Recursive Ecclesiology Or Repulsive Ecclesiology?
Neo-Baptist has fast become one of my favourite blogs for challenging and intelligent commentary on churchy stuff. In recent months the blog has rally found it’s voice in terms of humour, criticism and encouragement. Today’s post, on Learning To Love Generation F, really got me thinking. The point really isn’t about Facebook, per se, but […]
Neo-Baptist has fast become one of my favourite blogs for challenging and intelligent commentary on churchy stuff. In recent months the blog has rally found it’s voice in terms of humour, criticism and encouragement.
Today’s post, on Learning To Love Generation F, really got me thinking. The point really isn’t about Facebook, per se, but rather about how online “community” is challenging our assumptions about real world community.
For a long time I was a critic of what I saw of local (Baptist) church culture because it reflected and to a large extent aped, the corporate world. However, that’s something of a historical anecdote, but the corporate world today has, in many ways moved well beyond what we see in churches, with a lot of business leaders exhibiting a greater sense of the importance of relationships, self-reflection, education and critical thought.
I’m not saying that everybody’s working life is a haven of human flourishing, but many workplaces embody a culture of openness and collaboration that for sheer scope of freedom put our so called “free” churches to shame.
The 12 work-relevant characteristics of online life that are cited just highlight that. Consider, for example,
Hierarchies are natural, not prescribed.
Resources get attracted, not allocated.
Power comes from sharing information, not hoarding it.
Intrinsic rewards matter most.
For a long time I was puzzled by the way some church leaders reacted to the web and social media. There was a rush to dismiss websites and then blogs and even the compliments handed out to online communities were backhanded. At first I thought it was simply because these media allowed alternative voices to be heard and present themselves as challenges to the status quo.
Now I wonder if these new media, present a more fundamental challenge not just to power structures within church life but to the core of some kinds of ecclesiology.
Increasingly I’ve come to wonder if churches are, to some extent, analogous to record labels and newspapers. The latter two business built their limited resources and high barriers to wealth; printing newspapers and promoting hit records is an expensive game. But, the craigslist, blogs, DAWs and MySpace have become deal-breakers – especially if you don’t lay awake at night dreaming of wealth and a home in the Caribbean. Both record labels and newspapers created wealth through the way a resource problem was answered and structured. You needed a label to get your music out, now you don’t. You needed a newspaper to create a PR buzz or post a classified, now you don’t.
This truly is a blessed time for those for whom doing is a reward in and of itself, regardless of the rewards. The way of doing for the “ordinary” person has changed, if they are really focussed first on the doing.
How does this relate to church? Forgive me for waxing economical, but to me church is a kind of resource problem (or collective action problem). We “do” church because there are things a Christian just can’t “do” by themselves. In a way, ecclesiological power was like the power of the record label or newspaper in time when access to theological education and resources was scarce and expensive. A lot of theological education is still built on that model today (Matt Stone has been blogging on this topic lately).
There was a time where possession of a Bachelor of Theology degree put your near the top of the educated within a western society. But, today it is usually very unlikely that a pastor would be anywhere near being the most educated person in their congregation in most churches. Moreover, the explosion of christian publishing means that theological resources are more available than at any time in the history of the church. And, it doesn’t stop there, the possibilities for mentoring, retreats and spiritual direction are no longer confined to clergy and their professional development.
Which brings us back to the online thing. The open, flat, collaborative, fluid dynamic that marks out online culture is a place that problematises a lot of the assumptions that feed the church as answer to scarce resources model. Put simply, we no longer need that kind of church or the denominational structures that were built to support it. If anything, that kind of church is becoming more an more repulsive to people of my generation and will be totally alien to digital natives.
That’s not to say that there are no more collective action and resource problems because there are. But, they have largely changed from problems of access to problems of choice. Or, to put it another way, the economics have shifted from a problem of scarcity to a problem of abundance.
We still need wisdom and to some extent leadership. But, there’s no question we need a different kind of church, different habits and to be blunt, different leaders.