Thinking Out Loud

May 18, 2017

The Case for Online Church Community

Like “real” church though, you need to be all in…

I wrote this almost exactly eight years ago. At the time, what I had in view was the blogging community to which I had become a part. The word podcast wasn’t in my vocabulary though there was a healthy choice of online sermons on demand. There weren’t so many full service broadcasts (live or delayed) back then because of a nervousness concerning the worship song copyrights.

Also, more blogs allowed comments back then, and people engaged more. Today comments are closed at many sites and you also have a number of key bloggers who migrated to Twitter and other platforms. To relive those days, check out our post from Monday, A Golden Age of Christian blogging.

For those of you reading this on a PC, or subscribers who have always wondered, the default font for this blog’s theme is very small and to this day we take a minute to manually enlarge every paragraph. However, for a few years we also were putting everything in bold face as well.

Remember, this was all about community. It doesn’t purport to address the five other things I see as central to actually showing up in person at a physical church: Corporate worship, corporate prayer for others, potential prayer for your own needs and concern, corporate giving, and communion. I also think the level of personal accountability is higher when you’re there in person. 

I do know there are people for whom physical attendance at weekend worship is currently impossible for a wide variety of reasons. For those of you in that category, I hope you will endeavor to develop the type of online community I had in view when I wrote this. Many churches now have a online pastor to cater to the needs of those who don’t attend in person. 

Two “finallys”: Again, remember that I wrote this at a time when I envisioned the blog community becoming a surrogate church for some (which it did.) Also remember there’s nothing new about this; for generations the church wrestled with the issue of people dropping out on Sunday mornings to stay home and watch services on television. (I wonder what that would have looked like if it had a chat or discussion option as did blogging?) 

How can online churches better address the issue of community?

If your background is mainline

At a certain part of the service there is a time set aside for “the passing of the peace.” You greet one another with a hug or a handshake (or in a few places, a “holy” kiss) and say, “The peace of Christ,” or “The peace of Christ be with you.” In reply the other might say the same, or say, “And to you also;” or “And to you also, the peace of Christ.” If the church is smaller, you know these people, at least by name, but if it’s larger or it’s tourist season, you may not know them at all.

After the service there is a time when coffee and juice is served and you can engage people conversationally for about five minutes; usually people you already know. For an extended time like this, don’t miss the pancake breakfast and the strawberry tea held each year.

To get to know people a little deeper, or other people, you can join the choir, or volunteer for a host of guilds or committees that are always in need of help. You’ll also find a lot of the same people serve on civic projects and thereby will run into them in other contexts outside of the church itself. Don’t expect to break into the core community until you’re a “regular,” which occurs after you’ve attended and been involved for a gazillion years.

If your background is Evangelical

At a certain part of the service there is a time set aside for “greeting” or it may be formalized as “the ritual of friendship.” You greet one another with a hug or a handshake and say, “Good Morning;” or “Did you happen to catch the game yesterday?” In reply the other might say the same, or say, “Is that a new car I saw in the parking lot?” If the church is smaller, you might know these people, at least by name, or if it’s a mid-sized church, you can look them up in the photo directory when you get home.

After the service there is a time when coffee and juice is served and you can engage people conversationally for about five minutes; usually people you already know. For an extended time like this, don’t miss the annual potluck lunch and the annual bowling night.

To get to know people a little deeper, there isn’t a lot to volunteer for, since everything is done by the paid staff. The mens’ and womens’ retreats would help, but that’s $120 and $130 respectively. Better to join a small group. That way you’ll get to spend time in at least one person’s house each week, and get to know them and about four other families (or eight other singles) more intimately.

If your option is blogging community

There is a possibility that there will be people in your fellowship who you do not have any idea what they look like, or exactly where they live. However, you don’t have to wait for an opportunity to engage conversationally. Those opportunities occur at any time and may produce a variety of responses from a variety of people.

Through those conversations you will learn about their likes and dislikes, events in the life of their family, where they stand on a variety of issues, and what challenges and needs they face. You’ll possibly learn the names of — or see pictures of — their kids or their parents, be given insights into their job, and you’ll almost certainly know a little about every book they’ve read since they started blogging. And they’ll know the same about you.

