Updated: “News at Eleven” a Thing of the Past

19 03 2008

UPDATE: I was browsing my blog subscriptions and found that, today, Doug Pagitt recorded a podcast about, in his words, “changing model of news journalism and how that gives clues to what is happening in the world of church and collective Christianity.” Of course, I figured he was going to discuss this post here – but instead it was a response to an npr segment he had listened to (and takes the conversation into a wider variety of threads than here.) Still, eerily similar. Great minds _______ (fill in the blank with your favorite idiom).

Yesterday, I sent a YouTube video blog out to families in my church community, reflecting on the past week and encouraging people to get more involved in the life of our community. Today, I fiddled around with ustream.tv, musing at the potential of broadcasting team meetings for any interested party to eavesdrop into.

The ubiquity of these kinds of interactive applications on the internet sort of begs the question, how transparent will church organizations allow their operations to become? With younger staff members becoming native users of web 2.0 applications like Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace and endless streams of blogs, raw information is now more than ever in the public domain. There are practical questions to consider, like privileged information and how it’s treated in a free enterprise environment. And, if there is streaming video, whether the guy on camera should wear make up.In light of this conversation about Emergent, the question also takes on a philosophical dimension. Traditionally, I’ve found that church clergy often have a paternalistic relationship with their congregations, subscribing to the belief that the (relatively) well-trained pastor knows best how to conduct the business of spiritual formation, and the job of the congregant is to stay out of the way of that process as much as possible, with the shining exception of consuming the materials, sermons, classes, workshops, etc. presented by the clergy. This clergy/laity divide, when culturally reinforced, gives a whole lot of credibility to an otherwise unfounded fear that generally, people shouldn’t know what goes on behind the door in the pastor’s office.

The best analogy I can think of to describe this shift in thinking is the news. Up until recently, information was gathered up by bureaus to one of a few large, centralized organizations, which then distributed the news via affiliates with great authority, usually through a baritone anchorman. His word was gospel, and the masses sat at the TV and ingested it. Congregations during this period in history reflected this phenomenon in their relationship with the pastor: go to church, sit in the pew, and absorb the “message.”

Today the scene has changed dramatically. The internet has given rise to the citizen reporter, each one with his or her blog or webcam, often scooping the story ahead of the lumbering behemoth news organizations. I’ve noticed local network news try to co-opt this new technology, inviting people to e-mail breaking news to the news desk. Today people have unprecedented power to fact-check, post responses, develop conversations and even make news without even touching the traditional media channels. And in the same way past cultures were shaped in part by the information delivery systems, today’s cultural natives are not buying into the monologue of pastors who sit in church offices for 40 hours per week. Their theologies are hybrids of ideas gleaned from top-40 music, Oprah, online book reviews, favorite blogs, and maybe a smattering of Joel Osteen.

Rather than wring my hands in fear of what this new information monster has wrought, I’d rather turn my attention to how faith communities might be able to “open source” the process of idea sharing, praying, working out a lifestyle of following Jesus, and dealing with the issues we all face.Of course, certain parameters must be respected (when information is given in confidence, for example). But what benefits might be waiting for the church that decides to let the sun shine in on its’ processes, the church that decides to give everybody a voice (instead of just the voting membership)?

[HT = Doug Pagitt for turning me on to ustream.tv]

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2 responses

19 03 2008
Glen Davis

Good post.

I think a lot of our church governance instincts go back to the days when the pastor was by far the best-educated member of the community.

Nowadays pastors are often among the least-trained members of the community, especially in Pentecostal circles.

20 03 2008
johnohara

Yeah, although I’d be surprised if educational privilege were ever the case for Pentecostal ministers in general. Two thoughts emerge when I consider the relative training and preparedness for ministry on either side of the altar rail: (1) what can we learn from the Quakers (a fellowship which has brought us Richard Foster among others), about the priesthood of believers, and (2) the recent findings by Willow published in the REVEAL study, which basically indicted the evangelical church for under-involving the lay people who are most committed to following Jesus. I have a hunch that many of us who wear the proverbial collar do so out of a messiah complex (myself included), which can effectively get in the way of transparency, lateral ownership and spiritual growth.

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