Finding Abundant Grace in Simplicity

By Marranda Major

 

Graphic from http://www.personalgrowthpublishers.com/

Graphic from http://www.personalgrowthpublishers.com/

Pitfalls of Technology and Social Media

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. For January and February, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating a month of reflections on technology, faith, and church. Join the conversation here or on Facebook

By Steve Lindsley

The look on her face was something along the lines of unpleasant surprise. But moreso, disappointment. I was confused. We’d been talking about scheduling a day for me to visit her and the other fine church folk at the retirement home. I’ll be right back, let me get my calendar, I had told her. And I’d come back and sat down and plopped my laptop on the table in between the two of us, ready to schedule away.

She looked at my laptop like it was the golden calf. An idol. Maybe that wasn’t too far from the truth.

Get that out of my face! she shot back. I thought she was kidding, until I realized that she wasn’t. I got a mini-lecture from her about how rude it was to stick “that thing” in between the two of us. A few days later, she would apologize to me for her gruff manner. But I told her that wasn’t necessary. Because she was exactly right.

I am a self-professed tech geek. I go very few places without my trusty Macbook. At church, it is subjected to endless hours of checking email, researching and writing sermons and worship liturgy, church social media, and on and on. My right pants pockets all have a noticeable rectangular impression from my cell phone. I’ve been preaching off an iPad for years.

And I use social media religiously. Pun intended. I use it for church purposes almost as much as personal. In fact, the line between the two are often blurred. We have a church Facebook, Twitter, Instagram; and I’m the primary curator of all three. But even on my personal accounts, I’m almost always posting church stuff. I do this intentionally, because I realize the importance in today’s world of the church being visible “in the marketplace;” and that we live in a society that exists as much virtually as it does physically.

I’ll be the first one to swear that technology and social media are critical tools that the church should make full use of, and my personal practices certainly subscribe to that ideology.

So why did I begin this blog with a story about an older lady who laid into me for sticking a computer in her face?

Because – and those of you who know me are going to wonder if my blog account has been hacked – we in the church have got to be careful when it comes to technology and social media.

Technology and social media are tools, but that’s all they are. Just tools. Tools to a greater end. And the thing is, we have lots of tools in the church. We have buildings, programs, ministries, bulletins, Sunday school curriculum. None of them are the reason we come together. They simply help us do so and point us to that reason – which is to be the body of Christ and help build God’s kingdom on earth.

My experience with this dear saint of our church was a pretty blatant example of how technology and social media can get in the way of our mission of body-being and kingdom-building. Literally, a piece of metal and plastic stuck in between two people. I should’ve known better. But it makes me wonder: in what other ways might we inadvertently drive a wedge in between with our fierce devotion to posting that pic on Instagram, getting that tweet in, updating our church’s Facebook page?

The tools of ministry are great, and can be a ton of fun too. But they should never supplant or replace the critical element of human connection, where true ministry takes place. I think of Jesus and the woman at the well. He met her where she was.

The church should strive to be like that in everything we do – and, in so doing, make sure none of the wonderful tools we have at our disposal inadvertently get in the way.

Now pardon me while I go update my Facebook status.


Steve LindsleySteve Lindsley is a singer-songwriter and pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC and a member of the NEXT Church Advisory Team. Connect with him at his website

Building Connections at the Online Church Leaders’ Roundtable

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. For January and February, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating a month of reflections on technology, faith, and church. Join the conversation here or on Facebook

By Kyle Hite

Mark Twain said, “There is no such thing as a new idea.” Why, then, do we spend so much energy trying to prove him wrong? As church leaders we are continually working to stay fresh and alive, but who says it has to be “new”? The beauty of NEXT Church is a willingness to be open-source, to share what has been tried including the successes and failures, in hopes that what once was old can be made new. Creativity is not exclusively the invention of something new, but the willingness to venture outside of the norm. To foster an arena of creativity I suggested we have an online conversation with a swath of colleagues from around the country. Technology, in its best form, can expand the reach of our relationships and open new horizons. This “roundtable”, as we have termed it, would not have the usual “expert” to present an idea, but experts on the ground to share our attempts at creativity and hopefully spark the creative juices in one another.

Gathering together across our geographical boundaries defines the connectional nature of our tradition. We often speak of being “connected” with our colleagues but remain in tight circles with those who represent similar theological and social perspectives. This homogeny can stifle creativity. Unfortunately within our denomination of late, the only time we converse with those who differ from us, is when there is a vote to follow – and we all know how that turns out. The roundtable is a way to cross boundaries, spawn ideas and support one another in our common pursuit.

