By Chris Turner
Director of Communications, TBMB
The recent events in Charlottesville were tragic and seemingly becoming more common in cities across America. Racism in all forms is satanic, is biblically antithetical, and should be anathema to every Christian everywhere. Christ died to save some “from every tribe, tongue, and nation” (Revelation 7:9).
As Christians, we have a responsibility to speak on behalf of the gospel. And when we speak, it isn’t just our opinion that is being broadcast. People, especially non-Christians, form conclusions about God, His Kingdom, Christians, our churches, and us based on what we say. No pressure there, huh?
Unfortunately, an initial response by many pastors, ministers, and Christians is to go the other direction and say nothing. This is especially true if media call a local church asking for a comment. The response they are often greeted with is, “no comment.” First, “no comment” is never a good answer. Secondly, and probably more importantly, not to comment is a wasted opportunity.
Let’s think through this. What is it that the world most needs to hear? The gospel, which is a message of peace and reconciliation with the Father, which means peace and reconciliation with our fellow man. If we want racial tension to subside and be eliminated, it is only going to happen through the power of the gospel transforming hearts.
So, given the opportunity, what would you have said to the media in relation to Charlottesville? Here are nine ideas to keep in mind if you wind up with a public platform to speak a much-needed word of truth into our tumultuous culture.
(1) Be prepared. Paul writes in II Timothy 4:2, “Be prepared in season and out of season.” When you see events unfolding, ask yourself, “How would I speak gospel truth into this if I were asked for a comment.” Write it down, think through, and practice how you would bridge to those two or three key “speaking points.”
(2) Pray. Jesus told the disciples that “the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say” (Luke 12:12). Yes, that was in preparation for being hauled into the Sanhedrin, but shouldn’t we be prayerful and ask for the Holy Spirit to guide our tongues before entering the public forum?
(3) Research. If asked to comment by someone in the media, spend several minutes doing a Google search for that person. Understand what types of stories they’ve done in the past and examine their stories to see if they have a bias. Remember, we are to be as “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
(4) Ask questions. Reporters aren’t the only ones who can ask questions. You can too. Questions like: Why do you want a comment from me? Who else are you interviewing? What’s the angle of your story? Before beginning the interview, confirm with the reporter your understanding of why you’ve been asked to speak and hold a reporter accountable to that understanding.
(5) Listen closely to the questions. It is easy to say more than you should and that is when it is easy to get into trouble. Trouble can often be avoided by listening closely and responding wisely.
(6) Stay composed/engaged. This is especially true for video interviews. Research shows that 55 percent of your believability is based on appearance and only seven percent on what you say (38 percent on how you say it). Your facial expressions will communicate to a listener more than your words will.
(7) Be real. Expressing empathy and care, being honest and open, and being competent — in that order — are the most important factors in whether you genuinely connect with an audience. And by the way, it is never wrong to genuinely express concern for others.
(8) Take ownership. This doesn’t mean being bossy and demanding, it means recognizing that the media called you because they believed you had something to say. You have a message you want to convey and that an audience needs to hear. Make sure it hears the message while also making sure the interviewer gets what they need.
(9) Beware the social media. Does what you’re saying on social media square with what you’re saying from the pulpit, to others or to the news media? A good reporter will research you before an interview and if you contradict what you’ve said on social media, it could quickly turn ugly for you. Be consistent, be godly, and for all the good in the universe, please use social media wisely.
These nine principles are useful beyond the media and can apply to everyday life. When an event happens, every Christian should be prepared to speak from a biblical perspective. It is a great opportunity to represent Christ at a poignant moment and it could very well open the door for someone to consider the claims of the gospel for the first time ever.
Don’t forget, you are people’s perception of your church, Baptists, and Christians when you talk to the news media and everyone else. What will you say? How will you say it? What impression will you leave?
A broken world presents endless opportunities to be gospel spokespersons, but now is the time to prepare. Are you ready?