Following Jesus in Media and Communication

Following Jesus in Media and Communication

Interview with Georg Schuster, from Uplink Academy


Georg and his wife, Mirjam, have 5 children. For the last four years, they have been in full-time ministry, leading a community of house churches in Austria. Before that, Georg was a media professional for 20 years, working as a newscast and journalist at the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation for 18 years. 


Did you enjoy working in Austrian Broadcasting Corporation? What were some of the highlights and challenges?


I did everything with News, I was radio news host, I was in Television nationwide as live reporter, and within 18 years you see everything and you experience everything that happens: criminality, politics, economy, religion—everything. And most of the time you see more and hear more than you want to. As a person, you are a filter. If you are young, it is a great experience, a wonderful new world to see. But after some years, I was happy that I could leave the station. But it was important for me to know everything about that, and especially now, for Christian media work. In a secular media company or corporation you learn one thing, that it is very important to ask what people think, and what is interesting for them. Not what you want to transport, but what is interesting for them. That is something very important for us in Christian media work too. Because, as Christians, we answer so many questions that no one has asked. This is one of the reasons why people do not listen to us any more.


Why do people not listen to us as Christians? 


It is a question of trust: do people trust us as Christians? At the moment, they don’t. 70% of the population in Europe don’t even listen to Christians, because for many of them, we are part of the problem, not of the solution. The outside view is that we are judging. Before we can transport our message, we have to gain their trust, give them a reason why they can trust us again. This is the first step. Not how we communicate, or how we make Christian radio or TV or whatever. We have to give them a reason to trust us again. If you see secular mass media, when they are reporting about Christians, most of the time it is in the context of criminality: sexual abuse, financial abuse, whatever. That is the only thing the world hears about Christians in mass media. So they have all the reasons to mistrust us, and we have to win back the trust first before they are open to our message too. And for me, it is not only a question about the right words, but how we live Gospel, how we live forgiveness, how we deal with each other, how we deal with different opinions.


You said earlier that an important principle in communication is to listen and to respond to the listener’s needs. What are the needs of our listeners today? How should we think of Christian communication today?


This question touches the core of Christian mission in Europe. And it is not easy to answer, because there are so many things involved, so I have to say two things first: one, I love Jesus, and I love the Church. And I want the Church to grow and the bride of Jesus to be beautiful. Second, I have done media work for 20 years, and in this job it is essential to look at outside perceptions, and the outside perceptions of Christians are not positive. I know this does not sound edifying, but it is not because I don’t like the Church, but it is because as Christians in Europe, we need a fundamental change, because we are no longer relevant in society at all. That is what we have to face. 


Do you think with better communication we can be more relevant?


How we communicate is just a question of technique. The question is rather, what do we communicate? Obviously we are communicating past society. One of the reasons may be that we ourselves have moved so far away from it. When we communicate with the world, we Christians so many times answer questions which nobody has asked. As church, I think—or I fear—, we have forgotten how to communicate with people outside.


The other reason is, we no longer live in a time where people together are on their way to find the truth. Everyone is out on their own journey to find it, and the main reason is that everybody wants to decide independently, that is the holy cow today—to be independent, and that is the same in many Christian communities too. What is right and what is wrong today is a question of the emotional level, not intellectual. What feels right is right. “Let your soul be your pilot!” is a song Sting wrote in the 1990s, and this seems to be the principle of society today, and unfortunately of many Christians. The church doesn’t make a difference, rather I see many try to get the Gospel more convenient for today’s society. As long as we do not make a difference, no one will listen to us. Our communication will not be relevant as long as we do not make a difference. 


The whole Church has to make a turn in that, and it is not only a turn in how we live our Christianity, but I think the key is in John 17, Jesus’ prayer for his disciples to be as one. And this unity cannot be man-made. One thing is constant in the history of the church, it is the tendency for division and separation. So we cannot make this unity, but we can start to pray for it, and start to bless our brothers and sisters, even those with whom we do not agree—this could be a starting point for us.


What drives you at Uplink, what do you aim to achieve?


Our desire was to reach the unreached with the Gospel, and we want Christians across all borders of countries and denominations to cooperate for this aim. We are building three modern TV studios here, just waiting to be filled with productions. We also launched a Media Academy where media professionals teach, both Christians as well as people outside our bubble, because we want our centre to be a place of encounter. We do not want to stay inside the Christian bubble, we wanted to have an effect on the outside. We see the need for more media professionals inside the Christian community in Europe. There are many, but everybody is isolated, and they have to work together, and we need to educate more. That is the reason for Uplink Academy. We do not only want to produce or make professional productions. We want to educate more Christians who see themselves as media missionaries.


One of my biggest dreams is a sit-com. And humour is something that we can have in common. And think about the gaming community, why aren’t we Christians there? This is very relevant for the society of tomorrow. 


Connecting into our communications theme, “House on the Rock”, how do you read this passage in the context of media and communication today?


“House on the Rock” theme ties in very well with the theme of unity. We do not need to worry about the Rock, because the Rock is Jesus, he is here and he will always be here. But we need to worry about the house, and all the bricks, if they stick together, so that the house can withstand any storm. This is a question of unity. The main challenge for us, in building a stable house is to lose our individualism. Not to stop being individuals, but our independence. We depend on each other, and this is not modern, and not the spirit of the time, even in the churches. But we depend on each other, and we depend on Jesus. We will only have a stable house if we can rely on each other. 


My dream is that the Church in Europe starts to pray for unity, and starts to bless each brother and sister. That is what we are longing for, because if this does not happen, all our communication is not of relevance.


Thank you, Georg! For those interested, check Uplink’s Website here.

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