Opening up the church


I’ve talked previously about how we are trying to do for churches what facebook is trying to do for the world. One idea I want to investigate into is how we can open up the church in the same way. The important words that I want to investigate into here is that I want to dilute the control of the church whilst maintain authority. Like everything else, we want to do this through experimentation and case studies so that this view is encouraged and not forced.

Here is an example of how the church can possibly benefit from this using technology and a fairly controversial example – Homosexuality.

The story

I attended a church that was more conservative on the issue of homosexuality. They believe that the biblical text suggests that homosexuality is a sinful act that ought not be practised. Regardless of your personal opinion on the matter I think this is a clear example of where authority is important. The pulpit is not supposed to be a place for random arbitrary opinions, it is not like the comments section of a newspaper. Authority is not about control but it is about trust. If someone is in a position of authority in the church they can be challenged in the same way that the Apostle Peter was challenged by Paul over the issue of eating with gentiles. However, someone in authority is trusted to treat their position with respect and know that people trust them. So in this conservative church, whenever someone in authority preached about homosexuality and the bible, it tended to be negative. I think this is right. I think you can disagree with that whole church and suggest reasons why homosexuality is o.k. But for the church that has made its stance it makes sense for the preachers to “tow the party line”.

However, one person from the church told me that they were proud that they had never let a gay person in their house. Now this person wasn’t particularly horrible and with all the controversy and media attention I personally think it understandable how this person reached their position. Unfortunately, this is not the position the church would want to encourage (this is important, what is interesting here is not that I agree or disagree, or really what you the reader thinks, it is interesting because even this church would not agree with their attitude). But isn’t this to be expected if homosexuality is talked about in a negative light all the time? Even saying “They are sinners but we should love them” isn’t a positive attitude to have to an actual person (It can be but isn’t inherently in that sentence).

Also at this church was someone who worked in the fashion industry. Many of this guy’s colleagues were gay. In a conservative church environment it was interesting hearing this guy’s opinion on the topic of homosexuality. It was essentially that he quite liked his gay colleagues and specifically it was much easier being a Christian in this work environment compared to say a London banking job heavily involved with alcohol and macho-ism. What is interesting here is by speaking to this friend I could get an insight into his attitude towards a bunch of people. His statements were neither agreeing nor disagreeing with all the controversial issues of homosexuality. They weren’t statements of doctrine on gay bishops nor attitudes towards policy regarding gay marriages. They were simply one human being’s attitude towards another and I think these attitudes are invaluable. (Both of them, the more homophobic christian brother and the more accepting, they are both part of the church here).

Now, if you disagree with the authority in this case. (The doctrine of homosexuality this church excepts) then this story won’t go far.  You would still have to go through the normal channels of arguing about doctrine, campaigning in church communities, writing articles, etc. However, this story highlights something I think is important. The reality is that you can leave authority exactly where it is. Good Doctrine will help but it will not ultimately change your attitude. Understanding that Racism is wrong and that all people are created in God’s eyes will not fully stop you crossing the road when you see a hooded black teenager. The reality is you need to interact with people, you need to spend time with gay people or black people to truly influence your attitude to them.

Authority can stay where it is. We need something more, we need something from the Christians who aren’t necessarily in authority. This is what impacts the church today anyway and will continue to. We need to encourage this and help people connect with it and in doing so we will open up control. If I am able to connect with more people in the church on an issue such as racism or homosexuality, then the person in the pulpit will still have authority, but now less control over exactly what I think. Fortunately for us the church already has a method of this, anglicans like to call it “the peace”.

On-line testimonies – blogs

Now the important thing about this company is that we are not creating new churches. We are merely facilitating and encouraging the good things that are already there. In the church life we already have something that moves complete control from the leaders of the church but allows the leader authority – that is testimony. If at a baptism someone stands up and explains their testimony and they tell you something scripture told them, it is normal in the church to enjoy this whilst not believing this person to be an authority on the subject. Similarly when Christian books are read about people’s lives they are read in a different manner to a book of theology or doctrine. In fact one way of wording “testimonies” is just “getting to know the impact of God on the lives of Christians around you” and probably the church would have benefited from the two people in my story just sitting down and chatting about their lives. This is great.

However, how do you personally meet up and get to know about the lives of everyone? Even if your church only has 50-100 people let alone 900 it gets difficult. Some churches have tried having “testimony” sections in the service for maybe 10 minutes where christians in the church just tell stories about what God has done in their lives that week. This is quite cool but is also daunting and sometimes there are particular stories you just don’t care about.

So a simple way to do this is to use blogs! If we could get a church of say 100 people and manage to get every person to blog maybe once a year. That is 100 awesome testimonies about their lives and God that I would have access to. Secondly, I had a friend who wanted to go into fashion design and another who wanted to become a model. How cool would it have been if they had known there was an old, experienced Christian working in that industry in their own church they could have spoken to? So here are some conclusions from this:

  • Fellowship. We can all read blogs of well-written Christians online and using wordpress.com! The tribes on-line is about connecting the thoughts and eventually the people within the church to each other.
  • Accesibility We need to develop ways to make it incredibly easy for anyone to blog. We could try a bunch of things, intergrating blogs with e-mail, automatically giving blogs to everyone who signs up, have pieces of paper that people can write out and submit like they might do anyway if they were going to give their testimony during a service.  We don’t need an army of regular bloggers, but we want as many individual people blogging. Its not the number of articles but the number of people that provide diversity.
  • Relevance – We then need to develop clever methods of making it really easy to connect people. WordPress.com does this tremendously well. Depending on my categories and tags I can sometimes get total strangers reading this, we need to find out how to do this within the church. Maybe my fashion friend would have tagged his post? Then maybe other modelling friends would have tagged their profile with being interested in fashion and things would have popped up?
  • Importance – We need to test and investigate this with case studies. We need to find real life solutions to real life problems and examples of them rather then the more theoretical post I’ve written today. Once we have these stories of how the web actually did connect the fashion designers to those in the industry and how that went, then we will be able to show the church why blogging just once or twice in your life time is worthwhile.
  • Same Authority – diluted control – These blogs will never be the authoritative opinion of the leadership in the church. This does not dilute authority. But the blogs will remove some control. The leader of the church will have less control over the total image of the church because the blogs will represent the genuine thoughts of the individuals that make up that church. Some will be scared of this. Well with our software if you’re scared you just turn off “multiple blogs” and it is fine! But hopefully once our wiki gets going we will have a lot of stories of why it is worth the risk.

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