Meditations (Web)Church

A year (and a bit) in the life of NewSpring's first Web pastor

Archive for March 2009

The good news in 140 characters?

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It’s amazing what we can pack into 140 characters on Twitter. But is that enough space for the Good News of Jesus?

I thought it might be fun to have some fun on a Tuesday afternoon to see if we could kick off a gospel meme that would fly around the Twitterverse in time for Easter.

Here’s mine:

The world sucks. Pain. Sickness. Death. We know we’re meant for more. Jesus will show you how much. He rescues anyone. Just ask. #goodnews

Be original. Be creative. Use the tag #goodnews. Give it your best.

Imagine the power of folks hearing the truth of Jesus simply by scanning their Twitter or status updates.

Post yours in the comments below.

Written by NickCharalambous

March 31, 2009 at 2:10 pm

Hey Jesus lovers, watch your mouth!

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It might seem simplistic, but it seems to me that our only reason for living as Christians in this world is so we can evangelize our great God.

As someone who came to faith at the age of 30, I had personally experienced the cost of having my cognitive understanding of Christian faith junked up by all sorts of unhelpful rubbish.

That’s why I was always a little nonplussed by criticisms that NewSpring was somehow “dumbing down” or oversimplifying the gospel because it was seeker-sensitive. The Apostle Paul, for one, is amazingly clear about how everything we do in gathered worship should be seeker sensitive.

So I wasn’t expecting the conviction I felt after reading Internet Evangelism Today‘s challenging post on the use of Christian jargon.

On the NewSpring Web Campus, we’re coaching our chat hosts not to use any Christian jargon so that if someone stumbles into the service, they’re not left scratching their heads.

And then in Sunday’s services i caught myself using the word “saved” several times in my segments as I explained that Pastor Perry Noble believed on faith — and was asking NewSpring to pray for — more than 1,000 people to come to know Jesus.

The core point of the article is that we have to assume that our hearers no nothing about Christianity or Jesus. That’s a fair bet in our post-Christian world.

And that seems even more important in the online world of YouTube, Twitter and other mass social media where accidental collisions between believers and unbelievers are an everyday reality.

Here’s a helpful starting list of words to avoid with alternatives. What would you add and why?

Written by NickCharalambous

March 30, 2009 at 10:00 am

Posted in evangelism

Tagged with ,

Is Christian community an end or a means? (Take 2)

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This post was substantively rewritten after first publication.

Sometimes I wonder if Christians are missing the point of the discussion about community.

Some think we don’t need a community to call our own at all and that we can ruggedly-individualistically carry the good news into whatever environment we find ourselves in without much need of a community of faith that challenges us to bring our words and our deeds into alignment.

Some think we need to create a community so real that it “incarnates” our gospel and makes it attractive to people, so we don’t have to worry about messy things, such as preaching the good news in a hostile world full of sin that needs to be called to repentence.

The reality is lot more dynamic.

What’s unique about Christianity to me is not the notion of “community,” physical, virtual or otherwise. Any gathering of people, assembling around any idea, can incarnate any set of values, ideas and social “goods” and be a vibrant, attractive, durable community.

What is unique about Christianity is the church. The church, the body of God, the community of God, gives Christians the power to move beyond mere human “community,” and generally do things that are not in what a typical person would consider their best interests.

You know, giving up families, goods and leaving everything behind to evangelize lost continents without any apparent worldly or material benefit. Embracing sacrifice and risking death. That sort of thing.

That is our distinctive: The gospel, the good news of Christ as risen Savior and Lord, and his body the church, makes something ordinary, human community, turn into something extraordinary, an epic mission for each of us to help as many people as possible take their place in the eternal family of God.

The Acts 2 church — sacrificial, sacramental church — was not an end in itself, but the means whereby a radical, world-changing message could nurture and release radical, surrendered, faithful, contagious Christians.

The goal of the church isn’t a community or a better community. It is being the church: the field hospital, kitchen and armory of always-continuing skirmishes on the battlelines of a war between good and evil.

Our goal is not as a community to claim territory — mass, power, status or influence. Our goal is to claim souls.

Some of those whom the world has bruised or bloodied or estranged might seek out the refuge our “building” or our temporary “community.”

Most of the time, the “church,” the people of Christ, are camped in enemy territory, battling as “freedom-fighters” just long enough to make Christ’s offer of a beautiful alternative –life! — and snatch away the captives to eternal safety.

That’s when the church wraps its arms around the new believers, offers them its comfort, its healing, feeds them and protects them in the shadow of its wings, and then arms them for missions of their own.

Our goal of “community” is really the goal of “church.”

The more we emphasize “community” online, paradoxically, the easier it seems for us to get deceived and caught up in the world’s false math of connectedness+self-interest+self-affirmation=community. It’s the same old idea. It’s spiritual death. And it’s spreading even faster that it ever has.

