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Last week, I wrote about Starbucks’ Green Apron Book and asked whether the 5 Principles that Starbucks’ employees are trained to follow might guide the church in its efforts to establish and maintain a presence on social networking platforms. That post prompted some great discussion, not only about social media (in fact, mostly NOT about social media) but about broader topics such as the art of creating experiences, whether other comparisons between Starbucks and the church are valid, and even whether or not they have good coffee. I agree, the jury’s out on that last one, but I’d also argue that people aren’t paying $4 for coffee (a product) – they’re paying for coffee PLUS the experience (or at least, in the case of drive-thru customers, the emotional connection with the brand).

Photo: Randy OHC (Creative Commons license)

Photo: Randy OHC (Creative Commons license)

But it was Jerry’s comment that sparked today’s post: “Let me know when you figure out how to celebrate the Eucharist on the social media.”

There are the mechanics of ‘figuring it out,’ but what I think Jerry was getting at are the bigger questions and issues. Before we launch into a big discussion or debate, what I’d like for you (reader) to help me do is identify the important questions. Let’s start there. Then I think we’ll have a better discussion.

One place to look for the questions is online. Some churches are already celebrating Communion there – evangelicals in multi-site mega-churches experimenting with online church and Communion, yes; but also Methodists and Anglicans, and probably some Presbyterians. Maybe even Disciples!

In reading around  (see the list at the end of this post), here are some of the issues and questions that come up. Some of these don’t apply to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), but they’re worth knowing about. These are specifically about Communion, not the broader topic of online church.

  • The need for participation to happen in the context of a physical community (I’m deliberately staying away from using the word ‘real’ here) such as a Sunday morning worship service in a church.
  • The amount of need for control over who can participate (members of that particular church or denomination only? any baptized believer? anyone?)
  • The role of the clergy or celebrants with regard to the sacraments (Do celebrants have to consecrate the elemants? Online, is BYObread-and-juice ok? What about a ‘virtual’ sacrament, like in Second Life?)
  • What is Communion all about in the first place? Is it a ‘love feast’? A memorial? Is Christ present, and if so, how? Is it a means of receiving grace and forgiveness?

Some practical considerations:

  • People who can’t get to church (i.e. homebound, institutionalized, incarcerated, those with disabilities, etc)
  • What happens when public health concerns or natural disasters force people to stay home? My experience with online Communion was with a Disciples congregation dispersed across several states in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
  • Might participating in online church (and Communion) lead someone who otherwise would not go to church to eventually connect with a local congregation? Or does it keep people from coming to a brick-and-mortar church by aiming to replace it?
  • What about those whom the church has hurt? Or those from whom the church has distanced itself?

Theological considerations (beyond those surrounding Communion):

  • In most of the discussions I’ve seen, the predominant theological question seems to be “What is church?”
  • A less-discussed theological topic is “Where is God in this?”

Help me out here….what other questions should be in the mix?

I hope you’ll follow some of these links and read what others have written, and then come back and add your questions:

Rev. Thomas Madron’s site (click on the PDF link to read his paper in favor on online Communion…written from a Methodist perspective but still fairly relevant for Disciples)

Lifechurch.tv – a multi-site evangelical church that also offers an online worship experience, with Communion.

Newsweek’s Belief Watch: “Click in Remembrance of Me?

This post by John Saddington on Church Crunch, about Online Church, which includes several helpful links.

An interesting discussion in ChurchCrunch’s Forums

Jason Byassee

Jason Byassee

Jason Byassee is a former assistant editor with Christian Century and currently executive director of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School. He writes for and edits Duke’s Faith and Leadership online journal and its “Call and Response” blog. He earned his master of divinity and doctorate degrees from Duke.

At the Disciples’ upcoming General Assembly in Indianapolis, Jason will share his advice on writing theologically for a broad audience during a resource group on Theology and Writing, on Friday, July 31 from 2:00 to 3:30 p.m.

Rebecca Woods, DisciplesWorld news and website editor, spoke with Jason Byassee in June.

RW: So you’re leading a General Assembly resource group on theology and writing. What will you cover?

