UMJeremy

Author's details

Name: UMJeremy
Date registered: March 3, 2012
URL: http://hackingchristianity.net

Latest posts

  1. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: The Smartphone Might Revive Participatory Worship — October 1, 2014
  2. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: What will a Minority White God look like? — September 29, 2014
  3. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Why Straight White Men want to close General Conference #UMC — September 26, 2014
  4. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Why Straight White Men want to close General Conference #UMC — September 26, 2014
  5. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Why do churches even DO rural ministry? — September 23, 2014

Most commented posts

  1. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Holding the #UMC Hostage 01 – The Setting — 5 comments
  2. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Restricting Marriage is a Justice Issue — 2 comments
  3. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: About that UMReporter Article…[response] – A Methodist Church United for our Daughters — 2 comments
  4. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Defeating the Dark Side of Church Metrics #UMC – Measuring transformation or accumulation? — 2 comments
  5. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Time is Ticking on #UMC Tipping Point — 2 comments

Author's posts listings

Oct 01 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: The Smartphone Might Revive Participatory Worship

Original post at http://hackingchristianity.net/2014/10/the-smartphone-might-revive-participatory-worship.html


In the past 500 years, the dance of technological advancement and church music has moved worship from a spectacle to participatory to a spectacle again. What will be the technology that brings it back?

explo2011.worship2

The Upswing of Congregational Singing

The image of church music has changed a lot over the years, mostly thanks to shifts in technology.

Before the Reformation, people listened as cantors and professionals sang in Latin (a language they did not know) and the priest interpreted the words. Music was a spectacle as the people just listened. After the Reformation put the worship experience in the common language and the new technology of the Gutenberg printing press began churning out hymns in the people’s language, then participation in worship skyrocketed.

Another shift came from the early Methodists. In the time of John and Charles Wesley, singing was a dignified thing done inside church walls in Pre-Revolutionary War England. From their field preaching and the way how they were criticized for being “rowdy” you know that meant they sung outside. These participatory hymns were highly important because they taught theology and Christian tenets to common folk who were mostly illiterate.

There’s some areas that I likely missed–I’m not an informed music commentator. But it seems to me that in the span of a few hundred years, music in worship went from an observed spectacle to a full and essential participation in worship, thanks to a happy marriage between technology and hymnody.

evangel-worship

The Pendulum swings back…

Today, there’s some concern that worship is reverting back to spectacle and away from congregational/choral singing. Church For Men articulates the most recent bit of the history and points their finger squarely at uncritical use of Powerpoint:

About 20 years ago a new technological advance – the computer controlled projection screen – entered America’s sanctuaries. Suddenly churches could project song lyrics for all to see. Hymnals became obsolete. No longer were Christians limited to 1,000 songs handed down by our elders. At first, churches simply projected the songs everyone knew – hymns and a few simple praise songs that had come out of the Jesus Movement. People sang robustly.

But that began to change about ten years ago. Worship leaders realized they could project anything on that screen. So they brought in new songs each week. They drew from the radio, the Internet, and Worship conferences. Some began composing their own songs, performing them during worship, and selling them on CD after church.

In short order we went from 250 songs everyone knows to 250,000+ songs nobody knows…Songs get switched out so frequently that it’s impossible to learn them. People can’t sing songs they’ve never heard. And with no musical notes to follow, how is a person supposed to pick up the tune?

And so the church has returned to the 14th century. Worshippers stand mute as professional-caliber musicians play complex instruments, sung in an obscure language. Martin Luther is turning over in his grave.

The move from common-knowledge hymns to ever-shifting Top 40 Christian Contemporary songs (with less systematic theological teaching–with some exceptions) changed us back from participation to spectacle. The number of big band & worship leaders continue to rise as hymnals and church choirs are falling fast. This is not a commentary on the value of a particular style of worship (ie. worship wars circa 2002) but on the effects of shifts in worship music.

I’d like to caution, though, that I do wonder if the technology or the music leadership choices is more to blame? Having the screens project the words causes people to face and sing forward (thus louder), rather than looking down to the hymnal and trying to read music. So is it the technology or the temptation to not use familiar hymns that is to blame for a downturn in congregational singing? I would argue the latter.

Regardless, for those of us that value participatory hymnody, what is the solution?

explo2011.worship3

Music as Immersion or Accompaniment?