Community, as with church, is not a destination. It is not an origin. It is a camp. A fort. A refuge.

And if we’re going to defeat the enemy’s strongholds where they are now — in the web, the living network — maybe we need to start building our “shining cities on a hill” there, just as we built our cathedrals in centuries gone by.

Does that make sense?

Written by NickCharalambous

March 26, 2009 at 5:08 pm

Posted in community, ruminations

If journalism about Jesus makes you mad, don’t read this

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I used to be a journalist and an atheist.

One of the things that became very clear once I became a Christ follower was how blatant the anti-Christian bias of most journalism really is. Religious faith drives journalists crazy because taking it at face value involves admitting that smart, rational people are questioning the modern world’s humanistic master narrative.

Man is the measure of all things. Man is innately good. Man can make the world a better place. And given enough “good information,” people will inevitably make “good” decisions, assuming the man isn’t keeping them down.

Christian faith, by contrast, undermines every one of those precepts. It isn’t always rational. Isn’t verifiable, at least materially. Assumes evidence of “things not seen,” and basically is seen by journalists as one giant cover up of a bucket full of other malign motives, such as power, money, sex and all sorts of vices.

I was reminded of all of this when I was reading this month’s issue of The Atlantic, typically one of the better written, more compelling magazines out there. One of the articles was from author Robert Wright, “One World Under God.”

Given the headline, I was pretty excited. What a let down.

To summarize his argument, the Apostle Paul basically was an entrepreneur who designed the Christian message to appeal to the maximum number of people and built the early church so it responded to the felt needs of a global society.

Wright argues Jesus was more or less besides the point, and paints him as a meager figure, not quite so good as we might think, and more of a handy brand or icon.

The Christian mission to love one another because Christ first loved us is reduced to a kind of accidental moral good that grew out of the social conditions of the time.

I guess it never occurs to a journalist that the reason that Christianity grew was because what it offered was true and because the power of the Holy Spirit was at work in the individuals who risked their lives to spread the good news.

I wouldn’t typically recommend that you read an article that literally is laughable simplistic. But i’s like rubber-necking a car wreck of bias and the pseduo-Biblical “scholarship” that journalists are always drawn to.

Here are the “highlights”

  • “Jesus wasn’t really Jesus; he didn’t really preach the deep moral truths that have given weight to the claim that he was the son of an infinitely good God. And, as if to rub salt in the wound: those truths, when they finally did enter the Christian tradition, emerged not so much from philosophical reflection as from pragmatic calculation and other disappointingly mundane forces.
  • The origins of Paul’s doctrine of interethnic love lie not in his own loving-kindness, though for all we know he mustered much of that in the course of his life. The doctrine emerges from the interplay between Paul’s driving ambitions and his social environment.
  • Thus, for the ambitious preacher of early Christianity, the doctrine of brotherly love had at least two virtues. First, fraternal bonding made churches attractive places to be, providing a familial warmth that was otherwise lacking, for many people, in a time of urbanization and flux… Second, the doctrine of brotherly love became a form of remote control, a tool Paul could use at a distance to induce congregational cohesion.
  • To judge by the book of Acts, many of Paul’s early Christian associates were, like him, travelers…. First, in an age when there was no public postal service, they could carry letters to distant churches. Second, they might even be able to found distant congregations. … The Roman Empire had made distant travel easier than at any time in history, and Christianity exploited this fact. The young church was, among other things, the Holiday Inn of its day.
  • History expands the range of non-zero-sum relationships—relationships in which two parties can both win if they collaborate, or lose if they don’t. Technological evolution (wheels, roads, cuneiform, alphabets, trains, microchips) has placed more and more people in non-zero-sum relationship with more and more other people at greater and greater distances—and often across ethnic, national, and religious bounds. … either people of different faiths, ethnicities, and nationalities get better at seeing the perspective of one another, and acknowledging the moral worth of one another, or chaos ensues.

Written by NickCharalambous

March 25, 2009 at 5:11 pm

Posted in ruminations

Will web churches force even the unwilling to join the emerging “conversation?”

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I recently subscribed to a few blogs from folks who are critics of traditional North American evangelicalism, whatever that is, including Kingdom Grace, which believes “missional and emerging are a spirit-led response to the needed reformation of the church.”

My interest in these oppositional voices got piqued after I read the uproar about Perry’s Unleash comments regarding “missional” churches and his follow-up decision to identify NewSpring as part of the “emerging” church movement.

This blog post on The Future of the Church caught my eye because, coming from a non-church and non-ministry background, I don’t think I realized quite how “embryonic” web church ecclesiology currently is, and free of church politics, so far.

I found myself nodding a lot as I was reading. And wondering how the “traditional or “new traditional” church may be forced to join the emerging conversation because of web efforts.

