eMinistry Book Review

Continuing work on my 5th competency:  Servant Leadership in Technology Facilitation and Collaboration. My commentary includes reflections on the web ministry of Pioneer Memorial Church, of which I am a team member.

Careaga, A. (2001). E-ministry : connecting with the net generation. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Summary
E-ministry is written by volunteer youth pastor and journalist. His book begins with a description of today’s youth online, including the differences between generations and an exploration of post modernism. He describes in detail the experiences of youth online looking for and participating in religious activities such as searching the net and online chat rooms. This book has a detailed description of the perils of the Internet contrasted with the positive possibilities. Finally, he describes “digital discipleship” including online communities, using the Bible online, and addressing the felt needs of the youth online.

Concerns
This book didn’t have the strong Biblical foundation and rationale that Church Next included. In addition, since it’s from 2001, the focus was on some more primitive bulletin boards and chat rooms  and is of course missing any commentary on the Web 2.0 phenomenon. There are quotes of interactions in chat rooms that could make traditional Christians uncomfortable; including interacting with a “BibleBot” called JesusFrk that spits out verses on demand. The book is much more anti-post-modernism than Church Next. It compares post-modernism to the tower of Babel and emphasizes the post-modern ideas of no absolute truth.  It does suggest that postmoderns may be more open to Jesus that the reason-emphasizing moderns (p. 76). I believe that all worldviews have some truthand some error, and that as Christians our goal is to find the positive to make a connection and lead others to a clearer understanding of truth and a closer relationship with Jesus.  Church Next has a better foundation for the theology of change; where this book has some warnings and concerns about online ministry, it’s more “free flowing” and open. I found this book more disturbing and challenging than Church Next.

Interesting Ideas

  • In the first page, Careaga (2001) calls the “global hive of interconnected computers known as the Internet” the “‘Roman Road’ network of our day” (p. 15). This reminded me of the following quote from Desire of Ages :

“When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son.” Providence had directed the movements of nations, and the tide of human impulse and influence, until the world was ripe for the coming of the Deliverer. The nations were united under one government. One language was widely spoken, and was everywhere recognized as the language of literature. From all lands the Jews of the dispersion gathered to Jerusalem to the annual feasts. As these returned to the places of their sojourn, they could spread throughout the world the tidings of the Messiah’s coming” (White, 1898, p. 32).

  • The book describes a conversation on faith between a boomer, an Xer, and an N-Gener. The author asks “Could such a discussion happen anywhere besides cyberspace?” (p. 64). How often do these generations even worship together, let alone have a discussion. How can generations be brought together online? Later in the book (p. 92), the author mentions a chat room is staffed by a retired chaplain. This model is working well for the prayer requests from the PMC website, and could be used for online communities/small groups/seminars online as well.
  • The author describes the online Christian gatherings as being much more like the “primitive church’s house meetings than to the regimented weekly services of most Protestant denominations” (p. 123). These gatherings are focused on experiential faith. Hmm. Conversation and fellowship can happen with believers online, but can online groups/faith communities challenge people to service in their daily life to those immediately around them?
  • Along with the Church Next book, Careage (2001) also suggests that the church should use stories to tell the stories of the Christian faith (p. 139). Narrative evangelism (p. 142) is telling our story with God’s story and sharing it with others.
  • An idea that I’d never thought of before was that of going “door-to-door” in chat rooms, inviting web surfers to tune into a cybercast (p. 149).
  • Careaga suggests also that you can’t win others to Christ if you spend all your time in a Christian community, online, face to face, and never meeting anyone outside your faith. This includes online experiences too (p. 152-153).
  • Careage quotes Jimmy Long that postmoderns have a two step conversion – they are “converted” to a community – small group or larger community; and then they commit to Christ (p. 154). Careage suggests that we should first invest time in a community online. What would/could that look like? He suggests that online evangelists should do the same as any missionary – planting by cultivating relationships, sowing the seed of the gospel, and then reparing the fruit.

