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2003 Conversations

Joy Williams: Rooted in Grace (December 29, 2002)

Judy Rachels: Christmas gifts (December 22, 2002)

Ralph Carmichael: New music for a timeless message (December 15, 2002)

Roger and Greg Flessing: Media, ministry and society's ungodly messages (December 8, 2002)

Rick Salvato: Meeting medical and spiritual needs around the world (November 24, 2002)

Asa Hutchinson: Drug Enforcement's top officer (November 17, 2002)

Bill Bright: 'Not I, but Christ' (November 10, 2002)

Ray Berryhill: Living by faith (October 20, 2002)

Owen C. Carr: Reading through the Bible 92 times (October 13, 2002)

Curtis Harlow: Combating campus drinking (September 29, 2002)

Wes Bartel: Making Sunday count (September 22, 2002)

M. Wayne Benson: The Holy Spirit knocks (September 15, 2002)

Dr. Richard Dobbins: Understanding Suffering (September 8, 2002)

K.R. Mele: Halloween evangelism (August 25, 2002)

Roland Blount: God makes a way for blind missionary (August 18, 2002)

Cal Thomas: Finding a mission field (August 11, 2002)

Lisa Ryan: For such a time as this (July 28, 2002)

Dallas Holm: Faith and prayer in life’s toughest times (July 21, 2002)

Paul Drost: Intentional church planting (July 14, 2002)

James M. Inhofe: Serving Christ in the Senate (June 30, 2002)

Karen Kingsbury: The Write stuff (June 23, 2002)

Michael W. Smith: Worship is how you live each day (June 16, 2002)

Wayne Stayskal: On the drawing board (June 9, 2002)

Fory VandenEinde: Anyone can minister (May 26, 2002)

Thomas E. Trask: Pentecost Sunday (May 19, 2002)

Stormie Omartian: Recovering from an abusive childhood (May 12, 2002)

Luis Carrera: Beyond the Shame (April 28, 2002)

Tom Greene: The church of today (April 21, 2002)

Philip Bongiorno: Wisdom for a younger generation (April 14, 2002)

Deborah M. Gill: Christian education and discipleship (March 24, 2002)

Norma Champion: Becoming involved in politics (February 24, 2002)

Steve Pike: A candid discussion about Mormonism (February 10, 2002)

Raymond Berry: More to life than football (January 27, 2002)

Sanctity of Human Life roundtable: Doctors speak out (January 20, 2002)

Chaplain Charles Marvin: Ministering in the military (January 13, 2002)

2001 Conversations


Media, ministry and society’s ungodly messages

(December 8, 2002)

Roger and Greg Flessing have been involved in media projects for more than 30 years. Roger is vice president of communications for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, including WorldWide Pictures. Greg is president of Fresh Air Media in Auburn, Calif., and produced the musical Touch Felt ’Round the World at the Assemblies of God’s 2000 Celebration in Indianapolis. The brothers spoke recently with Hal Donaldson, editor in chief.

PE: What media projects first whet your appetite for this kind of ministry?

ROGER: I was fascinated by the microphones and the PA system at church. Several wonderful Christian gentlemen took me under their arm and let me learn how to run audio when I was 14 or 15. Even before that, Greg and I would get a tape recorder from my father’s school and record music for Christmas and Thanksgiving and other events. We had an 8 mm movie camera and that was fun making movies.

GREG: I remember at 13 or 14 standing on a table in the back of the old Bethel Temple auditorium in Sacramento running the only spotlight for a Youth for Christ event. They used to have rallies once a month and they were a big gathering point. It filled the building with high school and college students. Working that spotlight led to being involved in music in those settings and became the foundation for several years of traveling and doing music.

PE: What have been some of your most fulfilling projects?

GREG: Some of the Billy Graham global missions events have been in that category. "Stand in the Gap" with Promise Keepers was certainly a very special day and unique event. I think there have been some other projects that were not as visible or as big that touched folks and made a difference at the right time.

ROGER: Being with Mr. Graham for the past 20 years certainly has been fulfilling. I’ve been able to follow him as he went to the Soviet Union, Romania, Hungary — places that seemed impenetrable before the Iron Curtain came down — and see firsthand how God was working from that side. And then to go to China a number of times and even to North Korea seven times. It’s interesting to see how God is working and His church is alive in so many places of the globe where we just don’t know it.

I’m happy to be involved in reclaiming another area for the gospel and that is through movies. At WorldWide Pictures we’re revitalizing our movie ministry and we’ve been able to do theatrical releases and made-for-television movies. We’re seeing double the response of our normal television programs both in ratings and in first-time commitments. Of the people who call in, nearly 50 percent are first-time commitments.

PE: Where does WorldWide Pictures fit into the communications ministries of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association?

ROGER: We have 12 areas right now including the Internet, radio, television, magazines, publishing, movies and public relations. We have our own advertising agency, the response center, direct mail, graphic service and the broadcast department. About 130 employees serve in the communications area.

This year is the 50th anniversary of WorldWide Pictures. From what I’ve understood in my conversations with Mr. Graham, people in Hollywood approached him about taking his crusade and putting it on film. He and his associates didn’t want to do that as much as they wanted to find stories that would be able to hit a mass audience. People who wouldn’t come to a crusade tent but who would go to a theater needed the gospel just as much. The question was how to get outside the walls of the crusade tent and into the marketplace. The answer was WorldWide Pictures.

PE: People have said that Hollywood, the news media and other media entities are the most influential forces in the world today. What should believers be doing to influence the messages that are bombarding people?

ROGER: Christians should be a part of the media. It’s far more effective if believers are writing the scripts, producing the programs and directing the events than if they remain on the outside just trying to boycott something objectionable. The media didn’t shift overnight, and we can’t expect some kind of Damascus Road experience that will just take it back. But there can be a gentle nudging that will move it back. Christians are in wonderful positions. God has found His new Daniels and Joshuas who can be influential at a critical period in our history.

