I'm sure you've noticed that things have been pretty slow here on my blog of late. The reason is that I'm working on a new book: The Digital Cathedral: Networked Ministry in a Wireless World, to be published by Church Publishing, the publishing house of The Episcopal Church. (Yes, they let Lutherans write for them too.)
I'm really excited about this project. It builds on many of the ideas I've been writing, blogging, and speaking about—and experiencing in my ministry—over last few years. It builds on ideas Elizabeth Drescher and I introduced in Click2Save: The Digital Minsitry Bible, but goes beyond the basics of how to use social media, and explores the character of ministry leadership that is required today in our digitally-integrated world.
The Digital Cathedral is intended to evoke an expansive understanding of church in a digitally-integrated world, one that extends ministry into digital and local gathering spaces, recognizes the holy in our everyday lives, and embodies a networked, relational, and incarnational ministry leadership for a digital age.
This fall I was invited to speak as part of a series called "Conversations that Matter" for the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the ELCA. I gave the talk live at the first conversation in Nazareth, PA and then we recorded it for subsequent gatherings. The invitation was to speak about the future direction of the church in a way that provoked conversation and reflection.
This 22-minute video called "Make Your Neighborhood Your Cathedral" explores something I am deeply passionate about and I think is vital to the future of the Church—getting outside our church buildings and being present in public local and digital gathering spaces, whether it is the local cafe or pub, Facebook or Twitter. (Email readers will need to click here to view the video.)
"We recognized that most people don't come looking for a church, in our demographic. And so, we through from the beginning, 'We know this. The church is sinking.' The facts are on the table for the mainline denominations. So, we're not going to these big glossy things that try to draw people to our cool, fancy, hip church. We're going to be where people already are and try to be the church where they are."
Lately, I've been practicing a lot of what I have been thinking of as theology without a net.
Theology without a net happens in public spaces. It does not involve a presentation, PowerPoint slides, or a written text. It does not rely on the expert knowledge of professional ministry-types.
It does not offer or promise neat answers. It is an ongoing conversation, which is shaped by whoever shows up that day. It is responsive, not leading. It listens more than speaks. And it has to be authentic. It lives at the intersection of faith and life.
This is different from how I was trained to do theology. Theology happened controlled environments: in church or academic buildings, classes, and worship, with subject matter experts (pastors and professors), who were training me to become one too. And, hey, I loved it. I absorbed it. I got good at it.
But the world we live in demands that we do theology in a different way, on-the-fly, in different places, with different people, on someone else's turf: theology without a net.
It’s a common complaint among clergy types, “Sunday morning sports is taking people away from worship!”
This lament and the exasperation that accompanies it goes deeper than just whether a family shows up on a particular Sunday. It is the lament of the loss of the privileged place that the Church—and clergy—once enjoyed in our culture. And in our lament we risk alienating the very young families we seek to engage.
The emergence of Sunday morning sports is just a symbol of a shift that’s happening in our society where the church is no longer accommodated or propped up by our culture.
Clergy lament this. It makes our jobs harder. But, if we are honest, there is something deeper: it is the resentment of the loss a privileged place of not only religious institutions, but Christian institutions, and not just Christian institutions, but Christian people, and the leaders of those people, the professional clergy, us. We are mourning our own diminishing cultural position and privilege. That’s what I hear just under the surface when clergy complain to each other about Sunday morning sports—its the loss of our place, our privilege, our position.