The 1970′s saw the birth of the daily live Christian television talk shows, starting with programs such as The 700 Club, and along with those shows came the banks of telephone counselors waiting to counsel, pray with and process donations for viewers.
In later years, I was actually on the receiving end of those calls for two different ministry organizations, and as is typical — hindsight is always 20/20 — I wish I had known then what I know now. In some cases, I simply didn’t see what Ravi Zacharias often looks for, ‘the question behind the question.’ Also, I was too young to be a ‘counselor’ in any sense of the word.
More specifically, I wish I had known that for every question viewers might ask, there were books by trusted authors that addressed major topics from a Christian perspective. While it will never happen, I wish that I was taking those calls today, and I could, in addition to being a listening ear and offering to pray with the individual, say, “You know you might really benefit from reading….”
Maybe someone should establish a national call-in line just for people looking for a recommendation to existing resources.
It’s not just a Christian television issue, there are pastors out there today who probably don’t have the least inkling of the wealth of printed (and audio and DVD) resources that address subjects they are trying to deal with. The average Christian bookseller is probably in tune with at least ten times the knowledge of available products. And that’s just off the top of their heads, without next appealing to various search engines, and then applying their wisdom as to what constitutes a trustworthy publication.
Instead, we’re left with the ‘Wild, Wild West’ that is the internet. People go online seeking advice, not necessarily knowing who is behind the websites they’re reading. Counseling from Christian organizations has gone online as well, but the telephone counselor has been replaced with a keyboard counselor who is probably suffering from the same dearth of knowledge as to Christian print and media titles, or even what’s available on other websites.
TV ministry counselors are trained to recognize certain key subject areas of need and are then given information sheets containing key scripture verses; they are encouraged to present this material and then offer to pray with the caller. A little Bible knowledge and a willingness to pray over the phone (or internet) is the primary qualification for service. Some are urged to press each caller for a donation. Sigh!
There was, however, one place of refuge for the seeker of practical Christian advice, or deeper understanding of the scriptures: The Christian bookstore. Take the Christian bookstores out of the equation, not to mention the relative losses of people who worked in, managed, or owned such stores, and the gap between products and people continues to grow.
Of course, online vendors carry the same products, and online resources provide today’s consumer with a host of means to verify the spiritual credibility of a particular website or product, if they choose to investigate. But securing the connection between need and applicable resource takes a different route, and again, there is often no filter or criteria for recommending a given resource or website; whereas a seasoned or veteran employee in Christian publishing learns to recognize the different doctrinal streams and what publishers and organizations are going to offer advice tailored to the need at hand.
It’s too bad there aren’t more people answering the phones and online inquiries who are well-versed in the current catalogue of Christian products, not only the publishing industry’s ‘front-list’ of current and popular titles, but also the ‘back-list’ of perennial resources with a proven track record.
Photo: early photo of phone bank at 100 Huntley Street, Canada’s daily Christian talk show; David Mainse blog