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Interview: New Coral Ridge Head on Challenges Young Evangelicals Face in Ministry, American Culture

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    (Photo: The Christian Post / Coral Ridge Ministries)
By Lillian Kwon, Christian Post Reporter
October 26, 2007|8:03 am

A 34-year-old evangelical has stepped up to the plate to lead a prominent global media ministry in boldly spreading biblical truth to millions. Brian E. Fisher, former executive vice president of Coral Ridge Ministries, was promoted this month to president and CEO, becoming the second ever head of the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based ministry. He succeeds the late founder, Dr. D. James Kennedy.

Fisher doesn’t consider himself a leading young evangelical for his generation but with deep concerns for the Church and the saturation of America by the media with “culture lies,” he is compelled to speak out and is willing to follow where the Lord takes him, whether it’s becoming a visible voice for a younger generation of evangelicals or a leader in the background.

The following are excerpts from The Christian Post's interview with the new ministry head:

CP: First, congratulations on becoming the new CEO. Were you surprised that they chose someone as young and as new to the ministry as you?

Fisher: Yes and no. ‘Yes,’ in the sense that they could’ve gone out and found really anybody (laughs) – a name, and who’s known, and has been around for a lot longer. And certainly when you’re talking about only the second CEO ever of the ministry, it was a pretty good step. ‘No,’ in a sense that any time that a board promotes from within, it simply means that they’re validating the entire team. I do not consider the promotion to be so much a statement about me as it is the board saying we really like the direction the ministry is going and we don’t want anything to change. So I think it’s a great testament to 115 people who have been working their tails off trying to get it done.

CP: One of the integral features of Coral Ridge is its radio program and Dr. Kennedy's teachings broadcast to millions worldwide. You mentioned in your blog some changes to truths that transform. Could you give away some of those changes?

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Fisher: We’re making adaptations to both TV and radio, and we’ll be in many ways reinventing the radio show from the ground up. I think we’re looking at either a February 1 or a March 1 launch. The radio show at this point will have a new name, it will have a different format, it will contain the same Dr. ‘Kennedyish’ elements – meaning his phenomenal ability to expose a cultural or immoral lie and present its absolute truth through more than one way. Dr. Kennedy is unique in that he did not just give one reason we should believe something. He would give multiple reasons. He would obviously always give a biblical reason but then he would support it with history or science, philosophy or logic and that apologetic nature of his is embedded into the new radio show. So we will have a male and a female host and a whole different format but containing the same very courageous approach to the issues of the day that our Church and our non-believing friends desperately need to hear.

CP: Will you still be featuring only Dr. Kennedy’s teachings or will other voices be included?

Fisher: He will be a part of the show in terms of his voice, but it will not be to the same extent that it has been. It will feature other guests. It will be heavily interview-oriented. And we always had a strong history of interviewing some of the top minds in the world about certain issues, so we will continue to do that. And it will be much more of a conversational approach to talk radio basically. The answer is yes, but not in the same way that he is now.

CP: You're also working on a new book to debunk what you call “culture lies” (i.e., “lies” surrounding evolution, sanctity of life and the existence of God). These have always been challenges that Christians have tried to defend their faith against but the battle seems even more intense today. Can you tell me about your book and how you plan to penetrate the truth in a society that seems to have become more hardened to it?

Fisher: The book is yet untitled but it’s shaping up to be a four-part book. The first part will look at how media became highly secularized in the 1950s and 60s. That’s been well-documented so that will be more of a review. The second section will talk about how that secularization has influenced the culture. I think we have some unique perspective on that. The third section will look at how I believe God is orchestrating a tearing down of that media structure meaning the media elite who have controlled the messaging for so many years to America – and that messaging has been vastly godless – is about to become replaced with a brand new structure. And there are a host of reasons – which I’m outlining in the book – why that’s occurring. A lot of it has to do with technology, the rise of talk radio, the decline of the publishing industry. There’s a whole lot of economic and technological factors involved with that. The end result is the Church – and CRM (Coral Ridge Ministries) in particular, because I’m writing it as a representative of CRM – has fabulous opportunity to reach far more people for less dollars than it ever has in the past. The nonprofit church world is becoming competitive with the multimillion dollar media conglomerate because of this media conversion.