Especially this:

[In the future landscape of the church, those churches that survive will be the ones that reprioritize their existence to the building of the kingdom of God rather than their own kingdoms.. [believers] been released to demonstrate the kingdom … message of redemption and reconciliation out of the church building and into the streets and avenues of the world … Millions of average believers are taking responsibility for their role in ministry

(I also found myself wondering what the implications of some statements really were, especially in talk of a “narrative view” of scripture, end times that are the “fulfillment of life on earth as it is in heaven” and the unity in Jesus to include “the voice of the other.” (To borrow a phrase from scripture, “let the reader understand.”)

Here are some interesting thoughts I’d like to highlight:

  • On redefining the gospel: “We realize that salvation and the gospel of the kingdom is a message of redemption that includes but also surpasses a one-time decision”
  • On redefining the church: “will be expanded to acknowledge and include forms outside of traditional institutions as legitimate and valid expressions of the Body of Christ.
  • On the kingdom of God (via Frank Viola via Hal Miller) Christianity is culturally relevant when it offers a qualitatively different society. Jesus called it “the kingdom of God … Imagine a group of people gathering to help each other in the common task of seeing God’s kingdom incarnated in their work, in their families, in their towns, in their world, in their midst, and (rather than only) in their individual lives.”
  • On redefining structures: (Via Jason Clark) “Will churches be able to restructure in a way that releases rather than collects and consumes resources? In the future church, the net flow of time, money, and other resources will be outward rather than inward. ””

Written by NickCharalambous

March 23, 2009 at 2:11 pm

Posted in ruminations

Tagged with , ,

Dear John: Is the Web church blasphemy?

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It’s almost too fashionable now to say you are a fan of the ministries of John Piper and Mark Driscoll, the twin pillars of so-called and much-debated New Calvinism.

But, aside from my extraordinary (and also theologically sophisticated) pastor, Perry Noble, those pastor-theologians have provided much of the spiritual solid foodsince I came to Christ in 2003.

One of the things I admire about most of them is that they convincingly show theology isn’t just an academic matter but essential to every believer for their joy in Christ. And they shepherd their churches with the “Big C” church at the forefront of everything they do.

(They also have two of the most progressive online, multimedia ministries in the world. The Desiring God web site is practically the gold standard for any ministry wanting to make its teaching accessible to the masses in practically every environment.)

In Vintage Church, Pastor Mark has come out unequivocally against the concept of the Web Church. His argument boiled down to his belief that you can’t have “real community” online and that the sacraments of Communion and Baptism cannot be rightly administered.

I’m hoping Pastor John will weigh in soon in response to my twitter question for his “Ask Pastor John” series:

#apj is there a sound theological basis to believe you can worship and be part of Christ’s body in community through an online church?

What other Web church questions would you ask?

Written by NickCharalambous

March 19, 2009 at 1:06 pm

Posted in web campus

Tagged with , ,

Open source the web church now

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God’s hope for reconciling the whole world to himself was through Jesus and, specifically, the unity of his church.

And the web is the global platform, fast-becoming the world’s great unifier and destined to be everyone’s unified, killer app for life.

So why are we, the techno-evangelical church, lacking a unified purpose in the way we are exploring its use for advancing the kingdom?

I’m betting there are literally thousands of amazing ideas from churches and ministries all across America about how we can leverage the people and the resources of the kingdom of God using the web.

And yet, as far as I know, there’s no open-source, large-scale, collaboration or partnerships going on regarding specific church apps or specific community-building efforts.

In fact, i see a reflexive entrepreunerialism driving our approaches. Everyone’s rushing to do something, and we’re all stretching limited resources, limited time and limited talent to create lots of (potentially) awesome little C church web efforts but very few excellent “Big C” church web efforts.

This must change. Let’s make a few strategic bets on some ideas. Let’s test them out. Let’s fail. And above all let’s succeed.

You see, there is a way for all of us to prove whether we’re smoking what we’re selling regarding the potential of the web church: We can harness the full array of social technologies — crowdsourcing, collaboration and community technologies — for our unified, one-church purpose.

That would make Jesus smile.

I think there are many church web-dev folks like John Saddington and other thought leaders, such as Tony Steward, and countless others, perhaps even myself, who might be in a position to form part of a core team that can organize and lead an open-source church movement.

All we need is some agreement on working out some core ideas. Get some buy in from a sizeable number of influential ministries. And then find and harness the human resources — volunteers, hobbyists, staff — to make some of these ideas happen.

You know that venture capital companies are taking this approach. How do you think those amazing web apps keep coming with such amazing consistency?

We can do this. What’s stopping us?

Written by NickCharalambous

March 18, 2009 at 10:38 am

Posted in ruminations

Video of Unleash soapbox on “How to Build Community.”

