What Would Jesus Tweet?
Image found on HuffPost

I’m going to steal some words from Leonard Sweet today:  It’s not a question of whether Jesus would have tweeted or not.  It’s a question of what Jesus would tweet.

You see, Jesus engaged in the community of the day and, I believe, continues to engage.  It’s not a question of whether God would use twitter.  God is using Twitter and Facebook and Google…the church may not be, but God is present and active in community and our community is ever-shifting to the internet.

Today we have to ask ourselves a lot of questions about how we are going to communicate as a church.  We seem to think, these days, that the goal is to get our church on the internet and that will be ‘good enough.’ Maybe a website or a facebook page will get more people to come to us…where the real church is (behind a big stone wall).  No.  Not good enough.  We have to take our experiences of Christ into our online communities if we are to live out our faith authentically.

Do we remind people not just to “like” the church (which, btw, is waaayyy luke-warm) with our bulletin or do we ask people to check-in to show their friends they were at church.  Do we put an informational announcement out on our facebook page or do we RT (re-tweet) the pastor or church friend so that our followers become her or his followers?

What the “Googler” generation has grown up in (and what us older people may never catch onto) is a culture about relationships.  It is not just about what we say, but, just as importantly, how  we say it.  The church needs to delve into the relationship-building connections of the web.  We need to become more social and less institutional…and we need to find authentic ways to share God’s love with the people of this world.

A New Church Audience:  Online?
Image from flicker:  H Sundholm:  “This door belongs to Torshälla kyrka, i.e. the church in Torshälla, outside of Eskilstuna in Sweden.”

The days of “going to” church are nearly over.  No, those days have been over for some time, now.  The days when people looked for their own denomination when they moved into town and came knocking at the doors to get in were lost in the 1960’s.  There is a remnant, but the church has failed to respond to everyone else…

Today we have an opportunity to share the experience of faith with remarkable crowds.  Don’t believe me?  While I was preparing for and recovering from surgery I blogged.  Over the past 6 weeks my wife and I have averaged 1000 hits per week on that blog.  One of the posts, alone, boasts over 400 hits.  On a Sunday morning I don’t preach to crowds that large, sadly.  That means that if we take our faith to the web in dynamic, interactive ways there are untapped ways to share the Gospel.

We don’t need to advertise the upcoming rummage sale or fundraiser, we need to authentically share our experience of life and faith.  That is what changes lives.

Facing the Reality of the Facebook.
I’ve talked to a number of pastors and other Christians who have taken a stand.  They say, “that’s why I don’t facebook.”  And those who do facebook, seem to struggle with just what it should be.  They find themselves frustrated by a social media that is so popular (and even essential) yet doesn’t work for them or their church in terms of evangelism.  What a shame that our church is unable to share such an important story as Christ when companies are able to use facebook and twitter to so effectively to market cheetos and radio talk shows.
What is wrong with us?  Well the problem is not in the social media.  I mean, social media has its problems, but it has the potential to be a highly effective tool and it has the potential to be used for the greater good of growing people in faith.  So it seems that ignoring it is to turn our backs on a new frontier of evangelism.  Now, having said that, I don’t blame any pastor for turning their back…up until now.  This new frontier is scary and confusing.
The problem is that as churches we have become confused over which story it is we are sharing.  Too often we use social media to share the story of the institution.  Worse yet, it isn’t even really the “story” we share but information (and begging).  The primary story that we are to share is a story of faith, that is, the story of Christ told through our: lives, faith, circumstances and our reactions to those circumstances.

My suggestion to Christians, and especially pastors, is to share your life authentically using Facebook as a spiritual practice.  It isn’t until you have built relationships with your facebook friends that you should ever consider announcing an event or making invitations, because that story is secondary to the story of Christ as told through your life!

Good Theology?

