Guy Mason is the Melbourne minister (from City On A Hill) who used a discussion about a controversial piece of art on Sunrise to talk about Jesus to a national audience. I thought he did a great job, so I asked if I could interview him, mostly for the purposes of writing a story, but also because I thought he’d have good stuff to say based on his performance. So here are his answers to my questions.
Guy has some training and experience in Public Relations, and an M. Div from Ridley College in Melbourne.
1. How did the Sunrise interview come about?
They called me on a Sunday, while I was at Starbucks prepping for our evening service. I’ve done a number of spots for them before; since planting City on a Hill we have attracted a bit of press – especially recently with articles in the Age, Herald Sun, interview with Triple J. I don’t take all opportunities that come up, but am happy to serve where I can.
2. With your PR background do you proactively look for opportunities to engage the media?
I love the gospel and I want as many people as possible to hear the good news of Jesus. If opportunities open doors for the gospel than I’m happy to get involved. I don’t hunt down media (like I would in a PR consultancy) but as the Spirit leads I follow. Interestingly, I find a lot of media people (like most Australians) are curious about Jesus. However, their impression of most churches and religious groups is that they are solely interested in speaking against culture. As a Christian I believe there is much about culture to reject – but also, much to receive and then also aspects to redeem. For example, in an interview with Triple J I was given an opportunity to talk about the gospel and sexuality. The common view is that all churches teach that sex is evil. In contrast secular culture treats sex not as the devil, but a God to worship. I then shared how as Christians we believe sex is neither devil or god, but rather a gift from God to be enjoyed frequently and freely in marriage.
3. Do you think other churches need PR experience to do this?
I think we all have much to learn in this area. The very first person I met when planting a church in Melbourne was the local news editor. I asked him to tell me about the area, his perception of church, and also how we ‘the church’ could serve him. I have and continue to learn a lot from this friendship.
As I understand PR, it is the practice of understanding an audience/demographic/culture and communicating a message in a comprehensible and relevant way. As a believer we are all called to be communicators of the greatest message in Jesus. We don’t want to change the message at all – but consideration to the audience is key. We need to be grappling with questions like – who are we speaking to? what language do they speak? what is their understanding of Jesus? what obstacles exist that get in the way of them seeing Jesus for who he really is? what are the most effective and culturally relevant methods of communicating Jesus? All of this sits under the banner of God’s providence and power who is at work equipping the saints to proclaim the good news of Jesus and awaken unregenerate hearts to the majesty that is Christ.
4. What made you decide to respond to the art work the way you did?
To be honest, it was a Monday morning following a long day of preaching, prayer, and I was pretty tired. I asked people to pray for me and that God would use my words for his glory. I am aware that on shows like Sunrise you only get sound bite opportunities to speak. Thus, with a very complicated and heavily loaded segment, I wanted to be clear, concise and point people to Jesus.
5. Is there anything you regret not saying?
All the time. I always walk away from church, interviews, conversations saying “I should have said this!” Thankfully, God’s grace is made perfect in my weakness.
6. How important is it, from your perspective, for us to talk about Jesus and the cross, when we’re appearing in public?
In Paul’s letter to the corinthians he says – “whether you eat or drink, whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Whether I’m chatting with my mates at the football, catching up with a young bloke exploring Christianity, counselling a couple going through a marriage crises, or speaking before thousands of Aussies in a channel seven studio, I want to lift up Jesus. I’m not going to do this perfectly, or even helpfully all the time – but pray that God uses everything I do for the good of our nation and the glory of his name.
7. What were the potential problems, from your perspective, with answering the Sunrise questions differently?
I didn’t give them the controversy they perhaps wanted. On other occasions I’ve rejected media spots because of the corner they wanted to put ‘christianity’ in – that churches are judgemental, divided and irrelevant. I’ve then watched as the spot was filled by someone else who fell right into their plan (either wittingly or unwittingly).
But while many media agencies like controversy, Sunrise appreciate honesty, authenticity and anything that is unexpected. These are welcome in a world of political double talk.
In any interview you will have one team wanting you to answer one way, and another team hoping you say something completely different. At the end of the day I want to live for Jesus. It’s his opinion that matters.
8. What do you think are the benefits of doing media stuff like this interview?
We are working really hard these days to get people to come to us and hear the message of Jesus. If opportunities open up for us to ‘go to the people’ than praise God. The gospel is for all people and our city is full of people whom God is calling to Jesus. In addition, we are called to be in the world. Jesus said, as the father has sent me so I send you. The gospel light is to be present in homes, the workplace, the university, the television network. Jesus said – we are a city on a hill, a light to the nations. We shouldn’t hide that light and disconnect from culture, but rather be in the world living radically counter-cultural gospel lives that both display and demonstrate the glory of Christ.