The Pernicious Effects of Hype and PR in Christian Organizations

by Dave Miller on February 6, 2013 · 34 comments

I hate when I see churches and Christian organizations engaged in hype, in PR. I think it is contrary to the way of Christ.

We are used to hype and PR in the secular world. Lance Armstrong engaged in a massive campaign of PR hype for years, claiming to be clean, to be a victim of a massive conspiracy. Then the truth came out. How many times heave politicians or businessmen or sports executives played the “nothing is wrong” or “deny, deny, deny” game right up until the world crashes around them. And then the truth comes out.

Now, instead of following Scripture, the church has bought into the hype game. “What an awesome week we had on Sunday.” Maybe they did, but even if they didn’t, the hype machine keeps on churning.

In my through-the-Bible reading today, I was in Psalm 38. David was a world-class sinner. When he sinned, he sinned big. But, while David was a big-time sinner, he was also arguably the best repenter of all time. Look at Psalm 51, the magnum opus of repentance, after his sin with Bathsheba. But even in Psalm 38, his humble heart came through. He looked at his sin with horror. He admitted it – publicly. He rejected it publicly, repented of it publicly, and he cast himself publicly on the mercy and restoring grace of God.

3  There is no soundness in my flesh  because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because  of my sin.
4  For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.
5  My wounds stink and fester because of my foolishness,
6  I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all the day I go about mourning.
7  For my sides are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh.
8  I am feeble and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart.

Maybe his utter rejection of hype and artifice was one of the reasons he was described as a man after God’s own heart.

He dealt with it. He admitted it. He repented of it. And he was freed of it.

Now, my friends, here is a fact. You are a sinner. But I think we have to extend that truth corporately. Organizations and institutions made up of sinful people will also show effects of sin. Your church, your organization, your Christian school – they will all give evidence of sin and it is neither godly or productive to pretend as if they do not. The very human tendency to try to put a good face on our sin, to hype our way through opposition, to pretend that nothing is wrong even when something is wrong, is that not just a manifestation of the sin of lying. Can you see Christ engaging in hype? Trying to put a good face on a bad situation? He spoke truth, even when the truth hurt.

God is truth. Satan is a liar and the father of lies. Christians, churches and Christian institutions ought to reflect the truth of God rather than the lying (hyping) ways of our enemy. If we are covering over the truth, trying to hide it from others, we are not engaging in Christlike behavior, but imitating the serpent in the garden.

A Shaping Experience

Some years ago in one of my previous ministries, the treasurer leveled some serious charges against me and the leadership of the church. We brought in an expert to sort through things and the expert sided with us instead of with her. She left in a snit. That left our church in a mess. No one really understood what was going on in our books. What were we to do?

The normal course of affairs would have been to keep the problems quiet and hope no one found out about them. But we went a different direction. At the next business meeting, I stood in front of the church and told them that we had a mess on our hands. Because of the situation, we did not know exactly what was in the books, and the financial report was our best guess of what is really going on. We promised to sort things out as quickly as we could, and we did. Once we got it figured out, we made sure that this kind of thing never happened again.

And there was no uproar at all. The result of honesty was peace. I remember a pearl of wisdom I learned from my dad.

An informed people is a happy people.

Too many Christians in power look at the people of God and tell them “You can’t handle the truth.” My experience is that God’s people handle the truth much better than they handle having the truth shielded from them by the PR process. That tends to breed suspicious, anger and division.

I have seen a couple of instances of Christian PR recently that bother me, both in Christian colleges.

Cedarville University

I am an unabashed fan of Cedarville University, where my daughter attends. Recently, though, the campus has been thrown into an uproar by the “resignations” key members of the administration. These “resignations” were presented as completely voluntary and explained in “nothing to see here” email and press releases from the school.

But at a small Christian school, it is hard to keep a lid on things. Everyone pretty much knows that the administrators were forced out.  A former trustee member has confirmed those perceptions. These administration members, beloved by the students, did not simply decide to leave school mid-year. Pressure was placed on them for reasons no one knows (but many suspect). No surprise to anyone, a website has formed to try to “shed light” on the situation. It is called “Let There Be Light.”

I understand that the administration cannot reveal confidential employment issues. But is it right to publicly announce that these personnel left of their own volition when they almost certainly did not? Could they not have found a way to announce this without shielding people from the truth?

