I've made loads of new friends since I started blogging... even though I've never actually met a single one of them. The internet has shaped how we do relationships nowadays. And how we do church.

But the question remains: Is this a good thing?

Last week, Mary Yerke linked to an interesting article entitled We Know More Than Our Pastors: Why Bloggers are the Vanguard of the Participatory Church. The author asserts that bloggers are entirely redefining the Church.

I believe that our network of blogs exceeds the reach of any single pastor. To be clear, no one thinks they are personally smarter or more ‘called’ than any pastor. However, as a network, we know more than our pastors. In this, we are not alone. Thousands of bloggers circumvent established hierarchies and relate unmediated with one another. We are part of a participatory phenomenon that is impacting mass media, technology, education, entertainment, politics, journalism and business.

Emboldened by this participatory movement and empowered by easy-to-use technology, we are starting to expect different things from our churches, pastors, and denominations. We look forward to something more profound from our churches than vision casting, finding our spiritual gifts, mall-like facilities, coffee bars and candles. We expect to participate; we expect to co-create the church.

...Blogging is creating a robust and growing network of participators. We are not just a new kind of Christian or an "emerging church" fad. We are a new kind of preacher, theologian, pundit, apologist and church-goer. We exist outside (and inside) church hierarchies. The phenomenon of blogging is transforming our expectations of church. Soon this meme -- the product of our online spiritual formation -- will emerge from our cyber church and transform the existing church.

I believe that bloggers represent a vanguard that is co-creating a new kind of participatory church.

After the Dan Rather flap, few would question the assertion that blogging is a legitimate societal force. No doubt, "The phenomenon of blogging is transforming our expectations of church." Still, I wonder if these shifting dynamics in the Body of Christ are a good thing.

As much as our society looks for shortcuts to everything, there is no quick way to make disciples. Heck, it took the Son of God three years of 24/7 interaction with those twelve goofballs to make a dent. And in the end, they still ran away and denied Him. The very essence of disciple-making is repetitive physical/spiritual/social interaction. Blogging may be transforming the existing church, but it can never replace the hands-on, eye to eye, communal nature of Christian Fellowship. The Cyber Church is but a shadow of the real thing.

While blogging gives us a forum for ideas and interaction, it strips relationships of one essential component – physical proximity. It’s one thing to sit in front of a flat screen monitor, plucking out witty barbs and profound punditry, and another to look someone in the eyes, hear the tone of their voice, observe their demeanor and embrace them. No Emoticons can substitute for the "tender mess" that is human relationship.

I recall hearing some writer folks share, on a popular Discussion Board, about the anti-climactic nature of their first meeting. They’d been so used to zinging quips and eloquently expounding opinions from their keyboards, that when they actually met face to face, the interaction was awkward and stilted. Someone later joked (online, of course), that if they'd brought their laptops, sat around the table and "typed" the "discussion," it would have been more lively.

Bloggers can become so used to "relating" to words on a page, that a real living, breathing relationship strips them of an essential power: time to think, ponder, compose themselves, delete and add words for just the right "impression." Some can become so skilled at articulating ideas and crafting a "web identity," that a physical encounter with said webmaster often proves to be, well, a let-down.

I’m the first one to bag on organized religion and its obvious deficiencies. But one of the things the electronic revolution can never duplicate is an in-depth context for relationships. We may be "the vanguard that is co-creating a new kind of participatory church," but the very womb that cyber church gestates in is also producing a "new kind" of believer -- one that is often relationally shallow and socially inept.

Yeah, I've made loads of new friends since I started blogging. But until I can give you a handshake, a hug or a high-five, hear your voice quaver and see your eyes gleam, I will somehow feel incomplete...like we've only had e-fellowship.


siouxsiepoet said...

i do feel inept socially (oops my friend told me to stop saying that), but it is because i'm laser focused now. i have to choose fellowship at church on sunday. choose to make myself available to the people who do not have laptops and keyboards, who may string spoken words together better than i. because i have to involve myself in 3d relating. i live much in my head, and blogging does not help. many of my friends and discussions take place in this realm of symbol but it is a disconcerting thing to have those interactions cease with the powering down of my computer (they don't but it feels that way sometimes).

it is a great and terrible thing this cyberelating. but i find it interesting that it is not a culture of fear but one increasingly of trust, and that is more churchlike and authentic than any 3d church i've attended in a long time.


Ame said...

VERY well articulated, Mike ... I've been concerned with the same.

I recently saw a mentally handicapped woman using a puppet to communicate with her guardian. Her mental disability prevented her from being able to relate directly to another; yet through the puppet she was able to relate adequately well.

That seems to be how cyberspace has redefined social interraction. Not all of us are socially handicapped face-to-face, but we still use the same "puppet" to interact socially.

I agree with Suz - it is a very accepting social zone.

Yet I am very concerned with where this is leading ... it is addicting and consuming ...

Recently I read a thread of comments from women revealing how lonely they are in their worlds void of female friendships, which are vital to our existance. The blogosphere does not fill that void ... though perhaps there was found some sort of community as each revealed a deep, fearful secret.

I would not have the same time to blog if I had the privalege to be in a healthy marriage. And my female friends are very, VERY critical threads and designs in the tapestry of my life.

My blogging friends add a unique dimension, but they are not the "meat" of my relationships.

Heather Smith said...

