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Ministry in a Flat World

by Benjamin Anderson 10. December 2008 20:57

Last semester I took a class on Globalization and Internationalism.  The course covered how the internet and technology has impacted our economy and how our businesses function in a virtually flat world.  Companies like Intel and Texas Instruments have used teams consisting of people all around the world to work on projects 24 hours around the clock for several years now, and as a result of the internet and new technologies even more companies and industries are able to streamline their workflows and take advantage of workforces all around the world.  As a person that has always rode on the very edge of technology my entire life, the changes aren’t a surprise to me, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t unsettling.

I’ve done contract work for the last two to three years to pay off debt I accrued due to my lack of discipline while in Master’s Commission, and it has helped accelerate my ability to pay off my debt.  But doing freelance technical and graphical work for companies has become increasingly difficult to compete for when the customers are aware of how easily they can get help on the other side of the world for a third of the rates.  I’m not going to get into the argument about whether the value is the same, or whether what the companies under financial strain are helping or farther compounding their problems.  That isn’t the discussion here, since it is an extremely small part of the picture.  The point here is that I’ve experienced the impacts of the changes first hand, and I’m well aware of the arguments and issues on both sides.  The over arching issue is that these changes impact everyone, everything and every organization.

Impaired Development

Why are churches and ministries always the last to notice, read or even react to cultural changes when they are constantly trying to find out how to reach everyone? The cultural changes that result from the information age and the virtual flattening of the world have far greater reaches than just impacting out businesses, economy and our schools.  These changes impact our youth faster more more directly than any other age group.  For anyone that works with youth or young adults, this isn’t a surprise because we’ve seen the impact and the exponential change in the culture from year to year.

Statistics have shown that it is increasingly difficult to group the younger generation into generational groups, the groups span fewer and fewer years as the generations get younger.  Similar to the technology growth and evolution, the youth are changing exponentially faster every year.  Watch the following video to get just an idea about what I’m saying. 

So, how does all of this impact ministry?

In order to reach a generation that has more information available to them, being forced feed to them, and producing more information than any generation ever before, we have to change our ministry tactics drastically.  Young Adult ministries (18-30yrs) are just as impacted and dependent on the changes as the youth ministries are.  Frighteningly, the children’s ministries will no be far behind. All of these changes result in individuals that have unlimited connections, unlimited resources and unlimited opinions, but they doesn’t really have stable inter-personal relationships or proper filters in place to help them manage and understand what they truly believe themselves.

Today, more information is shared with people we have relationships with through social networking sights than is ever disclosed in person.  I’m not just talking about the lack of boundary information and TMI factors.  I’m talking about the fact that our friends are more likely to find out what is happening in our lives through Facebook than they are to find out about the events in our life in person through an actual conversation. How can a ministry communicate love, compassion and grace when there isn’t a meaningful connection with a person as a result of the callousness and numbness due to our sensor and mental overload?  How can a personal savor impact a young person’s life, when almost no one is truly a part of their life?  How does a youth in today’s and tomorrow’s culture adapt to exponential changes and develop a healthy and fundamental understanding of God’s creation and compassion when the norm is that even their families are broken, segmented and distant?

The answer is right in front of us.  Ministry isn’t supposed to happen any differently than in did in the first century.  The church isn’t supposed to function any differently than it did in the first century. We’re supposed to build a body, strengthen that body, and grow that body.  But, the big catch is, this will not happen in the traditional church organization.  The Acts church wasn’t an organization that met in a building and had an organized service. The Acts church was a community.  Today’s church body has lost it’s community, and due to the cultural changes, it’s losing it’s body.  When an individual has all the information in the world available to them, a lecture in an organized event in an overly regarded building isn’t going to change their lives.  We all know that it isn’t the service that changes their lives, it’s the Holy Spirit, but we still have to do the work God has called us to do in order for the Holy Spirit to work through us.  The information overloaded will not be susceptible to emotional heart tug that has been used for the last 200 years in evangelical outreaches and services.

Ministry will have to be relationship based process all the way through.  And relationships are formed in services.  You cannot go on top a school campus and find the relationship being built in the classroom during a lecture.  The relationships are formed outside of class, during the passing periods, the lunch break and the group projects.  You won’t find relationship growing and forming in large corporations during the meetings and the conference calls.  They are formed over lunches, during the normal working day, not during the agenda driven information dumps dictated by the few and participated in by the many.  How can a church expect to grow when their ministry consists of the lecture and then meeting?  Just because we have collective music performances and cram people in closely together doesn’t mean that relationships are forming.  Many times these environments hinder the ability to form relationships, even if the both individual was outgoing and hungry to connect with others.