JB: I’ll encourage pastors and others to think about themselves as writers. It’s not hard [at least for pastors] because every pastor is already writing sermons. But I want to encourage them to think about having a more expansive audience.

Many pastors write for their church newsletters. I suggest that they do this with as much care as they take with their sermons; and from there, to consider writing for a broader audience — religious publications and secular settings.

This has been made easier because of the Internet, but it’s harder than ever to make any money at it. So…there’s not necessarily a reward for this type of writing. It has to be seen as part of a pastoral lifestyle.

The question isn’t whether a pastor is going to be a writer…it’s the kind of care that they’re going to take in writing. And not only every pastor, but every Christian. Writing is a way of transforming feeling into thought.

RW: How does this type of writing fit into the pastor’s role?

JB: I’m convinced that this kind of broader writing changes the way a congregation views its pastor. I remember when my own pastor started publishing. Suddenly he had a new authority — I listened to him with a different set of ears.

Some may think, if you do that kind of broader writing, it takes away from the local parish. It may do that in the short run, but in the long run, it changes the way people listen.

RW: What sources from the Christian tradition do you draw on to make your case for pastor-as-writer?

JB: I really love some of the sources from the ancient church, about learning how to discern Christ in surprising places, and learning how to pay attention to Jesus in strange forms. I draw on a number of ancient and modern sources — from Simone Weil and Annie Dillard, to Augustine and the Desert Fathers.

RW: So what are some of the obstacles to writing that pastors face?

JB: There’s something every writer has to get over — the discipline of clearing space to write regularly. Because as important as it is, it isn’t urgent. Nobody is saying “You have to get this to me by Thursday.” So you have to clear space for it, even though nobody can see what you‘re doing. Later they may see the value, but maybe not right away.

And then there’s the mystification of the publishing process. I want them to know that people on ‘that side of the curtain’ are always looking for newer and better writers. And pastors are involved in things we editors can’t see. They’re involved in day-to-day things that we want to honor.

The tasks that go along with being a pastor contribute to being a writer. For example, noticing is a kind of pastoral activity. Noticing is also a crucial writing activity. I’m fascinated by the overlap.

Also, being a writer is not just about publishing your sermons. Often sermons don’t translate well to print. There are ambiguities [in sermons]…it can be done, but it has to be done with real care.

RW: How did you become interested in helping pastors to develop as writers?

JB: I was doing doctoral work, and I was frustrated. I wasn’t sure if I dropped dead that anyone would notice. I couldn’t figure out how I was helping anyone.

Then I became a local pastor. I was pastoring a rural church in North Carolina with about 80 people in it. And I knew that whatever else I might do during the week, I had done something on Sunday that mattered.

So I had this desire to be in between academia and pastoral work. At the Christian Century, I could pay attention to what was going on in the academy, but I could also pay attention on behalf of pastors.

RW: How did you end up working at the Christian Century?

JB: I was at a conference and the editor of the Century told me he was having a hard time getting people to write about movies. So I started there, and then the job came up [as assistant editor] and they hired me. Even when I was writing for them from the parish, I would never have thought it would become a job. Yet, I worked for the Century from 2004 to 2008, and I’m still a contributing editor there.

RW: So why did you move on to what you’re doing now?

JB: What led me back to Duke? While at the Century, I was adjunct teaching. I was thinking about how the academy is good at saying, “Here’s something new that you weren’t already thinking about,”…and asking critical questions about it. I did a lot of thinking about the distance between the academy and the parish.

And at the Century, I reviewed other people’s stuff. In a sense, I passed grades on it. [Christian writer] Andy Crouch, in his book Culture Making, says Christians shouldn’t be just evaluating other people’s creative works, they should be creating their own.

So I’m back at Duke, and I get to teach the kind of writing that I do. Really, there’s not a big emphasis on this kind of writing in most places in theological education. And Duke is the place that taught me to care about this stuff… [professors and writers] Lauren Winner, David Steinmetz, and Greg Jones are now my colleagues.

I also have a minor administrative post called special assistant to the dean. In an informal role, I am advising students and faculty on how to publish more broadly.