   There is a war raging in the church right now between so-called “liberals” and so-called “conservatives.”  I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately and I have come to a conclusion…  We are not asking the right questions.  Before we even get-to-know a person we want to give them a litmus test to find out their short-answers on faith and theology.  We ask bad questions.  We make terrible assumptions.  We want to know “Are you a conservative,” “Do you believe homosexuals get into heaven,” “Do you believe in a literal heaven,” “Do you believe that Noah built an ark or that Adam and Eve ate the apple as a historical act?”
    In the war between liberal and conservative we have people on both sides with “bad theology.”  Bad theology is not about which theological position you take, but how you struggle with it.  The right question we should be asking is whether Christians are being faithful by growing in faith and we grow in faith by struggling in our faith.  That is good theology.  Good theology is about questioning our own faith, reading scripture and trying to look for God in places we never have before.
   Bad theology is taking a hard-and-fast ideological position and then sitting in our corner never allowing our faith to be challenged and never inspecting our faith from new angles.  When we have a bad theology -an unquestioning theology, such inspection of faith can seem like an attack because we don’t have the language or the practice of struggling in our faith.  But such an inspection of faith will actually help us grow in our faith, help us better understand other people’s faith, and give us the practice and language to go even deeper in our faith.

That practice will help us get to the right questions and that is Good Theology!

Title Photo:  Worship while on mission in Montana.  Photo by Scott Carnes, 2008

My wife, Carrie Carnes, left the following comment on this post on April 13, 2011 (before I moved the blog to blogger.com to be archived):

I believe that theological struggles and studies are a means of grace and therefore ought to reflect the life-giving, invitational and creative traits of God. Certainly, theological positions which are damaging to people’s lives need to be challenged and rejected; but perhaps, its not so much that we need to re-define “good and bad theology” and more that we need to reject these labels entirely. I have never experienced a situation in which telling someone one that they had “bad theology” was helpful. Certainly, there are theological positions which are damaging, outside of orthodox tradition(s) or illogical. Certainly, I value the sort theology that leads to deeper questions rather than quick answers as I believe that that struggle is a sign of faithfulness. 

Having said all of that however; I think that it is only fair to acknowledge that we all or at least most of us (including you) hold specific positions which are so core to our understandings of God that we won’t really question or re-think them. For me, God’s identity as rooted in love: invitational, creative and relational love, would be be one such position. I suspect the same it true for you…that if a belief or position is not consistent with a loving God you most likely will reject it. For others that core concept might be the infinite power of God, or the infallibility of scripture. I think these are the discussions we need to have and never do because of the labels of “Good” and “Bad”, I think that it is only fair that we begin not by being open to just anything but by acknowledging which positions we will not compromise so that we can then have an authentic discussion.

Just What Is Needed

   Like I’ve already written, people, today, don’t need to sift through large amounts of information.  If I want to find out the top news stories of the day I can just bring up my personalized igoogle page and I can see the top viewed news stories according to the search engine, I also have a module that shows me the featured CNN stories and Al Jezeera.  I no longer have to go to multiple websites, not to mention a newsstand.  I also no longer need to leaf through all the pages of a newspaper or watch an entire news program at 6 or 10.  This may make me lazy, but it also makes me a twenty-first century young man.

