During the ten years I spent serving with a missionary organization, I would get some confused looks when I answered questions about what I did. Journalism, what’s that got to do with the Great Commission, some would wonder. Shouldn’t I be translating the Bible, preaching, or maybe caring for the sick?
That was the friendlier response. Judging by the squirmy reaction of some others, you’d think that I had said I was a stripper for Jesus. They seemed to be struggling to reconcile a profession they held in rather low esteem—somewhere between used (sorry, pre-owned) car salesmen and ambulance-chasing attorneys—with a noble calling.
To be fair, there was a time when I had my doubts, too. In the first flush of faith, I thought for a while that maybe I should swap the press room for the pulpit, asking questions for giving answers, the inverted pyramid for the raised cross. But I became persuaded that journalism is a fundamental part of Jesus’ “go into the whole world” call.
Matthew 28:19-20 and Mark 16:15 record how he told his friends that he wanted them to go and make disciples. Followers. And that’s what the church does, to this day—typically a couple of occasions a week, for an hour or so at a time.
Meanwhile, the news media makes disciples 24/7. How so?
Consider the story in Numbers 13 of the 12 spies—or journalists, as I like to think of the men sent ahead of the rest of the Israelites, to check out the Promised Land. After all, they went and reported back to everyone else what was going on; that’s journalism in a nutshell. Even the questions they were set by their “commissioning editor,” Moses, were pretty much the essential who, what, why, where, when, and how of Journalism 101.
There’s a fascinating, extended parallel, or parable, concerning journalism in this chapter from Numbers. But let’s fast-forward to the end. Ten of the 12 correspondents have brought back a “bad report” from their trip (verse 32). And what an impact: the people respond to, or “follow,” one bad report, and it leads an entire nation, an entire people, an entire generation out of the purposes of God. Instead of entering into all he has intended, they will wander for decades. Most will never experience what God has promised. Talk about the power of the press! That is major discipling.
Four thousand years later, people are still being led astray by bad reporting. They are being “discipled” about all kind of things—personal morality, politics, economics, war, the environment. Which way are these reports pointing?
Ted Turner says that, as a kid, he thought about becoming a missionary, but changed his mind. To me, he didn’t, he just ended up taking a different route to discipling people—as founder of CNN, the first cable news channel. Fox News, The New York Times, The National Inquirer, The Huffington Post, you name the news source you love (or love to hate); they all do the same…they are all bringing back reports that help shape people’s decisions and directions.
That’s why, I believe, the news media should be of vital and prayerful concern to all Christians. And why Jesus and journalism can go together. People follow the lede.