When we join together each month, every person around the “table” brings their satchel of goodies and a story of success and failure. The participants briefly introduce themselves and then we jump in. We have learned a lot over our time in this new medium. For starters, musicians and educators do a better job keeping the conversation going. Second, we church people can really multitask as some have participated while commuting, or laying on a beach or playing with their children on a playground. Third, there are some really brave people out there pushing the boundaries and pioneering new models of ministry.

These discoveries reveal the resiliency of a people on a mission. If the roundtable does nothing else, it exposes the strength of our worshiping communities and the work of our church. Through the roundtable, I have met people I would not otherwise have met. I have seen from a new set of eyes and though it is beautiful where I sit in Greenwood, South Carolina, it is a blessing to see the beauty in other worlds as well.

 

To read more about the Online Church Leaders’ Roundtable and sign-up for the next one, click here! For examples of the sort of resources are shared, check out these posts that came out of the November roundtable on advent. 

 


Kyle HiteWhen not hosting the NEXT’s Church Leaders’ Online Roundtable, Kyle Hite serves as the Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Greenwood, South Carolina. 

 

How Do We Stream Church?

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. For January and February, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating a month of reflections on technology, faith, and church. Join the conversation here or on Facebook

By Rocky Supinger

I’ve got an iPod Classic that I never use. It has 160 gigabytes of memory, so my entire digital music, movie, and photo collection is stored on it, and there’s still, like 50 gigs available. But it sits neglected in a drawer while I stream music on my phone, movies on Netflix, and store all my photos on Dropbox.

photo credit: via photopin (license)

photo credit: via photopin (license)

 

You may say I’m a streamer. But I’m not the only one.

The streaming masses are disrupting the cable television business, the music industry, and even Hollywood (Sony Pictures made $15 million streaming The Interview before releasing it in theaters). And as if Amazon hadn’t put a big enough dent in publishing already, it recently announced a subscription service that, you guessed it, streams ebooks.

I love this. The streaming trend has transformed my relationship with media from one of consumption directed toward ownership (and, thus, storage) of a commodity to one of consumption directed toward the experience of that commodity with no need to store it. It’s a more shared experience of media, since the songs and shows I’m watching aren’t owned by any of the listeners and viewers–they’re all on some server somewhere.

It’s also a more social experience, since, as an example, the song I’m streaming on Rdio is  displayed with the icons of my friends who have also listened to it. I can easily recommend songs to friends, and the service continually informs me of what they’re listening to.

I wonder how a streaming mentality will impact will our churches’ relationship with worshipers and neighbors. It’s clearly spreading to the analog world of cars and houses–Airbnb lets people share a room; Uber and Lyft a ride; RelayRides the very car. The option to “stream” these commodities, rather than own them, is increasingly attractive. So how do people stream church?

Given the deferred maintenance costs weighing down many church buildings, aren’t there advantages to sharing a building without the obligations that come with owning one? And if we don’t own the pews, them maybe we needn’t own the Bibles and hymnals in their backs–the bible and the new PC(USA) hymnal are online; they can be streamed.

And what about our leaders? Must we own them by installing them in particular churches? Or  might at-large presbytery membership for Teaching Elders begin to function as a leadership streaming service, not just for churches that can’t afford installed leadership, but for everyone?

We’re probably not ready for these ideas yet, but the streaming world is forcing our hand, I think. Let’s start experimenting now with sharing and streaming services at our churches for the sake of our neighborhoods. After all, it’s not our church to begin with. It’s Christ’s, the server. We’re just streaming it.

 


rocky supinger (472x640)Rocky Supinger is associate pastor of Claremont Presbyterian Church in Claremont, CA and co-director of this year’s NEXT Church National Gathering. Connect with him at his website, YoRocko!.

From Broken Hearts to a Torn-Down Building and a New Ministry

Congregations all over our denomination are facing challenges concerning church property—buildings that are too big for the congregations inhabiting them; deferred maintenance on aging structures; outmoded architecture that does not reflect the way the congregation wishes to worship. The way forward through these challenges will be as varied as the congregations themselves. Today we’re happy to share a story of transformation and faithfulness that we hope will inspire others. At its January meeting, National Capital Presbytery made the unanimous decision to sell the property of Arlington Presbyterian Church in support of a new vision for that congregation and community. (Read more about the decision on pages 10-11 of the meeting packet.)