You may find very quickly that their prayer requests become your prayer requests; you feel drawn to the needs of these people as one might with someone in their church family. If Twitter enters into the picture, you’ll know even more about their daily routine, the various thoughts and challenges that burst into the brain brought about by various stimuli. And if you Twitter, they’ll have that input from you also.

Plus, they will introduce you to their online friends, and you might pick a few of those to subscribe to or at least bookmark, and over time, perhaps their friends will become your friends also. It’s not unusual to pick up e-mail addresses from comments you’ve received and send out some off-the-blog messages. (In fact, two weeks ago, I sent out about 60 such e-mails about a project I wanted to get going that needed an off-the-blog start-up.)

Finally, if you want to get really hardcore, you might find yourself contemplating attending a bloggers event which sometimes take place in conjunction with other events, and at other times are stand-alone events. Not because online fellowship is insufficient, but simply because the relationships are already well established. (And nobody’s pretending to be a 17-year old girl from Ohio; at least I hope not!)

So at the end of the day, online community isn’t better or worse than Sunday church fellowship; it’s just different. And I would argue it’s a good different. One can’t entirely substitute for the other, and hopefully people using online community as a surrogate for a physical community that is currently absent from their life would, over time, find themselves drawn back to something resembling a church or house church; and then maintain a balance between the two relational paradigms.

March 1, 2017

Wednesday Link List

tweet-othersWelcome to WLL#348. It’s also Ash Wednesday. We have an unusual number of mid-month pieces here today even though the list was prepared the day before. So not fresh off the press, but we thought worth including. Don’t forget to try to get your suggestions to me by 6:00 PM EST on Monday; but later ones do get considered.

Our extro image is from the Twitter feed Unvirtuous Abbey:

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February 25, 2017

ThInKiNg OuT LoUd TuRnS 9

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, personal, writing — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:52 am

TOL Banner Red

 It’s our 9th Birthday…which means we’re now in our tenth year!

Who would have thought I’d be doing this 9 years later? I thought this year, instead of taking the time to reminisce and blow my own horn, we’d look at you guys, readers. If you’ve been with us since the beginning, thank you for your support. If this is your first day, welcome.

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First you guys have forced me to discover who I am. Yes, the various labels are annoying sometimes or a caricature of what people truly believe, but writing every day and interacting with such a broad base of news stories and opinion pieces have helped me clarify my positions on a variety of doctrinal subjects and crafting a personal theology.

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Second, you readers have inspired me to read some really great books. There are times I got on the bandwagon of trending authors and now wish I’d focused on different types of material — more from IVP perhaps — but I appreciated tracking with the titles that have frequently topped bestseller charts.

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Third, the off-the-blog fellowship that has resulted from this project is something I greatly treasure. True, it’s often still confined to the world of electrons — emails and direct messages on Twitter — but I’ve also been blessed to meet a few of you face to face.

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Finally, without Thinking Out Loud, there would never have been a Christianity 201, which has benefited me spiritually in so many ways. I thank those of you who tell me, “I read both blogs;” it is humbling to think you spend that amount of time with me on a daily basis.

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So this time around, it’s Happy Birthday to you the regular readers here at Thinking Out Loud. Thank you for keeping us among the top Christian blogs in North America.


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February 22, 2017

Wednesday Link List

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Did you miss us last week? Subscribers will have one free week added to the end of their subscription.

The item in our top and bottom image was found in a candy store and originates with LaughRat.com (viewer discretion advised).

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February 8, 2017

Wednesday Link List

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Welcome to Link List #346. Please shake off the snow and leave your hats and boots at the door.

Re the image ↑↑ Granted, it’s a promotional piece for a new product from Zondervan Bibles, but it makes you think, doesn’t it.

Our closing item below is a bit different, I waited an extra week before including it. Found at Ben Witherington’s blog.

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There won’t be a link list next week; we’ll see you back on February 22nd.