As my own local church sees more young adults participating in worship, I actually think another technology is helping young adults find more draw to participatory hymnody: the Smartphone. Why? You carry your music with you, a soundtrack you are immersed in when you move. I occasionally listen to my Awesome 1990s Alternative mix as I walk and mass-transit from home to church. With the music seemingly coming behind me from my earbuds, I feel more immersed than I did in the actual 1990s with the big stereos. I sing along and pay more attention to the lyrics now–gosh, some of that music was terrible.

The way I consume media on my smartphone now is not accompaniment but immersion. Likewise, the shift in worship must come–as Dan Wilt articulates here–away from seeing technology as accompaniment, as that which draws the focus outward. Technology rather becomes that which immerses us and draws us inward and upward. For some it is the thousands of pipes in an old well-cared-for pipe organ. For some it is wisely chosen images projected on a screen causing visual reflection for the sermon or the hymn. For some it is the architecture of a building with high walls, exposed-wood ceilings, or stained glass. For the best, it is a combination of all three (visual, audio, kinesthetic) in tasteful, intentional ways.

Dan Wilt concludes:

Today, however, many of the Worship Immersion Culture ilk are excited to re-integrate a variety of more participatory worship experiences, from singing together, to experiencing beauty together, to weekly communion, to responsive prayers, to the passing of the peace, and much more.

They don’t need the music to accomplish all things participatory in the conventional sense of the word. They can be surrounded by the music in one moment, and breaking the bread together with a few shared words in the next. In fact, the aesthetics of the building, the type of art adorning the building, the fellowship spaces (cafe areas, etc.), and the missional spaces (food distribution areas, etc.) matter to them as much as the music. Buildings, for the Worship Immersion Culture, matter beyond their function.

My claim is that the smartphone–its immersive ability when it comes to absorbing media, not its distracting features–actually helps mimic and draw out the immersive experience that describes the worship above. If our iPod generation is used to experiencing music in that way, it is actually better for traditional hymnody and worship experience, which does the same type of music experience in a deep architectural space. Many evangelical worship services are beginning to do the same thing: though we sometimes pick on Asbury UMC in Tulsa here at HX, their new worship setup is phenomenal.

Consume or Be Consumed?

The way how we consume media has shifted significantly since the Napster days about 15 years ago: what can we learn from it for our worship experiences? While we can moan about how many bad choices and unwise uses of technology in churches have caused a decline in the use of choirs and hymnals, we can also embrace how media consumption habits (influenced by smartphones) can actually bring back an appreciation of the best aspects of hymnody and worship experience, encourage congregational singing (when it is paired with wise choices of music and implementation of technology), and embrace the best mix of presentational and participatory music in the worship experience.

I’m excited for the next few decades as we seek to undo the damage done by uncritical use of technology and worship design. I believe it is possible by careful use of technology (and appropriation of media consumption habits) to move the pendulum back to congregational singing, immersive worship, and hymnody that teaches the head as much as it incites the heart.

This is just a run-through of some thoughts on technology and worship I’ve been kicking around and I thought I would finally throw the spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks.

Thoughts?

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/10/the-smartphone-might-revive-participatory-worship/

Sep 29 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: What will a Minority White God look like?

Original post at http://hackingchristianity.net/2014/09/what-will-a-minority-white-god-look-like.html


When Majorities become Minorities

In last week’s blockbuster piece on the United Methodist Church “Why Straight White Men Want to Close General Conference(which came in at #6 in the Top 10 most-shared posts on HX), we examined a majority culture’s blind spots to minority needs. A funny thing happened: there was significant online critique from straight white men who felt strongly that pointing to their common social location was unfair–and it was quite confrontational! Morgan Guyton experienced a similar phenomenon with another majority culture (Men’s Rights advocates) on his Rape Culture blog post.

As I wondered why responses to specific challenges of a majority culture’s perspective have become more confrontational, I found there’s actually some demographic and political psychological data behind it, using the example of white (Anglo) American demographics.

First, 2012 was the first year that white (Anglo) was not the dominant demographic of babies in America.

