One of the broader aspects of my role as an Assistant Pastor is to serve our church and the wider church by planning and leading a few larger-scale Christian conferences, youth events and training days. At one such Christian event recently, I was approached by a number of youth workers who were asking me about a video that we had used in one of the main sessions. In particular, this person wanted to know where I had got the video from, so that they could use it in their youth group. When I explained that we had bought the video from worshiphousemedia.com for $19 (£12), their faces often fell. “So it’s not on YouTube, then?” was the normal the reply. Some even asked me to email it to them anyway. While I sympathise with the mindset of resourcing free or cheap media for use in churches and their ministries, it is a mindset that is at best unhelpful and at worst illegal.
Churches and ministries are usually on a tight budget. However, there is a great pressure – particularly in children’s, youth and outreach ministries – to utilise high quality media content in order to bring the presentation of the Gospel more in-line with the media-saturated culture we are in.
As someone involved in church ministry, I empathise with this problem: how can I get my hands on high quality media at low cost? There are three options.
Option 1: Beg, borrow and (ahem) steal
Using an online image/media search engine you can have a well-designed and effective piece of media at your disposal within only a few clicks. Likewise, most of us know someone who has got or has used great images or video clips before, so a quick email and hey-presto: just the right bit of media for what we need.
But hang on a moment, I’m sure God said something about this once… (rustle of the paper as I scan through my Bible)… here we are, “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15).
Let’s be clear about this: using piece of media without the creator’s permission – whether online, in a presentation, in a printed leaflet, as a talk illustration – is stealing.
Unless otherwise clearly stated, it is best to assume that an image, audio or video clip is protected by copyright. Don’t use it.
Option 2: Pay for it… but only if you can’t do option 1
A reasonable solution is to browse for stated-as-free media first, and then browse paid-media sites only if you can’t find what you are looking for.
This option certainly makes sure that you are not breaking the law, which is no bad thing! But is this really a win-win situation for all concerned? I don’t think so.
‘There is no such thing as a free [photo of] lunch’ – an old saying making the point that you don’t get something for nothing. Put another way, everything costs somebody something. In the case of media, if you don’t pay for it then someone else does. But who? The artists, singers, musicians, producers, and performers – that’s who. They are the ones putting in the time and effort to create great media that is effective and useful; Christians artists especially.
“Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain” (Deuteronomy 25:4) is a verse that appears in the Bible three times. First, about making sure the ox doing the farming work isn’t muzzled so that the animal gets its due reward. Jesus then quotes this verse in Luke 10:7, in relation to Gospel workers being looked after and kept by the people they are serving. Lastly Paul quotes it in 1 Timothy 5:16-17 and argues that elders, particularly those teaching and preaching, are due honour and should be provided for accordingly.
Apply these three appearances of this principle and you get the idea that if someone is working hard, particularly if they are serving the advance of the Gospel and especially if this is in relation to preaching and teaching, then they should be rewarded accordingly so that they can continue in their labour.
Option 3: Budget for and invest in good media
This brings us neatly on to the last option. What difference would it make if, instead of trying to find the no-cost and low-cost options, we were to work to support the production of good quality media by paying for it and, dare I say, investing in it individually and as churches?
Video illustrations, background images, websites, audio tracks, promotional videos, print design elements… all of these things enable churches to make use of media to enhance their ministries and, therefore, enhance their work of reaching people for Jesus. But skills in producing good media take time and effort to develop, as does the process of producing the actual media itself. If churches and ministries want to use media to be more effective in reaching people for Jesus, then we need to support those producing it.
Paying for good media will mean that the people who produce it will be able to support themselves and make a living, thereby increasing both the quality and quantity of Christian media available.
For example, Dan Stevers is a media producer in the US. Dan served in a church for seven years producing various media for the church. During that time, Dan was not only able to develop and hone his skills, but also grow in his understanding of the Gospel and how to present it using motion graphics. Now, Dan produces amazing, engaging and faithful Gospel videos full time. This would not have been possible without the investment of time, energy and resources at the beginning of his career. Similarly, paying for the media he produces means that he is able to support his family and continue producing great resources at relatively low cost.
So the bottom line is this: when we pay for the media we use, we are making sure that the people who produce it are able to continue doing so. However, when we cut corners and, dare I say, even break the law using downloaded content that we haven’t paid for, we are denying hard working Gospel artists the wages that they are due.
To paraphrase Deuteronomy 25:4, let’s make sure that we keep the muzzle off our creative oxen.