Meditations (Web)Church

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

Archive for July 2009

“The local sermon is crumbling”

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A few months ago, I caused quite a stir with my post “The Rise of Net Campuses: Are Local Churches on the Ropes?” It picked up 903 page views, and dozens of comments, which in my opinion far outclassed the quality of my ideas.

In a post that seems to take up where I left off, Matthew Anderson challenged evangelicals to “properly articulate why the Church gathers and hears the Word of God, and then shapes its churches accordingly, [or] we will continue to be co-opted by technologism.”

I think Anderson is right to suggest that the “local sermon is crumbling” amid the abundance of excellent teaching now available online — in video podcasts, live web services, and even services like VideoTeaching.com. In fact, Kent Shaffer wrote an excellent blog series on why VideoTeaching.com is the next big church model.

NewSpring is a multi-site church, so I obviously believe in the power of video teaching as it is used in the context of a local body of believers overseen by a local pastor.

But where I worry is not that mediocre local teaching will be superseded by excellent remote teaching, but that this trend will be accompanied by an erosion of understanding of the importance of both local gathering and local authority.

Ecclesiology isn’t sexy in church circles. And I don’t think it packs pews or auditoriums. But the stakes are high enough that we need to do better in explaining the importance of being the church in a local context, and why membership of the “universal church” is not sufficient.

Typically, we cast the importance of local church as the ministry of the body. But I wonder whether it has to be more expansive even than that, perhaps along the lines of Frank Viola’s recent musings on Ekklesia and discipleship.

Anderson will be debating Andrew Jones as part of the Christian Web Conference at Biola in September.

I’m going to do my best to be there. It should be fun.

Written by NickCharalambous

July 31, 2009 at 9:40 am

Posted in ruminations

The Big Question

with 3 comments

“Instead of asking, “Is virtual community real community?” Let’s spend more time considering “What is Biblical community?” Which leads us to consider “How can technology assist the life of a Biblical community?” — Drew Goodmanson, Is Online Community Real Community?

Wisdom.

Check out Matthew Lee Anderson’s response.

Does an online community of believers function as the body of Christ is exactly the standard by which we should be testing church online.

That’s why I’m increasingly more comfortable thinking about the web as a ministry tool, not an actualization of the visible church.

Agreed?

Written by NickCharalambous

July 30, 2009 at 2:42 pm

Posted in ruminations

Eavesdropping on the soul in the statussphere can help you fight for joy

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“When the Word of God, tailored to our need, comes to us in a per-
son who gives us his very self, there is a great triumph of love that almost
always leads to joy.” – John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God, p. 132.

A lot is being written about the new social media age, but i think it’s easy to over-complicate the payoff for the church in leveraging web social tools for ministry to the church.

Like never before, services like Twitter and Facebook and blogs give everyone an opportunity to walk alongside other Christians and listen to their hearts as they grapple with what it means to live out faith.

This seam of gold, incarnation and imitation, is of the highest value in the equipping of the saints. Is this not the power of so many of the psalms?

The word of God — its power, its joy, its truth — is meant to be proved all-good and all-sufficient when it is embodied in the lives of faithful, enduring saints.

And from old to young, we are meant to be engaged in the daily habit of “holy emulation” as we seek to embody that word. First we follow Christ, but as the Apostle Paul mercifully advised, “Be imitators of me,” or of elders or of entire churches.

If social media did nothing more than encourage imitation and incarnation it will have made a dramatic contribution to the church and the individuals lives of so many Christians laboring to fight for joy and perseverence where true Christian community is rare, and daily support and encouragement is generally unavailable.

Can social media be a vacuuous, trivial exercise in self-glorification? Of course. But that does not mean it cannot add to our spiritual armor.

Do you have people in your network who are remarkable in this way?

Written by NickCharalambous

July 30, 2009 at 10:15 am

Posted in ruminations

How to be the church on the web

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I’m enjoying the recent spike in Christian blog chatter about the web and the church, which is being touched off by the impending Christian Web Conference, which I am hoping to attend.

I thought Tall Skinny Kiwi Andrew Jones had a really thoughtful piece challenging our biases.

“Why ask if an online community is really a church when we can ask “how can we as the church use the tools of the internet to fulfill the church’s mission”?

Did that global-based web-community experience “real” fellowship or should they all fly to the same city to do it right? Did the pastor’s phone call count as “real” counseling or do we demand a return to the neglected practise of pastoral home visitation? Did those Christian soldiers in WWII experience “real” church as they sat around the radio broadcasts, or just a shadow of the real? Did those paypal money transfers to missionaries constitute “real” giving and therefore “real” worship?

He goes on to wonder whether all church is virtual, since the New Jerusalem has not yet been fully “actualized,” and he connects this thought to the letter to the Hebrews.

When I read through the letter to the Hebrews, I am reminded that we, the church of God, are essentially the invisible, virtual, spiritual, mystical body of Christ operating in the world in ways that are tangible and lasting and transforming, although not always visible. There is no defining boundary that divides the on-line church that meets in cyberspace with the off-line church that meets in buildings. We are a spiritual, invisible, community that represents the firstfruts of an unshakeable Kingdom that will last forever. We are a virtual church that finds tangible ways to live out our calling in the world, whether the forms we chose are touchable or not. Reality is not found in bricks and mortar. Reality is found in the ways in which our worship and service correspond to the God’s invisible Kingdom reality and purposes.