And I’m editing this new website at the Divinity School. We call it a publication — Faith and Leadership magazine.

RW: What was the first thing you ever wrote that was published?

JB: It was a piece on Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose-Driven Life, published in the Christian Century back in 2003.

RW: What are you working on now?

JB: I have a book coming out next year. It’s about the theology of the small church, and Abingdon is the publisher. It’s partly theology, and partly rooted in the pastoral experiences I had in the small church. It’s tentatively called The Gift of the Small Church.

RW: Any advice for writers?

JB: You’ve got to read what you want to write. There’s a famous writing book — Reading Like a Writer. There’s a great deal of overlap between reading and the writing life.

RW: So what are you reading?

JB: I’ve spent some time lately with a book by Christine Pohl — Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition. And there’s a new book by David Hart, called Atheist Delusions. And Dana Robert’s Christian Mission: How Christianity Became a World Religion.

I’ve also been reading a novel called Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese, about a mission hospital in Ethiopia. It’s about a family’s life serving in this place.

RW: Do you have a favorite writer?

JB: Flannery O’Connor is probably my favorite author, from the 20th century. Augustine is the great one for all time.

Paul Elie’s The Life You Save May Be Your Own is another good one.

I like paying attention to people who are sort of writing not on their home field — theological writers who are writing in some other vein. For example, David Steinmetz writes editorials in places like USA Today.

I like Marilynne Robinson, her novels and essays. And Andy Crouch — I stop what I’m doing when I see his name.

—–

I’m in Grand Rapids, Mich. for the United Church of Christ’s General Synod. I’ll be here for the whole Synod, which officially opens Friday and ends June 30. On Thursday I spent the day covering a pre-Synod consultation on immigration.

The event included great speakers, immigrants who shared their stories, and community organizers including keynote speaker Norma Chavez-Peterson of Justice Overcoming Boundaries and Baldemar Velasquez, known for his work with FLOC, organizing farm laborers.

But the best quote of the day came from Dave Ostendorf, who said that liberal Christians tend to be “resolutionary” instead of “revolutionary.” He and others called for people of faith to go beyond passing resolutions and having church meetings to actually taking ministry outside of church walls and into the community to get things done, engaging systems and structures to get at the root causes of social problems.

One thing I appreciated about the day’s event is that those in attendance seem to understand the intricacies of justice work. They talked about the unintended consequences of the efforts of well-meaning Christians; they distinguish between feel-good, drive-by charity work and actually listening to, honoring, and empowering people who are oppressed so that they can shape their own futures with dignity. Those are nuances that you sometimes don’t hear when it comes to church mission and outreach.

In light of Ostendorf’s remark, I couldn’t help but think about the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). In about a month, the General Assembly will vote on whether to stop being a “resolutionary’ church. The idea is to replace sometimes-controversial Sense-of-the-Assembly resolutions (and a couple of other types of resolutions) with a dialogue process: Calls for Action.

But if we stop being “resolutionary,” we’re still far from revolutionary, and sometimes, a revolution — a turning-upside-down of things — is in order. While resolutions should not be  confused with actions,  I wonder if now we’ll fall into the trap of mistaking conversation for action. To be fair, the Calls for Action open a better space for dialogue than the 12, 24, or in a few cases, 48 minutes of floor debate. But at the end of the day, will anyone urge us to take it a step further?

How, as church, can we Disciples go from resolutionary to revolutionary, instead of going from resolutionary to…a bunch of nice Christians who can proudly say that we all get along? I hope we can find a way.

Like many pastors I’ve taken up blogging.   I expect that each of us blogs for different reasons – I read enough of these blogs to get sense of how different we are in our use of the blogs.  But, each of us blogs because we have something to say to a broader audience – an audience that is likely broader than our immediate congregation.  On any given day I get between 150 to 250 hits.  That’s not huge, but it’s respectable, and it is a number far beyond the number I reach in my own congregation (especially when you take a weekly cumulative number).

