News Articles


EVANSTON, Ill. (BP)–From time to time, Southern Baptists find themselves in the national spotlight, whether for a convention action, a leader’s statement or an entity policy. And since the press and public don’t walk to our drummer, we’re bound to encounter one public relations challenge after another.

From time to time, I’ve been called on to join in the denominational public relations effort, and at one point I decided to see what the Bible had to teach us about public relations, including the matter of its very legitimacy. (You have to wonder when one of the most common expressions of disdain is, “It’s just PR.”)

I came up with a few dozen observations with Scripture linkage. Here are 10:

1. Tell only the truth. Jesus made it clear that he was truth, that truth freed, that we should speak the truth in love, and that liars are contemptible. We must check and double check for accuracy; no “ministerial speaking” or careless zingers, however edifying or fun they might be. And our appreciation for truth should extend to its acknowledgement, even when it comes from our critics.

2. Report God’s power at work. Again and again, Jesus and the apostles performed signs and wonders before the people. These deeds electrified the populace, validated their message and opened doors for teaching. The New Testament is full of such accounts.

It is good to report the wonderworking of God — surprising conversions; signal sacrifice; interracial teamship; revival and awakening; mass relief of mass suffering; inspired solutions to knotty problems. Our aim should not so much be to tell what Southern Baptists are doing for God, as to report what God is doing through Southern Baptists.

3. Expect opposition. Jesus said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you.” If we succeed as Southern Baptists in winning universal appreciation, then we have failed as Christians. (This distinguishes us from secular ad men, whose standard is worldwide acclaim.) We should consider a lack of hatred for the Southern Baptist Convention a sign of failure, for it means we have become so powerless, innocuous and compromised that no one bothers to take offense at us.

This is not to say that we should try to stir up hatred. On the contrary, we should try to be winsome and live at peace with people. If we’re doing our job, opposition will come without our special effort. No good deed goes unpunished. Peter discovered this when he healed a beggar in the temple and then explained the source of his power.

When attack comes, we should not fold or scurry to compromise. In true apostolic fashion, we should rejoice because we’ve been found worthy to suffer for Christ. We should recognize our place in the fellowship of Matthew 10 disciples.

Yes, there can be seasons of healthy public approbation. In Acts 2:47, we read that after Pentecost the Jerusalem church enjoyed the favor of all the people. But the Diaspora was just around the corner.

4. Make room for ceremony and display. The church presents itself not only in words and lifestyle, but also in demonstrative acts. Consider the public burning of pagan scrolls, Paul’s purification rites, Jesus’ triumphal entry, the overturning of the moneychangers’ tables and the anointing with balm. We should be alert to opportunities to make a visual point.

5. Be alert to teachable publics. Paul went to the synagogues first, for there the people had the conceptual base to receive the gospel. Facing rejection, he moved on to the noble Bereans and to Lydia’s group down by the river.

Sensitivity to publics does not mean slavish attention to public preferences. Paul shook out his clothes against the Jews, and Jesus told his disciples to shake off the dust of resistant towns. We must not let rejection tie us in knots.

6. Appreciate non-Christian help. Gamaliel in Jerusalem and the city clerk in Corinth both proved helpful at critical junctures. God will raise up aid in unlikely quarters. We need to be alert to this.

7. Consider silence. Jesus’ norm was to set the record straight, to clear the fog of sinful thinking. (Read his response to the snippy teachers of the law in Mark 2:1-12.) But from time to time, he would simply refuse to reply to his critics’ charges. (Note his silence before Pilate in Mark 15:3-5). We shouldn’t feel compelled to answer every slanderer.

8. Question some questioners. This may seem impertinent, but Jesus modeled it for us — “How can Satan drive out Satan?”; “Whose portrait and inscription are on this coin?” Sometimes it’s good to put the questioner on the spot.

9. Don’t be too smooth. John the Baptist had some rough edges, but he got the job done; he pointed people to Jesus.

Jesus and Paul didn’t enhance their standing as diplomats when they used such expressions as “whitewashed tombstones,” “stiff-necked” and “child of the devil,” but it didn’t bother them.

10. Watch for traps. Jesus was constantly faced with trick questions and other veiled attempts to injure him, and he counseled us to be as wise as serpents. We must not assume the good will of powerful lost people, whether politicians, businessmen, journalists, heterodox clergy or academicians. Defensive driving makes sense in Christian communications.

Of course, Christian PR is not a field apart from normal Christian living. In all of it, we’re to present the gospel, love our enemies, walk in faith, edify the church and to pray without ceasing. And that’s not “just PR.” It’s anointed PR.
Coppenger is pastor of Evanston (Ill.) Baptist Church. Other reflections by Coppenger can be viewed at www.listten.com.

    About the Author

  • Mark Coppenger