Questions Raised

  • Is an online church a gathering or assembling together? Is a physical gathering critical for an ekklesia?  Is an online church “the congregation of the disembodied” (Careage, 2001, p. 19). How important is physical presence? Does watching a streaming service constitute “assembly”? What does it mean to “meet together” (Hebrews 10:25)? It seems that whether in physical presence or online, merely “listening or watching” is not enough. We must interact with each other. Interactivity is the medium online, not just passivity (p. 37). How can we incorporate interactivity both in face to face church and online? Small groups seem to be key.
  • Can the Internet be used to disciple young people (as suggested in the third section of the book?). What does it mean to disciple someone no matter their age?
  • Denomination distinctions fall down online and successful cyberchurches collaborate with other online ministries (p. 40). How does this reality fit with Adventist understanding of our unique mission to the world?
  • What questions are young people asking? A illustration from the book is Christian teens trying to learn about tatoos and body piercing. Not much (was) available when searching “Christian” with these terms. The author suggests that many religious answers online are not answering the questions that young people are asking (p. 108). In our media ministry, we have the benefit of a campus of college students, who are often surveyed to understand what they want/need to learn. The Chosen series is an example of addressing questions by students.

Thoughts on People Today

  • James Emery White (Careaga, 2001, p. 23): “People are very interested in spiritual things, are asking spiritual questions, and are on spiritual quests as seekers, yet they have no interest in the church.” How do we connect to these seekers? How are we noticing and responding to the spiritual hunger around us?
  • Quoting a young person (Careaga, 2001, p. 30). “The Internet is the way to reach my generation. It is a way for cowards like me to grow in faith privately until we get the strength to say our beliefs out loud.”
  • Even young people who like the online cyberchurch idea are still skeptical about cyberchurch as the only means of connecting to God’s people (p. 31).
  • “N-Geners are very God-conscious” but not grounded in the Christian faith”. Later in the book, Careaga describes churchgoing kids with an eclectic mix of faith. “I’m a born again Christian. Yeah I believe that Jesus was the Son of God. But I’m also a practicing Buddhist” (p. 72). This is a warning and a call to ministry that gives the young a foundation in truth. Recent series from PMC are definitely addressing the need for a foundation, i.e. The Sabbath, The Truth about Death, The Truth about Hell.
  • Teens want to be engaged in a cause bigger than themselves (p. 52). Are we calling the youth to serve Jesus? The Primetime series certainly does. How are we connecting and mentoring them for ministry?

Potential Challenges

  • One of the recurring themes of this book is young people saying whatever they think online. Careaga (2001) suggests that “if one is to participate in the rough-and-tumble community of Usenet newsgroups, one must be willing to put up with such harsh criticism online” (p. 83). Is it possible to have an online community where other views are respected and still be a community that is committed to leading others to a closer walk with Jesus? I think it is… in an online community where people have committed to learn from each other and respect those in the community. A wide open space may be harder to manage, but short time-limited communities (seminars? classes?) should be more manageable.
  • The author suggests that when setting up an online ministry, it’s important to find out what other ministries are already out there and how the new ministry fits with the other online ministries (p. 88). An analysis of within-denomination and inter-denomination online ministries is probably helpful before venturing into a new experience online. For example, 360Hubs has an online networking tool for church members. Here’s a church that has a women’s group online; and another; and “can you do small groups online?” I want to think about this more because I believe that my local church could be doing more for our online/web/podcast listeners, especially those from “creative access countries.”
  • Careaga (2001) suggests that Christians should use the Net to “introduce the Net Generation” to the Bible. That the Word should be “released from the tyranny of the printed page to read a wired, digitized, hyper-connected world” (p. 114). Careage reminds us that the Word was mostly “heard” by early Christians. The oral tradition may be returning in today’s age, and can be met with audio and video podcasts.
  • Is there a way to use the Net to “connect” young people and other online seekers to a physical church community? “Net savvy teens … are suspicious of highly structured institutions” (p. 134). It seems that only with a supportive relationship built online could someone be convinced to jump from “online” church to joining a physical church community. (BTW, I reject the use of the terms virtual and real because online communication is just as real as print which is how we receive the Bible!)
  • Careage quotes Jimmy Long as suggesting that instead of the Great Commission, Christians should emphasize the Great Commandment. This concerns me a bit, because I think the Great Commission is at the core of who we are as Adventist Christians. Maybe instead, one could try to meet the command of the Great Commission through the method of the Great Commandment. This way it is “both” instead of “or”.

Again, while I was familiar with most of the technology tools explained in this book, I found it a challenging and interesting read to consider the ways to minister online. I want to think more about how our church web ministry could add an online community component of some form.

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