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Here’s the video to my community soapbox at Unleash, courtesy of my friend Chris Hill at the soon to be planted Ridge Community Church.

It was a soapbox, but i think I put a little too much energy into the role of an angry street protester. :/ My wife said i should smile more.

You can find my notes here.

Written by NickCharalambous

March 14, 2009 at 1:08 pm

Posted in ruminations

Notes and reflections on my Unleash soapbox

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I’m new to speaking gigs. Kinda funny really, given that I’ve always liked to be outspoken.

It was a huge privilege to have the attention of about 50 to 100 folks for 5 minutes during Unleash, NewSpring’s balling church conference, on the subject of “How to Build Community.”

It was fun to have a box to stand on in the middle of the Anderson Campus courtyard with a bullhorn in my hands. And nerve wracking too.

Here are my notes, with a few more lines of explanation that I never got to give to my live audience. You can compare that with the video of the soapbox and tell me if it translated. (And you can be honest with me. Jesus would want that.)

My Challenge to the church: Build Community!
Everyone else is doing it
Jesus wants it (Matt. 5:14)
People crave it

What is community?
It isn’t affiliation. It is participation (1 Cor. 12) Community as a “goodness engine”

Three things you need for community (and one if you want to call it a success.)
1. Identity/Culture
Tell stories, encourage conversations; establish membership value to self, others
2. Interdependency
Create transparency about member resources; offer mechanism to exchange social value (Acts. 2/4)
3. Purposefulness
Leverage resources through collaboration, crowdsourcing (Ex. 25); embrace innovation
4. Legacy
Transfer value to succeeding generations; across different social spheres. (Matt 28)

For Church to be the hope of the world:
Message and people=open, attractive
Praxis=dynamic, integrative
Results=duplicatable

My take-away message in three paragraphs:

1. We have the will of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, the best news anyone could ever receive and all the social technology imaginable to build powerful community everywhere that creates disciples of Jesus. So let’s do it!

2. It happens by the massive, web-enabled network effects of gathering the people of God and sharing their knowledge, resources and time with the world to create attractive, unimaginable, unbelievable social value. We can’t let the church sit on the sidelines while the world manufactures fake community for distraction, entertainment or financial gain.

3. The church cannot be afraid to harness the tools in its own way for its own people and its own purpose because it worries that we will create a subculture. Christians have always been a subculture. The difference is whether that subculture hides from the world or aggressively pursues the transformation of the culture. Doing community well will always add to our number daily from the lost, the oppressed and the dispossessed in our culture.

Do I hear an amen?

Written by NickCharalambous

March 12, 2009 at 6:19 pm

Posted in ruminations

Tagged with , ,

How does your church plan to alter its Facebook strategy?

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I’m wondering what other churches think about Facebook’s decision to fundamentally alter the way Facebook pages work.

The change puts organizations on a par with typical Facebook users. Not everyone thinks that’s great for organizations. But it seems sensible given Facebook’s overall strategy to stay competitive with Twitter, fend off FriendFeed, and steal ground from Digg. In fact, Facebook is positioning itself well to become the uber social media app.

You should take a look at this Mashable Guide to start thinking through how you’ll need to strategically reevaluate your presence on the world’s largest social network.

What the new set up requires is looking at the Facebook page not as an alternative brand platform but as a total engagement channel. That creates all sorts of questions about how to staff and coordinate the messaging that goes on there.

The upside is that, potentially, dozens of comments, media and other interactions could now be showing up in fans’ news feeds, giving people limitless opportunities to encounter our churches and ministries, especially among those who would never dream of visiting a church web site.

However, here are some issues i see:

    Facebook can’t be a strategy on autopilot, as it largely is now. Just hooking up your pastor’s Twitter feed could create a lot of noise that will potentially “crowd out” other more important messages your ministry will want to send. If you have an uncluttered Twitter ministry feed that might be easier, but it’s not a complete answer. (See point No. 2.)

    Someone or a group of someones will have to come up with a more or less daily process of choosing messages, the right form for them (photos, links, video, notes, discussions) and gleaning the appropriate media. As with a lot of social media questions, is it a media, communications, marketing or public relations role? And how does it rank in the everyday game of priority skittles?

    Someone or a group of someones will have to actively monitor the Public Profile and engage with fans who are responding to the media you put out there.
    These people will have to have a pretty solid grasp of the church and ministry’s DNA and high capacity social media skills if they are going to represent the brand well. Again, it’s an effort that takes consistent commitment and approach to get real results.

We’ve had our Facebook page up for just a couple of months as a “side door” for people to find media and information about our church.

It was still in the experimental, evaluation phase as a ministry tool. Facebook’s decision suddenly complicates matters for me when it comes to resource allocation.

Those are my initial thoughts. What about yours?

Written by NickCharalambous

March 5, 2009 at 2:11 pm

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