[N]on-Hispanic white Americans are expected to become a minority group over the next three decades. For years, Americans of Asian, black and Hispanic descent have stood poised to topple the demographic hegemony historically held by whites. Based on current rates of growth, whites in the under-5 group are expected to tip to a minority this year or next…in five years, minorities will make up more than half of children under 18. Not long after, the total U.S. white population will begin an inexorable decline in absolute numbers, due to aging baby boomers.

Second, politically it has been shown that any dominant group, when confronted with perceived loss of majority status, reacts with fear:

[W]hen the majority — here the still-existing racial majority of “white” Americans — perceives, even if not statistically factual, that they have become the minority, their psychological response is fear and loathing. Fear at the prospect of having to actually consider one’s race as not inhabiting the dominant position; loathing for having to realize that they live in a multiracial world, and that they have effectively become “othered.”

With data like that, I’m worried for my demographic–you see, I’m a straight white male too. As my demographic starts to slowly experience becoming less of a hegemonic force in American politics, culture, and church, cultural conflict will likely become louder and more hostile. And more than that: as the majority-white image of God will become less pervasive, how do those of us in the majority culture deal with diverse images of God on television, preached from the pulpits, and reflected on by our kids at school?

When Minorities Inform Majorities

Let me step back and say this: I’m not saying that the feedback to last week’s post was due to the shifting white experience in America. What I am saying is this: as the majority-white view is overcome by a plurality of minority and ethnic views, the white concept of God shifts as well. And we would all do well to figure out how to respond well to the conversation.

The primary sentiment to engage is that “our social location doesn’t matter”: the claim that classically orthodox beliefs about God are universal, crossing cultural boundaries, and uniting people across time and space. There’s 2000 years of testimony to this sentiment, from the ethnic diversity of the Patristics to the presence of Christians in most every culture across the globe.

However, it is equally valid to claim that God is perceived differently in different cultures. Instead of cultural engagement being merely a tool for evangelism, theology should be a two-way street where critiques and perspectives from minority perspectives inform and change theology from the dominant cultures, and are granted a seat at the table in church structures.

Our image of God does reflect our social location in ways we are not often aware. For example:

  • Liberation theology thinks about God from the perspective of Latin American lower class workers. Liberation theology introduced “God’s preferential option for the poor” into our lexicon and you can see it echoed even from the Vatican these days.
  • Feminist theology thinks about God from the perspective of some women’s experience. Feminist critique of the Bible have shown patriarchal bias in the text in ways that better everyone who reads the Bible. Further, Womanist theology thinks about God from the perspective of non-Anglo women and has expanded/critiqued feminism for not giving significant perspective to non-Anglo women, primarily African and Asian.
  • Black theology thinks about God from the perspective of African-Americans. Black theologians like James Cone have claimed a uniqueness to minority perceptions of God that are authentically inaccessible to majority cultures.
  • Other ethnicities and social locations have similar perspectives, such as Asian-Americans and LGBTQ critiques.

It’s often said here at HX that the best institutions absorb the gains of the movements. I believe that the most healthy and vibrant theologies also absorb the minority experience of God back into the majority, whatever that majority is.

We have habits and values and activities that we absorb from our social location, and it often isn’t until we experience difference that we can begin to embrace the good aspects and shed the bad aspects. I believe the same is true of our image of God. If we truly want to get closer to an image of God less restricted by our finite human experiences, such examinations are done best in communities of difference rather than hegemonies of uniformity.

In other words, exciting days ahead for theology!

the-dark-knight

Worse Before it Gets Better

As Harvey Dent says in The Dark Knight “The night is always darkest before the dawn…but the dawn is coming.” The sad reality is that the majority-culture God will not go quietly into the night. Things will get much more hostile before they get better. Having one’s image of God supplanted is a difficult and often violent experience…just ask anybody who started seminary believing that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible! How much more will it be with an entire culture that has been dominant for centuries seeing their image of God being less “universal?”

Just as how LGBT progress on marriage led to reactionary steps backwards with faith exemptions and denial of services, the progress of a non-majority image of God will result in fear, insistence on uniformity, and segmentation of culture (which we examine a lot – see “echo chambers“). What will be an important skill for majority culture Christians to learn will be hospitality to minority cultures. I believe it is the majority culture’s responsibility to provide hospitality for the plurality of minority cultures, be it denominational polity or inclusive language or other forms of cultural difference for the sake of mutual betterment.

The future days will be filled with more holistic, informed, and grassroots images of God which will be better for the entire swath of humanity. We just have to discern together how get there in one piece.