Rebecca asked me to write this post in part because I blog so frequently.  My practice is to blog daily, except when I’m simply unable to get to a computer with internet access!  Part of my reasoning for blogging daily might have something to do with vanity.  I want to attract readers.  With that in mind, early on I had read a blog post by Scot McKnight, author of the Jesus Creed blog, which said that if you want to attract and keep a readership, you have to blog daily.  I took up the challenge, and have tried to keep up the pace ever since – and my readership has grown as a result.

As to why I blog –  I must confess up front that one of the attractions of blogging is that it allows me to publish whatever I want to publish, whenever I want to publish it.  I am my own editor.  Now,  I enjoy writing, so this is not drudgery.  Before I took up blogging I had to depend on the good graces of publishers and journal editors – and I have been able to put out a fairly large number of published pieces, including three books and numerous articles and reviews for both general and academic journals – to get my thoughts in print.  Although I have a fairly large corpus of published works, and I even edit a journal (Sharing the Practice), that has never seemed to be enough for me.  So, now I can write what I want, when I want, with few if any filters (the only real filter is me – I’m ever cognizant of the fact that I have a family and I’m a pastor).

In my personal blog – Ponderings on a Faith Journey –  I write upon a wide spectrum of issues, but always with my faith in mind (except those occasions when I talk sports).  Even my political posts usually have a faith component.  I also have sermon blog, on which I post my sermons each week entitled Words of Welcome.

The question is – how do I keep this in balance with my daily work as a pastor and my commitments to family?  That is a difficult question to answer, except to say I do my best to keep things balanced.  Much of what I write are reflections on theology and the daily news.  Sometimes I pick up political/social/cultural issues – usually after reading the news online.  I might pick up a point to comment on.  Sometimes it’s the comments made by my visitors that propels a series of blog posts.  I tend not to engage in too many conversations in the comments section, but instead, offer up a new post to further the conversation.  Blogging has also given me impetus to finish the books I read – especially the ones sent to me by publishers – so that I can offer reviews.  As you can see there is an untold amount of information to dig through, reflect upon, and comment upon.  There are times, when I have to really dig deep to come up with something, but that usually has more to do with where I’m at that day than it does with regard to my sources of information.

One of the things that a blogging pastor has to be aware of is the “employer.”  Rebecca,  in inviting me to offer this post, commented that I often pick up controversial issues.  That is true.  I’ve endorsed a candidate for President – noting carefully that I did so as private citizen and not as a pastor.  I’ve dealt with gay marriage, the death penalty, war, and even abortion.  If you’re a church member and you have access to the blog you likely know what I think about such issues.  Now, I have the advantage that the search committee – or at least some members of the search committee – had been reading my blog even as we were in the interview process.  They knew in advance that I took up controversial issues, that I was somewhat to the left on certain issues, and that I wasn’t afraid to express them on the blog.   When I was presented to the congregation, it was noted that I was a blogger.  So, even if you don’t agree with my positions, you know I do this.  That gives me a certain amount of freedom.  But, at the same time I try not to abuse that freedom.  My suggestion to prospective blogging pastors is simply to check it out with your leadership.  Let them know what you’re up to.  If they have concerns about what you write, then heed their warnings.

Not every pastor needs to have a blog, though having ways of utilizing the new media is important.  But if you’re going to do this, and do it right, you have to enjoy writing.  I write, because it’s part of who I am, and I’m thankful that I have this outlet to express my thoughts.  Hopefully over the course of time, I’ve become a better writer and more adept at sharing my thoughts clearly and as concisely as I’m able!   I will let my readers decide if this is true.

Preacher Bob 4-5-2009Bob Cornwall is Pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church of Troy, MI, husband of Cheryl, and father of Brett.  He is also editor of Sharing the Practice  (Academy of Parish Clergy) and a regular contributor to the Christian Century blogTheolog.

Squirrel on a skateboard. Photo: kthypryn (Creative Commons license)

Squirrel on a skateboard. Photo: kthypryn (Creative Commons license)

You may have seen reports of a Kentucky pastor who has invited his congregations to bring their guns to church for a combined gun rights/Independence Day celebration. Blogger and pastor Greg Howell shares his thoughts on the subject of God and guns in a post titled “Second Amendment or Sixth Commandment?”

