07 May 2012

Three Questions on Religion and Media for Professor Mark Vitalis Hoffman

Posted in Social Media, Tagged with apps blogging digital ministry education seminary social media

Spring2012 blog tour graphic

What are the core compentencies of digital ministry? What role do apps play in the life of faith? What are the benefits of blogging?

Professor Mark Vitalis Hoffman (website, blog), Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, takes up these questions as part of the LTSG spring blog tour. (More information and a listing of all the tour stops here.) In August, LTSG, in partnership with Luther Seminary, will launch of a new religion and media concentration in its MAR program. It's exciting to see our Lutheran seminaries providing formal training in this area - and that's where my questions begin:

1. As you've developed the MAR media concentration, what have you identified as the core competences that ministry leaders should have in digital social media?

Thanks for supporting this blog tour, Keith, and thanks also for your good questions.

“Religion and Media” is not only a very broad category, but it is also a constantly changing one. I can point to the outcomes we have defined:

  • Demonstrate literacy in a variety of media, including:
    • an awareness of the range and rapidly changing landscape of global media
    • the capacity to discern differing levels of authority
    • the ability to assess varying forms of authenticity
    • and the ability to communicate effectively in a variety of media;
  • Demonstrate an understanding of how social practices of story-telling, meaning-making, and the formation of identity and community are shaped by media;
  • Be able to promote matters of faith in public life through media and provide leadership for doing so in their congregation or agency;
  • Be able to support constructive discernment and spiritual formation in the midst of social media; and
  • Reflect theologically on how media shapes the practices of their own theological tradition.

As you can see in that list, we are not focusing on technological competencies (knowing how to produce videos, compose web sites, etc.), though we are hoping students will come with some of those abilities. Instead, we are hoping to provide a 'big picture' awareness that will allow ministry leaders to address religious matters using media in ways that demonstrate both integrity and faithfulness. The scope of the program will hopefully attract both a church person working to establish a beneficial media presence in a congregation as well as a media professional planning to document matters of faith and religion in the world today.

2. What role do apps play in the expression, deepening, and broadening of faith? Or, conversely, as some worry, the diluting of it?

There must be an app I can use to answer your question! I am primarily a biblical studies person, so I've been especially attentive to software and apps related to the Bible. I have found it very helpful to have my Bibles with me on my smartphone at all times, and the capability of having the Bible so readily available at all times does make it more a part of my daily faith walk. I have also seen how social networks like FB and Twitter can be used to share joys and concerns immediately. That also contributes to faith practices and serves to build up the larger community of faith. The easy access to apps perhaps will end up being a way of making us more aware and intentional about our faith practices. I have an app I use to keep track of my exercising, and I know that since I've started using it, I have been more diligent about my habits. Similarly, whether it be an app to encourage us in daily Bible reading or prayer or journaling or providing mutual support, these all can contribute to the deepening and broadening of faith.

3. What have you experienced as the benefits of blogging as an educator and ministry leader?

I mainly started blogging as an educational experiment. It was also a way to make notes to myself about things I had found interesting. I discovered that it has been a great way to share information with my students. My focus on Bible and Technology is a quite small niche, but it's rather fun to find that there are a lot of other people out there who share a similar interest. My institution (LTSG) has been supportive of my work and recognized it as a way that I contribute to the larger scholarly discourse. Ultimately, blogging has turned out to be a learning experience as much as a teaching opportunity for me. One of the fascinating aspects of blogging is discovering the global connectedness that challenges my usual American parochialism. I think this is also one of the really great ministry potentials for blogging. We can experience a global Christianity and that awareness makes us mindful of how God is acting in the world and not just in our local and familiar settings.

So, readers, what's your take on these questions and answers? What should every minister know about new media? What apps nuture your faith? What are the benefits (or challenges) of blogging for you? Please be generous with your comments.

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