Jesus Is My Superhero
(My daughter walks around singing this song. It’s really cute.)
I was thinking about superheroes the other day, probably because I just got done indulging my inner nerd. I recently read the entire “Blackest Night” DC Green Lantern story arc. It was something like 80 comics long.
As an author, I’ve actually been working with illustrators to develop a graphic novel, but I’m not going to tip my hand anymore on that until the project starts to develop with some sincerity. I have written a few pieces of superhero fiction as well (read this super-short one titled “Nuclear Powered Christian T-Shirs” that was published in Einstein’s Pocketwatch in Dec 09.)
The story in Blackest Night was good, I’d recommend it (though it got quite dark at the middle and seemed to lack hope at times) and it got me thinking about the differences between the two major comic houses, DC and Marvel. At one point, the two even collaborated and did a “Marvel vs DC” miniseries, just for all the fanboys. I noticed that DC has many more “Traditional” heroes. Their heroes are more likely to have an official super hero outfit with tights, capes, and logos. Typically, DC more embodies the traditional super hero that we think of when the word “Comic Book” is mentioned. Their major players include guys like Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and groups like Justice League. For most of their characters, the public persona of the character is obvious: these guys are heroes, cut and dried.
Marvel blurs that line a bit more. Interestingly enough, Marvel has even realized that and has launched a new initiative to rebrand their characters as role-models and heroes (The Heroic Age). Often, many Marvel heroes (especially the mutant variety) are hated and even hunted by authorities and they are often prone to vigilantism. The X-Men are not always known as heroes; they often don’t wear any sort of logo (or it’s quite small) and Marvel characters often fight secret types of wars with unsung and uncelebrated heroes that save the galaxy with no fanfare (of course you have Fantastic Four, Spiderman, and The Avengers, but they are often offset by The Hulk, Wolverine, Nick Fury, Punisher, etc.) I appreciate the seeming reality of Marvel, as any actual superhero actions would be deemed vigilantism by our laws, but people long for a champion that they can believe in—some sort of Superman (a concept which defies human nature) because it gives them hope: hope for rescue in times of need and hope that they, too, can overcome their inner evils and rise above them.
With a “Traditional Hero,” their logo/emblem advertises who they are and their affiliation as such; their reputation backs up any gaps. This got me thinking, shouldn't churches be more intentional in their advertising of who they are, too? We should have untarnished images that are recognized as heroes rather than villains: the line shouldn’t be blurred. We should be publicly known for our good (heroic) reputations and not have a fuzzy line between the methods of a vigilante/questionable ethics and a bonafide hero... we should be more Justice League in our cross-denominational efforts and less X-men.
How do we do that? We should have something within us that attracts the attention of the world (yes, we have Jesus, but also) we need intentional--and truthful/ethical--marketing techniques—we are fighting a media war here, we need less Pow! & Kazaam! And should utilize more savvy, researched and relevant techniques. “What are you talking about?”
Here are some things I’ve done or been told:
- In your advertising, put your pretty people in front—we don’t exclude anyone, but there are reasons that effective commercials cast models for their roles.
- Know your audience and be intentional in how you reach them so you don’t risk losing them. This goes both for initial contact as well as retaining them.
- Recognize what is actually working and relevant. So many churches say “look we are media savvy and at the top of trends!” What they often have is an ill-kept website, an email address, and a TV program that only shut-ins and nursing home residents tune in to… this is intentional: it intentionally reaches the elderly and increases the median age of the church… when we call this “being on the edge of technology” we alienate the savvy trendsetters via ignorance (and alienated people don’t stick around).
- Purposefully promote diversity! If you’ve got just one black person in your church, use them in all your advertising. We want to cross borders, right? Then use every method of breaking down resistance that you can, and one way is to show minorities that they are a valued and included segment of your body. Decrease the discomfort level that a minority person might have about your church by showing them that they are not ethnically alone if they attend.
- Utilize the advice of professionals (and don’t throw their advice off as irrelevant to your area)… for instance, a poll recently came out showing that the single most effective ad type for the money is a roadside billboard; despite the data, many Bible-Belt churches refuse to change the way they advertise (partly because they want the good will of the newspaper and partly because ANY change is scary to them.) Thing of it is, if someone sees your newsprint ad, it’s because they were already looking for it in the first place, you’re not reaching anybody new: see here.
On top of this, remember the two central pillars that I always tell my students, “Be genuine. Show love.” Being the real deal is vitally important; all the advertising in the world can’t fix a fundamental problem if your church doesn’t practice love or only pretends to do so. 1 Jn 4:8 says, “God is love,” so if there is no love, then somewhere John 4:40 has been flipped around and “We have increased so that He has decreased.” At this point, our trendy webspots and radio ads do nothing more than take a can of gold spray paint to a stinky turd. Underneath the shiny exterior lies a total crap core, and it doesn’t take much scuffing to reveal the true nature of this gold nugget.
The church must be a hero in public. Unlike Batman and so many others, we must not have a secret identity, we cannot hide a different face behind a plastic one—we must be genuine heroes through and through. We cannot wear a fake Jesus mask and WWJD bracelet on Sundays and rip down everything we stand for on Monday through Saturday. People see that from the outside and recognize a villain for what they are. If anything, people nowadays have become skilled at sniffing out fakes. The world generally recognizes that EVERYONE is wearing some sort of mask; our natural suspicions and curiosity has made us good at sensing what lies just below the surface. Genuineness is an absolute necessity.
Superman wears no mask (while still maintaining two personas)... he is the same guy inside the outfit as he is outside of it. He is a hero that has his private life outside of the cape but a standard of life and of ethics that mirror each other; that is how we should be. We should wear a costume/logo that proclaims the hero that we represent as part of our team (Jesus/Christ-follower), but also be that same hero every day in our own private lives. Our private lives have a way of spilling into our public ones.
Let’s make it a habit of helping others, of being the light on the hilltop that those in need of rescuing look to. Being a hero is not something you do only when the cape and cowl is on.
and now for something completely different… theYP!
I am an author, blogger, pastor, and musician. I love the college campus and am working with Chi Alpha to reach college students, so I can teach them something before they learn everything.
I'm the author of The Kakos Realm (soon to be rereleased by Marion Margaret Press) and keep a blog called Holy Schmitz! at http://christopherschmitz.blogspot.com. My articles posted here (and more) are also available on my blog.