Reality TV for Pastors?
by the Rev. Steven L. McKinley (November / December 2003 • Volume 19 • Number 6)
Our cable-TV provider recently announced that it is about to begin carrying the Pastor’s Broadcasting Company on channel 973. I can hardly wait. I’m going to have to adjust my schedule so I can be in front of the TV set for all my favorite programs.
For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the Pastor’s Broadcasting Company, I can tell you that this network has a great variety of programming pertinent to folks like us. During the day you can see a whole variety of preachers. Pastor Phil features an outspoken pastoral counselor who flunked the standard course on Rogerian counseling. There are music videos featuring really good church choirs with some flashy dance moves. The sports department shows the best of church league softball games. For the kids there’s Davey & Goliath. (Goliath now sports the Nike logo as a tattoo, and Davey drinks a lot of Pepsi products, but so what?)
But the most exciting stuff comes on in prime time. The Pastor’s Broadcasting Company is getting into “Reality TV” these days, and they’ve got a great lineup, featuring such shows as:
Surviving: The First Call
A group of seminary graduates is sent into a synod with first call opportunities. Watch them wrestle with salaries inadequate to pay off their education loans. Watch them turn on each other as things work out well for some and not so well for others. Watch them separate into teams, with associate pastors vying with solo pastors, urban pastors battling suburban pastors, or female pastors competing with male pastors. Watch them do things they said they would never do (give a stewardship sermon, bless a motorcycle) just to survive. Who will be left standing after one year?
|It’s tension every week, and the drama will keep you coming back for more.|
Den of Fear
Each week pastors will face their greatest fears. Saying no to the Gideons. Convincing the church’s largest giver, who also happens to be the president of the local American Legion, that the American flag doesn’t belong in the sanctuary. Persuading a group of 8th grade confirmands on retreat that it is time to go to bed. Teaching a Bible study on Ezekiel. Explaining the significance of the addition of the filioque clause to the Nicene Creed. Reciting the Nicene Creed from memory.
The Unwed Congregation
A program inspired by The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Joe Millionaire, and American Idol. An attractive and wealthy congregation is in the market for a new pastor. A gang of “suitors” is eager for the opportunity to “wed” this congregation. Each week the Call Committee considers another candidate. Viewers look on while some candidates are dismissed for perfectly logical and solid reasons (“Did you see the car she drives?”) while others move forward for equally good reasons (“His wife looks like Meg Ryan”). Squirm with the candidates while the Call Committee makes decisions and then neglects to communicate them to the candidates. Finally, a candidate is selected, but the fun is only beginning. Laugh along with everyone else as the candidate (now the new pastor) discovers that the congregation has more problems than she ever dreamed of, and that, in fact, it is neither attractive nor wealthy.
Under the Camera’s Eye
The eye of the camera is always watching as 10 eccentric yet fashionable and hard-bodied young systematic theologians take up residence in a posh Hollywood mansion. You’ll see them sitting around in the hot tub, sipping decaffeinated coffee and passionately discussing Schleiermacher, epistemology, and dispensationalism. Each week, viewers at home vote one theologian out of the house, until only one is left.
But this network is not just about Reality TV. It also airs such popular programs as:
Neighboring pastors swap congregations for a few days to tackle each other’s most vexing congregational problems. Pastor G takes on the reorganization of Pastor H’s Altar Guild, while Pastor H introduces Power Point presentations to Pastor G’s congregation.
A wacky guy dressed for a jungle hunt takes on the most difficult personalities in a new congregation each week. It’s nothing but laughs when the passive-aggressive church folk smile at his face and then chew up his backside as soon as he walks away.
The World With Mark Hanson
Our presiding bishop, a man of great intelligence, passionate commitments, keen insights, good humor, and limitless energy pops up each week to show us where he has been carrying out his ministry this week.
A nightly discussion of Called to Common Mission, our agreement with the Episcopal Church. Much passion is expressed, especially by those who consider this agreement a bad idea. (The proponents are equally strong in their belief but find passion unseemly.) There are those who believe that this program has outlived its usefulness, but it still has enough enthusiastic viewers to keep going year after year after year after year. There are unconfirmed rumors that the topic will soon shift to sexuality.
Of course most pastors I know do not need Reality TV, except for occasional amusement. Anybody with two wits to rub together can recognize that the "reality" of "Reality TV" is a totally artificial reality, a reality trumped up to titillate.
Pastors, on the other hand, live every day with a much more real reality, a world in which bad things happen to good people and amazing things happen for no good reason, some of them perfectly dreadful and others totally remarkable. The "real world" pastors live in is a place where God is constantly surprising us with grace, and is therefore a much more wonderful place than anything TV writers could ever dream up.
I'll take our reality over theirs any day of the week and twice on Sundays.
Steven L. McKinley is still accessible in retirement.