Decline of Journalism as Analogy for the Church

Posted: June 27, 2011 by Todd in Culture, Ministry
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At the North Alabama Annual Conference of the UMC, I recently heard Brian McLaren make the argument that the church is in a similar predicament to the United States Postal Service.  With the decline of letters and rise of email and digital media plus huge overhead, the postal service has run large deficits and has, according to McLaren, been slow to adjust to the changes it needed to make to remain fiscally solvent.  He argued that the church too is in a similar situation, needing to make changes in order to adapt to a new cultural context and avoid the situation where we are just an institution maintaining massive overhead commitments.  He argued that the church should be less a place of answers and more a facilitator of conversations.

This morning, I read @jeffjarvis‘s piece, “Digital first: what it means for journalism” where he argues that news organizations should adopt the strategy of using digital, social, and online mediums as the first product of their organizations and only resort to articles as a secondary option.  Jarvis has been a champion for this sort of thing and received criticism from the journalism community for it.  Reacting to this criticism, he wrote:

Then I tried to think about these ideas from the perspective of the journalist. “You can’t have a narrative without a narrator,” I think they were telling me. “I decide what the story is. I decide what is worth our effort and your attention. I decide what goes in and what doesn’t. I decide on the beginning and the end. Without me, the storyteller, you can’t have a story.” And without so many stories, do we need as many storytellers? That could be their fear.

This, I think is the predicament of the church.  We need to loosen our grip on the role of “being the storyteller” and the narrator of faith, of orthodoxies, and most of all, of God.  Why not let church be a place where experiences of living have a chance to interact with the stories of other experiences?  Why not listen to the voices of those struggling to be faithful, those confused about what being faithful is, and much more?  In most churches, there are so many ways to participate.  But they are mostly programmatic.  Rarely do average church people create ideas or share experiences on their own and put them out there for the rest of the church to hear.  In my experience, most are too scared or don’t even know how to do so.  However, if we can create more of an “open mic night” sort of atmosphere at church, some amazing things may emerge.  Some might call it making room for the Spirit.  I think it may come down to the church not taking itself too seriously, putting its faith in its own standards, but rather trusting God to work through the competencies and experiences of everyday people.  People might start caring about what the “church” has to say if they have a chance to be part of the church’s voice.

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