February 1, 2017

Wednesday Link List

being-tall-706

faith-with-benefitsYou’ll have to scroll down to find the link referencing the book cover here, but yes, the title means what you think it means. For our upper and lower images today we’re featuring the artwork of the UK’s Dave Walker from CartoonChurch.com which originally appeared in the Church Times and can be found in the book Heroes of the Coffee Rota, published by Canterbury Press.

  • Essay of the Week: “I didn’t intend to create an IT policy for my spiritual life, but inadvertently I ended up doing so over the past few months… I didn’t think I had an issue–but since making these changes I am more relaxed, have far more free time, am more present at home, and even in times (like now) which would previously have been cripplingly busy at work are manageable–making me far more productive.”
  • Norma McCorvey, was the “Jane Roe” in the classic court case Roe v. Wade. Here are seven things she wants you to know about that precedent-setting case.
  • Must Reading: Do the rich get better discipleship? After shopping for a church with a solid youth program for four teenage boys, this family realizes they simply can’t afford it.
  • Op-Ed: A challenge to the teaching of Francis Chan and the Family Integrated Church movement. Sample: “Chan has totally missed the mark of what it actually means to be a Christian family!
  • The fertility industry: It’s the year 2042 and the woman who is the product of a surrogate birth shares her story: “They bought my mother’s eggs—lots of them—so they could pick the best embryos. They rented another woman’s womb for 9 months. Well, 8 months: we were premature and underweight. My dad’s decided that each of them would get one genetic child—so I’m a half-sister with my own twin, which is strange.” An expert offers the other side of the story.
  • Megachurch Life: Our messaging that it’s okay to come if you are broken and your life is messy right now is contrasted by the image we project with a polished, professional service.
  • Pause for Thought: Humility and certainty can go hand-in-hand. “In other words, Christians are humble because their understanding of truth is not based on their own intelligence, their own research, their own acumen.”
  • The son or daughter has informed his or her conservative Christian parents that they are gay. Should the parents disown them?
  • I love what The Gospel Project is doing with their videos, but this one should also be made available at those sites where you buy clips for weekend church services. Every church needs to show this.  
  • January’s Essay of the Month: Philip Yancey on the election.
  • The Joy of Sects: A look at The Panacea Society. “Joanna Southcott…had died a century earlier – and had left behind a sealed wooden box full of prophetical writings, stating that it should only be opened during a time of national crisis by all 24 Church of England bishops.” This group of women were “convinced they held the fate of the planet in their hands.”
  • Leadership Lessons: It’s been a month now. How are you making out on your new year goals? “Sometimes we in the church are just not that serious or passionate… We trust that the Word will do its work and that we are stewards of the mysteries of God. But we don’t really want to rock the boat. We don’t want to take risks.”
  • Current Events in the Rear View Mirror:  Should Christian women march?
  • Church Tech Talk: Is the tech team or communications team simply service providers or are they a ministry unit?
  • Survey Says: Pollsters seem to reject the possibility that you can be African American and Evangelical at the same time.  “… historically the word points to and names a theological-spiritual ethos, not a particular socio-political-class movement…”
  • What are your idols? Find out what matters to you with this short 20 Questions to Expose Your Idolatry.
  • Timely: Christian recording artist Audrey Assad tells of her father fleeing Syria and coming to the U.S. as a refugee. (6 minute video; watch full-screen.) 
  • Kids still deciding on a college? 25 Things to do or questions to ask before making the final choice…
  • …Meanwhile, at the other end of the education spectrum, a Christian mom explains her choice to send the kids into the public school system.
  • When your church, denomination or parachurch organization disagrees with the government: This author suggests there are but three courses of action you can choose.
  • ‘You have just aborted Beethoven.’ That’s the punchline to a popular argument against abortion. However, “It assigns value based on (presumed) accomplishments. It is a utilitarian argument — assigning intrinsic value based on one’s “utility” (usefulness) — and it is utilitarian arguments that are best suited for pro-choice arguments, not for pro-life. In any event, those contemplating abortion are already employing utilitarianism in their thinking.”
  • First there was The Bible Museum. Now the American Bible Society is launching the Faith and Liberty Center in downtown Philadelphia.
  • Sadly, another high-profile Christian family processes divorce
  • …while the writers at one website consider that we are only hearing one side of the story.
  • Forthcoming Film: The Resurrection of Gavin Stone “represents what modern Christian life actually looks like, with a sense of irreverence and a knowing point of view.”
  • Parenting Place: 95% of our behavioral patterns are established by age 6. Authors Todd and Jackie Courtney have launched Inspirational Nursery Rhymes, with four titles releasing today. They’re available where you buy books; Christian bookstores can access them through Anchor Distributing. Info and an interactive game at the series website.
  • Who remembers when Keith Green sold his music albums on a “pay what you can” basis? Now, author and pastor Craig Groeschel is working with his publisher on a “pay what it’s worth” system for his new book, Divine Direction. (With a base price of $5.)
  • Martha Collison was the youngest ever contestant on the UK version of the show we know as The Great American Baking Show. She pays tribute to fellow Christian and bake off star 81-year-old Mary Berry.
  • Faith With Benefits: “…students on Catholic campuses report being unhappy with casual sexual encounters, most studies have found no difference between Catholic colleges and their secular counterparts…” Oxford University Press, $29.95 hardcover.
  • One way to get your books out there: HarperCollins is hosting GodLab, a 3-day faith-focused conference in Los Angeles in early June. (Cocktails will be served.)
  • Christian comedian Chonda Pierce faced some backlash after appearing at the Presidential Inauguration. She noted that, “somebody asked me what I’m wearing and I said, ‘Whatever is washable because someone might throw eggs at me!'”
  • Not enough links today? You can always try Religion Link
  • Provocative Headline of the Week: What to Do When You are Bored of God.
  • Video of the Week: You’ve got to see it to believe it as parents in Tbilisi, Georgia lined up at Trinity Cathedral to have their children baptized.
  • Finally, something a little different to end today; a poem by Brian Bilston found at this Twitter post.