I found this video to be inspirational. When Dr. Carl Ruby, who was Vice President for Student Life, left on his final day, the students at Cedarville lined the hallways and sidewalks of the school and applauded him as he left. You can see the video here. It is moving.

Louisiana College

Louisiana College, affiliated with the Louisiana Baptist Convention, is in a state of turmoil. I only know anything about this school because of friends who are students there. In recent days, several very popular professors have been informed that their contracts will not be renewed next year. Some students believe it is a purge against Calvinists in the school. Joshua Breland at “The Daily Bleat” and Drew Wales at “SBC Heritage” are writing on this. They are, obviously, the counterpoint to the school’s point.

But the brouhaha became public when the President, Joe Aguillard, published a “President’s Pen” article in which he said there would be no tolerance of Calvinism “being advocated at Louisiana College.” No one knows exactly why he decided to pick this fight now. Louisiana College, as I understand it, has had a mixture of Calvinists and non-Calvinists teaching at the school. Now, evidently, that will no longer be true.

Aguillard’s article raised quite a ruckus, and he backtracked a little in an interview when he said he was only talking about hyper-Calvinism, not Calvinism. But one can read the article at the LC website and see that he never discussed hyper-Calvinism.

I contacted Dr. Aguillard with some questions about this, but he did not respond. The truth is, I don’t really know the ins and outs of the administration and their decisions. But from contacts I have had with students and a former professor, I know that things are in an uproar there.

But if you look at the President’s Pen article at the website, you would think that all was well and that the college’s future couldn’t be brighter. From all I have been told, that is simply not the case.

This kind of thing is so common in churches, in Christian colleges and parachurch organizations. Don’t admit there is a problem. Put a good face on it. Tell everyone all is well even when everyone knows that things are tough.

That’s not how David handled his problems.  He repented. He expressed confidence in God’s ability to make sense out of the mess. But he never pretended as if everything was okay when it wasn’t.

Health does not come from the denial of sickness, but from dealing with it head on!

 

 

1 Matthew Newman February 6, 2013 at 3:33 pm

This is an excellent piece that brings about excellent points. Not to puff you up any.

I serve (not as a Pastor) at a small church outside of Baltimore, Maryland. When our Pastor left over a year ago we as a Congregation came together and put everything on the table. We laid bare our own failings as a congregation and our role in getting us to the place we were, Pastorless and significantly in debt as a congregation. We have been open about everything – from bills to concerns. It’s helped. We were quite a bit of debt in August 2011 when this all began, but the Lord has provided. We have paid off the bulk of the debt, we have had some great preachers come to visit our congregation, and many quiet church members have stepped up in the church emboldened by the spirit (myself included).

It’s been a good experience and, frankly, our honesty in everything has been the most important thing in us progressing forward as a congregation.

2 Dave Miller February 6, 2013 at 3:55 pm

Amen. Well said. i wish this kind of response would prevail.

3 Jason February 6, 2013 at 3:50 pm

The purge at LC is deeper than Calvinism. Calvinism only serves as a smokescreen for deeper issues that are at hand and have been for quite some time. Thanks for highlighting this Dave.

4 Dave Miller February 6, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Well, I hope it gets worked out in an orderly and Christ-honoring fashion.

5 Ben Coleman February 6, 2013 at 4:21 pm

The typical pattern we see in the secular world (and, as you note, all too often in the church) I call “Prioritizing PR and presentation over effectiveness”. It’s deemed more important to look like you’re doing well than to actually do well. I tend to express it in a Proverbs-style parallelism:

The wise man wants to act righteously, and and welcomes correction as an aid to doing it. He will defend his reputation against unfair attacks, but only after examining the criticism to see if there is anything to learn from it. For him, doing right trumps looking right.
The fool wants to look righteous and regards correction as an obstacle to that goal. Defending his reputation is the first priority, and only after he once again feels his reputation is secure will he, possibly, examine the criticism for validity. For him, looking right trumps doing right.

Too often, the foolish pattern is followed, but Paul appears to have pursued just the opposite of the foolish pattern:

“But we pray to God that you may not do wrong — not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed” II Cor 13:7

Doing right comes first, looking right second (and may even be optional).

6 Dave Miller February 6, 2013 at 4:23 pm

That is just about worthy of its own post!

