Friday, April 2, 2010

The Forum

This appears in this month's Encourager, University's monthly magazine. If you are reading the blog, the column may seem a little odd. It is directed at readers who might not be familiar with blogging, twitter, Facebook and other social media forums. I am posting it here because it is about a new addition to our Pathway to Discipleship, a main focus of our presentation at Large Church Initiative 2010. Get all the details at

Ever heard of Twitter? If not, don’t worry, lots of other people have. Twitter launched in 2006 to allow people to share their answers to the simple question, in 140 characters or less, “What is Happening?” Just the other night, I watched as someone posted the 10 billionth tweet (their word for status update.) 10 billion! But, this column is not about twitter, it is about the revolutionary change in communication going on, and how we are thinking about it terms of discipleship.

When I used to meet couples a few years ago and asked them where they met, the answer was church, school, or work. In the last year, I have noticed that the answer is now more likely to be places like, MySpace or Facebook. I have been startled by how quickly Facebook, in particular, has become a normative means of communication – not just for teens or young adults, but for people of all generations.

These new ways of communicating don’t only reflect a change in technology; they reflect a change in the way we live. My best friend from college now lives in Houston, except he is rarely there. On Sunday nights he flies to Delaware for work, and returns home on Thursday. I only see him about once a year, but we don’t need to do much catching up, because we are able to stay in touch through Facebook.

In the world I grew up in this sort of thing didn’t happen. Our ability and need to travel, how we participate in work, school, and family has radically changed where we are and when we are there. We certainly notice this in the life of the church. Have you recently tried to schedule something for a group that was cross-generational? We ask and reply: “What day or night works,” “Sorry, I will be out of town that day,” “I work that night,” or “My kids have swim lessons.”

I think the church needs to be cautious when jumping into new technology, but we should always look at what is available in the world to see how it can serve the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ. This rise of new technology may have come at the perfect time for the church to address some of the problems we are all having getting together.

A few weeks ago, thirty staff members and I attended a conference featuring speakers from churches all over the Unites States and Europe, yet the speakers didn’t have to travel. Our friends at Leadership Network hosted it, had them record their presentations on their home or office computers, and then streamed all of the teachings out to us. It didn’t cost us a dime because we gathered in the John Wesley Room and watched the whole thing over the internet.

As we are continuing to refine The Pathway to Discipleship, we’ve been in conversation with people who aren’t progressing from phase to phase. Some of them may have taken u|connect, moved into the “Meeting” phase, and then got stalled in their journey. What was discovered was not a lack of commitment or lack of appropriate offerings, but rather that there was difficulty in scheduling.

We have people in our church who travel for work during the week, work irregular hours, or who take degree classes at night – like our own Assistant Director of Discipleship, Michael Andres, who is working on his Masters of Divinity through Asbury Theological Seminary’s online extension campus. These are people who want to commit to reading, studying, and learning the message of Jesus, but can’t commit to one specific night over the course of numerous weeks.

This eventually led us to ask the question question, “What if we could read the Bible and study the message of Jesus together in community online?” So, we are trying an experiment. We have recently launched a pilot group of an offering called, “The Forum.” We selected fifteen people, most of them participants in The Pathway to Discipleship to spend 12 weeks together, online.

On our own, we are reading, The Story, Zondervan’s abridged, chronological telling of the overall Biblical narrative. It is not the complete Bible, but the parts included are scripture, in Today’s New International Version. Together, and we are “talking about it.” Participants are asked to go log-in, answer some questions about the reading, and respond to each other’s answers in order to engage in some amount of “conversation.”

While I believe in the power of personal Bible reading and believe we should all be reading the Bible a lot more on our own, I also know that something amazing happens when we read and study the Word of God together. Yet the question remains – in this age, with distance and time separating us more and more, and technology seemingly trying to draw us closer, “What does ‘together’ mean?” Over the next few weeks, we may find out. I will let you know.

See you around the church and wandering cyberspace – follow me on twitter: @pastorwill, visit my weblog at, email me at, or find me on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Foursquare. (If you don’t know what some of those are, don’t worry, some didn’t exist last year! And don’t worry, I still have a phone and an office.)



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