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Reproduction of the Wednesday Link List in whole in or in part would constitute a great waste of scarce resources.

January 25, 2017

Wednesday Link List

alternative-facts

Thanks for your suggestions this week. Don’t forget to share today’s link list URL on your blog and social media. Take a deep breath… here we go!

I know you thought we were quite done with Christmas, but now we know why these guys (below) took so long to find the baby:

Arctic Wisemen from Sacred Sandwich

January 18, 2017

Wednesday Link List

Welcome to the Link List. Beware of the Dog:

beware-of-dog

mosquitoMy wife took that picture while standing about five feet away. It never budged. As to the little home decor item at right, it’s an actual item made by Heartfelt, Inc. Can I put you down for a dozen of them?

This week a big shout-out to all the radio guys who check us out every Wednesday for program material. You can watch for our invoice in the mail.

…and yes it’s true. Skye Jethani was part of the cast of Puzzle Place. We offer a screenshot as proof.

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January 11, 2017

Wednesday Link List

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Hey readers! I want to be honest; I put some extra hours into this one, both in seeking out some things you might not read elsewhere — I only check other aggregators after this is mostly wrapped up — and including some longer quotations so you get the main idea of each item. So please help spread the word by sharing this link to today’s list with your contacts.  http://wp.me/pfdhA-8Fg