The Creme Anglaise blog has several great, short posts this week. I agreed with her thoughts on good and bad shopping trips, but also appreciated the post on Some Tardy Articles about the Death of George Tiller.

East Dallas Christian Church is kicking off a 4-week sermon series this Sunday. The subject: Being People of Hope in Times of Fear. Blogger Nathan Hill, minister of church life at EDCC, frames it by asking, “Are we consumers of fear? And is this what Jesus calls us to be?” Read more here.

Christian Piatt asks, Can you be both an atheist and a Christian? Before you dismiss his question with a remark about foxholes, consider what he has to say. Then read Danny Bradfield’s post on Field of Dandelions, “Encounter with Jesus.” It contains this imagined exchange:

Jesus: “You could offer me a glass of water … or a beer.”

Danny: “Um, yeah. Okay. I’ll get you some water, we don’t have any beer.”

Jesus: “Look again.”

Katherine Willis Pershey is Blurbing. What’s that, you ask? It’s slurping your blog into a book (and in the process, reflecting on life, as she does in this post.)

Kory Wilcoxson’s Thoughts on God…and other stuff blog (and Kory himself) are beginning a three-month sabbatical, but he posted his pre-sabbatical sermon on Honoring the Sabbath. Kory does a wonderful job of helping his congregation (and anyone reading it) understand the difference between a sabbatical and a vacation, setting it in the context of biblical Sabbath-keeping as renewal and worship.

Speaking of taking time off, the NewsMuse blog will not be updated next week, with the exception of our guest blog on Social Monday. This week’s guest blogger is Bob Cornwall, who writes Ponderings on a Faith Journey. Check out his post today on Remembering D-Day, then come back here on Monday for his thoughts on how to maintain a great blog (hint: Bob blogs every day.)

Have a great week!

By Lois Ann Lorentzen

In the days just before Easter, the Mexican government bulldozed nearly forty shrines to La Santisima Muerte (Holy Death) along the US/Mexico border.  The shrines, according to the military, formed an integral part of the “narco-culture” that the government is determined to wipe out.  Does devotion to Santa Muerte reflect the “death cult of the drug lords,” as a US military intelligence website suggests?

A candle lit for Saint Death. Photo: Patrick_coe (Creative Commons license)

A candle lit for Saint Death. Photo: Patrick_coe (Creative Commons license)

The chosen saint of the marginalized,Santa Muerte holds a globe in one hand and a pendulum in the other.  She wears a robe covering her arms down to her wrists; there her fingers are exposed as bone.  Over her skeletal head rests a halo.  Santisima Muerte, a symbolic representation of death blended with Catholic characteristics, surfaced in Mexico’s religious landscape to much popular acclaim.  Very little is known about the Holy Death’s origins; her followers and scholars promote divergent theories.  Some claim that she first appeared to a healer in Veracruz in the 19th century, and ordered him to create a cult.  Others claim that the strong cult of death practiced among the ancient Mexicas merged with Catholicism in the form of Santa Muerte.  Other devotees claim that Holy Death came from Yoruba traditions brought by African slaves to the Caribbean and passed to Mexico through Cuban Santería, Haitian Voodou, or Brazilian Palo Mayombe; these religions merged with Christian practices to create Santa Muerte.  Other Mexican scholars insist that Holy Death’s origins can be traced back to medieval Europe; she is an archetype of death commonly seen in religious art.  Most scholars do agree however, that Santa Muerte should not be confused with the more well known Day of the Dead.  Although Holy Death may be venerated on that day, as Kevin Freese points out, she “appears to be a distinct phenomenon emerging from a separate tradition.”

Devotion has grown dramatically since 1965; Santa Muerte boasts nearly five million followers in Mexico.  Santa Muerte is particularly popular among drug traffickers, police officers, gang members, prison inmates, and sex workers; in short, those who live close to death.  She also has a following among some artists, intellectuals, politicians, and actors.  Her largest social base, however, is among the most marginalized sectors.  Her principal sanctuary is found in the barrio, Tepito, among the poorest and most dangerous sectors of Mexico City.  Her popularity among migrants has also skyrocketed.  In markets in Tijuana and other border towns, artifacts related to Santa Muerte outnumber those for the Virgin of Guadalupe.  Thousands of shrines to Santa Muerte are found throughout Mexico, but they are especially concentrated along the northern border.