Thoughts?

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/09/what-will-a-minority-white-god-look-like/

Sep 26 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Why Straight White Men want to close General Conference #UMC

Original post at http://hackingchristianity.net/2014/09/why-straight-white-men-want-to-close-general-conference-umc.html


Current calls to “close” the highest doctrine-making body of the United Methodist Church are being made by persons of privilege who are ignoring what it means to put the abused in the same room with the abuser…alone.

General Conference Behind a Big Wall

Back in 2012, General Conference–the top legislative body of the United Methodist Church–was protested by progressives calling for the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the life of the church. Bishop Michael Coyner from Indiana called to close the General Conference and have police remove all non-delegates. While that decision was later reversed and no part of GC2012 was closed, the idea was retained in the consciousness of those seeking procedural advantage in the debate.

This past week in 2014, Dr. David Watson, Academic Dean of United Theological Seminary in Ohio, wrote that the 2016 General Conference in Portland should be closed to non-delegates from the get-go:

I suggest that we close the GC meeting space to all but delegates, bishops, and other essential personnel. Anyone who wishes to watch the proceedings can do so via live streaming. We should ban all caucus groups from having a presence inside our gathering space: no protests, no signs, no distribution of materials, no flash mobs, no stopping our work together. We should focus on the business at hand with as little distraction as possible…To have all of this business function in an atmosphere of constant distraction is unfair to the people who care deeply about [other] ministries.

The Via Media Methodists (sigh: this is the second post where The Watson and the VMM are together–what’s up with that?) also support this plan. However, they obviously haven’t attended GC: they say “the floor should be closed like Annual Conference” when that’s exactly how GC is set up now. They have an area closed to delegates only and with observation bleachers. Watson is proposing closing the entire room to anyone but delegates and pre-authorized people. Regardless, here’s why:

Closing the floor would prevent some of ideological grandstanding by unelected and uninvited parties.  No protests.  No propaganda.  No seizing the table.  No caucuses, at least inside the bar.  Just doing the work the church has called this body to do

Finally, Joel Watts also supports this idea because to him, holy = separate.

So from the perspective of these guys, the body needs to be closed for a matter of integrity: GC cannot do what they are charged to do with outside people in the bleachers or within visual range of the speeches.

What We Don’t Get

Looking at the list of people calling for such things, here’s the thing: there’s a lot of things that particular demographics just don’t get.

  • Men don’t need a friend to watch our bar drink when we go to the bathroom.
  • White Men don’t need an advocate when we make a complaint about the police, or a translator when applying for asylum, or hope for a video camera on a cop that shoots them.
  • Straight White Men don’t have to bring a partner to Thanksgiving dinner to feel safe with our families.
  • Married Straight White Men don’t need to be walked home, and after being dropped off, we don’t need to be watched from the car to make sure we make it in the door.

I know because I am a married straight white man and rarely not in the majority culture. And I often have to see beyond my privilege, and I’m thankful to gracious friends who call me on it.

So hear this and understand: General Conference is a big scary room for our LGBT members and delegates. Imagine being in a room with people who want to change you, who want to ignore you, who want to exclude you, and in some cases, if you were in their country, who would turn you in to face the death penalty.*

Now imagine you are alone.

You don’t have to imagine what is needed to remedy this situation. Look at this picture taken when LGBT and straight allies made a declaration from the floor of General Conference 2012:

There’s a reason why advocates are invited to be with people at decision-making moments: it’s scary going at it alone. The protestors and the silent witnesses who stand when a statement is made at the microphone–the ones who blow whistles when renounced churchmen like Albert Outler called LGBT people sinful and promiscuous–they aren’t there for you. They are there to support the delegates who love their church but are in the lion’s den, and the gay MethoNerd teens who might happen to be watching from home on the livestream, yearning for change.

That’s why an open and transparent General Conference is so important. Its current form (with a distinct bar where only delegates can be, but non-delegates are in the room) is both inclusive of the voices of the diversity of Methodism and functional to allow for clarity of voting. You want a via media both/and? You got it already.

