We live in a world where computers surround us. Some would suggest that we live in a world where computers control us. In day-to-day life today people build communities on-line, people meet spouses on-line (one of the first weddings I performed in ministry was a couple who met online while living half a country apart), people do much of their daily business (shopping, banking) online, people do courses and get degrees online, and so much more. The computer and the internet have, for better or worse, become basic to many people's lives.
And what does that mean about being the church? As we try to understand who what and how God is calling us to be in this time and place where does the computer come in?
Some benefits are obvious. Just by sitting at my desk I can connect with colleagues around the world to discuss church life and share sermon thoughts. I take part in a variety of internet-based discussions, I can access resources and commentary that would otherwise be totally unavailable. Through Facebook I can keep up with friends and acquaintances from all over the place. Through e-mail I can avoid playing phone-tag with people as we try to discuss an issue or set up a meeting time. Through Skype I was able to be interviewed by a search committee that was 4 days drive away from my home. The presence of internet-connected computers in the hands of church folk have made many things possible at lower cost of money and time.
But there are downsides too. There is an on-going debate about the nature of community online. Is a Facebook friend the same as a friend who you can actually sit and have coffee with? Is it possible that in relying on e-mail and online connections we lose something vital to the church? Maybe. After all the church is about being in community with each other. And while some of the community building can happen through e-mail and social media, some of it has to be done face-to-face.
So what is my point? Glad you asked. Like many of my colleagues, I continue to look for the balance point in how much ministry happens through a monitor. Because, let's be honest, the computer screen can suck up all your time if you let it. But it has to be used somewhat. Here's some of what I have come up with:
- Some business (local and wider church) will be done by e-mail. In fact the amount of that is probably growing, replacing phone calls at times. But some will still require meetings (no we can't totally do away with meetings). And so sometimes we have to be willing to say “this needs to be discussed more, when can we get together”.
- Some information about Pastoral Care needs will come to me through the computer, as well as through the phone and face-to-face. Then once the need is known we can respond.
- One thing I do as pat of my sermon presentation is post my early thoughts in a blog (http://ministerialmutterings.blogspot.com) on Monday or Tuesday each week. I welcome folks to visit and share their thoughts – in fact your thoughts may then help me form the final sermon. This place will also include some other “churchy stuff”.
- Facebook. This is an interesting area. Some clergy use sites like this or Twitter as a way of keeping in touch with congregants. Some don't. I have decided to take the path laid out by colleague in the US when she started in a new congregation. If folks out there want their minister to be a “Facebook friend” then you are free to find me and ask. But I won't go searching for you.
- Finally, I find I can never get to know folks without spending time with them. And I want to get to know you. I want to visit with you at the church or at home, or over coffee. Give me a call and we can find a time to get together. Getting to know the congregation is one of my main goals for this year. I look forward to our conversations.