Tag Archives: Faith

Book Review: Ecologies of faith in a digital age: Spiritual growth through online education

Recently I had a book review published with the Journal of Research on Christian Education. You can read the full review through your library.

Ecologies of Faith in a Digital Age: Spiritual Growth through Online Education by [Lowe, Stephen D., Lowe, Mary E.]

The book is available through Amazon as a Kindle version or paperback.

I highly recommend that you read the book, particularly if you’re involved in faith-based online education. The book sparked some interesting questions to think about:

  1. What are some examples in the Bible of using nature/creation as an illustration for spiritual growth?
  2. What lessons can we extract from those illustrations in the Bible of what a digital environment should be like in order to support spiritual growth?
  3. What are some ways to do the “one another” phrases from Paul’s writings – together online? i.e. “build up one another”, “comfort one another” as as few examples.

Here’s a snippet of my book review to inspire you:

Lowe and Lowe argue that the natural is not just a metaphor for the spiritual; that Scripture does not support Plato’s division between the natural and the spiritual. God’s methods of gardening are evident both in the natural world and in our spiritual growth and are “identical” between them (p. 41). The proper spiritual ecology will provide the “requisite spiritual nutrients” for growth (p. 48) and several chapters go in depth exploring kingdom growth as described in the Bible using plant ecology and the human body ecosystem (Paul). As Christians, we are expected to “mutually assist each other” (p. 66) even in digital ecologies. As I have personally experienced, and heard others describe, the work of the Holy Spirit connects believers across distance (p. 73). As Lowe and Lowe argue, critics of online community seem to “contradict orthodox Christian theology” regarding the “communion believers enjoy with Christ through the Spirit” (p. 73) by suggesting that community cannot happen online. Lowe and Lowe make the Scriptural case that in fact, Biblical spiritual growth can happen at a distance through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Lim, J. (2019). Book review: Ecologies of faith in a digital age: Spiritual growth through online education. Journal of Research on Christian Education, 28(1), 84-87, doi: 10.1080/10656219.2019.1593009

Your Turn

  • What challenges do you face in faith-based online learning?
  • What do you think we can learn from Paul, as one of the first distance missionaries (think of all his letters as distance education)?
  • What have we learned from research on online communities that connects to spiritual growth online?

Feel free to comment!

eMinistry Book Review

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

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

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

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

Interesting Ideas

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

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

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

Questions Raised

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

Thoughts on People Today

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

Potential Challenges

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

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

Church Next Book Review

I’m now starting work on my 5th competency:  Servant Leadership in Technology Facilitation and Collaboration. As part of my work for this competency, I’ll be sharing some book reviews.

Malphurs, A., & Malphurs, M. (2003). Church next : using the internet to maximize your ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel.

The book begins with a summary of the problem of American Christianity in decline, with statistics and descriptions of the problem. Next the authors discuss issues of reaching the buster and bridger generations (also known as Gen X and Gen Y). They propose a theology of change which makes a distinction between the functions of the church which are Biblically mandated (i.e. mission, worship, and the “together” mandates), and the forms of the church, which may change in different cultures and different times. In this section, the authors also describe the concept of postmodernism and how it affects how current generations view church and are reached by the gospel. Finally, the book ends with a review of the importance of the Internet, how the Internet works, and specifically how to use the Internet in ministry.

Principles Learned
Since I’m already very comfortable with the Internet, the sections explaining it were mostly review and I skipped over them. However they are well written for lay and clergy who are uncomfortable with the Internet. The main contributions from this book for me were the background principles that provide a “why” for using the Internet for ministry.

  • Some of the church’s functions which are mandated by the Bible include: teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, prayer (Acts 2:42); community (Acts 2:44-45); worship and evangelism (v 47).
  • Examples of forms include meeting in house churches (Act 2:46, 8:3, 12:12), meeting in the temple (Acts 2:46).
  • Forms can be understood as the method of ministry. Paul set an example of “becoming all things to all people” and adapting to the needs of those he meant to reach (1 Cor 9:22).
  • Forms may fit along a continuum of legalism to liberty to license. Legalism puts restrictions on the church that aren’t found in Scripture (i.e. what time to meet). Liberty is freedom within God’s law/Word. License removes any Biblical restrictions.

These principles and ideas form the basis of a theology of change and therefore reasoning on why to use the Internet in ministry.

