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Brant Hansen
WAY FM Mornings

The Cost of Christian Radio

 

 

 

                                

People around the world, for centuries, have talked about Jesus, and lost everything because of it.

You and me? We do it, and it makes us money.

Does this mess with our heads? Heck yeah, it does.

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Such is life in Christian radio. Doesn't matter whether you're really "feeling" it, whether you are truly growing spiritually, whether you even mean what you're saying, or even how you spent the last few hours before going on the air: It pays to say Christian-y stuff. Literally. "Sound" Christian, and you get a paycheck. Don't, and you won't.

Now, "Christian-y" might mean talking about Jesus, or, more likely, identifying with the American Christian subculture, in some way, to connect with listeners. It might mean occasionally mentioning your pastor, or saying "Have a blessed day", or saying you watch such-and-such TV show but you "wish they left all the racy stuff out of it", or whatever cultural marker you might wish to use. All of it says "I'm on the team, see?"

For millions who've gone before us, being "on that team" has meant the loss of everything. For us, it means money magically shows up in our checking accounts every two weeks. As followers of Jesus, we are told to "count the cost". But let's be honest: As professional followers of Jesus, we count our pay.

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I've mentioned before: I was once told to "say something spiritual" every ten minutes or so during my morning show at a previous job. And it makes some sense. It's tactical. It's strategic. It's also enough to make you want to, when the shift is over, climb to the top of the station's tower and jump off.

Same thing used to happen to me during Sharathons (I'm sure I'm the only one) when I'd get off the air and wonder, "Did I really just say all that? I don't normally say 'blessing' ten times in 30 seconds, but I just did it repeatedly. Was that me? Did I really say that 'God must be smiling!', because we got ten calls at once and rang a bell? And can I go take a shower, somewhere?"

Those of us who've worked at commercial stations can feel it, that uncomfy sense that we've been here before. Except instead of Christian-talk, we put our word-powers to use selling something else. Each day on my talk radio show, for instance, I'd start talking about the hot, cinnamon-smelling, fresh bread, right out of the oven!, they'd make down the street at the Great Harvest Bread Company. And, the owners told me, they always knew when I did the "live" ad, because a line would form about ten minutes later. I happily did it for the money. I mean, I truly DO love bread, which is why I was probably so convincing, but sure, I did it for the money. Everybody's happy. I use some words, the listeners feel good about some food, and we all make money.

Nothing wrong with that. I'm a capitalist, and I like money lots. Money lets me buy awesome stuff like this iMac.

But God help us if we're selling Christ.

Jesus isn't a product. Discipleship isn't a good that one sells. "Religious feeling" isn't the Holy Spirit. And God will not be reduced to a means our ends. Not forever, anyway.

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I got an email this week from Jessica, who listens to our show. It's making me think. She points out that Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke of "cheap grace", and "costly grace". Jessica says there may be something like, "cheap communication" and "costly communication". Communicating His love to us cost Him everything, she says. She says God specializes in the latter, but Christian radio's two-minute "How-to" vignettes and anecdotes seem to offer the former.

I think there may be something to this. There's cheap communication (where it costs me nothing) and there's costly communication (where it costs me something.) Maybe I never thought about it this way, but I've always thought it was easier to hand out a tract than invite someone into relationship; wear a t-shirt instead of enter into someone's world, or, as Rich Mullins would say, "be friendly, but never be your friend."

When I communicate in Christian radio, often there are no costs. Only benefits. Literally.

Like a health plan. For me.

But what would happen if we engaged in costly communication? What if we believed so strongly in who Jesus is, that we were willing to give ourselves up in the process? What would that look like?

I know, I know -- don't get too crazy, here Brant -- but seriously: What WOULD it look like? There really may be a cost to this. Like giving up my seeming authority, or you giving up your act, your "I'm-a-hip-mom-just-like-you" shtick when your life is actually in shambles; or my desperate clawing for attention, or your refusal to acknowledge present sinfulness, or the hiding of my own frequent struggles to read the Bible, or our relentless desire to impress people, somehow, someway.

The cost may just be our coolness. Or the respect of a lot of religious people. Or our jobs.

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Just some initial ideas, there. I certainly haven't given up on "Christian radio". I'm just thinking Jessica understands something important about that word, "Christian": If there is no cost, no gut-wrenching, deep-down, I'm-lying-here-bleeding-in-front-of-you cost to this for me, I suspect I'm communicating myself, not Christ.

And If I'm doing that, let's be honest: Jesus isn't using me, so much as I'm using him.
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Brant Hansen can be reached at brant@wayfm.com