What Would Jesus Blog?

Tag: Mission

Church ‘where you’re at’

by on Feb.14, 2011, under Uncategorized

It’s a fairly regular occurrence that I read about an exciting new ministry wanting to minister to people ‘where they’re at’. Aside from the terrible grammar, I broadly agree. I think it’s really important that we follow models of ministry that focus on going to where people are and minister to them in their own particular situations, rather than attempting to attract them to our own little world. Reading through the Gospels and the accounts of the early church I see very little imperative to extract people from their lives to follow Christ, but rather countless examples of ways in which people’s lives are transformed by following Christ – often it involves their situation changing, but that comes as a result of following, rather than as a prerequisite. I actually find it quite arrogant to try to attract people – there’s ways of following Christ that are as alien to me as my church would be to a lot of people, so I can’t for a second hold up how we do it as in any way particularly special. I also hear a lot about how people are spending more time online – it doesn’t take a huge leap of logic to say that people are online, the church should be where people are at, therefore we should set up ministries to this hoard of people online, right? I mean, just take Facebook – half a billion people all in one place, what else does an evangelist want?

The problem is, that to meet people ‘where they’re at’ requires them to be somewhere – to say that being logged into Facebook is being somewhere just doesn’t work. It’s a fallacy to mentally model websites on physical meeting places, however tempting it may be. Internet pioneers and early observers did just that – anyone remember the original GeoCities? It was organised into streets (topics), and you had an address on that street. It was fantastic, but how often did you actually ‘walk’ down the ‘street’, and how often did you just type what you wanted into Altavista or Lycos? Early journalism about the Internet talked about it being the final frontier, a realm to be discovered, and early mental models were of a physical realm entered through a computer rather than a means of transport. That’s changed so much now – computers and the Internet are rapidly becoming ubiquitous and the way that we view them has changed. The Internet isn’t a different world any more – it’s an increasingly integral part of our very local lives.

Where people ‘are at’ is in their homes and around their cities, connected to the Internet regularly, if not all the time. It’s a thread running through their lives and a part of their identity, so it should be the same for the churches that seek to minister to them. That’s scary because it means that online ministry isn’t something that ‘people who understand these things’ can do, it’s something that every church has to examine. Whether they choose to reject that online thread of their life as an act of protest, or informedly deem it irrelevant to their minister, or choose to embrace it and use it for God’s glory, ignoring it is no longer relevant.

As ever, ministries face opposition, and there’s a lot of FUD (fear, uncertainly and doubt) about online ministry. But, I’m up to way over 500 words; dispelling myths can wait!

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Digital Natives

by on Nov.14, 2010, under Digital Eucharist?

Hi! I’m Rob, and I’m a digital native. Computers have been in every school since before I was born, and I’ve grown up around mobile phones, the Web and email. I pretty much can’t imagine life without them, and like digital natives around me, digital communications is an everyday part of life. Somehow, even though it’s used by almost everyone these days, I’ve always felt that older people just don’t ‘get’ technology – sure, they use it, but often they seem to use it as a replacement for something offline that came before, rather than as a natural part of life as my friends do. The same’s often true of the church – I’ve so often felt that they’ve come close but just missed the mark in understanding how I tick.

Technology is part of my identity at every level as a digital native. There’s not an ‘online’ me and an ‘offline’ me – most of what I do online I do under my own name or one of a handful of previous monikers, mostly conceived to protect my personal details as a teenager. In fact, most of my online activity relates to my offline relationships – texts to people who are too far away to see as much as I’d like to, online chat to people who might be busy with something else, or just arranging my social life. The photos from Friday night are up on Facebook – it’s nothing special, just how we share our memories. Sure, sometimes I engage in identity play – but that’s as much a part of growing up as the day I first touched hair gel. Hallvard Mavendorf in Second Life is a subset of Rob Redpath in Real Life – with a few tweaks to escape some of things I’d rather forget about myself.

I understand online dangers intuitively – while it’s important to teach kids online safety just like we were taught road safety, observers are often surprised at how younger generations have the same sixth sense about things online as they do about dangers offline. Incidentally, why do we teach kids about sex from Year 5, but not sexting? Or about stranger danger from the start, but not Facebook until the age of 13 because the TOC don’t allow under-13s to use it?

