A couple weeks ago, Bob and I attended a series of workshops in Boston called “eFormation Boot Camp,” based on a curriculum developed at Virginia Seminary, and offered on this occasion by Province I of the Episcopal Church. The goal of the event was to teach and encourage parish leaders to use Social Media more effectively to communicate within and beyond the congregation.
I guess the lower-case “e” before Formation was code to let us know that this gathering would be hip and cool and up-to-the-minute – or at least as up-to-the-minute as the mainline church is able to manage, which seems to be consistently about twenty years behind the cutting edge. And I think that’s okay: in a culture that idolizes novelty for its own sake, being a little out of step may be where a countercultural church should be.
Sorting through all the buzzwords and jargon, though, the message that I brought home was that social media and technology can be effective ways to share the church’s message, but that the slickest podcast in the world is worthless if the message is not clear and compelling.
Most of the workshops were led by those elusive beasts: millennials who are committed to the church. And these were the folks telling us codgers to concentrate first on getting our message clear, and not to worry so much about the infrastructure. Perhaps we have outgrown Marshall McLuhan’s dictum that “The medium is the message.” Perhaps we have entered a world where the message is the message, and the medium is just the medium.
So what is our message? On one hand, we are stewards of the most cosmic, world-changing message humanity has ever been given: the God who created us and the rest of the universe has chosen to live and die as a human being to save human beings from ourselves. He died and was resurrected to overcome the forces of death and sin, and we are invited to follow him and know resurrection life.
This message is difficult, but we have lots of resources on lots of cross-compatible platforms and formats. We have the message in nano-form (For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. – 132 characters, eminently tweetable). We have it as an FAQ document in our creeds and in our Baptismal Covenant. We have memes that we call icons and stained glass windows. And all of these are hyperlinked to the searchable full-text version: #HolyScripture. (If some of these terms are Greek to you, don’t worry, that’s kind of the point).
On the other hand, we too often bury this buzzy message and fill up our bandwidth with a steady stream of business as usual. Don’t worry, nothing too challenging, nothing you haven’t heard already. If you’re really interested, mail a self-addressed stamped envelope, and in six to eight weeks we’ll mail you a brochure.
In a couple weeks, we will celebrate Holy Week. Over the course of seven days we will re-tell and re-live the entire message of Salvation History: God’s creation and care for the human family, God’s continued communication with us through the Prophets, God’s message delivered to us in the Word, our corrupt and violent response, and God’s ultimate re-boot of creation in the Resurrection.
Perhaps it would be more hip and cool and up-to-the-minute if God were just to live-stream the whole thing. It would probably get a bigger audience, and the demographics would certainly skew better. But sometimes the medium does matter. This is a message that we receive by hearing it, singing it, walking it, praying it, again and again, year by year, Sunday by Sunday. This is a message that burns itself onto our hard drives, re-writes our operating system. And this is a message that we are called to forward to all, by striving to live it every day.