Monday, March 29, 2010

Re-defining Success

We need to re-define what is "success" in online ministry. Churches often see it as a marketing tool to enlarge their congregation. Church growth for the internet age. A new medium for old ministry goals. 

But we're given an opportunity to re-think our ministry. Using social media is an excellent way to minister to folks - people we wouldn't otherwise connect with -without any other agenda other than to share God's love.

For example, a few years ago a self-described atheist nominated my humble offerings for "Best Religious Blog" at the Canadian Blog Awards. She did so because we had been emailing back and forth, and developed a good rapport. She asked me some questions. Shared some concerns. And I did the same. It was a two-way conversation. I really valued her insights. But if I spent that time "preaching" in the classic sense of the word, she would have stopped emailing and reading my blog. I unashamedly bore witness to the the God I know in Jesus. And her professed atheism remained intact. 

Will she attend a church in her town? Confess Jesus as saviour? Probably not. But that's not the point. The point is that she felt valued as someone loved - maybe even by a God she said she didn't believe in. Church folks were no longer the enemy. I call that a win.

The best way to kill an online relationship is to ascend the pulpit, preaching at people. (while I post some of my sermons, I leave the comments open). Like everwhere else online and in life, people have options. And the internet offers a myriad of possibilities for people to explore faith/religion/spirituality, etc. The internet obviously didn't create these alternatives. It merely gave them a voice. An easily accessible forum. And people will toddle off elsewhere or "de-friend" someone when they're not being meaningfully engaged. And rightly so.

For example, on facebook, a friend had written a status update that a evangelical preacher took issue with, and, in the comments hurled epithets at my friend - all in the name of proclaiming Truth (capital "T"). His language was so over the top and abusive that even confessing Christians like myself felt injured. Was this behaviour going to be effective in evangelizing my friend? Obviously not. But I see this sort of activity happening all time from Christians who don't understand social media, much less the gospel. Angry Christians have been doing this since Paul had to put out the fires in Corinth. But it seems, given the relative anonymity of the internet, they're more rampant.

21st century Christians will soon realize that social media doesn't necessarily translate into full churches, but it will provide never-before opportunities to have a broader, discussion. Despite what you hear from some pulpits, no one is asking us Christians to compromise our beliefs. We're simply inserting ourselves into an endless, on-going conversation, where the loudest yelling doesn't necessarily get the biggest audience.

Our proclamation will be a still, small, voice, boldly, yet lovingly offered. And we let God do the rest. Just like we do in every other area of ministry.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Diana is Blogging!

Diana Macintyre, accomplice to Mick, has started a new blog. Check it out. Read it. Enjoy it. Live it.

"Would You Like to Know the Truth?"

That was asked of me in tract form this morning. The pamphlet was tossed in the front door of the church this morning. No kidding. A guy pulled up in a mini-van, opened the church's front door (why was it unlocked? But that's for another time), threw the paper on the floor, ran back to his vehicle, and sped off, tires squealing.

It looks like the Jehovah's Witnesses are worried about Lutheran salvation. But don't want to tell us that to our faces. All we have to do is read this little tract, and we'll know The Truth, which, it is assumed, is different from The Truth that we confess as Lutherans.

But this isn't any different than what we want social media to do. We want to tell people The Truth but not to their faces. We want a social barrier to protect us from possible conflict from people who might not welcome our message. We post our message (i.e., throw our pamphlet on the ground and run) and assume that we've done our evangelistic job. If people don't read it, that's their problem. We've put it out there. So, we can't be accused of sleeping at the proclamatory switch.

At least, that's what I see a lot of. Hit and run evangelism, 21st century, internet style. Some Christians don't want to personally engage. They want tools and gadgets to do their jobs for them.

But that misses the point of social media. Too much emphasis on "media" and not enough on "social." The best use, I think, of social media, is creating online relationships, dialoguing, debating, sharing ideas, offering concerns, even praying.

What we SHOULDN'T be doing is using social media as a pulpit, assuming that it is a one-way conversation. Social media is one great big conversation. With everyone talking at the same time.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sermon: Lent 5C

I think I'm with Judas on this one. He was the only one thinking straight. He had the practical sense no one else had. He was trying to use their money wisely.

Pouring expensive perfume on someone's feet? Is that REALLY how God wanted them to use their money?

Commentators call Judas a "bean counter" and a "thief." They accuse him of not getting what Jesus was all about. Sure he'd been following Jesus for a couple of years, listening to him, dutifully taking worship notes, but he didn't fully understand what Jesus was saying. They say that Judas was trying to look pious in front of everyone else. That he wanted to shame his fellow followers. They wanted him to leave Mary alone.

I think Judas was...(whole thing here)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hypocrisy, thy name is...

This post is going to make me a first-class hypocrite.

