First of all, an apology is in order. Back in November I mentioned that I intended to read Tim Bednar's paper "We Know More Than Our Pastors," and in saying that I felt like I sort of promised I would read it. Tim has checked in with me in a comment since then to see if I had read it. I hadn't and I also rudely didn't reply to Tim. It was one of those things where I was embarassed, but thought I would get around to it then forgot about it, so in case you see this Tim, my apologies for not responding sooner.
Now I've read the paper and recommend that you read it also. I'm not saying you'll agree with what he has written and many folks won't like the implications of what he has written. Even Tim has said that he is uncomfortable with some of the things he has written. But, if you want to understand how the Christian blogging movement got started this is a good place to start.
Tim began blogging in 2002 and this paper is the result of six months of research and a survey of bloggers in October and November of 2003. After this survey and research he came to the conclusion that bloggers are the vanguard of what he calls the participatory church.
When he says that "We Know More than Our Pastors," he doesn't mean that any single blogger knows more than any particular pastor. He means that bloggers networks extend beyond the reach of a single pastor. On page 39 he says:
In the process of blogging, we have discovered that our emerging network is smarter, more responsive and more creative that our churches, pastors and denominations. Michael Boyink interprets it this way rephrasing a point from Cluetrain Manifesto, “People in networked congregations have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another that from [their churches].”
Tim contends that bloggers have access to more information of all types than their pastors realize and that they are far more sophisticated than their pastors give them credit for. This knowledge goes beyond biblical and theological knowledge, although I think this would be included in the sense that bloggers can find out things they need to know online. On page 30 Tim mentions a lady who was able to bust her pastor for plagierism through the internet as an example of the expansive knowledge that bloggers have.
Bloggers are creating their own community and this means that they expect to participate in the creation of community in the church. Bloggers aren't looking to follow the pastor's vision, but are looking for the pastor to be a co-creator with them of life in the church.
Tim summarizes the partcipatory church in this way:
- The traditional church conceives of itself as an exclusive community and determines who is a “member” and who is not. It believes that it owns these definitions. This is no longer true. Christianity is an open conversation by those following Christ. Those involved in the conversation define the terms, not the church.
- Conversations are all around us. Christianity is one of many.
- Christians get information for their conversation from multiple sources that include, but are not limited to Christianity. We no longer pursue spiritual formation within the bounds of a single tradition, church, pastor or denomination. We are having hyperlinked conversations that subvert traditional hierarchies.
- Every Christian is a creator. We no longer have to wait for church authorization to think or act or speak in the name of Christ.
- Christians belong to multiple congregations.
- Participation in the conversation is spiritual formation.
- Congregations are conversations. They have a human voice. Congregations are getting smarter and more informed as they talk to each other. Participation in this new kind of networked congregation fundamentally changes people.
- Churches are not congregations. They do not participate in the conversation of their congregation. In fact, churches spent most of their time, energy and money creating parallel conversations and get frustrated when no one participates in them. In this new reality, churches sound hollow, flat and literally inhuman to their congregations. They do not speak the same language because they do not have a human voice.
- Churches that think they do are kidding themselves and missing an opportunity.
- Congregations are more important than churches.
- Most churches and pastors assume they build congregations. This is not true. Rather they belong to congregations. In this new era, congregations (like conversations) are all around us—we are in search of churches (and pastors).
- Congregations credential pastors they trust and invite into their conversation. Pastors emerge by building a reputation from within the congregation based on consistency and transparency. Pastors add value to congregations as they add connectedness.
- Successful pastors and churches of the future will enter into co-creative covenants that help congregations deal with complexity. They see themselves as benevolent keepers of Christian tradition who enable Christians, embrace emergence and foster learning. They do not see themselves as gatekeepers or arbiters of membership in the church.
- Pastors are not primarily preachers. Sermons are no longer teachings, but learning experiences. Goal of preaching is to learn not teach.
- Congregations are looking for pastors who serve them and offer the Sacraments. We are not looking for a vision.
- Church planters are people who are called to find and eventually pastor emerging congregations.
- The participatory church intimately connects with the real storytellers of Christianity, namely the congregation. Pastors and churches no longer tell the gospel story. All truth statements are co-created by congregations through the process of emergent conversations.
