Christianity Today, Editorials, and Cognitive Dissonance

[I know it’s Christmas Eve, but I was catching up on things and saw this pattern. Merry Christmas. Read this later.]

The dictionary defines cognitive dissonance as the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change. As a rule, we cannot maintain cognitive dissonance for long.

When we run into information that contradicts our personally held beliefs we must either refute/discredit the information or change our beliefs. Sometimes instead of discrediting the info, we discredit the source. (That doesn’t make the info false, but allows people to feel OK about ignoring it). Other times we rationalize our positions. (That also doesn’t make the info false, but does allow us to feel we’ve chosen the best position in difficult situations.)

When the new information is challenging issues of core beliefs, we are more likely to defend current opinions more strongly. It’s difficult to move people in their core beliefs.

Case in point- Christianity Today publishes an opinion of one editor. The article makes several points, and compares the current president to President Clinton, morally. CT is a previously trusted source (Many agreed with their criticisms of President Clinton), so Christians take note. But the opinion causes cognitive dissonance. Trump supporting Believers cannot accept the editorial and continue to support Trump. So we see the responses… CT is progressive, etc… (Attacking the source) What’s the alternative, supporting baby-killing Democrats? Lesser of two evils, etc…(Rationalizing)

For the record, I don’t agree with everything in the article. But I find it interesting that the primary criticism of the piece falls into those 2 categories- discrediting source and rationalizing, rather than point by point rebuttal of the points of the article. I’m sure there are some responses that do that, but most I’ve seen are pointing to the source or rationalizing.

People really don’t like it when their core positions are challenged.

What’s our go to response when presented with contradictory info? Do we discredit the source, rationalize our position, or refute the information or change our position?


Blame Entertainment, Then Tell Your Own Story

I recently read “Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV” by Ben Shapiro. He outlines the history of TV, and the messages we see in primetime. As I finished the book I was reminded of the power of store to impact people, and that the author/screenwriter/director/producer’s worldview is the basis for the stories we see in entertainment.

And that is why Western Civilization is where it is today.

The power of story.

Story takes the worldview of the creator/author of the story and makes it into something people will accept, ingest, maybe even adopt. Messages couched in entertainment are more powerful than speeches. A speech can reinforce an attitude or belief, but it will rarely change a mind. But a heartfelt story can go a long way toward changing a heart, and a mind.

A long time ago I took a class on Persuasion. One of the things I learned was that some attitudes and beliefs are harder to change that others. Moving from the position of not liking wheat bread to liking wheat bread is much easier than moving from liking gay marriage to not liking gay marriage. Attitude and beliefs that are more central to who people are, that people identify as self defining, are much harder to change. And they take a long time to change.

I’ve been alive long enough to have seen some of those deep attitudes and beliefs change. There are things that are accepted today that never would have been accepted 20 years ago. And that’s not completely a bad thing. Some things needed to change. But not everything.

Going back to Shapiro’s book, the people that make our entertainment, that tell the stories our culture consumes, primarily have one set of values. They have very similar world views, and their stories reflect that. Their characters interact with the world based on how they see it. When they come into a conflict, they act, and the worldview of the creator is shown to be true in the show.

It’s not a conspiracy. It’s natural. Jesus never told a story that wasn’t based in his worldview. I will never tell one that’s not based in mine. You could claim that sometimes they go out of their way to put characters in situations that undermine an opposing worldview, but Christian story tellers do that all the time. That’s what evangelistic films are. Over time, our culture is gradually adopting and accepting the worldview presented in our stories.

If we Christians ever hope to influence our culture, to see people with a biblical worldview, to see the Gospel spread, it’s true… we must learn to be great storytellers. But things don’t stop there. We must take those skills and put them to use in entertainment. If you want to change the world, don’t go into politics. In today’s politically landlocked climate, legislation doesn’t change the world. Entertainment changes the world, or at least Western Civilization.

Leading From the Back of the Room

I heard this phrase the other day and I thought it sort of described what most media pastors do on a regular basis. This isn’t exactly like “Leading from the Second Chair” (Which I hear is a good book.) Many times media ministers find themselves a lot further down the line than second chair.

In many ways this feels like an oxymoron. If you lead, you should be out front, not in the back. But the kind of leadership I’m talking about consists more of influence and excellence in the disciplines of media and communications. It’s education and execution. It’s relationships and resourcefulness.

Leading the Team:

Culture is critical in the team. I’d like to say every team I have ever served on has had a great culture, but it just isn’t true. Technical people are analytical by nature. They break events down technically, but they also break motives and decisions down, and can easily start second guessing, or just plain complaining. We can easily fall back into a disdain for another’s lack of planning. Or we can become roadblocks instead of detours when we are heading in the wrong direction. It is our job to be resourceful and get it done.