GREG: We underestimate the power of prayer; we leave that as the last step of something we might do when all else fails. But prayer needs to be the first step of whatever we do. We pray for those in leadership and government; why not pray for those in leadership within the broadcast industry, within television, films, news media and related areas?

Second, as a concerned believer, you need to respond thoughtfully to something offensive in the media. Unfortunately, Christian responses at times tend to be harsh and ugly. People also make the mistake of responding to an isolated issue, like an objectionable word. They often fail to address the bigger issue, which tends to leave Christians looking like they aren’t in the real world. For Christians to be heard, media administration needs to believe that Christians actually understand the world in which they live.

A third way believers can influence the media is to watch selectively. People may not realize that they cast their vote by what they watch. You can say, "I don’t want to watch this," but if your TV is on during those programs and you’re buying all the products that are sponsoring those shows that’s not much of a vote against that material.

Finally — and this is important — become a friend with people in media. Few people have the opportunity to meet Peter Jennings or Dan Rather, but they could introduce themselves to local news reporters or radio personalities and really work at becoming a genuine friend. A genuine friend can express concerns for, support for, affirmation for good stories and good communication.

PE: If you could speak to a group of ministers and lay leaders of a local church, what would you tell them about utilizing the mass media or communication systems to get Christ’s message out?

ROGER: I’d tell them to be careful. A lot of churches want to have a radio or television program, with the mistaken belief that they can win an entire city for Christ if they can just get their pastor on the air. The media create tremendous opportunities to make the gospel look good in front of a lot of people, but we have an equal opportunity to make the gospel look bad in front of a lot of people. We have a very critical audience out there. I understand that we can’t compromise or water down the message, but I think we need to present the gospel on TV, on radio, on the Internet, on CDs, in our news, whatever, with excellence.

GREG: Far too many churches end up spending a lot of money and time and volunteer resources and ineffectively communicate the gospel. Too often their efforts reinforce stereotypes of a church service in front of an unbelieving world. On the other hand, I’d say there are ways to create advertising or promotion for your church and special events. The foundation can be built through how you respond when it comes to things like letters to the editor or opinion-type responses that get ink in local newspapers. The kind of ministry-related events and activities you support can get your community’s attention in a positive way. These can promote your church within the media in a local market and do so with an affirming Christlike character.

PE: Where do you see communications going in the next 10 years and what should the church be doing to stay current with communication trends?

ROGER: Communication must still come back to a one-on-one medium. The Internet, despite being a medium for mass communication, created a tremendous one-on-one environment. You don’t usually see a lot of people sitting around the computer screen; that computer screen is a one-on-one vehicle. You need to talk to people one-on-one, and radio is one-on-one. We’re finding that, in most cases, people watch television by themselves. So, our communication, whatever the medium is, still has to get the message across one-on-one. I think that is what Billy Graham has done very well. He understands this is personal evangelism done on a mass scale as opposed to mass evangelism.

GREG: Keeping abreast of technological developments allows a church to access tools they may well be able to use in their publications, radio or television programs, their Web sites or in their services. This doesn’t mean the pastor or church board jumps at the first thing. They do some evaluation, look carefully and then make decisions that try to keep it current.

PE: How can the average person guard his or her heart from ungodly messages in the media?

ROGER: We need to live by a good old-fashioned word called conscience. There are just certain things that the Lord whispers and says, "Son/Daughter, that’s not pleasing to the Father." Our job is to follow Christ through this thing and not check Him out at the edge of some activity and say, "You take the night off, I’m going to go do this." We’re to follow Him at all times. I’ve been amazed in following Jesus at where He’s led me — to a lot of places that I wouldn’t have gone. But there were wonderful lessons and wonderful people and wonderful ministry opportunities along the way.

GREG: A while back I read Jerry Mander’s book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television. He was involved in a very well-known advertising agency. After being involved with TV most of his life trying to make people buy a product or service, he had discovered four solid reasons why people shouldn’t watch TV. I wish a Christian had written that book. Its message so echoes a Jesus response to what mass media can do to people. If you choose to turn the switch on you are basically allowing someone else to make the decision about content. The images you see, the messages that are delivered, are totally in someone else’s hands. When you talk about how to guard your family or guard your heart from ungodly messages, amazingly the number one issue is straightforward: be extremely selective about what you choose to be exposed to.

PE: What advice would you give young people wanting to be involved in the arts or communications?

GREG: Those are really tough career choices because they deal with very subjective evaluations. What is good art or good directing or good camera work? All of those things tend to be very subjective and, consequently, you have to have a strong stomach and be really convinced that it is your territory and calling. You’re going to have to work hard, be really committed to developing your skills, absolutely convinced that your talents are honed before someone else is going to believe in you. But, there are tremendous rewards personally and huge potential for the kingdom of God for those who invest their talents in these areas.

ROGER: Drama is powerful and we need to encourage our young people to reclaim it. That is why I’m a big fan of the Fine Arts Festival. Films are a wonderful way to tell the gospel in story form. They are today’s parables. They are the ways we communicate to people today. Video creates a message that, when the Holy Spirit takes it, drives the gospel right into a person’s heart.

If you look at the history of Christian television, Pentecostals were at the forefront because they had the faith to step out. I would hope that each individual church would encourage the creativity in their young people and older people and offer outlets for that creativity. We, as Christians, should be the most creative people in the world because we are the children of the Creator. Yet, we tend to shy away from that creative thing like somehow it is wrong or we’re going to get in trouble. I think God wants to celebrate this creativity. It is part of the creative process that is still going on in the universe that God wants to find creative ways to show His love to this lost world.

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