Those who know me know that I have a fetish for new technology and social media. I recently upgraded my cell phone to an iPhone, which sent me into a spinning lather of orgasmic proportions. I love my MacBook with an inappropriate amount of affection. I've twittered since 2007. I'm Linkedin. I've been blogging since 2004. Before that I was heavily involved with newsgroups (remember those?). I set up my first email address in 1992. I LOVE social media. It's been a long term love affair. And the bloom has not left the rose.

(side note: I prefer Twitter to Facebook. Twitter does more with less. It's nimble and quick. And it feeds my adult on-set ADD)

HOWEVER, when it comes to ministry, I worry that churches miss the point of social media. Churches tend to view it as either a) a marketing tool designed to get flesh-and-blood human beings through their front doors, or b) showing the world that they are relevant, because they speak the culture's language and use its tools; if they're hip and cool, then by extension, so is God. The point isn't necessarily to use social media, the point is merely to have it in the tool box. It's the whole "medium is the message" thing.

And while, yes Facebook is one of the best ministry tools ever, I also know it's limitations. Facebook helps me see what's going on in peoples' lives on a day-to-day basis that I wouldn't otherwise get to experience. And while I can send notes, make comments, advertise church events, post status updates, I realize that Facebook relationships supplement my ministry relationships, not replace them. Facebook enhances my ministry, but doesn't supplant the daily human -incarnational - interactions that is the heart of ministry.

And yes, I've ministered to non-believers through social media. I've debated with others. I've engaged people who I normally wouldn't had I not "met" them online. Spirituality is replacing porn as the biggest internet presence. So, there is opportunity here.

BUT, too often, we as churches hope that technology will do the hard work of ministry for us. We're looking for a magic bullet that will help turn our churches from declining to thriving. A talisman that will draw crowds into our empty pews. Were we can sit in splendid isolation typing away on a website or blog and will have an impact in peoples' lives and not actually have to talk to people. 

Social media MAY do that. If we're lucky. But we shouldn't bet our futures on it.

But what it will do is change the way we relate to non-believers. Which will be the subject of my next post. Stay tuned.

Friday, March 12, 2010

An Exciting Time!? Really?

“This is an exciting time to be the church!” Every church leader has said that as a way of spinning bad news. I should know. I'm guilty of saying that myself when talking to anxious churchfolks. It's not that I don't believe it to be true. I think it's only half the story.

But it's not just an exciting time to be the church. It's a terrifying time. Especially when ministry gets harder and harder every year. 

There's nothing exciting about having more ideas than resources. Nor is working harder for fewer results. Neither is worrying about the church's future. That's not my idea of a good time.

Some days, I feel like Sisyphus pushing that stupid boulder up that damned hill.

But it's clear to me that God is doing something with the church, but it's hard to say what that is. Declining numbers, diminishing resources, and waning cultural influence. Not to mention intra-ecclesial squabbles over sexuality and tensions between clergy. We're in the middle of something, and it's difficult to see where we're going to end up. It's hard to determine exactly what God is doing with us as a church.

Maybe God is wiping the smug smirk off of our Christendom faces. Forcing a collective time-out. Calling a four minute major for conduct unbecoming.

It could be that God is telling us that the 1500 year love affair with Caesar made us larger numerically, but smaller spiritually. We'd gotten complacent. Lazy, even. Expecting the culture to do the job of making Christians for us. Instead of churches teaching people to pray, we expected schools to do that for us. Instead of voicing our own particular moral and ethical stands, we wanted the media to adopt our worldview.

And in return, the culture wanted our blessing for any and every endeavour it launched. And we church folks willing obliged. We love it when we're flattered by worldly power.

And, perhaps, God wants us to do our jobs as churches. God wants us to remember that it's the Spirit of Jesus crucified and risen that gives us power. That God's reign of mercy, forgiveness, love, justice, and peace often means we will be unpopular. And that's okay. God never promised being a Christian would be easy. In fact, the opposite is true. Maybe God wants us to reclaim the core of what it means to be Christian.

So, it could be that church decline is a gift. Just like my weight-loss scheme, God is shedding the extra pounds, cutting the fat, making us leaner and healthier. Instead of trying to create bloated church corporations, God is making us focus on the essentials, re-prioritizing our mission, creating smaller, but stronger churches.

Clergy shortages could mean a more empowered laity. Diminishing resources could mean that we're forced to think about the best ministries to invest our money. Declining membership could mean that the spiritual tourism shop is being closed, and that those who are still in our churches after the purge are those most committed to Jesus and his mission. Intra-church fights put theology back on the front burner. We're being compelled to articulate our respective theological positions. Our bibles, are once again, open.

Sound exciting to you? It does to me. Sort of. Because it also means a lot of work. But it is God's work.

NB: Updated for spelling, grammar, and style.