Happy New Year!
As we turn the page to another year, here are five resolutions that I hope the church can keep in the months ahead. Each of these resolutions addresses or aligns with the values that shape our tech-shaped culture (values that I wrote about in "Grace and Gigabytes").
Resolution 1: Preach More Lived Stories and Fewer Theological Abstractions
Secularization has accelerated. Church attendance has plummetted. Belief in the trasncendent, let alone the dogma of organized religion, is constantly contested. In this default context of fragmentation and disbelief, the church cannot afford to preach the language of abstraction.
What is abstraction?
Abstraction is a claim about God that is made without a supporting story, example, or illustration.
In the year ahead, let's resolve to tilt the balance in our preaching towards to the lived stories of God's work in our contexts. Let's resolve to proclaim so many lived stories in our context that we discern a common "watch word," or statement of how God shows up in the particulars of our time and place.
Resolution 2: Enrich In-Person Conversations through Digital Content
As we continue to move beyond the pandemic, live streaming has become less appealing as a regular worship habit. According to Gallup, only 5% of Americans are attending services remotely.
Still, digital ministry will continue to serve as the front door to visitors and guests, necessitating that we continue to offer online worship.
What will happen to digital ministry? We might shift to a content-supported model of digital ministry, in which we create and distribute digital content in service to furthering the dialogues started through our liturgies. We might move from events (streaming worship, for example) to posts and stories that enrich our understanding of a topic and expand our theological imagination. This is the model we've tested at Good Shepherd with "Conversation Sundays" - discussions that start in worship and are furthered through digital content in the week ahead.
Resolution 3: Make Space for AI Experimentation
AI is a once-in-a-generation technological leap. AI will shape our culture, and how our culture makes meaning, in ways that we can only begin to imagine. This new technology will inevitably change not just how we execute tasks but how we process information - how we come to learn something, how we come to believe in something.
It's no exaggeration. AI will change what it means to have faith.
The church cannot sit by idly and observe the AI disruption. We must be active experimenters. From creating digital content based on sermon manuscripts to writing newsletters with chatbots, from using ChatGPT to help us articulate personal faith stories to using text to image generators for our newsletter and website, we must resolve to voraciously experiment with these new tools.
Resolution 4: Teach Tech Sabbath as a Spiritual Practice
Just as AI has the potential to be used for purposeful ministry, it can also create a vicious cycle that further retrenches us in digital isolation. As AI creates better content it will command more of our focus. As it consumes more of our attention, we become more enmeshed in the content of our screens.
Tech Sabbath, whether practiced regularly for an hour or for an entire day of the week, is the defiant claim that these vicious cycles do not have ultimate power over my being. To practice a Tech Sabbath is to remember that we are created for much more than digital consumption.
Resolution 5: Model Gratitude as a Leadership Practice
I recently heard Professor Tom Thibodeau define servant leadership in three parts. Prof. Thibodeau suggested that the first job of a leader is to define reality. The second job of a leader is to say thank you. Everything in between is service.
We live in a world where gratitude is missing - or where it is so shallow and superficial that it loses all meaning. When our technology accelerates our communication, we tend to jettison that which is most essential: expressions of thanks, and articulations of our stories. Each is fundamental to the formation of trust. Yet both become increasingly absent the faster we move.
In the year ahead, let's resolve to model how to set aside the drive towards productivity to give meaningful thanks for the service we receive, and to give thanks for those who serve at our side.
In all contexts, in any forums, we are called to partake in the spiritual practice of gratitude in ways that are deep, meaningful, and enriching.
@ryanpanzer would like to wish everyone a Blessed 2024!