billboards and parables

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)

nice chatting

Paul Windsor


Anonymous said…
great post paul. the striking thing for me is the use of image - we live in a visual culture.

i've been helped by kearney's, wake of imagination, in which he seeks to reclaim a christian imagination in our "civilisation of images" - by arguing we need to play, but play ethically, out of a passion for love thy neighbour and the radical kingdom.

Anonymous said…
Hi Paul, (and fellow readers!)
You make a fantastic point.
To be honest I have not really looked at the ‘Ingle Scale’ before.
However after looking at it I still feel that perhaps an even bigger problem is that in many western influenced evangelical church settings we seem to think that we can take someone from point -7 to point +2 with some diluted proclamation of the gospel and the infamous ‘Alter Call’ and ‘Sinners Prayer’. (Perhaps we can give much of the responsibility to the influence of Charles Finney?)
Would also question the point at which God causes Regeneration to occur, would it not occur at -2. (I could be wrong on that too :-)
I recently had a discussion with a friend about the dangers of spurious conversions...he struggled to see the problem! He liked to present to me the ‘straw man’ of having a limited time to get the message across...which inevitably resulted in a starting at point -7 and assuming point -8.
I discovered that does not work very well when you try it on Mormons, because, like you have indicated, that if our understanding of God is not clear then the foundation we wish to build on may only be assumed, like much of our theology is today.
Thank God...He is still God, and that He has revealed that to us in His word.
(Oh by the way Paul, thanks for putting me on to Tim Keller last year, much appreciated!)
Tim dV said…
As the church I attend is in a school hall, it's difficult to use the space outside it. We can place a sign out to "show the way" on Sunday morning, but to my amusement, the church across the street had its message for the week (on its fixed sign) stating that "raffle money was due back next sunday."

I'll probably rethink this later but a suggestion for the gap at the top of the chart is "conversation." Conversation through our everyday contact with those at the so called -8 of the scale will put us into the position to be able to proclaim. The visual aspect is based on how we live life.

I can imagine the "conversations" during the Acts of the Apostles. The first conversation in Acts 2 was Pentecost as people heard their own language being spoken. Upon hearing the "conversation" it drew a crowd. Upon hearing the gospel from Peter, it drew a response. 3000 added to their number.

It went from there. "Conversation" in towns from people/converts being ahead of the disciples would have spurred interest. More people believed as the conversations prepared the way for the proclamation of the apostles.

Through these every day conversations, we become those visual billboards. We become the communicators in the public space. We don't need to shout, we just need to be.

Tim dV
Miriam J said…
Hi Paul,
Did you know you can create your own billboard here:


My personal favourite what-were-they-THINKing church billboard remains: "Hell has no exit . . . heaven needs none."

Anonymous said…
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Paul said…
Thanks Steve for the suggestion of that book. Looks very useful. I will track it down.

[anonymous] On the original post, if you click on Engel Scale and scroll down to the bottom of that page ... you will have an opportunity to click on "Gray Matrix". Here is a model that is a significant improvement on Engel. It places the spiritual decision process in TWO dimensions - cognitive and affective. Plotting peoples journeys of faith in the two dimensions is just fascinating. With this Matrix in mind my concern in my thesis is for those in the lower left who are antagonistic and have little knowledge of the gospel - and I am trying to nudge them northwards and eastwards.

[tim dv] I think the 'conversation' comment is a helpful one and a part of the picture. However what I am trying to suggest with this approach is something that initiates the coversation in the first place - because an intriguing, subversive billboard has caught the eye and people want to talk about it.


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