Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Assembling the People of God -- And New Media

A blog entry by John Spangler from the course "Religion Meets 21st Century Media"
From January 7-11, 2013, 17 learners, plus addtional experts from across the country are participating in an intensive course: Religion Meets 21st Century Media at Gettysburg Seminary

For a long time, I have defined the church’s first task and mission as that of gathering. Communication has been very much a part of that assembly, call to assemble, and the shape of the transcendent sense of what the dispersed, diverse church is that gathers as one, but in many
places. Guest presenter (via skype) Verity Jones of the New Media Project identified gathering as an important part of the gift and scope of new media. I agree, and believe that this is one of those cases in which new media is a ready tool to apply to helping the ministry of gathering. And I appreciate her pastoral sense of the tools of ministry, and her ability to move between old and new with grace and elegant style.

People are connecting through new media. Nothing really new there. They are being empowered to respond to large and pervasive societal and social questions. “Liberative” is a word she used where I might have said “liberating,” but the point is a strong one. As Christians, we ask the tough questions driven by the content of the gospel: are the words/stories/song liberating people from oppression, freeing people from that which binds them? Newer media in ministry seems to be helping the cause when it emerges naturally from the leadership of the congregation, seen and accepted as a natural extention of a coherent ministry.

The church still gathers, but the way in which it does so is part of what is changing. As a Lutheran, I hear the echo in the catechism’s explanation of the third article of the creed, in which Martin Luther reminds us that we 'cannot by our own understanding or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightended me...made me holy....' So we are called, contacted, invited to be in touch in new places and spaces often created by new media function.

Here is an example: The Seminary's Board Chair, a veteran pastor serving an interim ministry in a very large congregation, used facebook this week to explore an idea for his sermon.

"When we allow ourselves to see and hear in the midst of the noise in our heads and the busyness of our lives, maybe we will discover the Holy where the Holy always is: in the moments of silence that speak louder than thunder in our souls . . . in the right word spoken at the right time that touches the heart with healing; in joy of human laughter." (sermon thought for sunday)

One of several comments came in response: "I look forward to your sermon teasers. Glad they are back! Your words always make me think extra hard."

This exercise works on at least a couple of levels. A pastor gets the opportunity to prime the pump among those listening to his or her listeners, who begin to think about this word of God outside the 15 minutes of a sermon. And secondly, the preacher can listen to the way an idea lands in the lives of those people attached to a living community. Win win. Facebook created a space for ministry.


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