The rapid growth of the movement over the last decades has led to conflict between devotees of Holy Death, the official Roman Catholic Church, and the Mexican government.  Archbishop David Romo Guillen, founder of the Mexico-US Apostolic Traditional Catholic Church, created the Sanctuary of Holy Death in Mexico City in 2002, and registered the church as a religious organization in 2003.  The archbishop promotes condom use for men and women and the doors of the church are open to gays, lesbians, transvestites, and transgendered.  Priests are allowed to marry, women can become ordained, and divorce is not censured.

These practices, in addition to the worship of Holy Death herself, place the church in opposition to the Roman Catholic Church – and, increasingly, to the government.  In April 2005, the government revoked the church’s status as a religious organization.  Now the government is making the claim that worship of Santa Muerte is a threat to national security.  The government is partially right, although not because of alleged links to drug traffickers.  The author of a military intelligence website devoted to Santa Muerte concluded that as long as exclusion, isolation, and political despair characterize life for the marginalized in Mexico, we can expect that the cult of Santa Muerte will prosper.  Most devotees feel that both the government and the church have failed them.  Thus, they turn to folk saints such as Santa Muerte, who does not judge but reflects the excluded – in other words, much of Mexico.  The political despair characteristic of much of Mexico’s population poses more of a threat to national security than a small border shrine visited by poor and working class people and migrants.  Some of La Santa Muerte’s devotees do indeed happen to be drug lords, but she is also the patron saint of the dispossessed, acquainted with death as they are.

References

http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSN10330660>http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSN10330660

Kevin Freese. “The Death Cult of the Drug Lords: Mexico’s patron of crime, criminals and the dispossessed.” fmso.leavenworth.army.mil/documents/Santa-Muerte/santa-muerte.htm –

Cymene Howe, Susanna Zayarsky, and Lois Lorentzen. “Devotional Crossings: Transgender Sex Workers, Santisima Muerte and Spiritual Solidarity in Guadalajara and San Francisco” in Lois Ann Lorentzen, Joaquin Gonzalez, Kevin Chun, Hien Duc Do, Eds. Religion at the Corner of Bliss and Nirvana; the intersection of faith, politics and identity in new migrant communities. Duke University Press, forthcoming.

Lois Ann Lorentzen is Chair of the Theology and Religious Studies Department and Director of the Center for Latino Studies in the Americas at the University of San Francisco.

Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

I’ve been tossing out obscure phrases like “starfish church” and “church 2.0,” more or less to keep people curious, but these actually are legitimate concepts when considering future models for organized religion.

After World War II, churches were booming, and we could hardly build or expand the worship halls fast enough to keep up. Married couples generally stayed together for a lifetime, people stayed in the same job and the same home for decades, and there was an inherent trust in institutions to care for of us.

Then things changed.

Since the sixties, our relationship with institutional structures has changed, and in many ways, has become more suspicious. From government and religion to corporate America and even the institution of marriage, we approach such systems with an increasingly critical eye.

Along with this skepticism has come a new sense of resourcefulness too. The post-boomer generations have begun to learn to create a sense of community, belonging and “place” where and when they can, unable to consistently depend on institutions, or even their families of origin, to provide the stable foundation they seek.

Enter the Digital Age, which has expanded time, space, communication and community in ways most could not have even imagined before. Though some are suspicious, or even critical, of phenomena such as Social Networking (Facebook, MySpace, etc) tools, they are unquestionably filling a need. With more than 250 million subscribers, MySpace is one of the largest networks in the world.

The curious thing about Social Networking tools – also considered to be a part of Web 2.0 – is that they technically offer very little, if anything. Although Facebook offers users some memory space on a giant computer somewhere, and a few handy applications, the content primarily comes from the users. In the end, Facebook creates nothing except for the opportunity for community to happen.