Ministries need to focus their efforts more on the picnic, the party, the restaurant, and yes, even the bar in order to become relevant to the future.  Sadly the churches have more to change and need to change more than businesses and schools do.  Secular culture has been faster and more willing to adapt to these changes than the church has been willing and capable of doing. 

It isn’t the message, it’s the messenger

In the mind of a calloused and numbed individual heavily involved in the riches of the informational age, the church consisted of a bunch of stuck up, ignorant, hot-headed, hypocritical, conservative jerks. Why would our information every alter that opinion when there are more voices and louder voices in the infinite stream of information known as the Internet continuing to perpetuate that view?  The only way that you can break through the falsehoods is to exactly and realistically depict Christ’s love for them in real life.  No amount of information or emotional service will overcome the pain and damage caused by the false information available every where else and the hypocritical messenger found in all the other places.  The youth and young adults have to be met and attracted to Christ through their personal and unworldly interaction with loving born-again Christians.  That means making the decision now to do exactly what Christ command us to do and love our neighbors.  That means making the decision now to set aside your judgments of others and love them regardless of their past and present in hope that their future will be one you’re more than willing to love.

That means that we cannot and will not be able to depend solely on the paid ministers in our churches.  There are not enough of them!  It takes too much work and too many people to reach individuals through meaningful and real relationships.  That means that the Pastors’ job isn’t to preach, lecture and teach, it’s the lead.  The members are the ministers.  Those paid staff members jobs are to guide, assist and disciple leaders and members so that they do the ministry.

I don’t see the church in its current form lasting much longer beyond the life of my parent’s generation.  The rituals will very quickly be abandoned and the organizations die out, all due to the reprogramming of the world’s wild web of information.  The virtual friend has more authority and input in our youth’s life now than our church and even their parents have in their life.  And as a result changes have to be made in order to break through the fuzz filter put around their minds that is grown and developed from all of the noise and garbage accumulating in their minds.

The message hasn’t changed.  The message won’t change.  Christ hasn’t changed, and he won’t change.  But our means of delivering the message have to change.  Who is delivering the message has to change.  Personally, every Christians’ reason for carrying and delivering the message has to change.  We can’t focus on a seeker sensitive method any more, because not everyone is seeking.  The ministering will be based on our ability as believers to understand our own message and focus on living that message.  This creates a taster-sensitive ministry, which is exactly what the non-Christian will be in 20-30 years. 

Real-Time Jesus

At this point it appears to be almost impossible to minister to everyone, because leaders in the church already know it’s impossible to get even the majority of members actively involved in church.  How do we continue to grow and minister when so much of our body consists of just consumers?  Simple.  Exponentially multiple the providers.  We already know and use the largest provider in the known universe as our provider, and so long as we constantly depend on God to provide for us we won’t fall short of resources there.  But, that doesn’t explain how to exponential grow our ministers.

How do we grow, and grow exponentially? The same way our youth and young adults continuously overwhelm themselves with information and shallow virtual relationships.  Use the tools and social networks.  Follow your friends, respond to your friends, and actively pursue them as disciples.  I don’t suggest you run them off due to your expectations and pressures, but tools like Twitter, Facebook and MySpace can help you gauge how your members and disciples are doing.  Those tools can also help you plan one-on-one relationship building times, easily provide the means to delivery personal encouragement and love, and the opportunity to network and exponentially expand that net of love and compassion.

These tools also allow the Pastors to gauge and guard their leaders and their discipleship of others.  When the disciples of the disciples begin to disciple other disciples, communities like Facebook and communications tools like IM, email and Twitter allow one individual to quickly connect and gauge the health and growth of the body they are responsible for.

An SMS message to everyone in a persons phonebook is the fastest way to emotional dump a shocking situation on the world, but it is also the church’s easiest means of quick response too.  Prayer networks will never form faster than what you’ll see through SMS, twitter and Facebook when the recipients are compassionate, loving brothers and sisters of a single body.

Side Note

Unless you already have a large online presence and a relatively active and young congregation, I would not recommend attempting to create your own private online community.  It will not offer enough benefit to the general member for the project to be successful.  If you chose to create such a network start with the leaders first and get them involved, including moderating responsibilities and other roles, so that it is as much their project as it is the church’s.

I would not discourage having a blog or community forum for your leaders after you have a larger number of leaders who are all actively involved and own the ministry in their own way.  Communal ministries cannot form and grow while one person is the face of the community.  The other leaders have to be as much a part of the ministry as the pastor is because the leaders can feel that the cost of participation in another online community is worth their effort.

 Part Two

I'll continue this discussion in part two with "How does the "Flat" world change our ministry".

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About the author

Benjamin is a software developer in the DFW area.  He spends his free time playing video games, programming, doing graphics design and photography, and reading.

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