  • From High Society to the Mission Field: Raised as a debutante in Toronto’s upscale Rosedale district she rejected that life to work with Wycliffe Bible Translators. Canada’s national newspaper, The National Post gives extensive space to Ruth Thompson’s story. “Fifty years ago they didn’t wear clothes. Now they call Thomson on their cellphones.”
  • Essay of the Week: The above item. Hands down.
  • Women’s ministry in perspective: “I shifted in my seat at the women’s ministry event; the speaker said it again. “You are a beautiful, chosen, special woman of God. There is no one in the world like you!” …Again, it’s not a bad message. But it’s theologically deficient, and if the goal of a women’s ministry is to encourage and equip female Christians, the message has to change…When you create a culture that uses Jesus for little more than a spiritual feel-good, it’s no wonder the women it produces can’t get victory…”
  • Leadership Lessons: Don’t get caught saying, “I’m too busy.”
  • Grieving: “The early days of grief are a hazy, dizzying, moment by moment response to a trauma that your mind simply can’t wrap itself around. You are, what I like to call a Grief Zombie; outwardly moving but barely there… Most people understand grief as an event, not as the permanent alteration to life that it is, and so they stay up until the funeral and imagine that when the service ends, that somehow you too can move ahead.” 
  • Next Tuesday (17th) morning Shane Claiborne and other Christian leaders will hold a 2-hour rally in front of the Supreme Court calling for the end of the death penalty.
  • A 155-year old Baptist church in the heart of Washington, DC has appointed a gay couple as co-pastors. Both women have worked previously in chaplaincy, but buried deep in the article is the mention that one was an associate minister at Unitarian Universalist Church. The church — which bears the name Calvary Baptist — actually cut ties to the SBC in 2012.
  • The faith of President Obama, compiled entirely in his own words
  • This just in: Theology students at the University of Glasgow are being given trigger warnings in the course ‘Creation to Apocalypse: Introduction to the Bible (Level 1)’and in order “to protect the mental of health of vulnerable students” it appears that “Theology students are being warned in advance that they may see distressing images while studying the crucifixion of Jesus, giving them a chance to leave if they fear being upset.”(They’re right of course; I think a man dies in that scene. We can’t have that.) …
  • …Here’s a response to that nonsense.
  • Things like this only serve to set back Christian-Jewish relations in Israel. Fortunately most key comments on this story aimed at peacemaking
  • An Italian security official warns that the potential for a terrorist attack on The Vatican is very real.
  • America is suffering from a religious literacy problem starting with “media powerhouses” who “don’t quite get religion.” “Christians, in general, are ignorant about their own tradition. Half of Protestants can’t identify Martin Luther; half of Catholics don’t understand the doctrine of transubstantiation…Religious illiteracy is not a liberal problem. It is a function of two key factors: insularity and lack of education.” 
  • What if? (I thought I’d keep that teaser simple.)
  • Suicide Prevention: The son of author Anne Lamott shares surviving another day in an article, the very title of which ought to arrest you in your tracks. “How I managed not to kill myself today.”
  • A Theology of Sarcasm: The wife of a prominent Christian apologist provides a Biblical bibliography justifying the use of sarcasm. (Though some of the selections might be better described as hyperbole.)
  • Astronomers at Calvin College have confirmed two stars that will collide and merge in 2022, forming a binary star and producing a red nova.  No doubt as with the blood moon, this will produce a new crop of prophecy books.
  • The Singles Section: Looks? Personality? Both? An incredibly honest reflection on the attraction factor when hoping to fall in love.
  • Parenting Place: If your children get Highlights magazine and your values are conservative, you might want to check out the February issue before the kids do
  • …Somewhat related Devotional of the Week: An adult-portioned answer that begins with the kids asking what happens to their pet when it dies.
  • Having Carrie Underwood sing on the first day of the Catalyst Conference probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but the backlash has been considerable.
  • He moderated a County Quiz Bowl where “public school children did better on the religion, specifically Bible, questions than they did on the geologic time-table questions that had their basis in the theory of evolution.  So much for many people’s claims that public schools are brain-washing our children against the Bible.” See how do you fare — without scrolling down — on 30 statements which may or may not be from the Bible.
  • I’d love to live in a world where announcements like this did not exist.
  • Canada Corner: The longest-running religion editor of The Toronto Star, Canada’s largest circulation newspaper, Tom Harpur has died. His 2004 book, The Pagan Christ “digs deep into the origins of Christianity, and argues that there is no evidence that historical Jesus existed” and that “the story of Jesus was largely based on an Egyptian man-god and was simply an allegorical tale, meant to act as a guidepost for those striving to be better people.” The newspaper’s obituary quotes him as saying, “I’m not really a religious guy, you know.”
  • ♫ Worship Songs: We’ve re-formatted a few things at Christianity 201 and if you’re wishing to discover or re-discover some worship songs with substance without wading through YouTube’s search system, click this link.
  • The Family Squabbles of Jesus: Jesus and his mother didn’t always agree
  • Listicle of the Week:  The top searched verse on You Version in 88 countries; or if you prefer, this format.
  • Quotation of the Week: (a friend spotted this on Facebook) “We’re not here to fix this mess, nor to join it, or to befriend it. We’re here so if anyone gets tired of it, they can know there is an alternative to it.
  • ♫ Video of the Week: We couldn’t decide among several here from a band that I believe is set for greater recognition in North America in 2017. We’re talking about Rivers and Robots. (Yes, that’s the name.) Pick a song…
  • …Unless we’re talking about the uniqueness of the video itself. Then this international production by Rivers and Robots wins. Watch Lift Up My Eyes. A couple of times…
  • …or their most-watched Shepherd of My Soul.
  • ♫ Music Memories: Thumbing through the 1996-97 Tooth and Nail Records catalog is like opening a time capsule according to one person whose band was on their roster. He describes it as a time when music mattered.
  • I didn’t watch all 77 minutes of this, but street preaching is definitely one of the extreme sports of ministry
  • The world we live in: Two new spokespeople representing major makeup companies are not women.
  • Time-waster you’ll probably click: 13 Cats Resting on the Promises of God.
  • Finally, I’m happy that the editors at Baptist Press know what makes for a good religion news story.

