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.