Does the media-savvy church have an innate coolness and with it a language that produces sick media presentations, wicked advertising and engagement in articulate and relevant self-promotion. It’s perhaps a place where rather than sharing the peace with a handshake a fist bump is more appropriate. Is this what we mean by media-savvy?
Perhaps what we mean is a church that has a number of Facebook pages and twitter accounts, with a church leadership that is proficient in the use of mass media, newspapers, radio and TV and whose congregation articulates clear, concise and meaningful messages to its community?
Could it be a church which is competent to stream its services live for the housebound and sees social media as a way to engage with its community, understanding what its needs might be? It could be a little of all of the above. However, there are deeper questions we might ask or begin with.
How as church we are media-savvy is important – or should be. Such considerations underpin the Media-Lit course run by CODEC at St Johns college Durham, which I attended a few weeks ago. The course was structured to address the ways in which we can engage with media (whether that’s technological, social or mass media) but at its core wanted to ask deeper questions.
Even though all the students and staff had some level of media savviness, nevertheless, it didn’t presume that all media was good, or even useful. Instead, it sought to consider what underlying principles underpin our use of media, methods of communication and online community.
The Bible Is Media.
First stop was the bible; we considered how scripture can be viewed as artistic media. In a way God has painted a picture for us in scripture of who he is and what he is about. We considered the many ways God speaks to people… from gardens, towers, burning bushes, donkeys… to all kinds of people and age groups including angels, his son, you and me.
Debate & Trolls
Discussion was also focused upon the nature of the online community, addressing the question of whether or not it is a proper community if we are physically separated by time and space… where we are materialised and rematerialised through computer technology. Where is God in that – a God whose presence is both personal, embodied and outside the confines of time and space? Much debate was also centred round whether or not Jesus would be an online troll in terms of modern understanding!
The course was a catalyst for reflection on how we engage with media in all of its locations and how we share the Gospel. There was a fresh understanding that media has always been with us, from cave drawings, to Facebook.
Becoming media-savvy doesn’t mean we become hidden behind screens or live in some tech bubble or social media haze as we react to the most trending hashtag. Nor does it mean focusing solely on how much our post was shared or liked, at the expense of our broader relationships. Instead, engagement in media (in particular social media) is a way of deepening relationships between people and God.
The answer to some of the questions proposed on the course and in this post cannot be answered neatly, but what the questions provide is a platform for discussion and rich debate. So we strike a balance, using the metaphor provided by Lord Soper of holding a newspaper in one hand and the bible in the other, not withdrawing into isolationism but engaging the media in a theologically and spiritually intelligent and articulate way.
It’s Not All Bad
As Christians and members of the human race we have learnt throughout our history that ‘different’ or ‘new’ doesn’t automatically mean ‘bad’ or ‘something we shy away from’. Rather it should cause us to lean on our theological, spiritual and communal resources in order to find a way of effective engagement that honours who we are in God and doesn’t close the door to people as we discover new ways to engage with issues of faith and the nature of a diverse community in the 21st century.
My big takeaway was “How do I engage in creating good content that honours the God I worship?” I wonder what might be provoking you as you have read this post? It is especially relevant that we engage in today’s media-savvy world, not least to offer hope and solace in the crazy times we live in, confronting negativity and hatred that we see online with words of challenge and of love.
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