This, and many other, differences between digital natives and previous generations, have led to a lot of misunderstandings. Missiologist Michael Frost (from a previous generation) talks about people online in his book Exiles– he describes it as “another form of hyper-reality […] [in that] it looks like we’re meeting people via the Web, but really we’re meeting only the acceptable persona that they want displayed to the world”. He’s kinda got a point – but digital natives don’t buy it. Digital natives know that what someone puts online is what they want people to see – and they draw their conclusions about the real person from that. Someone’s Facebook profile is a creative work – the face they put on to go online, and digital natives know it.

A lot’s been said recently about ministering to people online – meeting people where they’re at is the buzzword, and where they’re at seems to be online. That’s kinda true – my generation spend ages online, and the Web provides an ideal medium for a lot of interaction and discovery of faith. But while offline-only church only scratches part of where I itch, so does online-only church. My mates are online and offline, and I’m convinced Jesus is. So why does the church allow the two to be so disconnected?

Further reading:-

Palfrey & Gasser – Born Digital
Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture

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Thesis

by on Nov.07, 2010, under Digital Eucharist?

For anyone who’s interested, my MA thesis can be downloaded here: Digital Eucharist. Plan is to blog my way through the research I did for it in a slightly more accessible format than a 15k word PDF :)

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Church & Technology

by on Apr.16, 2009, under Uncategorized

I’m currently looking for a job (if anyone needs a techie with an MA, within range of Manchester, get in touch!). It’s caused me to take a good look at what I’m good at, what I want to do, what I think God wants me to do, and where God appears to be working. Not much then!

Looking around the Christian jobs scene, a lot of places seem to want youth workers. I’m not a youth worker. A lot seem to want lay workers, a now-deprecated term that encompasses a whole range of ministries but mostly seem to involve families, vulnerable people, Fresh Expressions, that kind of thing. I think I could do that, I think I’d enjoy it and be good at it, but I don’t feel called to it. Doing this MA at Cliff has taught me loads about where the future of the church lies, and has changed the way I approach church forever, but it’s also taught me that being a techie is a good thing and that actually, it’s where my heart has always been. After my BSc I was disillusioned with IT (thank you Manchester School of Computer Science), but being at Cliff has brought my worlds together. I’m a rare breed of Christian techie – I’m a qualified one! I find myself frustrated at the way churches abuse technology – they either ignore it or elevate it to the position of second saviour, rather than embracing it cautiously as they should.

We live in a world shaped by technology, and that’s both a fantastic thing and a terrible thing. The same technology that brings people together across huge distances lends itself to shallow relationships and approximations of community. The way in which we understand our place in the world is changing – where we’re going isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just that any upheaval like this can be hard to adapt to. The projector at the front of the church isn’t going to bring the kids flooding in – likewise the church ignores Facebook at its peril.

I live in a world of God and technology – I know both, and I love both. That’s where my future lies. That’s what God’s set me up for. That’s where I’m going. I’ve come to realise that it doesn’t matter if I pay my way working in IT or in the church – I can do God’s work in either, and I’m happy to go with the flow (of the Holy Spirit, I hasten to add!). Exactly where God’s taking me, only He knows – but I guess I’ve just got to trust him. I want to work with churches, to show them how they can use technology to serve the world, to disciple their flocks, to reach out to others and to serve God more faithfully. For now I do that in my spare time, in the future I’d like to see it be a job but maybe that’s not where I’m best placed. Maybe those who need me most can’t pay for me, and those who would pay wouldn’t understand. All in God’s hands. All in God’s hands.

I also realised that I’m terrifically good at nothing in particular. I’ve looked at a few jobs and I tick all the boxes except the specialism of that particular job. I work well in any position in a team, I’ve got great IT skills, I can organise stuff, I can work with external partners, all that kind of stuff….but not in any particular context. Meh, I’ll get there!

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Just Fair Laughs

by on Apr.10, 2009, under Uncategorized

My first night back in Kendal for Easter and I went down to Bamber Bridge with a friend and a few of his family to a Methodist-run regular comedy night called Just Fair Laughs. It was a great evening – my first beer in a long time, good company, a fantastic laugh and plenty to discuss.

