Episode 12 of the wildly popular podcast Serial dropped into the new podcast folder of my smartphone this morning. It marks the end of a crazy 12 week auditory journey that my friend and I have been on together, relishing the wholesome goodness and throwback feel of a weekly radio broadcast driven by smart writing, intrigue, and plot twists. Okay, a moment of truth – most of my friends and I binge-listened to Serial beginning this past weekend. But, we enjoyed the podcast nonetheless.
As I was listening to the episodes, five things stuck out to me. And I sense that these five impressions could be useful to Christians engaged in Great Commission ministry:
1. Live above board in all areas of life. One of the biggest truth principles to emerge from of Adnan’s reflection on his time in jail and on the events of 1999 is that he put himself in a position to be accused of criminal things, not because he killed Hae, but because he was living immorally. He had sex outside of marriage (a “no no” for a good Muslim boy). He smoked weed (again, a “no no.”). He was deceptive with his parents. He had a secret life. He admits this much to Sarah.
2. Live each day with purpose. One of the things I kept thinking about as Adnan was trying to piece together the murky remembrances of February 13, 1999 was that he would have benefited from a regular reflective period of each day — a time when he thought back through the course of his day and, perhaps, journaled his thoughts from the day. It would also help if Adnan had not have intentionally hindered his perceptive abilities by smoking weed. Journaling has long been associated with the Christian life of discipleship and the Serial podcast indicates how profoundly helpful it is to live each day with purpose and with a sense of appreciation for the little details in life.
3. You are who your friends are. One of the biggest flaws in Adnan’s case was his friendship with Jay. Adnan spent considerable amounts of time with Jay, a guy who sold drugs and who worked at a pornography video store. Adnan not only spent time with Jay and his associates, but he loaned his car and his phone to a guy who lived this shady life. Adnan tied the fate of his life with Jay’s fate. So when the state wanted to point out Adnan’s character flaws, all they had to do was point to Jay. Both men received punishment as a result of their friendship.
4. Good communication is captivating. Koenig is a wonderful storyteller and communicator. It should not be a surprise that Serial is wildly popular, despite the seemingly antiquated medium. But this tends to bear out what many have known and reiterated for centuries: Good communication captures our attention. Hitler knew this. Winston Churchill knew this. President Obama knows this. Sarah Koenig knows this. And she uses her communication skills masterfully. For those of us who want to preach the good news of Jesus, we would do well to take notes from the master on how to communicate effectively. Pacing, content, delivery, style…all of these things matter.
5. Less is more. Serial proves that even in an instant gratification society, less can be more. Rather than rolling out all 12 episodes at once (as Netflix’s strategy seems to be), Serial intentionally required the audience to wait patiently for each upcoming episode. This strategy resulted in a massive reddit community commentary page, several parodies on youtube, and countless other text, phone, and coffee conversations facilitated by listeners and fans. Serial has demonstrated that one does not need to reveal all one’s cards in order to draw an audience. If you have something good to give, you have permission to reveal the goodness at your own pace, in your own timing, and in your own way. This applies to podcast content. It also applies to human sexuality and dating relationships.