Monday, June 2, 2008

Interviewing for the Faith

This past week I joined some of my Episcopal colleagues in New York City for some “media training,”—translated, “how to give an interview on television and not look like a doofus.” Together at the recent House of Bishops meeting in Texas we had all had a taste of this, but a group of us decided that we needed some more intense work in this area, including some practice runs on camera.

I think that the Presiding Bishop (probably prompted by our own Chuck Robertson) realized that at the upcoming Lambeth Conference we are likely to have a microphone stuck in our face and we had better be ready to respond intelligently. Moreover, I realized that since I have been bishop, I have probably given about 25 such interviews.
After last week’s media training, I wish that could have done most of them over again!

Dealing with journalists is not easy, but there are at least three main points that we learned in our training—take time to prepare, know your core story (the point you want to make sure you get across in what is likely to be a seven second sound-bite), and always include a story.

It occurred to me that these tips for doing a good interview are also fundamental to being a good evangelists—know the topic (the Gospel of Jesus Christ), insist on the core point (this is “Good News” for all people); make it personal and passionate (speak from your own experience).

We had a chance to critique several recorded television interviews. It was amazing to see how many people when confronted by a camera wander off-topic, or string together the worst kind of generalities, or are distracted by curve-ball questions which have nothing to do with the topic at hand.

How are we doing when it comes to proclaiming the Gospel? Do we take time to prepare what we are going to say? Our coach reminded us that most clergy spend 10-20 hours a week preparing a sermon that a few hundred people might hear. What about an interview that thousands or even millions will read or listen to? I am often saddened by the small number of folks who participate in parish education classes or the Church School teacher who brags that they “looked over the lesson for a few minutes on Saturday night,” or the priest who clearly has not his or her homework, or the Sunday morning service which is thrown together with no real thought. “Be prepared” is not just the Boy Scout motto, but for any of us in Christian leadership.

Likewise, our frequent lack of passion about what we proclaim is often a result of the fact that we don’t take it personally. Unless we share with others our own experience of God’s work in our lives, then we cannot expect to influence them. This does not mean that every sermon has to be a personal testimonial, or every coffee hour an occasion for witnessing, but it does mean that our religion is rooted in our experience ( Frederick Buechner once said, “Religion begins with a lump in the throat”), and unless we base our words on what is going on in our hearts, our presentation of the Gospel will be boring and irrelevant.

Most of us will never have to face a camera team, but each of us is called everyday to be interviewed by others about our faith. It can happen in simple ways: around the water-cooler, on the sidelines of the soccer field, at the senior center. The questions may be more subtle than on TV, but they are asking the same thing—tell us about what you believe and why?

What will be your answer?

“Film at 10”

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