I think his concluding point is where I have landed in this debate until the Lord directs me otherwise:

The virtual online church happens every day as believers in Christ aggregate on the web around missional tasks, fulfil their obligation to each other to share all things and exhort each other daily, as they publish glad tidings daily in electronic forms that will outlast paper books, as they meet globally in ways that could never be achieved in the physical realm.

Go ahead and read the whole thing.

Written by NickCharalambous

July 28, 2009 at 2:22 pm

Posted in ruminations

Is community more broken than we think?

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Eastern Orthodoxy sees the church as “truly the Ark in which mankind may be saved from the flood of corruption and sin.”

It’s more than just a family. It’s literally the “mothership.” It’s actually part of the design and construction of Eastern Orthodox churches to have the long, tall building resemble a ship, “journeying towards the kingdom with Christ at the helm.”

As the “always reforming” New Calvinists like Matt Chandler and Mark Driscoll make bold moves in redefining how we view belonging to a church and being the church, I think even Protestants are moving to a higher view of Christian community.

But it strikes me that the “weak link” is how difficult deep fellowship appears to be, the kind of abounding “love for each other and for all” that Paul describes in 1 Thessalonians as pre-requisite for being “blameless in holiness.”

How do we get along with, live alongside and love our brothers and sisters in Christ? Not very well, if you consider the common complaints in every church.

The response to Perry Noble’s preaching this Sunday on “judging others” touched a lot of raw nerves, for sure. And Ed Stetzer’s Lifeway research found that “not feeling connected to the people in my church,” ranks as one of the Top 10 reasons that 18-22 year olds leave the church.

I’ve spent a lot of time defending the potential for online “community.” But it seems to me that those critiquing the shallowness of the fellowship shouldn’t be throwing stones.

I think a Jewish teacher put it well in drawing analogy about seeing the speck of sawdust in another’s eye and missing the plank in one’s own eye.

The question is not: which methods do we use to fellowship?

The question is: how does the church lead its people in fellowship? The kind of fellowship that is apparently not only a great witness but also fundamental to keeping Christians afloat in the Christian life?

Isn’t it time we moved beyond concerns or fears about holy huddles and koombayas?

What say you?

Written by NickCharalambous

July 14, 2009 at 10:03 am

Posted in evangelism, ruminations

Online church connection not community?

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I’ve been thrilled about the entry of North Point into the online ministry space. With such a world class staff, there’s no question that we’ll learn a ton from their efforts.

I thought its most recent blog introducing its connections strategy was fascinating, revealing a cautious, humble approach to how the new digital space its opening up will help attenders grow in faith.

They see online connection as:

  • An opportunity for enhancing connection, sharing and growing
  • A path away from isolation toward conversation
  • Not a replacement for face-to-face connection
  • Not a full expression of community.

I particularly love pastor Jeff Henderson’s? closing comment:

You may have noticed that we haven’t used the term community or online groups in the talk of our next step connections. This is intentional since we still have questions about the depth to which we can know and grow online. We are not ready yet to say that we can provide a full expression of group life or community online. But, we are ready to connect our viewers into conversations, exploration and relationships that will enhance the North Point Online experience and help lead our guests into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ!

The truth is all of us pastoring online yearn and feel the “birth pangs” even of our physical churches can be fully expressed by supplementing our lived experience in and through digital tools.

I am growing clearer every day of the reality that the Web Church doesn’t have to arrogate to itself the idea that it is a complete or perfect expression of “church” for it to be worthy and redeeming way to advance God’s kingdom that is truly, permanently and dramatically changing lives.

Who’s with me?

Written by NickCharalambous

July 10, 2009 at 10:11 am

Posted in ruminations

How deep is the divide between technology and religion?

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Beth Kantor had an interesting post today at her social media blog, lending her expertise and considerable network of social media professionals to trying to leverage faith using digital tools.

Here’s an excerpt of the post, but you should read the whole thing:

I sense a lot of fear among traditional religious institutions around embracing and leveraging technology change. They seem to fear losing control and having traditional hierarchies challenged in an increasingly open source and bottom up world. Ironically, the best of social media leads to the kind of direct peer to peer communication among people of faith that was the origin of most mainstream religions before formal institutions and hierarchies were established. No doubt the new technologies can be distracting and take away from mindfulness and rich spiritual practice, but they also offer tremendous opportunities for enhancing and supporting religious communities in unprecedented ways. And many folks don’t seem to understand, as the book Groundswell articulates so clearly, at the end of the day it’s really all about relationships and NOT the technology tools.

When you look at the whole scope of faith institutions online, I think she’s right. But I’m also deeply encouraged by the breadth and depth of engagement with digital tools by evangelical churches.

I’ve volunteered to be a part of whatever workshops and initiative Beth gets rolling.

The quicker we get to social media being a standard engagement tool rather than a faddish effort to prove our “relevance” to the culture, the better in my opinion.

Written by NickCharalambous

July 9, 2009 at 11:55 am

Posted in ruminations