7 Ben Coleman February 6, 2013 at 4:31 pm

It’s actually a cut-down version of one of the posts on my (all-too-infrequently-posted-to) blog (titled “Contemporary Foolishness”).

8 Dave Miller February 6, 2013 at 4:35 pm

give us a link.

9 Ben Coleman February 6, 2013 at 4:47 pm

Check your email

10 Ben Coleman April 22, 2013 at 2:03 pm
11 William Thornton February 6, 2013 at 4:55 pm

Interesting.

I have no problem with public relations, we all need that, but devious PR is ultimately harmful to the organization. Hype is, well, as baptistic as a steeple.

It is easy to make the case that our entities need to explain their mission, how they use their funding, and what they are doing. All that is PR.

Interesting about the school. I have always wondered why our SBC entities feel that spin is better than plain truth. NAMB was guilty of that in the past, as was Midwestern Seminary. Nowadays, where there is a conflict there is likely to be a Facebook page, blog, and website to talk about it. If the administration stifles normal channels of communication folks will eagerly turn to alternatives often to the harm of the institution.

Your dad has it right.

12 Dave Miller February 6, 2013 at 5:20 pm

Yes, I use the PR term here in a negative light. I’m really talking about devious PR that hides the truth. I’m talking about polishing a rotten apple.

13 Dave Miller February 6, 2013 at 5:21 pm

And, as I grew older, I found to my surprise that my dad had a lot of things right.

14 Frank L. February 6, 2013 at 7:18 pm

The older we get, the smarter old people become.

15 cb scott February 6, 2013 at 7:12 pm

The problems at LC are not about PR. Nor are they really about Calvinists on the payroll. Joe new he had Calvinists on the payroll eight years ago. They were OK when they carried his water.

The problems at LC are about sin and the prevalence of hard-heartedness and the covering up thereof.

16 Dave Miller February 6, 2013 at 7:20 pm

I am aware that there is a lot more roiling at LC than just the Calvinism issue. But my point was more general – about how the President’s Pen article trumpeted that great thing were happening at LC when things were actually in turmoil. That’s the hype angle I am speaking of.

17 Randall Cofield February 7, 2013 at 12:27 am

C. B. Scott,

Brother, you seem to be trying to say something without sayin’ anything

18 cb scott February 7, 2013 at 7:46 am

Au contraire, my good man, au contraire indeed.

I have in fact stated something.

Randall Cofield, I have stated in a rather declarative that the problems at LC not about PR. The problems are not really about Calvinists on the payroll. That is what I have stated and what I have stated is true.

What I have not stated is what the real problems at LC were. . . . and continue to be.

19 cb scott February 7, 2013 at 7:56 am

Age has taken its tool on my ability to multi-task, I must confess.

Randall Cofield, let me clear up my sentence, for I did not type some words in my sentence as constructed in my mind.

That should have been; “. . . I have stated in a rather declarative manner that the problems at LC are not about PR.”

And now, I shall state again; They are not about PR. They are not about Calvinists on the payroll. They are about wicked and hard hearts.

20 Randall Cofield February 7, 2013 at 9:39 am

C.B. Scott,

Age takes its “tool” in hand and works on all of us, doesn’t it? :-)

That’s ok, CB, I got the gist of what you were sayin’ the first time around.

“”They (the problems @ LC) are about wicked and hard hearts.””

Indeed. Wouldn’t you say that wicked and hard hearts are the source of most–if not all–problems?

So which is it: A wicked and hard heart on the part of the president? Or wicked and hard hearts on the part of the men whose contracts were not renewed? Or both?

Or perhaps there are wicked and hard hearts exerting pressure upon the principals involved?

21 cb scott February 7, 2013 at 10:14 am

Randall Cofield,

It is true that all men are sinners. The Scripture does declare that all men are liars.

However, it is expected of men who claim the Christ as Savior and Lord to submit daily to the power of the Holy Spirit, draw near to the Father, die to self, be repentant of sin, and walk according to the teaching of our Lord and Master, Jesus, Son of the Living God.

If we do not do that constantly, we are prime targets for Satan and his minions. Frankly, it matters not if we are Calvinists with theological degrees or Traditionalists with theological degrees or if we have degrees in English and would not know or understand the various dogmatics regarding soteriology from Quaker Oatmeal commercials; If we do not die to ourselves daily and take up the cross and follow Jesus we can show forth wicked and hard hearts, and it does not matter if we are presidents of an institution or vice-presidents of institutions or faculty in a Christian Studies department.

