Separating True Stories and Hype: Telling the Story of God’s Work with Integrity
Just the other day a friend sent me a report about the growth church planting movements across the globe. It was full of bloated statistics with conveniently rounded numbers in the millions. The report contained very little that could be corroborated and any research methodology was non-existent.
If only this type of reporting in the church was rare. Too often Christians are quick to believe the too-good-to-be-true stories because we want it to be true. Unfortunately, the inaccurate telling of Christian events can be detrimental to the church for a number of reasons.
- False or exaggerating reporting is harmful to Christian mission. Bloated numbers about Christian growth can create a false assurance that the gospel is advancing without our intentional evangelism or sending of missionaries to those who have little access to the gospel.
- False or exaggerated reporting threatens Christian integrity and witness. The reports of thousands (or millions) coming to faith in Christ with no evidence to back it up reflects on the nature of Christian journalism and tells the world Christians cannot be trusted. Christians who are quick to believe these exaggerated accounts also reveal themselves to be gullible.
- False or exaggerated reporting develops a success-fixation that is contrary to the cruciform nature of Christ-centered ministry. When ministries are evaluated based on number-oriented results, we are on dangerous ground and it can ultimately lead to prosperity-oriented theology.
You might be wondering, if Christians today can have such a casual relationship with the truth, how can we trust Christian history? Although we must acknowledge Christian history is not flawless, we see men and women who have taken it upon themselves to record the events of Christian history with integrity and accuracy.
There was a monk serving in an obscure monastery in the late 7th/early 8th century who undertook to write A History of the English Church and People. The Venerable Bede, as he was known, was a quiet, unassuming man who carefully collected all of the information he could to record the history of earliest Christianity in England. Bede takes time in his preface to describe his research methodology as well as his sources. It is clear that he worked strenuously to offer an accurate accounting of events. Bede strived so earnestly to report his findings accurately that he could make this statement:
Should the reader discover any inaccuracies in what I have written, I humbly beg that he will not impute them to me, because, as the laws of history require, I have laboured honestly to transmit whatever I could ascertain from common report for the instruction of posterity.”
Bede offers an example we can learn from today. Even with a finite set of resources, he was selective and discerning in how he reported the work of the Lord in England. With the seemingly infinite resources available to us in this information age, it is our Christian duty to record the work of the Lord with as much accuracy as we can. And, we need to do so humbly, knowing that our finite view of events doesn’t grasp the whole story.
Michael is an Adjunct Lecturer for Equip in the Equip-MBS Diploma and Degree program. He is a professor of urban missiology at a seminary in Southeast Asia and the co-director of RADIUS Initiatives. In addition to numerous articles and book chapters, Michael has written Sowing Seeds of Change: Cultivating Transformation in the City (Urban Loft, 2015) and co-written City Shaped Churches: Planting Churches in a Global Era.