Sunday, September 27, 2009

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Which Protocol Would Jesus Use?


In network programming, two important acronyms are UDP (“User Datagram Protocol”) and TCP (“Transmission Control Protocol”). Using the latter protocol, there is an actual connection between two parties. The former protocol can be thought of as involving a “broadcast”, where one party simply tosses some information out there for the benefit of anyone who happens to be listening, but not immediately knowing if anyone actually “gets the message”.

Since this is a blog post, it may be a funny place to ask this question, but isn’t blogging mostly UDP, instead of TCP? How much of the time are we just expressing ourselves, instead of really trying to communicate with some other particular person? I think of my own posts when I ask this, and the question seems particularly urgent here in a Christian blog: “... love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34) That has to be done one-on-one. Does blogging help with this?

A related area where this question comes up is that of social networking tools like Facebook. How much of this is just “broadcast”, but with no “connection”? Can real Christian Fellowship (Acts 2:42) be cultivated like this, when, instead of sharing our lives with other particular saints, we toss the details out there for them all at once?

An area in the church where we often see these issues come up is in the exercise of the ministry: Pastors sometimes see themselves as called to preach in such an urgent sense that they have little time left over for the network of personal one-on-one relationships that are so important in shepherding God’s flock. Elders too can get so wrapped up in governing the church, that they lose touch with its members. I recall being told once at an elder’s retreat that, when we really needed to be able to influence a member of our church, our efforts wouldn’t amount to much if we hadn’t been frequently in his home. How easy it can be to fall into the trap of thinking of “the flock”, instead of thinking as our Lord does, who knows each one of His sheep by name. (John 10:3)

So here it is, as the subversive post of the day: Do we need less time on blogs and social networking tools, and more time sitting down with one another in coffee shops and homes, as brothers and sisters in the Lord? Short of that, how do we get more “connection” back into these “broadcast” media (more TCP and less UDP)?

4 comments:

  1. Do we need less time on blogs? Absolutely ... er, except this one, of course! :)

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  2. Seriously, though ... the question in my mind is this: how do we engage with the world, which is increasingly found in this "virtual" reality, without becoming lost in it and disappearing from "real" reality (for lack of a better term)? To what extent is virtual engagement in fact real, and to what extent is it mere broadcast into dead air? To what extent is it possible to leverage virtual tools to impact real people without disappearing from reality ourselves?
    Now it's time for me to get out from behind this desk and go find some real people ...

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  3. This post strikes home on multiple levels. Since I'm a pastor, I see the truth in the call to take time to develop relationships in-depth. That requires time and energy. One challenge a growing church faces is the increasing specialization of those who serve its staff. I find it difficult to balance time for personal ministry with the need for the leadership tasks I must handle. One part of me knows that I can't be everywhere doing everything and another part of me feels guilty that I can't.

    Regarding social networking, I have noticed that it can be addictive. I have found tools that allow me to quickly scan the updates of all my "friend" -- sometimes quietly rejoicing with them and at times praying for them.

    As to my own blog, I try to keep it a mix of spiritual insight and personal revelation. I have regular readers who are young and growing in the faith. I have regular readers who don't know Christ and I'm trying to build a bridge to them. I have some younger pastors that I mentor and I try to occasionally give some tips on pastoring/leading in a local church and community.

    One advantage of the type of communication I just described is that it can be written at my convenience and read at the reader's convenience.

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  4. Our congregation has a small group program we call "Body Builders". In another congregation with which I had an association, they had "Shepherding Groups". In both cases, what's involved (as I see it) is an effort to realize the "organic" nature of the church that we find in Ephesians 4:11-16: "... the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." Making this real is no trivial matter and, if a pastor, even with the help of a couple of elders or deacons, has to do it alone, it'll burn him out.

    As for the internet and social networking, it may be that these tools can be used to help in this (and I think perhaps they can), but we have to reckon with the Marshall McLuhan's adage that "the medium is the message". Sam mentioned that social networking can be "addictive". The reason I put the book cover from "Digital Barbarism" at the top of the post is that apparently (and I don't participate enough to really know) it can be a lot worse than just "addictive" can convey. Can it be that, unless we're very careful about our use of these tools, we can find ourselves actually doing harm with them?

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