Amazon, which is one of the biggest Web 1.0 companies, actually has an inventory of products they sell to consumers. Craigslist, on the other hand, which is a Web 2.0 system, helps to connect people who have things others want, like a giant international classified ad site. They own nothing and sell nothing to consumers, but they create a forum within which billions of dollars worth of goods and services are exchanged every year.

Historically, churches have been possessors and purveyors of information, organizing and managing the systems in a top-down structure within which the faithful can acquire what they seek. However, this “Church 1.0” model assumes a general trust in the systems in power, which continues to erode. Our instinct as church is to ratchet down, to tighten the reins as we sense the threat of our own irrelevance.

But perhaps it’s not the message we bear that’s no longer relevant, but the way we impart it. Perhaps the institutions that once represented security and authority to the culture now actually hinder our mission more than they help.

Perhaps there’s something to this whole Web 2.0 thing that we could learn from.

Such systems are not novel. From Apache tribal systems to Facebook and arguably the first-century church, so-called 2.0 systems operate with little or no budget, with little or no paid leadership, and like the early church, cannot be stopped once they catch fire.

Before Church was an institution, it was a movement. Its only purpose for existence was to spread the gospel – the good news – with a sense of urgency more powerful than fear of the risks. And like a starfish, the forces bent on dispelling them only caused them to scatter and multiply.

That is, and was, the essence of Church 2.0 – the Starfish Church. The model is right there in scripture. The children of the digital age get it, but do we?

Last week, I threw a bit of a teaser out there, with this whole “Spider vs. Starfish” concept. As I’m sure many of you have lost hours of sleep, and perhaps have had a hard time forcing down a decent meal in eager anticipation of the follow-up, I figured it wasn’t fair to keep you waiting any longer.

The whole concept came from a book on business management practices, called The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom. The model presented here resonates with the idea I’ve had for a while now that church could learn a whole lot from the structure and governance of organizations like twelve-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. After all, they have reached millions with virtually no budget, and they seem immune to economic conditions, flourishing while we institutional churches struggle to keep the doors open.

So what’s the difference?

I might help answer that question with another question; if you cut the head off a spider, what happens? We all know it dies, right? But what if you cut off the arm of a starfish? It just grows another starfish. Where you once had one, there are now two. In trying to stop it, you actually only made it stronger.

So, how many of our churches are more like spiders instead of starfish? I thought so.

Here’s where the advent of recent technology might teach us an awful lot. If Rebecca Woods will indulge me in the future, I’d gladly post some other blogs about using applications like facebook, podcasting and blogging to further our ministries, but for now, let’s consider them a little more systematically.

In particular, consider a phenomenon known as “Web 2.0.” This is much like the so-called “leaderless organizations” that Brafman and Beckstrom are referring to. They are viral in nature, highly adaptable and scalable, and relatively easy to manage because the users generate the content.

I’ll offer a few examples to clarify the differences between a 1.0 – or spider – model and a 2.0 – or starfish – system. Amazon, which has become a behemoth presence for online commerce, would be considered a 1.0 model. They have a product that they sell to customers, pretty much in the traditional model, despite their lack of storefronts. Though they’ve been successful up until now, they are depending on some basic truths about the market. If, for example, the cost of paper or transport fuel went through the roof, it would affect their business model significantly, or if a supplier shut down, they might be stuck.

eBay, on the other hand, is a 2.0, or starfish, model. eBay, as you probably know, doesn’t actually sell anything. All they do is create the framework within which people can conduct business. This means they can be a conduit for everything from sweat socks to automobiles and homes. If the price of gold plummeted and jewelry markets crumbled, people could just sell more baseball cards or used books on eBay.

Another comparison might be looking at the difference between the traditional military structure versus a network like Al Qaida. Though you can throw an entire military into chaos by attacking its senior leadership or supply lines, Al Qaida is hard to stop in one sense because it is a headless beast. You kill or capture current leaders, and a dozen more pop up in their place. The system is so adaptable, it’s hard to stop.

Our churches have been based upon a 1.0 “spider” model for centuries, and so far, it’s worked pretty well. But now, we’re surrounded by starfish like facebook, Craigslist, BitTorrent, MySpace, eBay and the like, and we wonder why it is that we, the institutional church, don’t seem relevant to younger people.