Navigating a Tense Situation

Dr. Dorothee Benz, a GC2016 delegate from New York and outgoing chairperson of MINDNY, writes:

“As if the slogan ‘therefore, go’ weren’t enough of a marketing disaster for a denomination known for its exclusion of LGBTQ people, now comes the proposal to literally close the doors at General Conference and conduct its queer-bashing business away from any public scrutiny. This is a terrible idea, shockingly undemocratic and exclusive. What made the conferencing in 2012 unholy was not protest, but rather the abuse heaped on LGBTQ delegates by other delegates and the silent complicity of those presiding.

Public scrutiny is an essential antidote to abuses of power of all kinds, including the kind of  spiritual violence we have been subjected to at General Conference. The proposal to close the doors at General Conference is nothing less than an attempt to make  vulnerable minorities defenseless.”

– Dr. Dorothee Benz

So, yes, straight white men, it’s uncomfortable. Yes, it’s disruptive. Yes, those ministries that are So Important To You™ are not being given equal time.

Because the Church is doing violence and requiring the abused must be alone in the room with the abuser, without support or advocates, is a requirement that would be ludicrous in civil society.

If you want equal time, if you really want to stop the distractions at General Conference, then stop the abuse, fully include LGBT persons in the life of the church, and we can get back to peacefully discerning the best forms of the church in the rest of Christendom.

But if what you really want is to make decisions without seeing the consequences on people’s faces, and to use procedural motions to cow LGBT delegates into silent submission on the floor, then be honest about it.

Guys, I understand. It’s hard to see how a seemingly innocent change would actually make the room more harmful for persons without our privilege. But while General Conference cannot easily do what they are charged to do with an open forum, they cannot be the Church that “does no harm” with a closed one. Let’s start there.

Thoughts?

=====

Yes, really

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/09/why-straight-white-men-want-to-close-general-conference-umc/

Sep 26 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Why Straight White Men want to close General Conference #UMC

Original post at http://hackingchristianity.net/2014/09/why-straight-white-men-want-to-close-general-conference-umc.html


Current calls to “close” the highest doctrine-making body of the United Methodist Church are being made by persons of privilege who are ignoring what it means to put the abused in the same room with the abuser…alone.

General Conference Behind a Big Wall

Back in 2012, General Conference–the top legislative body of the United Methodist Church–was protested by progressives calling for the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the life of the church. Bishop Michael Coyner from Indiana called to close the General Conference and have police remove all non-delegates. While that decision was later reversed and no part of GC2012 was closed, the idea was retained in the consciousness of those seeking procedural advantage in the debate.

This past week in 2014, Dr. David Watson, Academic Dean of United Theological Seminary in Ohio, wrote that the 2016 General Conference in Portland should be closed to non-delegates from the get-go:

I suggest that we close the GC meeting space to all but delegates, bishops, and other essential personnel. Anyone who wishes to watch the proceedings can do so via live streaming. We should ban all caucus groups from having a presence inside our gathering space: no protests, no signs, no distribution of materials, no flash mobs, no stopping our work together. We should focus on the business at hand with as little distraction as possible…To have all of this business function in an atmosphere of constant distraction is unfair to the people who care deeply about [other] ministries.

The Via Media Methodists (sigh: this is the second post where The Watson and the VMM are together–what’s up with that?) also support this plan. However, they obviously haven’t attended GC: they say “the floor should be closed like Annual Conference” when that’s exactly how GC is set up now. They have an area closed to delegates only and with observation bleachers. Watson is proposing closing the entire room to anyone but delegates and pre-authorized people. Regardless, here’s why:

Closing the floor would prevent some of ideological grandstanding by unelected and uninvited parties.  No protests.  No propaganda.  No seizing the table.  No caucuses, at least inside the bar.  Just doing the work the church has called this body to do

Finally, Joel Watts also supports this idea because to him, holy = separate.

So from the perspective of these guys, the body needs to be closed for a matter of integrity: GC cannot do what they are charged to do with outside people in the bleachers or within visual range of the speeches.

What We Don’t Get

Looking at the list of people calling for such things, here’s the thing: there’s a lot of things that particular demographics just don’t get.

  • Men don’t need a friend to watch our bar drink when we go to the bathroom.
  • White Men don’t need an advocate when we make a complaint about the police, or a translator when applying for asylum, or hope for a video camera on a cop that shoots them.
  • Straight White Men don’t have to bring a partner to Thanksgiving dinner to feel safe with our families.
  • Married Straight White Men don’t need to be walked home, and after being dropped off, we don’t need to be watched from the car to make sure we make it in the door.

