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

Image Source
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.


  1. Facebook and Twitter can be a great tool but I in my opinion during a sermon should be treated with caution.

    For those who have a short attention span I think it would go something like this . . .

    . . . ooooo cool I'm going to tweet . . . . Ooo Joe Bloggs has tweeted I'm going to follow them . . . ha ha what they wrote last week is so funny . . . oh no way they follow Generic Name and Famous Person X wonder what they tweet
    about . . . ha ha that's funny . . . ooo my friend follows them too . . . wait I forgot to reply to facebook friend B I best do that now . . . 5 new facebook notifications might as well check them . . . oh yer there is an event on soon I best see who is going let me text them . . . wait I was listening to something what was it . . .

    I think it would be very very easy for people to go off on a tangent without realising.

    Think it is a fab idea to get involved and discus after or towards the end of a sermon but the whole way through might be too much temptation especially for younger people or people with short attention spans.

    Its like putting a TV on mute in the corner while someone is talking the person listening will drift off to look at what’s on the TV and if it’s something interesting they will keep looking back.

    I think it’s all about balance and self control! But those who struggle with self control is that not putting another obstacle in the way?

    I think towards the end when the main points have been covered it’s a great idea as it can lead to questions and discussion afterwards but the whole way through is asking for people to either get distracted or use it as an excuse to do other things.

    1. Hi Vicki - thanks for your thoughts - it's always good to chat these things through! Yup, I totally get where you are coming from - and agree it could be a problem for some. I did consider the temptation to do other things at the same time - or to start following another thread that appears. However, in my setting - I know pretty much all those who tweet - they already follow each other - and only the tweets with the # came up - so no new followers to look out for (this time). I had also prepped those who I know have twitter beforehand - and discussed several potential pitfalls like this. In a bigger setting this might be a lot more difficult to monitor effectively.

      To look at it another way - for those who do find it very difficult to engage with the traditional spoken sermon - it could go something like this ....

      ..... right, I AM going to listen and learn to this sermon, I can do it .... introduction interesting ... now to listen as they start to unpack the points ... unpack ... hmmm ... that reminds me ... I really need to unpack my bag from the week .... ooops back to the sermon ... huh? where have they gone with this point? What does that long word mean they keep on using .... don't understand ... shame I can't find a dictionary to help .... wait ... I could google for it .... but no ... I MUST sit still and listen ... everyone else seems to manage ... how on earth do they sit and listen for this long? They must be a lot more intelligent (or good, or spiritual) than me because I really am not getting this like them ....

      Yes, I am being OTT with it - but the point is that just as tweeting could be a distraction for some - it could also help others that find sitting and listening very difficult. So, who does it right? Should the kineasthetic learner have to sit and struggle all the time for the sake of those who would get distracted?

      I personally have no problem with people being 'distracted' by the tweets if they are all based on the sermon - it is just another way of engaging with it - a live powerpoint.

      All about balance - and discerning what is right for each congregation / service etc.

      I am not yet convinced about live tweets - but not going to rule it out completely just because it distracts a few people.

      I would also never expect another speaker to be happy with it just because I am. Seeing people on their phones or ipads doesn't offend or distract me - but I can understand that other speakers might find it more difficult.

      Still working it through and appreciate your valid thoughts :)

  2. Hey there Jo.
    A great blog. Really interesting to read, and spend time thinking about throughout the day.
    Especially because I am one of those 'tweeters' who tweet almost anywhere, church service/sermon time included. Coming from a family of people with ADHD, although I do not have this, or diagnosed with anyway, I sometimes have an incredibly short attention span, and this is just because. I'm saying this because even if it were a world renowned famous speaker, or my local minister preaching, I am just as likely to get sidetracked.

    I actually find using something like twitter a useful tool during services/sermon. If I wasnt distracted by other peoples tweets because I was just sitting there, with my phone in my bag, I would be sitting there doing what you said in your response to your above comment. You are not being OTT with your illustration. One of the things that frustrates me most about church and services/sermons etc is the lack of space to respond. To say what you are thinking. To be able to express that you don't know what that long word means, or what the heck is he on about. So i often find being able to put something in a tweet draws responses, which I then interact with, and before you know it I find that I have learned about the topic, have vaguely listened to what is being said so I can tweet the points, and have then thrashed the topic about a bit too. Something you don't get the chance to do in church (which I know would be impractical, as if everyone interrupted with their questions you'd probably get no where).

    I have to accept not everyone agrees with this. Not everything likes it. I've been know to raise comments and eyebrows by sitting there with my phone, sure ... but just as I have to accept some people are not liking it, they have to accept that their approach also does not work for me.

    Its about getting a balance,as you have already said, and to be honest, I would imagine tweeting from a service is the least problematic, its not as if your making everyone else do it is it. Its not like I am sat affecting other peoples concentration. If I were to be sat whistling or leaving my phone on so it beeped every time i got a message, thats different.

    I love what you did with the live feed during your talk.

    Anyway, I think I have gone off on a tangent here, in an effort to reply to your blog, sorry :)

  3. This is really timely! I was talking with my wife about one of the problems with the modern church model is the lack of room for discussion during or after a sermon. If you want to get more understanding or clarity on the message, apart from speaking to the minister, you're on your own!

    Contrast this to Bible times where folks would sit and discuss things either in the synagogue, or whenever they were together.

    More Tweeting/discussion is needed. I pray this type of thing catches on!

  4. I like this idea.It would also be great for the preacher to get some feedback

  5. nice post thanks for sharing looking for to visit more...blessings

  6. Interesting concept. For me, maybe the 'live on screen' bit would be a bit too risky (risk of irreverence and profanity). But it's a novel way of getting better engagement with the teaching, and I'm all for that. And especially with young people, who use twitter and facebook all the time, even during church services(!), it might even work to keep their concentration, rather than distract. The other good thing is that the discussion can continue long after the service has finished. May be better having the twitter feed on your iPad with your notes while you speak? Then you can use it if any useful questions and comments come up, but you don't have to, and it doesn't have to be a distraction in the background.

    1. Hi Andrew, thanks for commenting :)

      I guess there is a benefit in belonging to a fairly small congregation - in that pretty much everyone is known and trusted not to tweet anything inappropriate. It would be far more risky with a larger congregation or one that gets a lot of visitors. I probably wouldn't attempt it in the same when then.

      I love to encourage people to engage in what is being said - and know that for some tweeting is a good tool for this. I also love the interaction and conversation that can continue throughout and even afterwards.

      Would love to try to have live tweet next to me and answer questions / reply to comments as I go along - but don't think I am confident enough to answer on the spot like that - not in a preach situation anyway.

      Thanks again for commenting :)



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