    Hulu has further developed this trend with entertainment programming.  I no longer need to be at home at a particular time during the week to see my favorite show, nor do I need to worry about missing an episode.  I simply login to Hulu and all of my favorite shows are queued up and ready to go.  It doesn’t matter if it is CBS, ABC, NBC, FOX, Comedy Central, etc.  It also doesn’t matter if it is a Monday night or Thursday night show.  I get what I want, when I want it.
    The newspaper industry is floundering because they are still operating on the old paradigm that people will pay 75 cents to get the news from their paper.  Many people, of course, have subscriptions that the paper would come directly to them, but in our information age news the next morning it is already old.  More importantly, people have to seek that information through a subscription or going to a newsstand.  And it is only from one source for each purchase or subscription.
    As a church we still see the world through this old paradigm.  We think people will seek out a particular church and only be concerned for what that church’s materials and perspectives.  Even more peculiarly we, as churches, still seem to think that people will tack up the calendar from the bulletin or newsletter on their fridge; will surf to the web calendar several clicks into the church site; or, more surprisingly, think that people have a paper calendar they are writing everything on.  What people really have in their pockets -many at least- are PDA’s, or more likely internet connected cell phones.  What people are beginning to really value is calendars that are delivered directly to them.  Our church offices should be using calendars that can be subscribed to directly by our congregants so that our calendars are sitting side-by-side with theirs (such as google calendar)….but I’ve partly digressed from my point.  And the whole staff and leadership, more importantly, has to buy into this system.
    The church needs to stop using proprietary website stuff.  No more calendars that can only be viewed online or need to be updated by one particular person with web design expertise.  Videos should not be put on the site in such a way that people must go to the website to see it.  Youtube (or vimeo), google calendar and other avenues of communication that people are already using should be implemented, instead.  If we do this then, yes, the website can be more dynamic and more up-to-date for people who go there, but more importantly the stories and content are out on the web for people to stumble across, to subscribe to, and to share on social media with friends.  Why not setup the church website with “share” buttons so that stories, photos and videos can easily be shared to their facebook, youtube, twitter and email friends?

    The church has to get outside of the old paradigm.  We have to take our story outside of the new boundaries of church:  the church website.  …and don’t forget we’re taking stories and faith, not information!

Blogging As Spiritual Discipline
    As I’ve begun to consider how the church (the people of Christ) must re-imagine how it shares its story with the world and one another, I keep coming back to blogging.  Blogging has been around for quite some time now, but it is not going anywhere.  If anything, it is gaining in popularity.  I think we have underestimated this form of communication.  Let me share a non-church example:
    One of my professors, Dr. Brook Lester, integrated blogging into his Introductory class on the Hebrew Scriptures.  He is convinced that the blog is going to become mainstream for communication in education. You see, so far there has been a sense that PhD’s are not taken seriously if they blog, yet serious -even ground breaking- work is being shared through blogs.  There are several reasons that blogging could be a powerful tool to education:
  1. First-of-all professors have access to new and exciting projects and work instantly, there is no waiting for publishers.
  2. Because the work of these academics can be tagged and searched, “pipes” of information can be setup so that all of the most cutting edge research (down to the moment) can be seen side-by-side in, nearly, real-time.
  3. The communication is raw and narrative in style…but more importantly it is two-way. Comments and photos can be quickly posted by others so that a new collegial environment can be formed.
    So, let’s break this down for the church.  The church website has always been far too static to do the church much good.  It is just another way for the church to put up information in hopes that people will come looking for it.  Imagine, instead a church that encouraged interested members and leaders to begin blogging as a spiritual practice.  Using Yahoo “Pipes”, they setup the church website so that church members whose blogs have a certain tag in them are piped into the website.  When ‘edna’ blogs about how she was spiritually transformed through a recent bout with cancer…. or John blogs each day of a church mission trip; the stories are being shared with the community of faith.  Best yet, their friends are seeing faith stories naturally.  You see, our church member’s friends can see these blogs in a number of ways and it is not just another avenue to creating ‘dynamic, emotive [and narrative] content’ but also an avenue of bringing people to the website and even to the church, perhaps.
    To get there: FIRST, pastors and other church leaders must begin blogging about their lives and need to make it part of their spiritual practice (not just something to check off a list at the end of the week).  SECOND, as we talk with our congregations about spiritual practices and Christian witnessing…. we need to talk seriously about this new, American schizophrenia where we lead two lives a “real life” and, then, a virtual facebook life where we say things or post pictures we would otherwise never show!  We need to begin modeling what it means to have an authentic witness not just during an hour on sunday morning but out in the world and even in the cyber-world.  THIRD, we must be willing to let go of content control.  Someone may post something inappropriate or, perhaps, not-flattering about the church….but as a community of faith, that is always possible right in the sanctuary of our church.  We must trust our communities to respond to negativity with optimism and love.