I know because I am a married straight white man and rarely not in the majority culture. And I often have to see beyond my privilege, and I’m thankful to gracious friends who call me on it.

So hear this and understand: General Conference is a big scary room for our LGBT members and delegates. Imagine being in a room with people who want to change you, who want to ignore you, who want to exclude you, and in some cases, if you were in their country, who would turn you in to face the death penalty.*

Now imagine you are alone.

You don’t have to imagine what is needed to remedy this situation. Look at this picture taken when LGBT and straight allies made a declaration from the floor of General Conference 2012:

There’s a reason why advocates are invited to be with people at decision-making moments: it’s scary going at it alone. The protestors and the silent witnesses who stand when a statement is made at the microphone–the ones who blow whistles when renounced churchmen like Albert Outler called LGBT people sinful and promiscuous–they aren’t there for you. They are there to support the delegates who love their church but are in the lion’s den, and the gay MethoNerd teens who might happen to be watching from home on the livestream, yearning for change.

That’s why an open and transparent General Conference is so important. Its current form (with a distinct bar where only delegates can be, but non-delegates are in the room) is both inclusive of the voices of the diversity of Methodism and functional to allow for clarity of voting. You want a via media both/and? You got it already.

Navigating a Tense Situation

Dr. Dorothee Benz, a GC2016 delegate from New York and outgoing chairperson of MINDNY, writes:

“As if the slogan ‘therefore, go’ weren’t enough of a marketing disaster for a denomination known for its exclusion of LGBTQ people, now comes the proposal to literally close the doors at General Conference and conduct its queer-bashing business away from any public scrutiny. This is a terrible idea, shockingly undemocratic and exclusive. What made the conferencing in 2012 unholy was not protest, but rather the abuse heaped on LGBTQ delegates by other delegates and the silent complicity of those presiding.

Public scrutiny is an essential antidote to abuses of power of all kinds, including the kind of  spiritual violence we have been subjected to at General Conference. The proposal to close the doors at General Conference is nothing less than an attempt to make  vulnerable minorities defenseless.”

– Dr. Dorothee Benz

So, yes, straight white men, it’s uncomfortable. Yes, it’s disruptive. Yes, those ministries that are So Important To You™ are not being given equal time.

Because the Church is doing violence and requiring the abused must be alone in the room with the abuser, without support or advocates, is a requirement that would be ludicrous in civil society.

If you want equal time, if you really want to stop the distractions at General Conference, then stop the abuse, fully include LGBT persons in the life of the church, and we can get back to peacefully discerning the best forms of the church in the rest of Christendom.

But if what you really want is to make decisions without seeing the consequences on people’s faces, and to use procedural motions to cow LGBT delegates into silent submission on the floor, then be honest about it.

Guys, I understand. It’s hard to see how a seemingly innocent change would actually make the room more harmful for persons without our privilege. But while General Conference cannot easily do what they are charged to do with an open forum, they cannot be the Church that “does no harm” with a closed one. Let’s start there.

Thoughts?

=====

Yes, really

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/09/why-straight-white-men-want-to-close-general-conference-umc/

Sep 23 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Why do churches even DO rural ministry?

Original post at http://hackingchristianity.net/2014/09/why-do-churches-even-do-rural-ministry.html


megapolic-simc

The games we play say a lot about our values.

I recently read about a guy who created a megacity in the video game Sim City (this was Sim City 4, which came out about 12 years ago). This megacity had 107 million people living in it (by comparison, real-life Tokyo has 38 million).

Many games today are geared to make big cities:

  • The way to “win” SimCity is to create a megapolis.
  • The way to win at Cityville is to create a terrific urban city.
  • My own current obsession Star Wars Commander creates a city-like expanse complete with turrets, shield generators, and AT-ATs.
  • Heck, even a Farmville town by the upper levels looks like a city.

The imagining of mega-cities had its most recent kick-off, in my experience, in the 1990s movie Demolition Man which had a huge city that spanned from Los Angeles to the southern tip of San Diego, named San Angeles. Don’t make fun, Yahoo’s Marissa Meyer has referenced it!

Urbanized Problem solving

If our media reflects life, then rural ministry is in for a rough few years.

