religion works because of media," Macky Alston, founder and director of Auburn Media, reminded me and fellow seminary students at our Beatitudes Society Summer Fellows workshop on understanding media strategy on Monday. In a world shaped by the media, religion works because of the ways religious leaders navigate media to communicate core messages on important issues. Religion cannot be separated from media and still be relevant.

However, as a seminarian, I can tell you that theological education does not prepare us to respond to the media. Being a strong communicator is an essential part of ministry, and so we are trained to preach, but we also need to be trained to talk to the press. I feel pretty comfortable in the pulpit, but sitting in a chair across from a journalist with a camera is a completely different story!

Even without actively seeking to be a voice in the realm of faith and politics, faith leaders are often called upon as public figures by the press to respond to issues of financial management, sexual misconduct, community tragedy, and hot button political debates on social and moral issues. The Auburn Media Training was an opportunity for me to fill in some of the gaps of my seminary training to more effectively do ministry.

Too often in seminary, we pick up habits that disconnect us from public debate because we rely too heavily on theological rhetoric and church-speak to be relevant in the media. Media training was a blessing in its focus on how to reach people through the press. For example, I learned how to take a story about sharing vegetables in my home church in rural Harford County, Maryland, to the press to send a message about food justice in our community and how people of faith can make our communities healthier. In this situation, the media is a way to share resources with other groups wanting to do similar work and also a way to share what we offer with a part of the community who may not be aware of this ministry.

Media is an important tool in social change, but it only works if faith leaders can make journalists care about the issue. One interview can change the course of a church project, a career, even a movement, so faith leaders must make media strategy a priority in the ministry they do.


Check out fellow Beatitudes Society Fellow Whitney Pierce's post about the media training up on the Beatitudes Blog: I'm Ready for My Close Up.

*This summer I am a Beatitudes Fellow at Faith in Public Life. The Beatitudes Society is a progressive Christian resource center for and network of faith leaders that offers seminarians like me internships at key national social change organizations. Faith in Public Life is one of those organizations, focusing on "advancing faith in the public square as a positive and unifying force for justice, compassion and the common good," a lot of which is in making the progressive faith voice audible in the media. I believe God has called me to parish ministry, yet I felt strongly that I needed experience outside of parish ministry if I want to be an effective pastor working for a just world. I have not been disappointed with this decision.

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