By Chris Turner
Director of Communications, TBC
You know the adage, “Whenever you get two Baptists together you always have three (or more) opinions.” And I know this is hard to fathom, but preachers can sometimes be, well, opinionated. Almost all of them see the world through the lens of a biblical worldview so it is difficult to look at the culture around them and not express their view as it relates to God’s Word. However, the question is: Should they?
The answer is no — and yes. It’s complicated. First, let’s recognize that not every opinion a pastor expresses flows forth from the fount of Scripture. Pastors, opinions and the media can have all the makings of a chemistry experiment gone bad. There is more than one example of pastors saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. And let’s face it. It only takes seconds for something possibly taken out of context to go viral in this age of social media saturation.
However, more and more pastors and church members are being asked by media to comment on social issues like same-sex marriage and abortion. Am I advocating suppressing a prophetic word to a culture that needs salt and light? Of course not. As Christians we are called to proclaim the gospel to a decaying world. However, what I am saying is that pastors — and all Christians for that matter — must exercise biblical instruction when it comes to communicating, especially when the media is involved. Remember, “Be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.”
Here are four tips all Christians would do well to consider if asked by the media to participate in an interview or if simply engaging in a public conversation.
(1) Know who is asking you questions. This really ought to be a no-brainer and certainly falls into the category of media relations 101. In the case of a media request, even a cursory Google search can reveal the background of a reporter, the types of stories the person does and the slant they may put on a story. Ten minutes of research could determine whether the opportunity is a good fit. Approach all interviews with preparation and caution. Never let your guard down.
(2) Know what to say when. Embrace the wisdom of that great prophet Mark Twain: “Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.” Think through the two or three things you really want to communicate and stick to them. Trying to win a position with someone who may have an agenda is a losing proposition so knowing what to say when prepares you to not get sucked into that trap.
(3) Know when to say no. Researching the reporter and the media outlet requesting an interview ought to help you know when to say no to doing the interview in the first place. Pastors and church members have no obligation to consent to an interview, especially when it’s determined there is no benefit that advances the church’s mission or the cause of Christ. Politely decline and move on. The exception is a crisis situation and people need to hear from someone in authority.
(4) Know when to stop. And even when you do consent to an interview it doesn’t mean you have to say everything that is on your mind. Spokespeople need to know when to stop. Sorry pastor, I recognize you are a straight shooter and want to make a stand for Christ, but this is where you need to show some restraint on hot-button issues. The landscape is littered with the reputations of prominent people who said too much and it destroyed them. It is possible to proclaim the truth without sharing everything.
In the end you may have one 10 to 15 second sound bite on television or a two-sentence quote in the paper. A truthful word spoken in gentleness is more likely to attract someone to your church to hear more, whereas saying too much the wrong way will certainly repel others. Being wise and gentle, with a helping of research and forethought will go a long way toward realizing a successful outcome.