Today, 54 per cent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 66 per cent by 2050. Projections show that urbanization combined with the overall growth of the world’s population could add another 2.5 billion people to urban populations by 2050, with close to 90 percent of the increase concentrated in Asia and Africa, according to a new United Nations report.

In a way, these are good developments. Cities, though often the source of large problems, are simultaneously often the best places to combat large problems. For example, here’s a time-lapse of removing air pollution over 10 years thanks to courageous leaders in the cities. Some public problems are better dealt with at the city level as they often remain entrenched in rural communities. The number of rural high schools and sports that still have prayer at their football games or have baccalaureates in churches is amazing.

But the numbers tell the tale and the question then is this: why do we even do rural ministry? Why do it if over the next 36 years, much fewer people will be outside of our urban centers? It seems much harder and less quick to take root like urban contexts with more people and resources.

Urbanized Evangelism: Edmond, Oklahoma

Drawing lessons from Sim City, my denomination of the United Methodist Church also tends to avoid church planting in rural contexts.

For example, in the past five years, the UMC in Oklahoma has planted no less than three churches in Edmond, the stereotypically rich, white suburb of Oklahoma City. Two of them began the same year! While I have friends in these positions and I know their hearts are towards nothing but reaching people for Christ, it’s still striking that such emphasis is on this particular suburb. These three church plants follow two church plants in the late 1990s (one of which was to Chinese Americans, thankfully). So that’s five church plants in 20 years in one suburb in Oklahoma, with more on the way.

While one might think that Edmond is desperate for churches, Greg Horton shows how that’s not necessarily the case.

A recent video announcing that an Acts 29 church will be planting their fourth Oklahoma campus in Edmond said that Edmond has good churches, but that the city needs more. According to ChurchFinder.com, there are 89 churches in this “city” of 80,000. I have no idea if that number is correct, but I assumed the number was close to 100. Either way, what that city does not need is another church. The only churches that thrive in that area are churches that practice what David Fitch calls cannibalistic practices. They take members from other churches, and the most egregious offender has been LifeChurch.tv. We now have four large churches with active plants in and around the Edmond area…the idea that any church is going to plant in a wealthy, predominantly white area for the sake of evangelism is the worst sort of lie, especially when the numbers clearly indicate that they are growing, not through conversion growth, but through cannibalizing smaller, more traditional churches.

We’ve talked before about this cannibalization process in “Vulture Churches” and “Franchise Churches” so click there to read more.

In short, suburban folks need Jesus too, no doubt. But the church planting focus by many, many regions of Christianity (and Methodism) seems to build on the (relative) ease of sustainability in white suburban locations rather than rural or even inner-city areas. While we have rural fellowships and networks of smaller churches supporting one another, when it comes to church planting, I’d be shocked if any North American conference had more rural church plants than urban ones. Please show if I’m wrong in the comments.

The City or the Garden?

When we church-plant only in the places with abundant sunshine, we only grow a particular type of church suited for abundant sunshine. As we tend the garden of God’s church, we need places for those that grow in the brush, on the hills, places with more shade and different conditions.

The truth is that we can’t neglect rural ministry or ministry to those folks who are not going to be easy to sustain a church plant from the get-go. Like Jesus’ parables of seeking out the lost sheep and leaving the 99, or searching the house for the lost coin, we also cannot neglect the population regions that matter numerically less than the ones with relative closeness to our hands. We are better together, both the temples and the tents.

Indeed, this suburban evangelism strategy has implications for entire regions of America because it devalues even urban areas who are not as easy to church-plant in. Two years ago, I received a decent amount of ridicule/questions as I moved from Oklahoma, a bastion and strong United Methodist conference, to be in the mission field of Oregon. My new conference is the size of some districts in the South. And yet here is where an abundance of (different) resources and assets and seeds that I believe can revolutionize all of Christendom is to be found–I’m glad to be here seeking out new ways of being church in the midst of The None Zone.

If the future is urban and the future population centers and imaginative games are found wrapped up in urban sprawl, then we need to be there too, but we cannot neglect our rural contexts or abandon more mission fields by selling properties to appease urban needs. As our creative new church planting strategies start to take root, my hope is they seek different contexts than the ones we’ve pursued before, not because they are easy, but because they are necessary for God’s garden to be a diverse garden and not a field of monoculture plants.

