Thursday, September 28, 2006

Blogging -- A Case Study For The Church.

Bloggers... Will we help create positive change... or negative change? Or neither?

The 'Saving Bellevue' issue could be a classic case study, as we consider how technological change offers a potential opportunity for...

  • radical improvement in the stereotypical American Church...
  • or just opportunities for backbiting or gossip at the speed of light, among some unhappy members.
At the very least, reviewing scripture will be a beneficial study for us all -- especially among Christian bloggers.

But first, read the story about the case at hand.

And here's a shot during the church's virtual tour introducing us to the church.

Here's a summary of Bellevue's history and vision.

On the other side of the aisle... here's the Purpose Statement & Background from the SavingBellevue site.

Purpose Statement:
"The purpose of the website is to provide members of Bellevue Baptist Church of Memphis, Tennessee with a greater degree of visibility of the government of our church. Our sincere desire is to honor Jesus Christ, Truth Himself, through an improved measure of accountability within His church."

" was created after numerous unsuccessful attempts to biblically resolve a dispute between a group of members of the church and some of the church's leadership. Principles of Matthew 18 were followed, first going individually to the offender, then by taking one or two witnesses to address the offender. In each case the offender failed to acknowledge the offense, and would not allow the accuser (a deacon of the church) to bring the offense before the deacon body. As a result, the only practical remaining way to complete the instructions of Matthew 18 in taking the issue before the church body was to create this website. It is regrettable that non-members will also have access to the issues as they are brought before the church, but with almost 30,000 members of record, any other means of bringing the issue before them was impractical. By failing to allow the dispute to be directly addressed through the full deacon body of the church, the leadership of Bellevue Baptist Church has caused the dispute to be addressed in a broader public domain. We regret the consequences of their actions."

Now let's hear from scripture... [Matthew 18:15-35, Amplified Version]

Any other bloggers tracking this case?

Comments from any of you who have read the above, and would like to venture your thoughts? What can we learn from this, and what conclusions do we now need to practically apply?

My Thoughts So Far -- Looking for your feedback...

Underlying Issues in play here:

  • The nature of the Church -- why do we exist as a body, what is our character, and what are we supposed to be accomplishing? If we have a firm grasp of our basic existence & mission, it'll give us a model through which to filter the discussion at hand. [Btw, it's the very questions we're posing at] For consideration, let me suggest a few to consider: Glorifying God... together; Enjoying Him as we model among one-another, the comprehensive, mysterious, diverse-yet-harmonious relationship of the triune God-head -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit; Make God well known as best taught in His inerrant Word and best demonostrated in the divine personage of Jesus Christ; Offer the good news of an eternally-abundant life through accepting Christ as Lord of our lives; Through the power of the Holy Spirit, doing the work He gave us to do from the outset -- tending the world so that it/they feel the impact of God's creative love... and perfect sense of justice. All this requires diversity and teamwork, and the essential attributes necessary in a great team. While we can't readily know all the factors in play at Bellevue in particular, what might the above picture suggest regarding diversity, openness, and team-work? Now multiply that apparently by 30,000. And does it not beg the question... if the 'local church' is neither local nor diverse, who is it exactly to whom one would appeal when scripture says 'tell it to the church'?
  • The nature of individuals in the Church -- We are all called to develop Christ-like humility & self-discipline. In fact, we're called to make our leaders job a joy (Heb. 13)... [and doubly-honor those who do a good job]. Perhaps this should lead to a predisposition on our part, to never frivolously address Church matters in the blogosphere.
  • The giftedness of individuals in the Church -- The body is comprised of diversely-gifted individuals, who are all to take an active role on the team. According to scripture, seemingly they should all be participating interactively as a form of worship. If that doesn't sound like the American Church today (and notably, any mega spectators churches), then perhaps there's great room for improvement. Positive involvement in Church life on Sunday might take the steam out of (negative) Monday blogs. Just a thought.
  • The nature of (servant) leadership in the Church -- they're selected based on biblical standards of merit, and called to be shepherds of the flock... servants... as Jesus himself modeled servant leadership. One might easily believe that, if well done, leadership would preclude such battles as are currently at issue.
  • The schemes of the devil -- The apostle Paul says 'we are not unaware of the devil's schemes'. So let's not be unaware. The devil loves to wreak his 'pride & divide' tactic on us. And he's done it to the American Church for centuries. Stop already! Let's not be so unaware. According to Jesus himself, one of the compelling testimonies to the good news is the harmony of the body, in our communities. Or what about isolationism -- does it operate best on behalf of the devil's purposes, or the Church's purpose? Let me suggest that God is a God of Light, not obscurity. Isolationism serves Satan's purposes exquisitely. Thus to date, we see the American Church largely fractured into a million splintered pieces... each consciously or unconsciously competiting with each other based on any number of dimensions. And as long as we can isolate our members we can (effectively) demonize other churches. Again... Stop already!
  • Is (servant) leadership a secretive or detached functionality on the team? If not, what are the implications to our Church communications systems? Does it not suggest open communications? How could that look today in the digital age? Think of the analogy of a local church, its building, and its people... The Church is not the building -- the Church is the people. And although they can congregate together inside a building from time to time, they continue being the Church every day of the week. Now let's apply that to the digital representation of the Church. While there might well be a centralized site among the people, it should help teach the scriptural model of the Church... ie, it should link off to its members and point to THEM as 'the Church'. The central site only serves as a convening point. Similar to a building, shouldn't that centralized convening site also have a private functionality... just for the members inside? And in all these things, including potentially-interactive egroups, shouldn't leadership help construct processes for open interaction among the membership? If so, would the case study at hand need to have ever involved public blogging of the topic? In the case at hand, we do not know if offers a log-in & discussion board that is not only available, but actively promoted among membership, such that the wide diversity of voices would have had ample alternatives. Let's just say that it would be the very rare church today (especially among mega-churches) that promotes active digital interaction among its membership. As we've suggested, isolationism has too often been the norm for churches and their leadership. Thus the open interoperation of the internet suggests a threat to the stereotypical local church leadership. And if you don't believe it, review the recent leadership change in the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention)... which by all accounts was greatly impacted by blogging. [article]

Conclusion? Maybe that the internet has INDEED catalyzed a paradigm shift... just as God seemingly used Gutenberg's press to expedite the Reformation. "Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy" states the ClueTrain Manifesto. Although secular, its truth speaks volumes to inappropriate hierarchy. Muzzling members. Monopolizing microphones.

Alternatively, open the mic to the masses, and truth will rise to the top.

"All Truth is God's Truth.
And Truth at the speed of light,
will prevail at the speed of Light."

Maybe even some frank truths about the American Church.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006