We didn’t get a chance to thrash it out properly, but we did start a discussion that relates to my dissertation work – I’ll post something about it over on my dissertation blog soon. The question was – is Just Fair Laughs church? There were no hymns or a sermon and there was beer so obviously it wasn’t going to be anything like traditional church, so there was hope for it. People were meeting and interacting so there was community happening all around us – and a church is a community that’s part of God’s wider community. I argued that church needed to be intentional – it needed to set out to be church, with everything that means – teaching, worship, fellowship, everything, rather than set out to be a comedy night. My friend argued that intentionality in that sense meant institutionalisation, and that church was wherever two or three gathered together. Of course, he’s right – but so am I.

The difference comes down to semantics, mostly – but that’s not a bad thing and it’s helped to clear things up in my mind. To state the obvious, ‘church’ isn’t where you go or what you do for an hour on Sunday, it’s all gathering with others in the name of Christ (Matt 18:20). So from that point of view, yes, Just Fair Laughs is church. But also, church is more than just two or three gathering – it’s two or three supporting each other, encouraging each other, fellowshipping, teaching, serving each other. And by that definition, Just Fair Laughs neither tries to be nor is church. I came to the conclusion that JFL is part of church, and is a ministry. On its own, it’s not enough to disciple people, but it’s a way in which the church serves, befriends and becomes part of the community. And that’s worth every penny.

The proof is in the pudding, as they say. I’m told that the organiser, who is a Methodist minister, had journeyed with loads of people through tough times who he’d never have met if it wasn’t for JFL and that people appreciate a clean comedy night. Looking around I saw groups getting to know each other and I felt that if I’d been there on my own, I’d have left with a couple of new friends. Maybe no-one’s come to faith through it, maybe no-one will. But when the church is seen as the overbearing morality police, it’s good to know that it’s working where it’s meant to be – at a grassroots level, making people laugh, bringing joy to people’s lives and being there with them when they need it. As the world’s becoming more and more about me and I, it’s up to the church to show that it’s about us. And have a laugh while we’re at it!

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Life is a dancefloor…

by on Jan.07, 2009, under What Would Jesus Blog?

Or rather, the life of the people of God is much like a Shakespearean play – at least in one of the illustrations I’ve used in this essay I’m working on. I have no idea who first introduced me to this idea but I absolutely love it and I think it fits really well.

Think of the life of the people of God as if it were a Shakespearean play that is missing its fourth act, and we are filling in the gaps with our very existence. The first three acts are known – the characters are laid down, there’s more than enough in the Bible and in the testimony of literally millions of Christians over the years to have a good idea of who God is and how he reacts when his people do all kinds of horrible stuff against him, and good stuff for him. The final act is known – although not all New Testament eschatological writing is about the apocalypse by any means – and we know how it ends, new heaven and new earth and all that.

So what does this mean? Instead of rulebooks and lists of dos and don’ts (which many of today’s churches often make implicit rather than explicit – I hate it!) we need to put ourselves, both individually and corporately, in the place of an actor playing the part of the Christian in that fourth act. Does what we do line up with what God has praised in the past? Are we the people God wants us to be? Of course not – but the closer we get to God, the more we know and love Him, the more natural playing his supporting cast becomes. This isn’t a new idea at all – but one that we need to consider before we go on our next witch-hunt.

Incidentally, I went to see Yes Man with Mike the other day – it’s a great film, very funny but there’s one scene a few minutes in that I think really sums up the approach to evangelism that far too many churches take – Jim Carey’s character gets converted to this life-changing ethos by being publically humiiated, shouted down and pressured into accepting, but then doesn’t have the understanding of the concepts required to live it properly. I just can’t help but think of seeing people give their lives to Christ at rallies and the like and the church not being ready to disciple them properly – and comparing their testimony to that of people who got in with groups of Christians and over time saw a difference in them, and then accepted it for themselves. No judgement here on which is better – both bring people to Christ so both are good but I think they present different challenges that churches just aren’t ready for.

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