Section number four is simply a plan of how we’re going to do that specifically, outlining exactly how we’re going to gain market share, if you will, back from the mainstream media, not for political purposes – because that’s happening in other sectors – but for scriptural purposes, for moral and cultural purposes. It’s like a pitch dark room. If you’re standing in a pitch dark room – in many ways the American culture has become that – and you light one match, it transforms the room. I don’t think it’s going to take a whole lot of absolute truth to begin to seriously dispel 50 years of bad lying. And the technology and the media conversion is making that possible. So I’ll outline how we’re going to gain some ground back for Jesus Christ.

CP: When is that coming out?

Fisher: We are producing a book and there’s going to be a television special around the same issue. The end of February is the goal.

CP: You have something new at next year's Truths that Transform America conference, called "Pastors, Pulpits, and Politics," which supports the right for pastors to speak on social issues from the pulpit. Is this part of the effort by conservative groups such as Family Research Council and Focus on the Family who had issued a letter to pastors telling them that they have the right to speak on these issues?

Fisher: The last two hours of that conference is a special session called ‘Pastors, Pulpits, and Politics.’ We’re doing something very unique. We’re partnering with a few other ministries and we have American Vision and American Family Association. We’re talking with two or three other major ministries and we’re taking that last two hours and we’re going to be featuring some of the nation’s foremost authorities on what pastors’ rights are in terms of their ability to speak out on political and cultural issues.

And in two hours we’re going to educate America on those issues. We feel as many others do that the Church at large is disturbingly silent on core issues that they shouldn’t be. Many times … the pastors of the lay people don’t know what their boundaries are legally. And so we’re going to be very clearly outlining them. And we’re going to be broadcasting the entire two-hour session live on the Internet. And it will be made available after that – both online and DVD format. Frankly, our goal and the goal of American Family Association and American Vision is that every pastor in America sees this material. We think it is a pivotal, crucial time in the history of our country. And [as it was] with so many other points in history, it is the Church that will be determining factor on which course America goes. It was actually Gary DeMar (the head of American Vision)’s idea. Gary approached us and said ‘Hey, what do you think?’ We said, ‘My goodness, this is a must do.’ We think it could be a historic day.

CP: So you do feel pastors should speak up on politics? Some polls have indicated that people don’t really want preachers talking about politics from the pulpit. Is there any concern about people being turned off from the church by this?

Fisher: There’s the risk but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Pastors have far more rights than they think they do. And I’m just saying about political candidates. We have to be careful to remember that the separation of the church and state does not appear in the U.S. constitution. Pastors, I think, have a moral and scriptural obligation to speak out about cultural issues facing the day. Why do more pastors not get involved with pro-life issues? It confounds me. The world has made it sound like it’s a political issue. It is a moral issue. It’s a cultural issue. It bleeds into politics because there is a legal aspect to it. I’m not necessarily saying about somebody endorsing a specific candidate. What I am saying is if we want to stop abortion, overturning Roe v. Wade is great, but overturning the hearts and minds of young women in crisis pregnancy situations is far more important. And that should be accomplished by the Church as led by the pastors. I would say it’s my view that pastors in America do have a biblical obligation to speak up and out loudly, lovingly about the issues facing America morally and culturally, and by and large, my perception is they’re not doing that. That is completely inconsistent with the many pastors who founded our country, who spoke out about these issues all the time.

CP: Why do you think there is such a silence in the Church?

Fisher: There are a couple of reasons. There is this 50-year cloud of lying in the media that has certainly impacted the church. The media has scared it into thinking that if a pastor opens his mouth on abortion or sanctity of marriage that they’re going to get thrown in prison. And if they don’t start speaking up soon, that is going to be true (laughs). So I think some of it is just intimidation and scare tactics on behalf of the media. I think there is a huge problem of biblical illiteracy in the church. We’re not aware that we are mandated to tackle these issues. Thirdly, and this is the toughest, I do sense there is a defeatist mentality in the church. The church just thinks America is on a slow steady decline to Armageddon and they’re just going to wait it out. That’s a dangerous and incorrect perspective. Otherwise, why would we pray in the Lord ’s Prayer ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.’ We are to be the chief optimists in our culture and by and large, the church has taken a pessimistic silent attitude to its own detriment.

CP: Do you consider yourself one of the younger generation evangelicals carrying on the torch of such traditional conservatives as Dr. James Dobson and D. James Kennedy? And how do you plan to carry it?