You're totally right on this one, Mike. As much as I love my blogging friends, they can't replace my church family. And that's what they are, they're family. They're there to hug me when I cry. They laugh with me, and sometimes they look me in the eye and say, "You don't need to do that." We need those kind of people. People who are there physically when life is going a little crazy. That should never be replaced by a blogging community. Great thoughts as always, Mike!

lindaruth said...

Yes, good thoughts Mike. But while online relationships must not take the place of relating with one's local brothers and sisters in Christ (and for that matter, your neighbors and co-workers and fellow commuters ...), the Internet is a good tool for finding people with common interests and ideas. This is especially helpful for those of us who live outside large urban areas. There are just not as many writers to talk to in Clay Center, Kansas!
Lots to think about here. Thanks.

clew said...

Well put!

I met my best friend on a pregnancy loss support message board. We bonded deeply and after several months of deep e-sharing, we decided to meet.

WHile we both suspected the weekend to be electrically charged with energy and excitement, it turned out to be very mellow adn laid back. Sometimes we would just chill and enjoy long stretches of silence while we watched the snow fall.

In our case, we didnt think this anticlimactic. We considered it a testimony of how truly natural and comfortable and real our cyber bond was. :)

Many subsequent losses followed by the births of our wonderful sons have come to pass and we are still closer friends than any others in our lives. In our case, we were lucky to share our connection both "e" and "live".

Just thought I'd share ~ Have a great week, Mike!

Gina Holmes said...

Hmmm. I doubt my blogging is going to change the church in anyway but I can see how some will.

As far as relationships go, I've gotten to put that theory to the test. Having been efriends with some for years and then meeting them. It was awkward for a bout 2 minutes and then not at all.

I think blogging has helped my inperson relationships. If we both go to the ACFW conference in Sept it won't take me but a few minutes to heckle you just like I do online. You'll see. :)

Janet Rubin said...

Interesting thoughts, Mike. I've always thought how easy it is for people to simply "dissapear" from online friendships. If someone ticks you off, you can just ignore them and no one in your real life will say, "Hey you really need to make things right with so and so." No accountability. Then again, I've made a wonderful friend, Reni, online. Just the ohter day I was whining to her about a fight with my husband and she started emailing me all kinds of scripture and good advice and even praying for me via email. Her words were a little tough to read- they called me to account and encouraged me not to let the day end without resolving my unpleasant marital issue. My real life friends may not have been so godly in their responses. They would more likely have given me the sympathetic shoulder I wanted, but REni gave me what I needed.
I totally agree with Lindaruth. While I had thought about trying to start a writer's group in my church, I ended up finding an awesome one on-line, jam-packed with talent. I don't think I could have learned or grown like I have in my writing at my church.

Mike Duran said...

Wonderful stuff, ladies. You're awesome! No doubt, the world wide web has multiplied networking and relational possibilities. After all, here I am cultivating converstaion with people I've never met. It is cool to hear how many great friendships have sprung out of online interaction.

The point of my post is to remind us of the deceptive substitute which e-friendships pose. When the Bible speaks of Christian community, it describes it as a consistent, vulnerable, iron-sharpening-iron experience. Not only must we "not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing" (Heb. 10:25 NIV), but when we do meet we should "confess [our] sins to each other and pray for each other so that [we] may be healed" (James 5:16 NIV). This type of in-depth, transparent, person-to-person interaction is what I fear is most threatened by the blogging phenomenon. As long as we are letting technology serve rather than shape us, e-fellowship is a beautiful thing.

P.S. I'm fully prepared for Gina to heckle me at the conference. I've already started packing my chain mail and spit guard.

Gina Holmes said...

Dude, that profile pic... Going from a cute little stick guy with a big heart to a skull. Goodbye mania, hello depression. :)

Michelle Pendergrass said...

I agree on one level, but on another, I disagree.

Maybe I'm outside of the "norm" (which wouldn't be the first time.)

Maybe the "message board" world is different than the blogging world, I tend to think they're much of the same.

I was involved in a message board community of mothers. Over the last 7 years, there is a group of us that has grown together beyond even our own expectations.

We know each other's phone numbers and call frequently. We send cards and letters and gifts. We truly know each other. And more importantly, love each other.

I wasn't walking with Christ when I met these ladies, however 3 years ago He pulled me back to His side and I submitted. I've sent Bibles to the atheists of the group and they've genuinely thanked me for sending it. One atheist even prayed for my son when he was sick (and I'm crying thinking about the email she sent.) Another atheist who constantly joked about my "spaceship" coming to take me away has just recently endured a cheating spouse who left her. She's commited to Jesus and understands she can trust Him. Another lady lost her mother to a horrible battle of disease and was drowning in her sorrow. She just thanked me for suggesting she read the Bible daily because her life has turned around. Thank me? No way. Thank God for orchestrating this wonderful group of women.

I could go on and on. And this is not meant to toot my own horn, certainly you must know that. This is a testimony of God's fingerprints all over this keyboard as I type out prayer after prayer to messages I get starting, "I've never asked anyone to pray for me, but..."

I know that there are so many people out there, lonely people, starving for the truth. Seeking direction. This is such a huge opportunity to show God's love.

I understand the point of your post, truly I do. I want you to see a bit of the other side.


Mike Duran said...

e-hug received, Michelle.

Ame said...

Wow ... ya'll are making me re-think all this stuff ... life has caused me to become sooo guarded ... perhaps I need to loosen up a bit and enjoy the blogging ride a little more!