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Reflections From a Life Behind the Mic

by Joe Pursch on July 26th, 2010

People have occasionally asked me how I enjoyed the years I spent on the air as a talk show host, and what benefits they delivered to my broader preaching and pastoral ministry. Well, recently Dr. Albert Mohler,a fellow long time broadcaster at Salem Radio whom I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing, ended his own run as a daily show host. In his farewell piece , he eloquently conveys the powerful impact that Christian  talk radio can have as a ministry, and the deep impressions that serving in this role can make upon a host in his or her own development.

In his comments below, Dr. Mohler expresses much of what I too experienced in the years behind the mic. ( I’ve excerpted below the top six of his ten reflections)

Last Friday marked the final live broadcast of The Albert Mohler Program. Delivering that program was one of the great privileges of my life, and one for which I will always be thankful. Day by day, coast to coast, individuals and families welcomed me into their lives and joined in what we sincerely hoped was “Intelligent Christian Conversation About the Issues That Matter.” For years, I eagerly awaited the experience of sitting behind that microphone and talking to America and friends around the world.

And yet, the time came to bring the live broadcast to an end — not because we had run out of issues that demand attention, but because life is finite and ever changing. As I brought the program to an end, I wanted to share some lessons I learned in the process. I did my best on Friday’s program to distill these into “Ten Lessons Learned Behind the Microphone.”

1. Christians Are Starved for Intelligent Christian Conversation

There is no shortage of talk in this world, and that includes the Christian world. Nevertheless, much of this talk, on and off the air, is unintelligent even in its aspiration. The cable news networks have become platforms for ideological show fights, with little room for an honest and intelligent debate of the crucial issues at stake. The public space for reasoned conversation is growing more and more constricted, and this extends to virtually every sector of the culture.

Among Christians, much of the talk is superficial, sensationalistic, and unbiblical. Rod Dreher, formerly of The Dallas Morning News, recently remarked that Americans “prefer their religion news to be soft and self-helpy.” Frankly, many Christians want their religion to be soft and self-helpy — a religion that has little to do with biblical Christianity.

But I am glad to report that many Christians are actually starved for intelligent Christian conversation. They want more, not less, substance. They want a reasoned and thoughtful conversation about the issues they know are facing their families, their children, their churches, and their culture. They want to stand upon the full authority and truthfulness of the Bible and think as faithful Christians.

My fervent hope is that Christian churches, families, and organizations will foster intelligent Christian conversation as a matter of Christian responsibility. I can assure you that there is a hungry audience eager to join such a conversation.

2. Time Passes Quickly — On and Off the Air

One of the most important lessons of live radio is the mandate of the clock. The microphone goes live whether you are ready or not, and the breaks will come without regard to whether the host is about to make a crucial point. I learned quickly that time on the air passes more quickly than any other experience of chronology. I would start the conversation and then see, to my utter amazement, that time was running out.

In that sense, radio is a metaphor for life itself. The years on the air passed so quickly as week rolled into week, month passed into month, and year followed year. I am so thankful for those years, but I am also aware that the passage of time can catch us all unawares.

For the radio host, pacing becomes second nature. The music was all I needed to know exactly where I was in terms of the clock. I trusted the music in my ears more than the clock I saw running down with my eyes. Oddly enough, I think that skill made me a better preacher.  I learned how to end on time . . . most of the time.

Actually, the communication skills that make for good radio are invaluable to every aspect of my life, and for these I will always be thankful.

3. Words Matter — All of Them

In the movie Amadeus, the Austrian Emperor responds with incredulity to Mozart’s musical abundance with the infamous quip: “Too many notes!” Perhaps this world is filled with too many words, but God made us to be creatures who live and die by words. I was constantly reminded of how words matter as I did radio.  The right word works, the wrong word fails. Too many words inundate, but too few frustrate the listener. A well-constructed sentence flies over the airwaves. A convoluted sentence leaves listeners scratching their heads or turning the dial.

I am thankful for the lessons learned with regard to the power and stewardship of words. I was often humbled by words, sometimes tripped up by words, amazed by the words I heard from callers, and made to laugh by the words I was surprised and chagrined to hear come unexpectedly out of my own mouth. Trust me, words matter. When I misspoke, I heard quickly from listeners (starting with those at home). In ways both profound and fundamental, words really do matter.

4. Issues Come and Go, but the Gospel of Christ Remains

There is no shortage of issues Christians face in this confusing and fast-changing world. Controversies about politics, economics, the arts, education, and the direction of the culture come with incredible velocity. Moral issues emerge with explosive power, ranging from human sexuality and the nature of marriage to questions of justice, the stewardship of the earth, medical ethics, and the sanctity of human life.

Added to these are the issues confronting the Christian church — right down to questions of orthodoxy versus heresy, truth versus error, and the very nature of the Church and its message.

But above all these one truth remains constant — the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No other message means the difference between heaven and hell. There is only one Savior, and only one Gospel. Getting the Gospel right is more important than getting any other question or issue right. The Christian church is called to give an answer on countless questions and issues raised by a fallen world, but its main responsibility and irreducible message is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

5. The Church in this Generation is Confronted with Tremendous Challenges

This is not just a matter of generational perception. Previous generations have dealt with their own daunting questions and challenges, but this generation faces unprecedented challenges that will demand the full wealth of Christian conviction. It would be hubris to suggest that the challenges faced by this generation are greater than those faced by generations in the past, but it is plainly true that the generation of Christians now living faces its own set of pressing challenges.

These include issues of theology, questions about the nature of the church and the shape of Christian ministry and mission in this age, questions about Christian morality and Gospel witness, and challenges to the very nature of truth. The challenges are huge . . . and insistent.

6. The Church Has Ample Reason for Hope

The most important ground of the Church’s hope is Christ — who assures that the gates of hell shall not prevail against his church. Over and over again, I was reminded that Christ has his people in the most unexpected places. I was so encouraged as I heard from Christian moms, young people, pastors, and laypeople. Christ gives his church all it needs to make its way in this fallen world until He comes, and we have the Bible, the Word of God, as our guide. The church faces daunting challenges, but it lives in confident hope, I was always reassured to hear that hope in our conversations over the airwaves.

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