Thoughts?

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/09/why-do-churches-even-do-rural-ministry/

Sep 19 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Apple and Microsoft Have Failed Us

Original post at http://hackingchristianity.net/2014/09/apple-and-microsoft-have-failed-us.html


Flickr Creative Commons share

Flickr Creative Commons share

United Methodist Bishop Grant Hagiya has penned an article with some fightin’ words: Apple has failed us. No, not in technical innovation (this blogger says as he types on a MacBook), but in what they do with their hoard of cash:

It is estimated that Apple has cash reserves in excess of between 137-147 billion dollars – that’s billions with a “B!”  This is more cash reserve than most of the countries of our world.  And despite some positive moves by Jobs’ successor, Tim Cook, in launching a charitable, corporate-matching program, the vast majority of their wealth is not being used or leveraged for any social good. Even if they released one percent of the interest in a socially responsible way, hundreds of thousands would benefit.

I am not calling for a boycott of Apple products, and the irony is that I am writing this blog from a Mac.  However, we must prophetically challenge Apple to be more socially responsible. Instead of making corporate profits the solitary bottom line, they should step up in philanthropy and social change to the same degree that they want to revolutionize the world technologically.

To the good bishop, Apple is guilty of hoarding: holding onto cash reserves that could do immediate good in the world, even if given out very conservatively.

Microsoft has failed us too

I’d like to push this argument a bit further and use it to point out another truth: Apple’s products are typically bought from people’s excess money (disposable income) rather than essentials, though certainly many people who don’t make fiscally responsible decisions will buy their products out of their essential budget. Apple thus takes a chunk of people’s excess spending and then hoards the cash.

There’s another organization that takes money out of a different and more essential budget…but then gives more of it away.

Microsoft has made its billions from the sale of its Windows operating system and the Xbox and a variety of other products. The sales are sustained primarily through paid updates to the operating system and forced obsolescence of previous years’ versions. Since its an operating system and an essential element to PCs, for decades Microsoft forced everyone to pay to play with incredible resources coming from schools and universities. While the situation has become much cheaper thanks to competition by Linux systems, Chrome OS, and Apple’s free OSX operating system, there’s still a bundle of cash paid by most households every few years to keep their systems current.

Unlike Apple, Microsoft takes a chunk of people’s operating spending, and also unlike Apple, they then share the cash. Bill Gates has given away $28 billion dollars (through 2013), and I’m unsure of how much Microsoft money has flowed through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but the charity must give away 5% of its assets each year. With $38.3 billion in the bank, that yields $1.9 billion dollars given away annual. Billion!

Essentially, Microsoft has forced a tax on most businesses, non-profits, and households in America, and turned that tax money into loads of cash to leverage social good…at their discretion. And to be fair, they also have a huge cash reserve of $84 billion, which is abut 40% smaller than Apple’s, but still larger than the financial reserves of the federal government! Wow!

Ends and Means

For both companies, they fall short of the ideal balance between ends and means:

  • Apple has enticed people to give out of their disposable incomes and then stockpiled the money.
  • Microsoft has forced payments out of people’s operating incomes and then given away the money to particular projects.

The ideal would be an organization that encourages the giving of cash out of people’s non-essential expenses and then gives the money away to leverage social good. Such a balance between the means and the ends is often very difficult to create, but a company culture could be adapted by courageous leadership to change the way of doing business.

These shortcomings of Apple and Microsoft lead to reflection for non-profits and churches that seek social good:

  1. Do we have ethical means by which we encourage giving by our constituents or congregants? Do churches promise health or wealth in exchange for offering plate money? Do churches use emotionally manipulative worship services to get people to the climax of giving back? And let’s talk about credit card debt: by allowing parishioners to give to the church via credit card payments, are you supporting a debt culture?
  2. Do we have ethical ends that we use people’s giving for? Mars Hill, while recently in the news for much more, did have an issue where gifts designated for their international missions actually went to local ministry support. In addition, some non-profits only give a small percentage of gifts given during emergency situations directly to the need (unlike UMCOR which gives 100% of all donations).

These are tough questions, but courageous, transparent, and accountable leadership and design can lead to ethical ends and means for churches, non-profits, and businesses small all the way up to to the tech behemoths of the world.

Thoughts?

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/09/apple-and-microsoft-have-failed-us/

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