Connecting online has value, just not as much as we think.
by Shane Hipps
This conversation got started with a short video of Shane Hipps at the National Pastors Convention discussing whether online community was really community. Scot McKnight posted his response a few days later. Earlier this week, Anne Jackson joined the discussion by asserting that what happens online is "connecting," not "community." Shane Hipps now returns to Out of Ur with his reflections.
Scott et. al, thanks for all your comments and push back. Always appreciated.
Clearly we're playing with semantics here. I don't say that dismissively. Semantics matter - sometimes more than other times. I'll let others judge whether it matters here. It may be that we agree after all.
First, my language in the video was less nuanced than it might have been in written form. That is my tendency in a spontaneous oral interview. I will try to be more precise here.
When I say that "virtual community" is not "community," that does not mean it has no value. As I indicated in the interview, I know that all kinds of deeply meaningful connections and interactions happen online all the time. I have experienced them myself. Some may want to call this "community." Fair enough. I just don't call it "community." That is not intended to dismiss or demean any one's experience online.
My brother and sister-in-law took me to a concert at the Hollywood Bowl while I was visiting Southern California recently. The renowned outdoor amphitheater is nestled into the hills of Hollywood creating a scenic environment for 18,000 people to enjoy an evening of music under the stars. As the sun was setting, the members of the orchestra began taking their seats in the white band shell. The sound of the musicians tuning their instruments was odd. Screeching strings echoed. Blasts came from the wind section. It was chaotic and unpleasant.
Finally, the conductor emerged from stage left. The audience erupted in applause as he took his position on the conductor's platform. He calmly raised his arms over his noisy orchestra. Silence. The time for tuning their instruments was over. After a few moments of quiet anticipation the conductor's arms moved and the soul-stirring music began.
Like an orchestra tuning their instruments, consumer Christianity is producing chaotic and unpleasant noise about God. The prevailing view of God as an alienated commodity has fueled endless pontificating about his ways and character. This noise reveals a failure of reverence toward the one who declared, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways?for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."
Rather than adding to the noise perhaps it is time for us to finally be silent, be still, and wait in quit anticipation for God to begin a new work. Leopold Stokowski, the composer who founded the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in 1945, once said, "A painter paints his pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence." Maybe God is waiting for us to be silent long enough so he may begin painting a new picture in our imaginations; to begin transforming our image of a manageable deity into one that can truly inspire.
Uber-blogger, Anne Jackson, says the web creates connection but not community.
Blogging. Facebook. Twitter. Those three things are practically my middle name. I've been called a "social media butterfly" over the last four years.
The question of "Can community happen online?" which has been the topic of conversation on this blog recently, has also been asked wherever I go. At conferences, at churches, and yes, even at the local cafe where by chance, a Facebook friend recognizes me. Sorry. I have to admit. I usually don't know who you are.
During my four years as the leader of a very thriving blog (FlowerDust.net), I've seen many incredible things happen. I've seen believers and unbelievers unite in generously donating close to $200,000 to social justice and poverty. I've seen people openly discuss taboo subjects: pornography, depression, anxiety, gay lifestyles, and theologically grey topics.
In some instances, these online conversations have translated into personal communication (by email, chats, or phone) and some have even turned into face-to-face meetings. The platforms of social media certainly give these personal interactions a "jump start" so to speak, because you do, in some regard, know bits and pieces of the other person's life.
But this is where it gets muddy for me. Is it community?
Given my experience living in both worlds, it may be surprising to hear, but I am beginning to lean on the side of no - what happens online is not community. Before you send me an army of frowning emoticons, please hear me out:
A new movement of God is underway, but are we too busy running the church to notice?
by Dave Gibbons
The following is an excerpt from Dave Gibbons' new book The Monkey and the Fish (Zondervan, 2009).
The church is called to be a third-culture community. Third culture is about the two purposes of life for every Christ follower: loving God and loving your neighbor.
Without question, there are a lot of effective strategies and fruitful ideas being used in the church and in ministry today. Third culture is not simply a strategy but the way we are to live. One may not be naturally third culture, but we are called to move toward this vision. It seems that more than ever the world is open to such leadership. I say this simply because we have experienced it in communities where we seriously pursued a third-culture lifestyle in diverse cultural contexts spanning several continents and saw how people gravitate toward this adaptive, liquid-type leader.
When my brother and I were teenagers, we were bottomless pits. We could consume massive quantities of food. My poor mom. She found really only one place she could take us that would satisfy us: the Royal Fork, an all-you-can-eat buffet where we ate for three to four hours at a sitting.
I can still picture the luscious spread. For my brother and me, nothing was more glorious than checking out every nook and cranny of that steamy buffet table and then consuming everything in sight. Buffets were our little heaven on earth. Nothing brings people together like good food!
Theologian J. I. Packer on restricting the Lord's Supper
Late in 2008, theologian J. I. Packer sat down with a few CTI editors to talk theology. Here's what Dr. Packer had to say when the conversation ranged to Communion.
Do you believe that access to the Lord's Table should be restricted, and if so, how does the church do that in a way that's inoffensive?
Yes, I believe access should be restricted at two points. First, the folk who come to share the Lord's Supper with the congregation should be people who have shown that they can discern the Lord's body. In other words, they understand what the Communion service is all about: Christ crucified for us.
The second point of restriction is when individuals in the congregation are known to be living in sin. If the attempt has been made to wean them away from sin according to the rules of Matthew 18, and it's failed, then the text says, "Let him be to you as a heathen and a publican," a tax collector, someone beyond the pale. The pastor, with the backing of those who were trying to wean the person away, should say, "Don't come to the Lord's Table. If you come, the bread and wine will not be served to you. I shall see to that."