This isn’t done by casting a vision. It’s done by creature a culture. It’s perpetuated by examples of servant leadership. It’s easy for lofty leaders to sit in their offices and tell technical people how they ought to behave, the tone they ought to use, but the realness of the matter comes into play in the middle of those tense moments in service transitions or rehearsals. Sitting in your office and talking about the attitudes we ought to have has no weight if those attitudes are not modeled.

The culture that you create will permeate the overall ministry organization. Your media ministry can be known as the guys who get things done, or the guys who complain about everything. Culture doesn’t change overnight. It didn’t get the way it is in a week, it took years. You may be lucky enough to be in a great culture, but if there’s work to be done, tackle it in steps.

Leading the Leaders:

I once had a speaker communicate over the comm that I needed to have the pictures he had given me moments before ready to show on the screen because he was about to call for them. I relayed a message back that I was not ready, I was still loading them into the system and please hold for just a little while longer. He replied, “He needs to be ready because I am calling for them now.”

That is a classic example of a leader who doesn’t understand the magic of media. Media guys laugh about power surges that can “let the magic smoke out” when they fry a circuit in a piece of gear. For many in leadership roles, media is all smoke and mirrors. They ask for a video, and it magically appears. They need a microphone, and someone hands it to them. They decide on Wednesday what content they want in the bulletin for Sunday, not knowing the gymnastics you must go through to change what has already been done.

This requires education. It means developing a relationship with the leaders of your ministry and lifting the lid on the inner workings of media and communications tasks. For them to get the most effective use out of media, they must have a basic understanding of it. It is our job to educate them.

And sometimes, it’s our job to redirect them. I was once asked to put together a mailer to send out to tens of thousands of people telling that we were not going to be holding an event. We were not going to tell them what we were going to be doing, just wanted to let them know we wouldn’t be holding the event. The church would literally spend thousands of dollars to tell the community we were not going to do something. It was my job to help them understand why that would be bad, and why we should expend our resources on letting the community know what we were going to be doing.

That takes persuasion. If you work in media, if you are a communicator I strongly suggest you learn about psychology and persuasion. I’m not saying we can replace the Holy Spirit, but knowing what motivates people and how they think will help you communicate effectively. It will help you get out of the way, and let your message speak clearly. This isn’t just for marketing campaigns, but also affects how you interact with others on staff.

Does the pastor need a visual to get the idea? If so, paint him a picture or draw a diagram. Are you talking to a “bottom-line” person? Then sum it up. Got a guy who needs to catch the vision? Then cast it. Figure out how your audience, even if it is just one person, best learns and processes new information and communicate that way.

Do your homework, present it clearly, and be ready to compromise. After a while you can develop the kind of relationship that allows you to give direction freely in the areas of media and communications.

Leading the congregation:

There are really two areas where media and communications interact with the congregation; the experiential and the informative. The experiential deals with how people engage the local body in worship, discipleship, and service. The informative covers the ways we let the people know about the church, ministry opportunities and events.

On the informative front, it is our job to tell the people what they need to know. We need to make the information available in a way that most people can easily consume it. this means that we must filter and meter the amount of information we are putting out. If everything is important, nothing is important. We have a criteria we use to classify events and publicity requests that governs how much attention we let any one event get. A class for 50 people doesn’t get the same attention that a church wide event does.

Much of what my communications team does is perform “marketing triage”. We review incoming requests and prioritize them. Then we put them into the system, and let it work. For smaller events we provide ways for the ministry areas to do targeted communication. For larger events, we use every channel available to us. It is our responsibility to communicate to the people of the congregation.

The experiential side is where many media ministries fall short. They get bogged down in the information, and fail to see how they can enhance the ministry of the church. They may extend the ministry through broadcast, web streaming, or media resources, but they may not seize the chance to use media to enhance the message or music.

I learned a long time ago that media is a cultural language, one that western society uses with great regularity. When people come into an American church and see screens they have an unconscious expectation to see quality video. Large speakers and lights bring expectations of production style music. We should use the means available to us to enhance the message in worship. Even if it is just simple things like using IMAG to direct the eye, or choosing a complimentary motion background for the lyrics. If we do not engage our congregation through media we are missing a huge opportunity to lead them in worship. My boss describes it as leveraging technology to create moments where God works. Those moments can be in weekend worship, small group classes, or out in the community. Technology can both facilitate and enhance our ministry.

We media minister types are rarely up front. We are not the person in charge. We are most often a supporting member of the overall ministry team. Yet we can and should lead from the back of the room to help make the ministry we are a part of the best it can be.