Tuesday, January 23, 2018


Those who know me well know that when I am not working, or perhaps out for a run, I watch a lot of tv. I don’t feel any need to apologise for that, and I know that I am not alone. So, I thought that it would be worthwhile to look at APEST through the viewing habits of apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds (pastors) and teachers. I don’t presume to suggest what people watch—that is a matter of personal taste, shaped by a whole host of factors and influences—but to offer some reflections on how people watch tv.

As leaders or producers, apostles are innovators. As followers or consumers, apostles are often early-adopters of innovation. By ‘innovation’ I mean doing the same thing (continuity) in a new way (change). In relation to viewing habits, I’m thinking of the shift from a tv channel schedule to video on demand (VOD) platforms, or the shift in use of the term ‘box set’ from DVDs collated into a cardboard package (still available on the High Street, but for how much longer?) to the bundling-together of episodes for VOD downloading or streaming. For certain, those who pioneer new ways of watching tv are apostolic. As viewers, the more apostolic someone is, the more likely they are to be ahead-of-the-curve in relation to acclaimed dramas, and to evolving technologies (how new is your television?) and platforms (check out the history of Netflix if you are interested in such things). Obviously, this is only an indicator: there are plenty of apostles who have little interest in watching tv at all.

Prophets are concerned with society and how societies change for better or worse. The more prophetic someone is, the more likely they are to be attuned to the issues addressed in, say, period drama, which intentionally create a dialogue-partner for our own time. For example, a prophet watching Call the Midwife will likely have a heightened awareness of big-picture issues of gender, disability, sexuality, and poverty, and the extent to which we have and have not changed as a society since the 1950s-60s; whereas a more pastoral person watching the same episodes will likely be more invested in the characters themselves. The same principles apply to documentaries, or the news, or sport (inequality writ large), or to comedy (which can carry a prophetic edginess).

Evangelists infectiously share what they love. This may be a life-long passion—as far as tv is concerned, think Whovians at the geeky end, but also those who religiously watch and constantly chat about a favourite soap opera—while others have a shorter attention-span and move from new discovery to new discovery. As their whole world is full of good things to be discovered and shared, an evangelist might enthuse about any kind of programme, that sparks their interest. The more evangelistic [NB ‘evangelistic’ does not mean ‘evangelical’] someone is, the more likely they are to routinely share regarding their favourite shows; or share their latest discoveries. One pertinent diagnostic question would be, how often does what you are watching show up on your social media streams?

Shepherds (pastors) are concerned with nurturing community. And watching tv remains a social-glue activity, even if viewing habits are changing. While we still watch tv with others in the same room, we increasingly watch tv on our own or while simultaneously engaging with a smart phone. But more and more people watch tv in virtual community, interacting during the show on Twitter or afterward on the show’s official Facebook page. And we still discuss our viewing with our work colleagues the next day, done to establish and maintain common ground. The more pastoral someone is, the more likely they are to take an interest in the ‘common ground’ viewing they share with colleagues and neighbours, often with special attention to long-running soap operas and/or the fortunes of football teams—both of which are especially ‘sticky’ socially.

Teachers love learning, extending their knowledge-base. And they appreciate those who can communicate a technical discipline in an engaging way. The more pedagogical someone is, the more likely they are to value the educational or informative potential of television. Natural history, social history, current affairs, quizzes. Anything that leaves them knowing something at the end of the programme that they didn’t know at the start; anything that inspires and refreshes them as a learner and teacher. I do not mean to suggest that teachers never enjoy escapism—of course they do—but that they value knowledge and watching other people apply it, and view through this lens.

We need to bear in mind that these five gifts—apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd (pastor) and teacher—describe preferences, or relative weightings: we each have some degree of potential for all of these, and they are not mutually-exclusive. You might relate to more than one of the above descriptions. That could be indicative of a primary and secondary gifting, or simply of a rounded personality—and if you identify easily with all the above, perhaps just that you are a couch potato! Nonetheless, my hope is to demonstrate that our vocation shapes the whole of life, including our leisure-time. Even including something as mundane as watching tv.

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