Making the most of meeting MPs
Tim Costello’s tips for Christians meeting with politicians
Would you accept an invitation to meet with Donald Trump? And could you deliver a message he could hear? Last week’s highly publicised meeting of African-American Christian leaders with US President Donald Trump raises questions about how Christians can avoid falling prey to the traps of modern politics.
Too often Christian pastors are “anxious and even over-awed at the prospect of meeting with a politician” and that knowing their identity as Christians is key, Micah Australia Executive Director Tim Costello tells Eternity.
“We need proximity to power… but we should never be in the pocket of power.”– Tim Costello
“They [Christian pastors] can want the photo shoot with the leader to prove their relevance back to their church. But our mindset needs to be that of the prophets: we need proximity to power (as that does help to keep us relevant) but we should never be in the pocket of power, we need to keep our Christian identity and independence. And our identity as Christians is first in the kingdom.”
Micah Australia, a Christian advocacy group, provides training and opportunities for Christians who find themselves in a similar situation to John Gray, a pastor at the Trump meeting, to make the most of the opportunity to influence policy decision makers and politicians for good. On December 1-4 this year, they will bring together Christians from across the nation for four days of lobbying in Canberra at ‘Voices for Justice’. The event will provide first-time and experienced campaigners the opportunity to meet with federal politicians and advocate for the world’s poor. All attendees will be trained in how to speak to local MPs and senators about global poverty and the current levels of Australia’s aid budget.
“Any meeting you go into or opportunity you are given, you need to know you are there as a representative of Jesus and his kingdom. I liked what John Gray said about his recent meeting “I did not go as a politician, nor did I go under partisan rhetoric. I’m not a Democrat nor a Republican nor an independent, I’m a Christian.”
“Politicians do need legitimacy and will want to use us sometimes, so remember we serve a higher power – so don’t be co-opted.” – Tim Costello
“I would say to pastors to remember that leaders and politicians do need legitimacy and will want to use us sometimes, so remember we serve a higher power – so don’t be co-opted. My posture is that I will always be courteous, but to remind a politician that ultimately, they are accountable to God – His Word and His truth. They serve under the sovereignty of God and we need to be bold in reminding them of that.”
The team at Micah Australia also combed through their “Guide to Meeting your MP” to provide Eternity readers with some of the specific ‘hows’ and ‘whys’.
Eternity: What questions should a Christian leader ask before accepting an invitation to meet with a politician?
Micah Australia: It’s good to ask what the purpose of the meeting is and even feel free to ask what will be on the agenda for discussion. It’s also wise to check who else will be at the meeting and whether there’ll be any media present.
Eternity: Should they do a lot of research before the meeting or just go with their understanding as a Christian Leader?
Micah Australia: Do some research to better understand the leader you’re meeting with. It’s good to know a little about their background, their political history and policy interests and previous experiences of church and faith.
Eternity: Is it appropriate that they take others? What’s the ideal number of people for these kinds of conversations?
Micah Australia: Often the best size for a meeting with your local MP is around 3-6 people, any more than that and there can be too many voices trying to speak. The more intimate the meeting, the better opportunity there is for free -flowing conversation and honesty. If there is a group of you, make sure you delegate someone to lead the discussion and someone to take notes.
Eternity: What tips can you give for making the most of the time?
Micah Australia: You need to come with a clear ask. Building relationship is important, but make sure you are clear about what the purpose of the meeting is and what action points need to happen as a result of that meeting. Don’t waste too much time with small talk. After your introductions, it’s good to get straight into the discussion points as time will be limited. At the end of the discussion, summarise what the agreed next steps were, for example ‘So as discussed, you’ll be arranging an appointment with that decision maker for us? When can we expect to hear from you about that?’
Eternity: What’s the best way for Christian leaders to begin to engage with policy makers on issues in the community? How do they make the first move to become someone who is invited to contribute to conversations at a political level?
Micah Australia: Make the first move and book a meeting with your local politician. You don’t need to wait for them to come to you; take the initiative and go and introduce yourself and ask them about their heart for the community, why they got into politics in the first place, and then discuss some of the matters of concern with them. And come to the meeting with a clear ask and plan for follow-up.
To register for Voices for Justice, go to micahaustralia.org/voices_for_justice_2018. Early Bird registrations close 31 August.