Thanks for your video, Shane. Your point about not equating virtual community (grant me the term for the moment) with real community is one that needs to be heard. But, I'm not so sure it is this simple...
First, as a blogger who has what I have sometimes called the Jesus Creed "community," I do think there are some senses in which community is apt. For some, this is about the only "community" with Christians they can right now have. I honor that. For others it is therapeutic to dance, as it were, at a distance -- not the complete thing, of course, but still participating in some dimensions of community. And there is another dimension: there are clearly dimensions of fellowship at work in blog communities. Never the whole, but some. And that needs to be considered for what it really is.
But now something perhaps more significant: by shrinking community to embodied community I wonder if we have written "communion of the saints" (a community) off the map. Isn't there something eternal, something spiritual, and something profoundly true that all Christians of all ages and of all locations are in communion with one another?
We create media, and then media re-creates us. That's the message Shane Hipps, author of Flickering Pixels (Zondervan, 2009) wanted pastors at NPC to hear in his interview on the main stage last night and in his seminars this morning. Shane's latest book is a journey into the hidden power of media--and a challenge to the standard line that the message stays the same even when the medium changes.
Skye and I sat down with Shane today to ask him a couple of questions that are of particular interest on the blogosphere: how is Internet-based community different from flesh-and-blood Christian community? And what happens to the gospel when it's translated into a digital medium such as Second Life?
You can look forward to a review of Shane's book, Flickering Pixels, in the next issue of Leadership.
Paper cuts, forgiveness, and chocolate covered turds.
by Skye Jethani
Most of the church leaders attending this morning's session at NPC probably thought they don't share much in common with mega-church pastor, mega-celebrity, mega-author Rob Bell. They were wrong. Bell spoke about being criticized - the "million little paper cuts" of criticism that pastors face all the time. He used that common pastoral experience to talk about the "absolute imperative that we become masters at forgiving people."
Bell recounted the story of a letter he received from a supporter. The note, in which the writer recounted how he defended Bell when another person accused him of being nothing more than "fluff and irrelevance," was intended to edify and encourage. But he said the only part he remembered was the criticism. This, says Bell, is the definition of a "chocolate covered turd." It looks sweet on the outside until you take a bite. Then it betrays you.
That's how ministry is. You may hear nine really good things, but it's the one critical comment that will eat away at your soul. We tell ourselves that it's really nothing, that "you just have to laugh about it," and that those small paper cuts really don't hurt. But they do. Over time, says Bell, those small wounds build up and we experience "death by paper cuts."
So a comedian, a Jew, and a monk walk into a conference...
by Brandon O'Brien
Skye and I arrived in San Diego this afternoon for the 2009 National Pastors Convention.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the opening evening of headlining sessions was the variety.
The evening started with a short routine by acclaimed comedian Michael Jr. Michael is a young black performer from Grand Rapids, Michigan, who says he operates by a sort of "comedy accountability." Because he performs in bars, clubs, casinos, and even churches (Michael's a Christian), he says "everything I say in a club has to be clean enough to say from a church pulpit; everything I say in a pulpit has to be funny enough to say in a club." His material tonight drew from his experience becoming a Christian and encountering the Bible for the first time.
In a self-obsessed culture, pastors have exchanged “death to self” for self-promotion.
by Scot McKnight
I think I was in college when I first saw that title of a magazine that brazenly called itself SELF, and it was so bold it could have been called SELF! Nurtured in a theology that drew its juices from the Bible and influenced by the likes of Augustine and Luther and Calvin, I was taken back by anyone or any magazine that would advertise itself with the word "self." The self, so I was taught, was to die daily (Luke 9:23) or be put to death (Romans 6). In fact, my pastors often spoke of the "mortification" of the flesh (and self).
Nurture, then, put me on my heels when I saw a magazine called SELF and when that sentiment made its nest in Whitney Houston's famous song "The Greatest Love of All." Its clinching words tell us that "learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all." Well, yes, I say to myself, we do need to have a proper love of our self ? but how can our "greatest" love be one directed at ourselves? The Me Generation has created what Jean Twenge is now calling Generation Me. Others call it iGen. This value is everywhere; it's the air GenMe breathes; and it has made potent inroads into the church.
Recently I saw a church's website where instead of finding "Pastors" or "Staff" it listed "Personalities." A click-through revealed the "personalities" of these personalities, or at least the "personalities" these people wanted others to see. I don't recall all the details, but I read things about what they ate for breakfast and what they'd do if they weren't doing their church jobs. It went on and on, but I had had enough so I clicked the red X at the top and went to my favorite chair and just wondered awhile.
Time traveled to the frozen Midwest to report the obvious: Rural communities struggle to recruit trained pastors. The dateline could have read 1979 and the story would not have looked altogether different. The situation has certainly worsened in the last 30 years, but the problem's origins date back at least that long.
Plagued by severe "brain drain," rural American towns have been grasping for ways to entice doctors and motivated teachers to return and settle. According to Time, pastors may be even less inclined to serve small towns than their college-educated counterparts.
"The ticktock of farm auctions and foreclosures in the heartland, punctuated by the occasional suicide, has seldom let up since the 1980s," Time reporter David Van Biema wrote. "But one of the malaise's most excruciating aspects is regularly overlooked: rural pastors are disappearing even faster than the general population, leaving graying congregations helpless in their time of greatest need."