Meditations (Web)Church

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

Archive for December 2008

What do new believers really need?

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Have you ever thought about how messy the process of discipleship was for you?

I bet you can think of one person from your formative Christian life — for me that would be NewSpring Worship Leader Lee McDerment — without whom your spiritual growth would look drastically different.

I just spent the last week thinking through my assumption that the NewSpring web campus should offer new believers some clear, “next steps”  — written guideposts about Jesus, the Bible, and healthy spiritual practices to get them started.

I know, from personal experience, that new believers feel overwhelmed about where to begin. But I wonder whether it’s relationships — not study courses — that truly drive discipleship.

Currently, NewSpring officially recommends to new believers that they read the Bible, starting with the Gospel of John, pray daily, attend church every week and get involved in the life of the church, such as by volunteering for one of our ministries and taking part in small groups.

That approach reflects NewSpring Senior Pastor Perry Noble‘s idea that he’s responsible for feeding you spiritual milk and maybe setting the table for solid food, but it’s a mature Christian’s responsibility to feed himself.

In the era of “40 days” for this and “12 steps” for that — when the idol of  our age is control, ease and convenience — it’s seems so tempting to think that we have to have a plan for discipleship, a method, a process, a formula.

But the picture of discipleship we get in the Bible is primarily social: hanging out with/modeling ourselves on Christ, listening to sound teaching and living out the “one-anothers.” Spiritual formation is so much more about heart work than mind work.

Knowledge is not the point is it? In Perry’s gorgeous phrase, “we’re all educated way beyond our level of obedience.”

Maybe the church’s true challenge for aiding personal and social transformation isn’t more “teaching,” but helping believers encounter others who they’d like to meet with and spur on one another? (Hebrews 10:24,25)

Isn’t that what social media tools are supposed to be for?

What say you?


Written by NickCharalambous

December 31, 2008 at 7:13 pm

Meet Blaine: The true miracle of tech is unlocking the power of God in people

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I haven’t been a pastor very long (and I don’t yet have a real flock, so to speak) but God has been gracious enough to give me a chance already to taste one of the greatest and unexpected joys of the job: Seeing how God can use me to help others live in the fullness of who God made them to be.

Today, I added a volunteer to the NewSpring web campus team, Blaine, an Anderson University student, who is simply a walking miracle. A man who is the grace of God.

In the carefree prime of his teenage life, on short-term leave from the U.S. Army Reserve, Blaine took his muscle car for a joyride on S.C. 81 in Anderson County, near Easley. The single-vehicle wreck, which occurred at speeds estimated at more than 90 mph, should have been fatal.  Blaine spent time in a coma. The doctors said that if he did survive, it would be in a permanent vegetative state.

But by the mercies and the power of God, that’s not how the story turned out.

Instead, he recovered his motor skills to the point where he can walk unhindered. He maintained all his brain function, right down to his fluency with French and his conversational Spanish. His only “disability” is that he is mute and has one withered hand.

That’s OK. When he’s out and about he can still hold his Jornada computer in his good hand and type out his conversations with the one protruding finger from his other hand.

And when he’s at home and hooked up to the Internet, that’s all he needs to handle live prayer on the NewSpring web campus. There he’ll be able to actively encourage potentially thousands of other believers in their time of confusion or need to trust and believe in the power of God to make things new.

Many of us evangelize the power of technology for the gospel. But for me, it’s just not how far we can carry the message of Christ that is so God-inspiring about our future. It’s all the people who will get to carry that message who would have been unable to a generation or two ago, whether through their “disabilities” or their social circumstances.

The body of Christ has many stories like this. Share them here, share them there, share them everywhere. Just share them.

Written by NickCharalambous

December 27, 2008 at 4:04 pm

What I got for Christmas was a technology reality check … (and cool stuff)

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Happy Christmas from the Charalambous family.

We spent Christmas in Anderson, SC this year.

We got to have a 60-something degree day. Yay!

But we didn’t get to be with our families, far, far, away.

Mine is in London. Hers is in Houma, La. (Yes, that Houma, the one that got a direct hit from Hurricane Gustav.)

What a great opportunity to try out videoconferencing, i thought.

It turned out to be an even better opportunity to get a reality check.

Our easy-to-use web social tools really aren’t that easy or intuitive.

My wife’s family couldn’t get a web cam working. It kept insisting on downloading MSN-something or other. And then Tokbox wouldn’t recognize it. FAIL.

And my family? Well, my sister gets it, but she still doesn’t have a web cam. And everyone else? They still think email is cool.