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Images: Hallmark store (upper); Baptist Memes (lower)

January 8, 2017

Blogroll Update # 6

Here we go again; this should pick up where the last list left off… First a recap.

blogThe link to part one. (October, 2014…six years worth of links to that point)

The link to part two. (St. Patrick’s Day, 2015)

The link to part three. (May, 2015, also included my news sources to that point)

The link to part four. (August, 2015, included blog aggregators and people who do things similar to the Wednesday Link List)

The link to part five. (August, 2016, a full year later)

The link to a mini update. (Just five weeks after part five the file was getting full again)

Blogs
Cardus Blog | Renewing North American social architecture
The Cross Court –
Charis: Subject to Change
flourishingchurches | Blog
The Domain for Truth
Sheologians | Theology for women, no doilies allowed. – Sheologians
The Little Friar
Man of Depravity | Serving Millennials on the Journey Toward Significant Life
Brazen Church: A Community of Free-Thinking Christians
blog.bible – Equipping you to encounter God in the pages of ScriptureBlog.bible
Dei-liberations | Thoughts on God and World
Above All Else | Thoughts from Kelly Needham
Freed Hearts –
Restless Pilgrim
Theology in Overalls | Where Theology Meets Everyday Life
Rohadi Nagassar | Missional to Mega – Ideas for Church & Culture
Talmidim Blogging
New Life » Blog
Michelle van Loon
The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser | One Man’s Journey From Eternity to Here
Matthew Pierce: I write stuff.
Vita pastoralis – Website of Dr. Timothy R. LeCroy
Gentle Reformation | Speaking truth gently
Sean McDowell
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA – Home – intervarsity.org
Living On Tilt
Blog | Ed Cyzewski: | Author, Contemplative Christian, Freelance Writer
100 Movements
More Enigma Than Dogma | Relationships, Culture & Current Events
David Santistevan
Into the Foolishness of God
Vox Susurrantis | Aaron Wilkinson
Author’s Blog Page | SGM
Joel J. Miller | Theology That Sticks
Ancient Faith Blogs – Contemporary Insight on Culture and Theology
Blog Feed — George H Guthrie
First Things | America’s Most Influential Journal of Religion & Public Life
Living in the Shoe
Over 40 of Today’s Popular Christian Blogs
Sharefaith Magazine – The Best in Church Leadership, Worship, Tech and Gear!
Speakingtruthinlove’s Blog
Convivium Magazine – Faith in our common life
Before The Cross | Glorifying God by Sharing the Love of Christ
Revealed8
The Thistlette | Christian & Feminist: You Can Be Both
Older Posts »

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