When I first saw the billboards from the Green Party I thought immediately of worms.
Two NZ-elections ago the 'worm' was the difference-maker. The leaders of all the political parties participated in debates and the audience responded as they listened and this response took the form of worms crawling across our screens. The main beneficiary was the leader of a minor party (Peter Dunne - United Future) and he carried this momentum into polling day and Parliament was changed.
These billboards from the Greens are the difference-makers in 2008. They are simple. They are clear.
And in the company which they keep, surrounded as they are by air-brushed politicians with impossibly happy smiles, they are so subversive.
I am pleased to see effective billboards getting so much attention at the moment as they form a big part of where my own thesis is headed...
Take a look at the old Engel Scale for a moment. It maps the spiritual decision process through various stages.
Now take closer look. Do you see how there is a column for God's Role and a column for the Communicator's Role? And do you see how the Communicator's Role kicks in at -7? Do you see that empty space next to -8? Does the Scale think there isn't a role for communicators at this stage?
It is filling that empty space that has intrigued me for almost twenty years. It is a space that is out-of-reach of the preaching ministry of the church (to which I am committed from -7 through to +3 and beyond). It is a public space. It is a space which increasing numbers of people in NZ occupy. How can this space be filled with meaningful communication? I am not sure the soap-box and the bumper-sticker and the TV preacher is quite the way forward. Shouting louder just ain't goin' to cut it...
I am making a case for the literary form we know as the parable to be the inspiration for a response. Over the last century the parable has been understood (almost in this order) as a narrative, comparative, secular, paradoxical, occasional, polemical, oral, fictional, artistic, brief, subversive and political text.
I reckon - when you soak in these features - I reckon that two of the communicative analogies of this ancient literary form in 2008 are the editorial cartoon (which Ken Bailey once acknowledged in passing) ... and the billboard.
With the latter I am pleading for churches to use the public space outside their facilities more creatively. Stop the soap-boxing. Stop the inane cliches. Research what people resistant to the gospel and to the church are thinking. Hear their perceptions and their criticisms. I would start with the books by Tim Keller and David Kinnaman . But why not survey your community as well? Then get your artists and your thinkers together and start playing with ideas and images... Make the billboard outside your church a topic of intriguing conversation.
If a whole bunch of churches could be as simple and as clear and as subversive as the Greens we might re-discover the parabolic in our own day and watch numbers of people move from -8 to -7, nudging them closer to the gospel. It might well be a difference-maker.
"That's why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge people toward receptive insight." (Jesus, Matthew 13:12 in The Message)