22 Randall Cofield February 7, 2013 at 10:31 am

C.B. Scott,

Well played, brother.

Guess I’ll have to read about it in the news paper. :-)

23 Jess Alford February 6, 2013 at 8:36 pm

Dave Miller,

There are Christians that even hype up their church to get folks to come and visit. I was approached a few years back by a couple that was pouring on the PR/hype about their church. It sounded like heaven on earth.
After a couple of weeks there, I found out some were involved in things
that I don’t want to mention here. I’ve learned to never take things at face value. It’s what is behind that face that counts.

Dave, clear something up for me if you will. Preachers will say I’m just a sinner and always will be. Christians as well as Preachers, when caught
indulging in sin always answer we are all sinners. If you are without sin
then you can cast the first stone. I have always had a problem with this type of doctrine. It’s not Bible in the way it is used.

I always say that we do sin but are no longer sinners, we have been declared righteous by the blood of the Lamb. Our hearts have been changed, we are new creatures in Christ Jesus. Heaven is our eternal destiny.

I have a problem with what Christ has cleaned up to call it unclean.
The 63 BF&M agrees with me and although the 2000 BF&M has some changed wording, it still follows along those lines.

Why do folks still want to call themselves sinners. When only the righteous is going to inherit heaven. This would not be a good witness to the lost to tell them I’m just a sinner. The lost would say well, you’re no different than me.

24 Dave Miller February 6, 2013 at 10:21 pm

What do they call someone who punts? A punter.
What do they call someone who runs? A runner.
What do they call someone who paints? A painter.

What do they call someone who sins? A sinner.

Saying that we sin, but we are not sinners does not really make sense to me. If I sin, I am a sinner.

And contrary to popular opinion, I do sin.

25 Jess Alford February 6, 2013 at 10:38 pm

Dave Miller,

Would you back that up with NT doctrine and scripture?

Dave, we sin but do not practice sinning, we have been declaired righteous, saints, the bride, children of God, chosen. There is not one place in the NT where we are called sinners. Jesus came to save sinners. I once broke my finger, I suppose that makes me a finger breaker.

26 Chris Roberts February 6, 2013 at 11:09 pm

“I once broke my finger, I suppose that makes me a finger breaker.”

Yup.

27 cb scott February 6, 2013 at 11:13 pm

Or maybe it just means you are clumsy and should not use hand tools.

28 volfan007 February 7, 2013 at 12:27 am

CB,

:)

David

29 Frank L. February 7, 2013 at 12:27 am

Actually, isn’t the order the other way around: I am a sinner so I sin.

It isn’t painting that makes you a painter — it’s your union card.

And, someone who runs is usually called OJ.

JUst another perspective.

30 Bennett Willis February 6, 2013 at 9:35 pm

Sometimes the Facebook pages and similar have it right and sometimes they don’t. When things are in an uproar, you have to be doubly careful about both what you say and what you believe about what you hear.

What I have observed is that when you have the true story, all the information will make sense. As long as your explanation does not clearly explain everything you hear or read, there should be doubt about your explanation. Or doubt about what you are hearing and reading.

31 Jess Alford February 7, 2013 at 12:04 am

cb scott,

I don’t recall asking you for your opinion. Since you brought it up,
I am clumsy and cannot see very well. I was out today chopping
down trees with my double headed axe, I tell you it was a sight to
behold. I almost killed one of my sheep with the axe. My wife will
not let me use the chainsaw when she is not home.

Hang in there cb.

32 Dirk February 7, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Thought provoking read, Dave. Thanks.
Truth should trump everything else. But, not every thing that is true needs to be made public. Even Matthew 18 instructs us to deal with our issues privately before going to the church at large. The difficulty we often face is knowing where the bright line is between what should be handled privately and what should be handled publicly. I think one big clue is this (you allude to it)… When we feel the need to publicly cover up the truth or massage the truth (PR) then it would probably be better to just be transparent.
Often we do this out of a sense of guardianship. We believe it is our responsibility to protect our friends, our church, or our institutions so we try to fend off the naysayers. It rarely works.
I’ve never met a person that regretted being honest.
Godspeed, Bro. Miller. Godspeed.

33 dr. james willingham April 18, 2013 at 10:23 pm

And to think I missed all of this good cameraderie (sp).

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