Learning through Life

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Hampshire, United Kingdom
I love how our day-to-day life can teach us lessons to help us understand our past, challenge our today, and inspire our future. We can learn through experiences, situations, conversations, songs, books, nature ... the list is endless! Live with eyes ready to see, ears ready to hear and a heart ready to be touched.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The one where I get a little heated

'No, you are not entitled to your opinion, until you have listened to that of others,  then you can make an informed opinion!'

I hadn't realised I felt so strongly about the issue!  What started (and finished) as a relaxed chat in Starbucks with a good friend, soon escalated into a more heated discussion, revealing a passion that until that moment I was unaware I held, at least to such extent.

The discussion began as we unpacked the success (or not?) of something new that had taken place during a Sunday Lite* sermon the previous Sunday.  What was new?

I had a live Twitter feed on the screen behind me and encouraged people to tweet their thoughts during the sermon using the designated hashtag.

[Ducks, waiting for the shocked comments to come my way!  Heretic!  Culture embracer!] 

This is an entirely new concept in our church.  Actually, I have yet to come across a 'live tweet' sermon anywhere else.  I knew it involved an element of risk, and would be a challenge to effectively pull off, but it was one I was prepared to at least try.

Why did I do this?  Were the congregation ready for it?  Would they understand the purpose?  Would they engage with it?  Would the Holy Spirit still feel able to speak into peoples' lives?  (Yes, that last question is peppered with a touch of sarcasm)

I explained the purpose to the congregation ...

1 - To encourage a greater (or different?) number of the congregation to engage with the sermon.

Sermons are (and have been for a long time) generally geared towards aural learners - those that sit, listen and take in.  Some sermons are presented in a more visual format, engaging those who learn through what they see.  However, there's a third group, kinaesthetic learners, who learn by doing - and this group often struggles during the more traditional style of sermon.

2 - To demonstrate that the Bible is for everyone

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By encouraging individuals to tweet their sermon related thoughts, I hoped to demonstrate that the Bible isn't just an empty story written long ago, neither is it limited to my understanding and application, but that it is something that comes alive in the minds, hearts and souls of all who hear.  It is 3-dimensional: Relevant, real, and relational.

Having explained the 'why', I then explained the 'how'.

All sermon related tweets should include the preselected #hashtag and would then appear on the large screen behind me.

It would be a live powerpoint written by the congregation.

It was a risk.  It was radical.  But I think it worked.

So, what about the heated discussion?  Did I have to defend the idea?  Well, in a sense, yes, but this wasn't what actually lit the fuse.

'It isn't my thing!'

It was the way in which it was so easily brushed aside as not being 'my thing' that propelled me to the edge of my seat.   Why the frustration? Surely each person can decide for themselves if something is their 'thing' or not?   It's down to personal opinion, right?

Yes but ...

Is it always possible to tell whether something will work for us or not, having had so little experience of it?   How many of the things we enjoy now weren't our 'thing' when we first tried them?  It's a shallow example, but I really disliked my very first experience of Starbucks.  It wasn't for me.   But now, well, I am there several times a week, known by name by most of the staff, have read several books on the company, and even used their motto as sermon themes. I am sat in my local Starbucks writing this blog!  It is definitely 'my thing'.

Many of our traditions at church would not be experienced and enjoyed now if 'not my thing' held weight every time.  Hasty abandonment could restrict the development of new practices. Consider the style of music a lot of us enjoy during our worship service.  Playing an electric guitar in church is now generally accepted and 'normal' ... but at first ... well I am sure it was dismissed as the devil's music, and would certainly not have been everyone's 'thing'.

But this wasn't the only angle that irritated me as I considered the thought.  It was the 'my' in the 'thing'.  What could this suggest?**  Because 'I' don't like it, it isn't right?  Since when has church been about the individual?  The church is a community of believers coming together to worship, serve, learn, encourage - to do life with each other.  Each other.  It is not about 'I' but about 'we'.  Perhaps we should take our eyes off our preferred style or practice and see how other people engage.  Worshiping together in this way will require sacrifice, but then, isn't this what Christianity is all about?  Laying OUR lives down?

I absolutely believe we must continually question the way we 'do' church.  Is it relevant?  Is it reverent?  Is it reaching people?  Is it engaging?  Is it authentic?  Is it what God wants?

I am not prepared to stand still, to plateau, and watch the church slowly become out of date in a way that no longer reaches the community.  I want people to discover Jesus!  If this means I may have to lay down some of my preferences - then I would like to think I am prepared to do this.

I know I haven't got it all right.  I have my traditions just like everyone else!  But I really pray that I will be open to new and different practices, if it allows a greater experience of God.

If we keep on doing what we've always done, we will always get what we've always got.  I want more!  Do you?  Are you prepared to let go of 'my thing' and experience something new, for the sake of others?

The live tweet really encouraged some people to engage in a different way.  For them, it worked.  I accept that for others it may have been a distraction, and I need to take this into account.  For to completely ignore their thoughts, and tweet during every sermon in this way would be allowing 'my thing' to prevail.

I don't want church to be about me.  Actually, I don't even want it to be about us.  I want it to be about Jesus!  How often does 'my thing' stop this from being the case?  Hmmm .....

Your thoughts ...

+ How quickly do you dismiss something as not being 'your thing'?

+ How can we make sure church is less about 'me' and more about 'them'?

+  How do you feel about a live tweet during a sermon?  Might it help?  Distract?

+  How do we ensure church engages with culture (ie social media) without losing sight of its purpose?

*Sunday Lite is our monthly outreach service - it's shorter, gospel centered, fast paced, interactive, and is targeted specifically for non-church goers, or those with little understanding of church patterns, words, and rituals.  Oh, and it finishes (as all good Christian outreach services seem to) with Do-nuts!

** Just to clarify, I am not suggesting that this is what the person I discussed tweeting with thought - but rather, what it could mean in certain contexts with different people.

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