Ideas Gleaned
I’m already involved in my church’s web ministry (www.pmchurch.org) and (www.pmchurch.tv) and we are doing many of the things listed in the book. On page 131, the authors list some ways that churches are using the web for ministry:

  • Encourage visitors to attend their church (we’re doing that)
  • Post mission statements, sermons, text concerning faith (we’re doing that)
  • Links to denominations and faith-related sites (we’re now discouraging this due to link-rot)
  • Links to Scripture studies or devotional material (we’ve dabbled in this and could revisit it)
  • Post schedules, meeting times, communications (yes, email announcements, but need to get more people to sign up for the listservs)
  • Post photos of events (mixed success on this; it’s hard to do consistently and keep fresh)
  • Post youth group material (we’re doing that)
  • Material promoting missionary work (our TV ministry does this)
  • Seek volunteers for congregational work (new “Get Involved” section does this)
  • Provides space for prayer requests (we’re doing this)
  • A sign-up feature for classes/programs (we do this for the women’s ministry programs)
  • Allows online fundraising (not doing this with very specific reasons why)
  • Webcasts worship services (we’re doing this, but not live)
  • Provides discussion spaces for study or prayer groups (not doing this)

As I read through the ideas, I realized that I’d really like to see us find ways to minister to those getting the podcasts. Is there a way we could connect them in to online small groups? We have some other seminars that would make great little online group studies as well. I wonder how the FAST scripture memorization group is doing with their new online training. I think we could develop some cool things with this, if a few people had time to commit to it. I wonder if anyone would pay for it to help cover the cost? Or if donations would cover the cost? It’s certainly something to keep considering.

This was a useful book to explain WHY a church should be using the Internet, and had suggestions for even veteran online churches.

Stopping so you can keep going

My pastor, Dwight Nelson, has been doing a series on the Sabbath – actually two series: The Refreshing Delusion on the day, and God’s Party on the way. (Those links go to the WMV, MP4, MP3 and study guides.) All winter and now through the spring, I’ve been reflecting on the Sabbath’s impact on my own life, my leadership, and my productivity. I thought I’d share a few nuggets with you:

These thoughts are mostly from the God’s Party series, which is on Sabbath-keeping. I guess I’m especially attracted to this series because of the technology hook. The titles are: MySpace, Facebook, YouTube YouToo (today’s sermon), Green Google, and Yahoo. Pastor Dwight is very creative in bringing real life lessons and applications from the world around us with yet a strong Biblical basis.

So, here are some interesting thoughts. This quote is from the study guide for the MySpace sermon.

James Richard Wibberding: “Energy is more precious than time . . . . I can’t use my time without energy. Perceptive people transform our energy needs into dollars, selling everything from energy bars to energy drinks to sugar highs. And, what party thrives without ‘refreshments’? We humans have to recharge or refuel often. This energy deficit can be traced to human banishment from the tree of life (Genesis 3:22-23) but all is not lost. There is something of refreshment still within reach.” (Sabbath Reflections: A Weekly Devotional 87, 88)

I really like this quote because I really do feel like Sabbath refreshes me and refuels my energy. It’s a weekly holiday (holy day) where I set aside work and really rest. What a blessing!

The Facebook sermon focused on sleeping and resting and looking for Jesus’ face throughout the Sabbath. If you’re tired and stressed, you’ll really like the Facebook sermon – listen to it! 🙂 It’s where I got the title for this blog. Mountain climbers never climb straight to the top without stopping to rest. If I’m going to finish my PhD, or keep going at any of my many projects, I have to stop and rest. The Sabbath gives me that weekly rest stop. All my cares flee away for 24 hours. What a blessing!

Today’s YouTube You Too was about “broadcasting” or “bringing” yourself to gather together to worship. Here’s a great CS Lewis quote:

C. S. Lewis: “ . . . [if] there is anything in the teaching of the New Testament which is in the nature of a command, it is that you are obliged to [celebrate the communion], and you can’t do it without going to Church. I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots
in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit .” (God in the Dock 62)

Wow! That just gets you. Not only do we need to stop, but we need to stop together. To fellowship, to study, to worship. To be together. What a blessing to fellowship, knowing my fellow believers are also gathered together around the globe!

I’ve really enjoyed these and thought I’d pass it along… it’s a blessing to listen to how Pastor Dwight weaves in current technology in such an interesting real life application to our daily lives.

You can listen to or watch these online, get the study guides and/or subscribe to the podcast – all at www.pmchurch.tv.

Why Me, Lord?

Do you ever ask God, “why me?”

Yes, I know, sometimes we say, “why me, Lord?” when troubles and trials come to our lives. But I mean when good things happen. Do you ever ask, “Why did you bless me, Lord?” I do. “Why did you give me this idea, Lord? I already have enough work to do. Why is this latest idea so insistent in my brain? Why did you give me this opportunity? Why have circumstances turned out the way they have for good in my life?”

Deuteronomy 7: 7-8. The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the LORD loved you.

Why does He love us? Why does He love me & bless me so much? Why have I been blessed with good things and success?  Certainly not to give me a big head. Certainly not because of my own worth. No! It’s because of His work!

Deuteronomy 4:5-8. “Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ “For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the LORD our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him?And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?

Do you ask the same questions? Maybe you should. Listen to The Chosen: Not a Big Head, But a Big Heart. And reference this study guide. Consider the blessings YOU’VE been given. Are you using them to be a blessing to others?