So we speaker-phoned. 🙂

Methinks it’s a good idea to dial back the techno-euphoria. We’ve still got a whole generation to go of software and hardware development and social media penetration before we can really claim the convergence of online and offline is reality for everyone.

When it comes to church web strategies, it’s worth bearing in mind that a good chunk of our audiences probably consist not of technophiles of choice, but of necessity.

Note to self: Keep. Things. Simple. Stupid.

Written by NickCharalambous

December 25, 2008 at 12:58 pm

Posted in community, ruminations

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Does God value physical presence like we do?

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Church planter Paul D. Watson has a must-read blog about the theology and methods of online evangelism. And as sometimes happens when you’re commenting on something thought-provoking, such as this post contending the priority of face-to-face communication, my thoughts ran away with themselves…

I’d love to get your feedback on what I had to say in agreement and response to his:

I think one of the more frustrating aspects to the critiques of online church is that it pretends a true and complete experience of God and one another is possible in the real world without technological facilitators … so where does that leave our Bibles? Or our church buildings?

First, God obviously thought that human speech and writing (symbolic meaning) were good technologies to transfer His meaning and action to us. And whether that symbolic communication is carried by a machine (a scroll, a book) a person (spoken word, deeds), or a visual sign (a burning bush, resurrection of the dead), it’s still symbolic action. And its value comes only from whether we perceive how it corresponds with God’s ultimate Truth and God’s ultimate spiritual reality. (Let’s remember that Satan can deceive even believers with signs and wonders.)

So online expressions of worship, faith and community are simply ways to communicate an ultimate spiritual reality and to receive an experience of an ultimate spiritual reality. And I happen to think that the more powerful our tools for communicating, the more potential there is to for that technology to help us grow in greater faith, live more obediently in Truth and serve more fully in the body of Christ.

Philosophically and theologically, there is no black-white separation of the physical and the virtual. In the Bible, words shape hearts that shape deeds. And deeds shape hearts that shape words. Physical people, bodily and symbolically, are signifiers … and the only signified (or authentic reality, Truth) is the spiritual one — life in and through and for our triune God.

When rightly evaluating how God-honoring our online or offline culture is, physical reality alone counts for nothing (”God can raise up sons of Abraham from these stones”.) The question is whether you are present and alive! in the spirit of God in all that you do.

Written by NickCharalambous

December 23, 2008 at 5:16 pm

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The spirit of Christmas in the “evangelical” heartland

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In my past life, I used to be a newspaper columnist, among other things.

Once in a while, I’d sneak in some evangelism under the guise of commentary. This column was originally published Dec. 21, 2007, and it still seems to sum up where I’m at with regard to the paradox of Christian grumpiness about Christmas. Enjoy!

Christmas should be a gift for Christian evangelism. Too bad many Christians don’t seem to have realized it.

If the modern Christian church had hired Madison Avenue to do a PR campaign to symbolize God’s lovingkindness and forgiveness, they could have done a lot worse than come up with an annual gift-giving party.

Clearly, Jesus must be pretty amazing if he makes people spontaneously gush with joy and generosity.

Sounds like a winner. Just one problem: Christians, sometimes, just seem too grumpy to do the job.

Every year, it seems, there’s huffing from the Bill O’Reillys and the religious advocacy groups of this world about how Christmas is “under attack” from the heathen hordes who don’t respect the Christian origins of the holiday.

A few years ago, I remember that one northeast Georgia business owner who wanted to “share” his Christmas spirit by blaring Christmas carols in downtown Lavonia, Ga., went as far as to say that if people didn’t like it, “You can go somewhere else.” Sounds like brotherly love to me.

I wish I could believe that all of this was an overflow of passion for defending the faith. But to me, it sounds more like Christians are just mad about having to explain themselves at all. And I thought I lived in the evangelical heartland!

Wanting an unthinking homage to “Christmas tradition” really doesn’t do the Christian faith many favors.

If the holiday has been co-opted by pleasure-seekers and capitalists, I say, “Great!” It’s just another great example of the way human beings simply can’t stop themselves from perverting and polluting what starts out pure and holy.

But look at this way: The more materialistic and self-obsessed the holiday becomes, the more chance there is for the true work of the Christmas spirit to shine. A bit like Ronald Reagan and his pony.

Personally, I like to look at Christmas as the first street-level, viral advertising campaign for God. Given that he’s supposed to have made everyone, it’s reasonable to expect that he might know what works when it comes to getting our attention.

That might explain why God “wrapped up” what it means to be loved by Him by giving everyone a gift. (The kicker, of course, being that a lot of people didn’t want to believe it was really any sort of gift at all. God loves irony, doesn’t he?)