 Here are the remarks that were offered to presbytery by Susan Etherton, ruling elder and member of Arlington Presbyterian Church and chair of its Affordable Housing Team:

Arlington Presbyterian Church

Last January, almost exactly one year ago, Sharon Core (Arlington’s pastor) and I, along with our affordable housing team, offered a presentation during Open Space entitled Why we believe God is calling us to tear down our building and start over – Be careful when you invite God into a season of discernment! Maybe some of you were there?

We had, after prayer, discernment and study, embarked on a process framed around the question: “For whom are our hearts breaking in our community?” We discovered our hearts were breaking for people working in Arlington County who couldn’t afford to live there. Teachers, medical personnel, police officers, firefigthers, wait staff—those who contributed to the life of our community could not find housing in our community.

How would we respond to that heartbreak? We would offer one of our most valuable and under-utilized assets, our real estate, to provide affordable housing for our neighbors. We conducted a feasibility study that showed it was possible. We engaged a development partner, secured a pro bono attorney, hired a project manager with affordable housing experience. After over a year of preparation, study, and due diligence, we came here to share our story, bring you along and to answer your questions because we were ready and hoping for a vote – last year!

We were all so very sure of what we were called to do, and then God stopped us in our tracks. Our plan was turned down by our presbytery’s Administrative Commission on Congregational Property. There were questions that needed to be answered, risks that needed to be addressed. In humility, we realized that we didn’t have all the answers. In faith, we regrouped, determined to persevere. Was our vision still valid? – Yes. Was there another way to live into it? – We would press on and see. If this is of God, it will be. If this plan is God’s plan, it will happen. Part of our story now is the story of perseverance, of moving forward and trusting God.

 

pike-church

And here we are back again. We are more confident of the plan and we are asking you to support this Presbyterian witness to which God has called us–to provide our community with much needed affordable housing on Columbia Pike. We are excited to sell our property to Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) which plans to develop 140 units of committed, long-term affordable housing, along with street-front retail space. We are excited to bring new life to the land that has nurtured our congregation for over 100 years. We are excited to be able to continue to discern the future of our faith community and the possibility of the emergence of a new worshiping community, taking on a new form, responding to the needs of the community around us. With help from the Church Development Committee and working with our new Mission Developer, we will decide whether we are called to return to 3507 Columbia Pike in a new way once the property is redeveloped. The agreement with APAH allows us to have the right of first refusal to lease back the street-front space where our building now stands. Our mission will now be to decide in what new way might we be called to be church there. We are excited as we embark on this next leg of our journey; to pray to listen, and to discern God’s future plan for Arlington Presbyterian Church.

And so here we are, full of gratitude and of hope. And this is our time to say thanks. Many, many people have worked very hard to bring us to this place this evening.

We are grateful to many faithful Presbyterians who worked so diligently on this project. Especially the many members of the APC Congregation, faithfully led by our Pastor, Sharon Core. To the Presbyterian Foundation, the ACCP, Church Development Committee, New Worshiping Communities, Leadership Council, NCP’s development consultant, and a very special thanks to Dick Lowery. Without his steadfast support and wise counsel, we would not be here today. We give thanks for Jill Norcross, our project manager and Mark Viani, our attorney.

We are grateful to our partner, the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing. Nina Janopaul, APAH’s CEO, is here tonight and stood with us at every important Presbytery, congregational and Arlington County meeting since April 2012. APAH is an extremely well-respected and experienced nonprofit affordable housing developer working exclusively in Arlington. They have shown incredible commitment to APC and the Presbytery by honoring both APC’s vision and – NCP’s need to mitigate risk and receive a fair price for the property. We are receiving a very generous $8.48M for our land, which is a full 80% of the $10.6M appraised value.

Through our partnership with APAH, we are grateful to Arlington County elected officials and Arlington County staff who remain fully committed to seeing affordable housing developed on this site and are prepared to help APAH secure all the financing and land use approvals necessary to make this happen.

We are grateful for the gift of time and discernment. What we had planned for last year is not where we’ve ended up, but we are confident this is a better option – both for our congregation and for the Presbytery.

Finally, we are most grateful that our journey has been led by the Holy Spirit from the outset transforming each us along the way. Our prayers, bible study and faith-filled conversations, were the grounding for our business decisions and framed the financial analysis, negotiations, and strategic planning. In the midst of the many challenges, we have kept our eyes and hearts fixed on God. And for God’s amazing faithfulness, we are most grateful.


 

Sharon Core

 

Sharon Core, pastor of Arlington Presbyterian Church