Gratitude Simmers

smooth green turf
cool shady breezes
blue blue skies
deep green woods
chirping birds and bugs
white fluffy clouds piled high
pure white snapdragons
    with golden hearts hidden deep
        for shimmery green hummingbirds
            to feed with long sharp beaks
green tomatoes hanging waiting
    for the blush of summer sun
        to sink deep into red sweetness
a lazy swing and a sleeping cat
rich thick fresh fruit smoothie
    reds of strawberries and
        blues of berries and
            golden red sweet dripping peaches

gratitude simmers inside me

Importance of Prayer

I just finished reading Curse Proof, and tomorrow is the end of Operation Global Rain. It’s been a week to remind me of the importance of prayer, especially for leaders. And really, aren’t leaders anyone with influence over others? That’s all of us! Without God’s power we cannot accomplish anything! Without prayer, our work is just a pile of dust. As I start the Leadership program on Monday, I want to remember that prayer is the foundation of my learning and leading.

John 16:24 (New International Version)
Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

Faith in the Workplace

Here are some articles on Faith in the Workplace that I want to keep & refer back to.

The Comforting Whirlwind Action Items

It’s hard for me to read a book without changing behavior based on what I learned. As a practical person, I ask myself, What should I do differently because of what I learned? What are my own action items now that my understanding has expanded by reading The Comforting Whirlwind by Bill McKibben?

Witnessing the Glory Around Us

What part should we play? … Luckily, of course, there are whole huge categories of activity for which reason is utterly suited and which do not also spell destruction for the rest of the ecosystem. Witnessing the glory around us — that is a role no other creature can play (McKibben 67).

One action item is to make time to regularly spend time in nature.

  • Weekly, I can keep my commitment to spend Sabbath afternoons at Fernwood Botanical Garden, watching the new flowers grow, being silent in the spring sunshine, listening to the rustling of the leaves and the chirping of the birds.
  • Annually, we can plan our vacation trips to include a healthy dose of the outdoor wildness. To feel the wonder of creation and our smallness.

12.jpgWhen I was a student missionary on Arno in the Marshall Islands, I loved to walk down the beach past the village. (See picture.) Sitting on the beach for my morning worship, the silence was immense. The ocean stretching infinitely past the horizon. Pondering nature puts all our problems into perspective. The scene calls us to humility and joy (McKibben 47).

Caring for the Environment
We already do several things to help the environment: recycling, growing some of my own food, eating vegetarian, eating as natural as possible with as little packaging as possible, buying locally grown fresh farm veggies in the summer, driving a hybrid car, purchasing environment friendly hand soap and shampoo to name a few.

But of course there is much more we could do. This list of 50 Ways to Save the Environment is a list to grow by. I could improve in the yard and office areas.

Conscious Self Restraint

The secret weapon of environmental change and of social justice must be this — living with simple elegance is more pleasurable than living caught in the middle of our consumer culture (McKibben, 68).

Of these gifts [joy, home, service, etc], the most unique and the most paradoxical is the ability to restrain ourselves. Conscious self-restraint belongs to no other creature, and for us it is the hardest of all tasks, both as individuals and as societies (McKibben, 69).

I choose restraint. I choose to be content with what I have. I choose to give to others. I choose to resist and reject commercialism as often as possible. Instead, I will walk in the sunshine, the glory of God revealed in the world, and focus on His greatness and love always.

The Comforting Whirlwind Paradox

So I’ve been reading and re-reading Bill McKibben’s book, The Comforting Whirlwind: God, Job, and the Scale of Creation. It’s one of the assigned readings for the AU Leadership Roundtable this summer.

McKibben thoughtfully uses lessons from the book of Job to explain our responsibility to take care of the environment. The book is an easy read, but will challenge your thinking and behavior.

It started my thinking about a Christian paradox. We know that the earth will be destroyed (2 Peter 3:10); yet God created the earth and commanded us to care for it (Genesis 1:28). Some Christians think that since the earth is going to be destroyed, it doesn’t matter what we do to it now. We have more important things to do; no time to think about the environment.

Yet if we destroy the earth, or even greatly reduce our contact with nature, we are destroying one foundation of our faith. “The images of God’s power that help us locate ourselves on an axis with the divine come largely from nature. It is no accident that many of the best-loved hymns of our faith draw on this emotional power” (McKibben 62); hymns such as How Great Thou Art.

When God spoke to Job he did not reveal Himself; He revealed His works. … Event the most committed doubter can often e shaken by the transcendent pleasure of sitting in a field of native flowers or standing on a wild beach. The sense of rightness, the intuition that the experience is more than the sum of its parts, is both profound and common. When such experiences begin to vanish (as the wildflowers grow less wild, and the beaches reflect our carbon emissions) their religious meaning will fade as well (McKibben 64) .

Thinking that we don’t need to care for the earth because it’s going to be destroyed anyway is like not washing the dishes because they are going to get dirty again. It doesn’t matter if as one person we can’t change the course of a materialistic society. We can and should do our part. It doesn’t matter what we know about prophecy, about the end of time. It isn’t futile to care for the earth now because it will be destroyed later. We should obey God and take care of His creation because He commanded us to. Just like we obey the 10 Commandments because He said to; we should care for His creation too. Not just care for it; but take time to immerse ourselves in the natural grandeur that reminds us of our smallness and God’s greatness.