    As I understand it, John Wesley kept two journals:  one set of private journals and one set of public journals.  These were both for his own spiritual growth, but the more public journal was also intended that others would grow in faith.  If we are to continue this Methodist legacy, it seems that blogging is the twenty first century solution.  Let us grow our faith as well as help others as they seek to grow in Christ. Hmmm…Let’s take our faith outside of the church walls!  Let’s not just tell an ancient bible story yet again, but tell our own stories relating them to faith!

Dynamic, Emotive Content

    For the past two weeks I’ve spent a lot of time considering communications and church.  You see, as a church we have typical ways of communicating:  Weekly bulletin, monthly newsletter, sunday morning announcements, and let us not forget those pesky phone calls and emails from the pastor, secretary or volunteer coordinator.  Now, of course we have many new ways of communicating with our congregations such as e-news emails, but if you look at the types of communication I have listed so far, I have focused on informational communication.

    The newsletter or bulletin are perfect examples of informational communication.  Green Bay First United Methodist Church has a beautiful example of a newsletter.  I mean, the newsletter itself is perfection.  It is professionally edited and printed with color and photos and graphics.  Yet no matter how often it is sent out, no matter how much information is contained in it’s 12 or 16 pages, there are always people who chronically say, “Why didn’t I know about [church event of choice goes here]?”  How many church communicators have had this very problem?  Now before I try to diagnose this issue let me step back and say that the newsletter is very effective for those people who receive it and read through the whole thing from cover to cover.  (and this is not exclusively the action of the elderly despite common misconceptions)
    Well, for one thing, everyone wants to stuff a newsletter or bulletin full of their committee’s or groups news items not to mention local community announcements.  Well, this isn’t a bad thing.  The newsletter is meant to be a clearing house for information, like a newspaper.  Yet, Newspapers are barely surviving right now.  Is it perhaps time to recognize that (generally speaking) a new generation receive their news differently than the past?  The problem is not how much information is in the newsletter (sometimes, it is actually an issue of prioritizing news: but this is not the subject of this blog) but simply the way in which people are now trained to receive news and information.
    For me, I have iGoogle setup so that when I bring up my browser, I have my favorite calendars (my personal, school and church calendars) which show up to the left of the screen, weather in evanston, pittsfield, and st. louis to the right and top news stories in the center.  As I get into blogging I’m also beginning to setup a list of favorite blogs and youtube channels.  You see, I don’t have to sift through 12 pages of newsprint with information of no interest in order to find the things that are important to me.  I can type words into a search engine or have dynamic content streamed right into my browser.
    If the church is interested in communicating effectively we need to look carefully at how people already communicate outside of the church.  How they calendar; what their texting and facebooking habits are; and how they ‘surf the web.’ What we will find is that church websites that are generally static, have proprietary calendars and are information driven are already antiquated.  So what would be effective?
    The most memorable and effective communication we do is face-to-face communication.  Whether it is a sermon, a story or a simple greeting in the hallway we are communicating information, sure.  But we are, more importantly, communicating relationally.  We are sharing stories and it is not just one-way.  This is what Communicating Christ, when done effectively, will look like.  Our websites should have dynamic content streaming in from parishioner’s blogs and youtube channels.  We would tell stories and express testimony as our primary goal on the website of the church with concise and clear information with those stories.  We will utilize mainstream communication avenues to provide content so that those interested in our programs can pipe our blogs, calendars, and videos into their existing programs and websites and do away with the need for people to sift through long articles and complicated websites for the information that pertains to them.
    It is time for our churches to rethink communication and not in emulation of other churches, but we must look at our own communities and ascertain how they already communicate, clarify what conversations our church community should be engaging, and find creative ways for these conversations to take place in ways and through forums which is accessible for our community.