Fisher: It’s been a journey for me. I did not come to Coral Ridge last August to become a leader of anything. I came to run Dr. Kennedy’s ministry. Obviously, the Lord has had other plans as four months after I got here, Dr. Kennedy had his cardiac arrest. I don’t know if I’m what you have said (‘one of the young evangelical leaders taking on the mantle that older conservative evangelicals are passing on’). I am a man who is deeply concerned about America, about the church and about unbelievers. And my role is to do whatever my God tells me. At this point, He has put me in a position to use media to influence our culture and I’m firmly committed to that. Whether or not I become a voice is fully up to Him and quite honestly, my preference is to be in the background and to not become a visible figure. At the same time, there are moments when my heart, and my mouth and my mind compel me to speak. We’re going to let the Lord determine that. At this point, I’m happy to do whatever He wants me to do. Let me put it this way, I didn’t seek this out.

CP: Do you feel Americans today are receptive to traditional teachings and approaches to battling secularism and defending faith or are you bringing something new to the equation?

Fisher: I don’t think there’s anything new in terms of the teaching. Media is the tool; it’s not the heart of the matter. The key is sometimes you just have to break through what has become a media-saturated culture. And when media becomes saturated with the enormous volume of different messages, people get confused. And when people get confused, they just lay low because there’s a confidence issue. They’re not sure what to believe, they’re not sure what to say, they’re not sure what their parameters are. Any of us are that way. We end up just doing nothing. The gospel, the Scriptures, when properly taught, convict us and cause us to repent. And when we repent and really lay ourselves down at the feet of Christ and we are convicted of our sins and our silence, which compels us to become active. And my strong opinion is that as absolute truth – as obviously based from the Bible – is communicated in a way that cuts through the haze, we will find ourselves back in a very enlightened active time in the Church. Now, is that going to be everybody? No, because the Word of God is foolishness to [some]. But it doesn’t take too many people getting serious about their faith in Christ to change a community. It doesn’t take too many communities doing that to change a nation. It’s not nearly as hard as we have been made to think to enliven the church or awaken the church and to turn the tide of this. It really is not that difficult. It just takes a few people that are convicted by the Scriptures and get moving.

CP: So what challenges do you see ahead as both the new president of Coral Ridge and as a regular evangelical in today’s culture?

Fisher: The biggest challenge for me is moving Coral Ridge through a thoroughly complex transition. We have been a ministry centered around the man of D. James Kennedy for 30 years, and we are moving to represent his mission. And his mission in the media was to expose the lies of the culture and present that apologetic truth. That is a wonderful exciting mission but it isn’t pulled off without a decent amount of risk and a lot of innovation and a lot of creativity. That would definitely be our biggest challenge. So far what I’ve seen from our team gives me great confidence that it’s going to be a fabulous journey and we’re going to have tremendous impact and influence. But it’s also fraught with challenges and risks.

As a young evangelical, we’re facing a culture that is becoming more and more hostile to what it needs most. It’s a very ironic situation. It’s not that people of my generation – and I’m 34 – are anti-Christian; they just don’t care. They don’t seem to realize the need to be saved [and] they don’t see the need to combat evil in the culture. Because we are so preoccupied with raising families and all the entertainment we have available to us and the luxuries that we have, we’ve forgotten what life is truly about. I think for my specific generation, 9/11 was a wake-up call. I think we have cultural issues, community issues that shock us. But at the same time, our challenge is to be salt and light, and for a generation that’s not used to being either, that’s going to be a challenge. Fully surmountable, but a challenge nonetheless.

CP: What do you want to accomplish during your leadership at Coral Ridge?

Fisher: I often said that if I can make any of our team members successful in their own right, that’s worth the entire job. If I can assist someone in TV production or someone who answers the e-mail we get do their job better, feel more fulfilled at work, realize that they’re having an impact, I think that’s it. This ministry really is much less about who leads it and much more about who works in it and the team that we have here is fully dedicated to the mission that has been set before us. I have said countless times, the progress CRM makes is not due to outside circumstances, it’s based on this team’s ability to function as a unit, to function as a body and to humbly put our hearts and our heads before the Lord and ask Him what He wants of us. Acts 2:42-47 is our key verse; we’ve studying it for over year. It’s the picture of the Christian church and its empathy after Christ’s resurrection and in that passage is contained all the elements that I think are necessary for any organization to be successful. Whenever the Lord calls me somewhere else in the future or calls me home, I would hope that our staff would say I was always willing and desiring to make individuals here successful.

CP: And that would in turn enhance the effectiveness of the ministry?

Fisher: Well, if all 115 people are working to their full potential and growing, this ministry will explode.

 

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