My hunch is that if more Christians were focused on making sure they were giving gifts in the true Jesus spirit — sacrificial, unexpected, undeserved, unbelievable — we might continue to shock the world and get God the attention he’s always wanted.

Christians have it in them. And the good news is, they don’t need to wait until Christmas to prove it.

Written by NickCharalambous

December 22, 2008 at 5:14 pm

Posted in ruminations

The word of God speaks so we don’t have to

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Perry Noble gave me the incredible privilege this month of reading the word of God over @NewSpring’s congregation, first at a prayer service and then for our Christmas services in Anderson.

Everyone should have the chance to do that.

It reminds me that after all the effort we put into production and message preparation, the Holy Spirit moves through the word of God, and the word is sufficient to save sinners all by itself.

As I prepare to debut in my role as NewSpring’s web campus pastor, there are going to be a lot of words exchanged back and forth, whether in social networks, blogs, chat rooms or IM.

We would do well to remember that one well-chosen verse can make up for thousands of words of explanation about why our God is good, why he wants his lost children to return to Him, and how abundant the life is that he has planned for us in Him.

One thing we should all pray: Father, do not make us timid in using your word. Do not allow us to be self-conscious about what others will think when they hear your Truth. Just let me be wise in rightly handling your word, choosing when to speak it and trusting that your spirit will do its mysterious work in their hearts.

Do you think we use scripture enough in our everyday conversations about Jesus? Do you have advice based on your experiences?

Written by NickCharalambous

December 21, 2008 at 12:06 pm

Considering using Tokbox for small groups?

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Tokboxtokbox-live-video-calling1 fever is in the air after this week’s videochat orgy among the church Twitterati.

The platform has sizzle for sure. (It even has an API). But for me the question is:

Can Tokbox be used effectively for online small groups? Will the platform, and its potential for technical issues, distract people, or will it add to group interaction and sense of connectedness?

I started looking at Tokbox in late November based on a recommendation from Dave Adamson of Liquid Church, a member of the Internet campus Pastors Ning group, who was using it for just that purpose.

Toward the end of a five week test, Dave was already calling his TokBox experiment “an outstanding success,” with all seven participants, from four countries, agreeing to continue the group. (I haven’t heard back from Dave about the results of a survey he used to evaluate the experience. I’m hoping he’ll post something soon.)

With all the chatter about Tokbox and our campus launch coming up soon, I decided to take it for an interaction test-drive this morning with the help of some members of NewSpring’s CommTeam and a few invited guests.

We all agreed that hearing a voice and seeing a face helps tremendously with creating a sense of connection in a way that leaves text chat in the dust.

And a one-click-to-join, nothing to download, no-need to register system like Tokbox is going to be about as easy as it’s going to get for a multi-person video and/or audio chat solution aimed at a broad audience. (Tokbox even has a Facebook Firefox extension.)

We felt the video and voice quality was more than adequate for small group  purposes, and the latency did not seem unreasonable, although we did have U.S. only participants. And the platform is easily able to handle between 6 and 12, which is the optimal small group size.

But we also agreed that small group leaders and the participants would probably benefit from an orientation before plunging in.

Here are the top 5 initial suggestions for the “ground rules” we came up with. If you’ve used Tokbox or some other multi-person video chat, please add your thoughts in the comments.

  1. Walk everyone as a group through the mute/unmute, and camera pause/unpause functions in the individual chat window as well as the user’s microphone settings. The ability to amplify the mic, in particular, is very helpful.
  2. Everyone in the group must use headphones. The echo that comes from hearing the conversation through someone’s computer speakers is just annoying.
  3. Everyone must be in a quiet, private location so there’s no ambient sound or the possibility for interruptions. (For instance. If you’re borrowing public WiFi, try sitting in your car, rather than a coffee shop.)
  4. Everyone should agree to use a sign, preferably something that stands out easily amid the faces and lets everyone know someone wants to speak. Simply raising your hand to cover the camera works just fine, or you could use something like a piece of white paper.
  5. Group leaders should be comfortable directing and guiding the conversation, rather than always fishing for responses to questions from the group at large. That will cut down on the awkwardness of the conversational hand-offs.

There’s bound to be interpersonal awkwardness initially, and maybe some clumsiness in keeping the conversation moving. But isn’t that something even face-to-face groups grapple with?

What about you?

(P.S. If you are an Internet Campus pastor and want to be part of the Ning group, drop me a line for an invite.)

Written by NickCharalambous

December 17, 2008 at 3:27 pm