Media Talk 101 Turns 10!
Ten years ago this month the ministry of Media Talk 101 became an official nonprofit organization. I was also writing a book at the time and preparing a seminar, which both got a humble launch at a small church in downtown Chicago. I was glad to be assisted by Rhett Simkins, a former student from my years as a youth pastor, because I had some unexpected complications. Being right downtown in a Chicago high-rise caused radio interference problems with my PowerPoint remote so I had to make due by pointing the remote at Rhett so that he would know when to manually advance to the next slide on my laptop. It was a bit clunky but unforgettable.
This was not my start in this arena of teaching about making wise entertainment choices. I had already been travelling and speaking nationally for another ministry for a couple of years but that wasn’t exactly where I started either. Prior to that I was a youth pastor working full time with teens in a rural community. I was surprised to find many of the same problems in the country that were plaguing inner-city youth in Chicago. I had previously lived and ministered in the city and it was apparent that one of the common denominators of negative influence was entertainment.
I need to go back further still to 1989, when I was 17 years old and a new Christian. Shortly after surrendering my life to Christ I heard a message from a travelling minister and was convicted by the Holy Spirit about my own entertainment choices, which led me to embark on a two week media fast. No music, no movies, no television, and no video games. I also went without a cellphone, no texting, no email, no internet, no selfies, no social media – because those weren’t around yet (at least not for the average person.) I also had no support. My peers were not enthusiastic about my growing convictions, so I began this journey alone. The great discovery was that I wasn’t losing anything in this adventure. I was actually gaining so much more. I experienced a newly found freedom from the distractions and garbage, which in turn helped me have a closer walk with God. After the two weeks were up I didn’t want to go back to the pig trough. I still didn’t find many supporters for my change of direction so I quietly lived differently.
My silence on the subject began to change when I became a youth pastor and the rest of the story began to unfold. Little did anyone know back then how much would change in our culture during the following decade. It was partly due to the rise of widespread internet access, cellphones, and the eventual emergence of smartphones which ushered in a 24/7 connection to entertainment and communication. There was also the arrival of social media platforms, YouTube, Netflix, online shopping, internet porn, and a host of other new challenges and problems.
“Media exposure has become America’s most widespread and serious addiction” – George Barna
According to recent studies by The Nielsen Company, the average person now consumes 11 hours of media each day! When I began Media Talk 101 my focus was mainly in regard to the content in entertainment; the bad worldview, the sexual immorality, the gratuitous violence, the marketing of rebellion and family conflict, the fostering of greed and discontentment and an assortment of other morality and worldview topics. This emphasis is still relevant but the huge shift towards portable devices and non-stop connectivity has created new concerns and a growing awareness of widespread societal consequences. As Web 2.0 emerged, Media Talk 101 also had to adapt to address the tsunami of cultural impact that was hitting our shores.
Attempting to provide Biblical help for the body of Christ in this area has been one of the most challenging and daunting endeavors of my life. It is like showing up at a candy convention with a message about the need to eat more vegetables. I don’t know how many times I’ve looked back and secretly wished that I had been compelled to give talks about dinosaurs or geology, or any other creation apologetics subject. Everyone loves dinosaurs! Instead, I was inspired to address a topic that would cause people to take offense or wrongly accuse me of being anti-media or anti-technology. This has been the standard knee-jerk reaction when advocating wisdom and discernment applied to media and entertainment choices. My hope has been to encourage Christians to discover Biblical help for living in a media-saturated society. In all of this, there is an underlying motivation that encourages me to not give up. It is a desperate need for fellowship with God and the true joy when experiencing that real friendship.
“That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.” 1 John 1:3-4
Today’s social media craze is a poor substitute for real fellowship with others and with God. It’s interesting that research has shown that the more time some people spend on social media the more depressed they become. Fellowship with God is not about the proximity of His presence, because God is omnipresent. It is about attention! Fellowship is more than just hanging out, it means that we share something together. Our media choices can affect this.
“If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” 1 John 1:6
If our attention is drawn away from God and we begin sharing the best part of our time and interests and amusements with the world and the things of the world, our attention is diverted and our fellowship is invested with the world and not with God.
“Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, ‘The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously’?” James 4:4b-5
Does it matter to you if the Spirit of God is quenched in your life? Does it matter to you if the Spirit of God is grieved? Do you think that the scriptures are not telling the truth when we are told that “the Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?
Twenty-six years ago when the Holy Spirit began convicting me about my lack of wisdom and discretion in the area of entertainment, it was not about becoming more spiritual by giving something up; it was about the Spirit drawing me into a deeper fellowship with God. In order to place my attention on Him, I needed to get my attention off of other unnecessary and defiling distractions. It was not about saying no to all media, it was about something already lacking in my life. A lack of fellowship and a need for sensitivity to the work of God’s Spirit yearning jealously for my attention.
This is my personal motivation. It is why I’m motivated to keep learning how to live it out. It is why I’m motivated to teach this in my home. It is why I’m motivated to teach this in my local church. It is why I’m motivated to continue laboring in hope through the ministry of Media Talk 101 for another 10 years – if we have that long.
Phillip Telfer has ministered to youth and families for over 25 years, sharing at camps, retreats, schools, conferences, and churches around the country. He is the director of Media Talk 101 which is a non-profit ministry dedicated to teaching media discernment in the light of following Christ. Phillip authored the book Media Choices: Convictions or Compromise? He also produced and co-directed the award-winning documentary Captivated:Finding Freedom in a Media Captive Culture and founded the annual Christian Worldview Film Festival and Filmmakers Guild. Phillip is passionate about family-integrated church and ministry and serves as the teaching pastor at Living Water Fellowship in Bulverde, TX. He and his wife Mary have been happily married for 26 years and have been blessed with four wonderful children, one fantastic son-in-law, and one precious grandchild.