The New Evangelism

Last night I found a pretty cool docu as I was cruising Vimeo. It’s called Influencers: How Trends and Creativity Become Contagious.

Here it is:

As I watched, my mind naturally went to the idea of “pastors as influencers,” mostly because, well, I self-identify as a pastor. But the more and more I thought of it, the more I realized that I had an opportunity here to explore an area I feel compelled to gain a depth of knowledge and wisdom in: EVANGELISM.

Confession: I have a visceral reaction to the word and idea of “evangelism.” I am not joking. It makes my skin crawl, and I start to feel a little sick. I am not joking.

In the Fundegelical culture I grew up in, evangelism was the thing you were taught to do. Youth Group was like sales and marketing school. You learned to defend your faith and you learned to, quite honestly, push it on people. Ostensibly, evangelism is “proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ,” but I experienced it more as selling insurance policies. I know, I know. It’s a tried and tired cliche, but it’s a cliche for a reason.

Recently, however, I have been compelled to reconsider what evangelism is and what it looks like. It can’t and shouldn’t be the Salvation Road Show of my youth, but neither can it be just a “commitment to welcoming those who walk through our doors and helping them find a place in the life of this congregation” (honest to God, that was the definition the evangelism committee of one Mainline church I attended had as an official statement). Do I believe that the freedom offered in Jesus Christ is transformative and worth giving my life to? Yes? Then, shouldn’t I freely give what I have freely received? Shouldn’t I offer this marvelous thing far and wide? Yes, and yes. Given how I understand the work of God in Christ, to not do so is to say that no one needs this thing I’ve found. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Ephesians 4 says that God gave the church certain gifts, and that among them were “evangelists.” Can we think of evangelists as “influencers”? Well, here’s what the film says about this kind of person (with a bit of my own commentary thrown in):

Influencers are:

  • Confident. They know they are doing the right thing and they are comfortable doing it. They are not shy when the “slings and arrows” come.
  • Creative. They have a different way of thinking and expressing themselves. They realize that the answers given yesterday do not answer the questions asked today.
  • Early Adopters. They see the possibilities on the horizon long before others do. They are willing to take risks and experiment.
  • Well respected. It’s not necessarily that people “like” them. It is that they have a good track record of naming the truth of the situation. When they speak, people listen.
  • Translators. They have an ability to bring an idea into the mainstream consciousness. They can translate from one discipline to another, and draw connections where others see only dichotomies.
  • Practice Embodiment. They do not merely speak, but they live in a new way. They demonstrate the new by the way they move through their lives.
  • Self-Aware. They are concerned with the ways they come of to the ones they seek to influence. This is not to suggest that they “go by the pols” but they are strategic in the way they present themselves.
  • Rooted. They are not iconoclasts. They are a part of a community, they are accountable to others, and they know where they came from.
  • Mentors. They do not believe that it is all about them and their success. They seek out others and mentor them to do what they have done.

One significant theme that ran through the film was the reality that most influencers are a part of the “young creative class.” Part of what was named is the reality that most younger persons cannot afford to be a part of the system and are not willing to “sell out” to become so. As a result, they tend to establish an almost entirely separate network and work around the establishment. Their influence is a direct result of trying to figure out how to express themselves given their limitations.

To me, this feels like a good place to start in looking for a new understanding of evangelism.

Remix Reformation: A book proposal

I have been trying to discern what my next book will be. I thought it was going to be a proper theology, but, once I finished the first chapter of that work, I realized that the text wanted to stand on its own. Hence, Theology is Art, which was completed about three months ago.

Earlier in December, I tried to write an epic novel, but it was…horrible. No lie. It was really, really bad. Some of you, who are good and kind, offered to read it to see if it was really as bad as I am saying it is, but I’m never letting that puppy see the light of day.

I briefly tried to write another piece of fiction, but I found I had no passion for it. The smart money is for me to write something on spirituality and personality types, for I get around 10 visitors a day to the site simply because they are looking for that kind of information.

But then, a few days ago, I saw the film Press Pause Play. Here is the description from the film’s homepage:

The digital revolution of the last decade has unleashed creativity and talent in an unprecedented way, with unlimited opportunities. But does democratized culture mean better art or is true talent instead drowned out? This is the question addressed by PressPausePlay, a documentary film containing interviews with some of the world’s most influential creators of the digital era.

The following clip, in particular, caught my attention (mostly because I have a man-crush on Seth Godin):

He’s right. The “industry is dead,” regardless of what industry you’re a part of. That means the church, too.

This film and other works surveying the current state of “remix culture” (and the tangential issues of piracy and copyright infringement) have prompted me to begin working on another exploration of the intersection of digital culture and the Christian faith. I’m tentatively titling the work Remix Reformation.

Here’s the abstract I wrote:

With the advent of the digital networked culture, sharing and collaboration are the norm. The democratization of media has enabled anyone to become a “content creator” and distribute their new creations to the world.

In essence, it has become so much easier to do what we have always done: take the creations of the past, build upon them to generate something new, and distribute that new creation to the world. However, those who have profited in the past are seeking to control the next wave of creation through copyright law and the protection of “intellectual property.”

Because the powers of the past willfully neglect the process by which new creations are born,  a growing number of “digital pirates” are seeking to actively subvert and disrupt the immoral laws that have been put into place. Through piracy, copyright infringement, and a new approach to copyright (open source, Creative Commons, etc.) the controllers of the past are being neutralized and rendered irrelevant.

There is a similar story that can be told about the Christian faith, I believe.

Christianity was, itself, a remix of Judaism and Hellenistic culture (so was the Bible). This new creation then spread to Europe and on to the Modern west. At each stage of the advance, the form of Christianity that was prevalent resisted the progression of the faith. Notably, Protestant persecution occurred during the period of the Inquisition. Today, however, the extreme measures taken by the Inquisition simply would not fly. What has risen in its place is a vitriolic coercion in the defense of orthodoxy, which often takes the form of laying the blame of the decline of Christendom at the feet of progressive Christians.

The only way for Christianity to move forward is to nullify and neutralize the neo-orthodoxy Christian fundamentalism that is attempting to retain control. Remix Reformation will explore how, exactly, this can be done in theology, spirituality, and in the life of the Church.

How does that strike you?