The World’s Biggest Gathering of Christian Broadcasters: An Inside Look

It’s the largest nationally and internationally recognized event for Christian broadcasters and according to The National Religious Broadcasters’ (NRB) website, a “must attend” event for any and all “Christian communicators.” But, for many of those who attend, the annual NRB convention is also like a family reunion – a time to re-connect with brothers and sisters who have a similar call and passion. I’m a relative newcomer to this event: last week was only my second time attending NRB. But, it was a fantastic time, gathering with more than 4,300 other Christian media professionals, representing about 200 Christian ministries and companies, for the four-day event.

For me to describe NRB is somewhat like one of the blind men describing the elephant: the event is so huge, my description can tell only a very small part of the whole.  Still, I hope this post gives you a small inside view of this convention and the religious broadcasting industry.

The conference always takes place at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville —the largest non-casino hotel in the U.S. and the 29th largest hotel in the world — and NRB attendees pretty much took over the place. Everywhere I went, I met Christian broadcasters – from NY Times best-selling author Joel Richardson to the team of Alistair Begg’s program, Truth for Life, to Moody Radio’s own Mike Kellogg who was inducted into the NRB Hall of Fame. I was really struck by how blessed we are in the U.S. to have so much Christian media supported by such an immense base of listeners. We truly should be the most discipled people on the planet!

Moody Radio Florida General Manager Pierre Chestang and I at NRB.

Moody Radio Florida General Manager Pierre Chestang and I at NRB.

The main objective of this conference for hosts like me is to meet with industry leaders to promote our shows. But, these meetings can often transcend business. For example, after a dinner with several Moody Radio affiliate managers, two women asked me if they could pray for me. I could fill this entire post with the contents of that prayer time. But, let me just say their prayers ministered to me deeply. I was especially struck by one of the women’s admonitions to never lose my heart for God. She shared a beautiful picture God had given her for me that I hope never to forget.

Another highlight of the week for me was a ceremony honoring Joni Eareckson Tada of Joni and Friends with the 10th Annual Robert Neff Award.  (Robert Neff was a former vice president of Moody Radio who died in 2006, but left an incredible legacy.) Generally, ceremonies like these tend to be pretty rote and dry, but this was an exception. David Gibbs, Jr., of the Christian Law Association told a moving story of how Joni’s ministry had impacted the life of his mother and family. Apparently, Gibbs’ mother had become disabled later in life, but inspired by Joni, didn’t let that hinder her from doing ministry.

Joni Eareckson Tada and I at NRB.

Joni Eareckson Tada and I at NRB.

She began a Sunday School ministry that boomed and eventually reached hundreds of children every year. This story prompted a moving response by Joni, who then led the packed room in singing “Great is Thy Faitfulness.” Honestly, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room.

Afterwards, I talked to Joni and she graciously asked me about what I do. When I described Up For Debate, she became quite animated and expressed how important she believes it is to equip believers to discern current issues. That made my day.

The only main session I was able to attend was one featuring Governor Scott Walker, which I wrote about in a previous post. Suffice it to say, I was very impressed by how comfortable Gov. Walker was talking about his faith and love for Jesus. It didn’t strike me as forced or contrived, but very natural. He was extremely well-received by the conference attendees.

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Mark Burnett and Roma Downey introduce their newest film project.

I also was able to hear Mark Burnett and Roma Downey speak at the convention and got a sneak peak of their latest TV production: A.D. The Bible Continues. You may remember their earlier 10-part production of The Bible, which aired on the History Channel in 2012. Well, now the two have produced a 12-part series depicting the book of Acts, which will air on NBC in Prime Time beginning on Easter Sunday. Whatever you think of Burnett (The Voice and Survivor) and Downey (Touched by an Angel), it’s hard not to get excited at the thought of millions of Americans seeing a mini-series depicting the birth of the church. This trailer for the movie, which previewed at the conference, is set to the Newsboys’ song, “We Believe,” and pretty powerful.

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Jason and David Benham and I at NRB.

On the last morning of the conference, I attended a breakfast hosted by the Bott Radio Network, a Christian radio network started by veteran journalist Dick Bott, which includes more than 90 stations. The event featured brothers Jason and David Benham whose reality TV series was cancelled after gay activists learned of the brothers’ traditional views concerning sexuality and marriage. The two challenged us not to shrink from speaking the truth in love. “When you declare peace with God, you declare war on the devil,” they said. “Even if you take a stand in love, you are going to be hated.” Their message was a great reminder not to bow to the forces of culture. Their cancelled show, though, is a great reminder of what may happen when you don’t. There’s a price to following Christ and I think that price is getting steeper every year.

The very last event I attended was a debate on homosexuality moderated by In the Market Host Janet Parshall and featuring Justin Lee of the Gay Christian Network; Brandon Robertson of Evangelicals for Marriage Equality; Ann Paulk of Restored Hope Network; and Dr. Michael Brown of the Fire School of Ministry. The debate was somewhat tense at times. It seemed to me that Lee and Brandon, who both identify as gay, felt nervous and somewhat ill at ease. Though segments of evangelicalism are moving towards gay affirmation, I didn’t see any evidence of that at NRB. Certainly, the two felt outnumbered.

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Friend and past Up For Debate guest Dr. Michael Brown.

However, both Brown and Paulk were very conciliatory in their tone while still clearly speaking difficult truth. When Parshall asked them if homosexuality is a salvation or gospel issue, Brown said “The Word tells us plainly this is a salvation issue” and referenced Matt. 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Robertson said he doesn’t think homosexuality a salvation issue and added, “I want to believe if I turn out to be wrong… God will cover me on the Judgment Day.”

I found that part of the discussion very sobering. I appreciate that Parshall asked the question, though. Robertson said his “theology is constantly shifting on this issue” and I’m praying God will lead Him in all truth. I could write an entire post on this panel. But, rather than recounting the arguments, I’d rather just leave with an impression God gave me while I listened to the panel. That is, that Christians who hold orthodox views on sexuality need to continue to engage in conversation with people like Robertson and Lee. And, when we do, we need to show them that we don’t just care about winning an argument. We care about them as people, whether they ever concede our points or not.

I guess in that respect, I left NRB with renewed passion for my show. I am so grateful to be able to host the kinds of discussions I do every week on air. And, I feel so privileged to be able to use the airwaves to further God’s Kingdom.

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