For starters, we not only don’t look familiar: we don’t even look relevant.

People may not be able to put their finger on it, but they know 1.0 versus 2.0 when they see it, especially younger people. There are consequences to being a starfish organization instead of a spider, such as letting go some control over the content exchanged within the system, but there’s great opportunity as well.

In future installments, I’ll discuss a few more ways in which we can employ Church 2.0 methods in our existing congregations, both with technology, and even on our boards and in our Sunday School rooms. But for now, look around you and see if you can start spotting the differences between the spiders and starfish, all around you.

Until next time!

Christian Piatt is the author of MySpace to Sacred Space: God for a New Generation, and Lost: A Search for Meaning, and he is a columnist for various newspapers, magazines and websites on the topics of theology and popular culture. He is the co-founder of Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Amy. For more information about Christian, visit www.christianpiatt.com.

I’ve been asked a number of times to speak to various churches and other leadership groups about young adults, their relationship to organized religion, and their take on – and use of – technology. Unfortunately, church and technology tend to generally mix about as well as the football team and chess club. Neither the two shall meet, right? Who needs technology to find God, after all?

Sure, a few of us may have put up a screen to show words to our praise songs, and we may have even had a kid from the youth group throw together a website for us…which hasn’t been updated in about forty-seven years or so. As they say in the twelve-step tradition: how’s that working out for you? Folks generally fall into one of two categories. Either they are terrified by technology and want to have nothing to do with it in church at all, or they see it as some sort of silver bullet that, if aimed properly, will magically fill the now-empty pews with young families.

In truth, neither perspective is particularly realistic. For one, technology isn’t going anywhere, so by ignoring it, we risk making our churches even more irrelevant. On the other hand, if we hope that technology – or emergent worship, whatever that is, or a groovy website, or even a podcast – will save us from a fate we’re hoping to avoid, we may be putting way more trust into a handful of tools than they deserve.

Rebecca has invited me to contribute a few pieces to the NewsMuse blog, for which I’m honored and grateful. In future installments, I hope to share some ideas about how technology can be used to complement a vibrant ministry, as well as dispelling some misconceptions about technology, digital media, social networking, emergent worship and so many of these postmodern-emergo-hip buzz phrases we hear so often, yet about which we understand very little. So stay tuned to explore questions with me such as:

What exactly is “Church 2.0?”

Are you a Spider Church or a Starfish Church?

What do young adults really want from organized religion?

What the heck does it mean to be postmodern, and what is emergent worship?

Until next time!

Christian Piatt is the author of MySpace to Sacred Space: God for a New Generation, and Lost: A Search for Meaning, and he is a columnist for various newspapers, magazines and websites on the topics of theology and popular culture. He is the co-founder of Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Amy. For more information about Christian, visit www.christianpiatt.com.

yolb_paperback

Noticed Kory Wilcoxson posted a review of the book “The Year of Living Biblically” on his Thoughts on God and Other Stuff blog. Kory’s description: The author, A.J. Jacobs, tried to follow the Bible literally for one year. No haircuts, a full, bushy beard, dietary restrictions, observance of all the religious holidays. He even followed the command to “be fruitful and multiply.”

Here’s more from Kory, about Jacobs’ book:

His initial approach to this endeavor was a bit tongue-in-cheek. Jacobs, a self-proclaimed agnostic, is never disrespectful or mocking, but he starts out with a healthy skepticism about this revered and authoritative book.

But over the course of the year, as he spends more time studying and following the scriptures, Jacobs gradually begins to see the benefit of living a religious existence. At one point Jacobs found himself saying little prayers of “thank you” throughout the course of the day. He admits he’s not sure to whom he was praying, but he remarked this shift in his outlook changed him as a person.

Dan Mayes blogs about bats in his belfry…well actually, his next door neighbor’s.

And over at the Rethinking Youth Ministry blog, the guys share their thoughts (and others’) about Jesus at Wendy’s, Jesus Pizza, and the bait-and-switch approach to youth ministry.

Will visit more Disciples blogs tomorrow to see what you all are up to. Now, it’s off to Applebee’s. Wonder if I’ll see Jesus there?

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