- These new participatory churches work on a gift economy. This means that Kingdom work is the reward not financial remuneration or power.
- Relational authenticity and longevity--not attendance--equals success in the participatory church. A church’s primary value to the congregation lies in its ability to connect Christians in conversation, service and sacrament. Connectedness equals healthy spiritual formation.
- Participatory churches provide more meaningful and memorable experiences because they participate with congregations. Even if Christians do not contribute to the conversation, they still expect a better experience because of the participation others.
- The participatory church is diverse in viewpoints and traditions. The new ministry of the pastor is to co-create systems that help congregations manage complexity.
- The greatest skill a participatory pastor will possess is the ability to listen.
- Congregations are their own watchdogs because they are the real stakeholders. Churches and pastors no longer need to screen their congregations for orthodoxy, arbitrate membership or filter their conversation. Orthodoxy will emerge. Call it emergent orthodoxy.
- Orthodoxy is not determined by a single source, but is distributed throughout the congregation. Neil Cole, a leader in the organic church movement observes, “The best solution to heresy in the church is not to have better-trained leaders in ‘the pulpits’, but better-trained people in ‘the pews’.”
- What I am trying to describe is a new kind of church created by believers
Now, I could argue all day long with much of what he has said here, but that is not my intention in posting this. My intention in posting this is driven by the view that if we are to understand any culture we have to understand that culture as it understands itself. And while there is alot here that I think is flat out wrong biblically, Tim has given an accurate description of the blogging subculture. And of course, for those who follow the emerging church, much of what Tim says here overlaps.
When I say I think there is a good deal that is flat out wrong biblically, the bloggers Tim has interviewed probably wouldn't agree. They would say that they are creating a biblical community. What they are arguing against is the notion that pastors have some privileged role as the gatekeepers of orthodoxy and community. Bloggers would not consider themselves beholden to the ideas of orthodoxy and community handed down by the traditional church through her pastors. They can create a new form of orthodoxy and a new form of community based on the bible.
So, as troubling as this may be, this is what we are working with in the blogging community. Bloggers have a strange mix of independence and interdependence. Bloggers long for community and interdependence but they want to do this independently of existing traditional ecclesiastical structures.
Almost everyone who reads me knows I'm a pastor and if you are new hear and didn't know that now you do. But being a pastor carries little if any weight in the blogging community, except maybe to a few members of my own church and others who are very traditional in their outlook.
As the internet and blogging spread and as whatever big new thing(s) that supplants blogging in the future spreads it will not just be technology that is spreading. The internet and blogging are helping shape a worldview. Andrew Sullivan said that blogging harnesses the democratic nature of the internet and I think he is on to something there. By nature, the internet is the great leveller and blogging is its latest and most intense incarnation of this levelling. The internet and blogging are helping create a hyper-democratic, egalitarian worldview where the traditional gatekeepers of information, orthodoxies, community and other assorted whatnot are losing their power and status at an accelerated rate.
That's my way of saying that Tim is on to something here and even if you don't like what he is saying, its worth paying attention to.
Right now we live in a strange world where some can find evidence to back up Tim's contentions and others can find evidenced to deny them.
In my church there are only a handful of people who know what a blog is. More and more are learning because we now have a few bloggers. We have several college age kids and youth who blog who probably understand these things better than most. Then we have an older generation, and I would put that older generation as anyone over the age of about 25, for whom all of this stuff Tim wrote would be foreign. These older folks probably wouldn't see too much evidence of these mindsets and so there are many who would think this is not an issue we are facing. Still others might acknowledge that this stuff is out there, but it doesn't really affect them.
Awhile back I listened to a message by Tim Keller where he said that there are still enough traditional people in America that traditional methods of doing church and outreach can work to build a church. But those pools of traditionally minded people are shrinking more and more. Keller advocates listening to those who minister in places like New York City and LA and other major population centers where all of the postmodern, "cutting edge" stuff is happening. He says that what you see in these places will begin to dominate more and more of the American cultural landscape and so, if we are to get ahead of the curve, we need to pay attention to how the church is ministering in those places.
This doesn't mean the culture becomes normative for us, but it means we rethink how we interact with the culture. I have a hard time accepting some of the things in the list above, but I value the insights it gives to the blogging world and the world that is being shaped by bloggers. I encourage you to read the rest of the paper for yourself.