The Social Church by Justin Wise

The Social Church by Justin Wise

The first time I heard Justin Wise speak on social media I was impressed.

It was the first session—actually the pre-conference workshop—at a conference for Christian creatives in Canada. Wise was speaking on how churches need to embrace their websites as their new front-door. And as he laid everything out, with tons of practical examples, I had two reactions:

  1. People really need to listen to this guy
  2. This is going to be really hard for some folks to swallow

Many of the people occupying the leadership roles in churches, non-profits, and for-profit entities are digital immigrants. They remember a time without Wi-Fi, Netflix, and Facebook. Many of them use social media, but struggle to understand how to do it. Others don’t bother with it at all, seeing it as a distraction, a fad, or a time-suck that gets in the way of getting real work/ministry done.

But, Wise argues, digital communication is not a good thing for a church to engage in—it’s necessary if they’re actually serious about reaching people with the gospel. And that’s really the heart behind his book, The Social Church: A Theology of Digital Communication, where Wise unpacks the “why” of social media, with a bit of how sprinkled in along the way.

Mission and ministry in social media

If you could boil the why down to one thing, it’s really this: Churches need to be engaging social media—blogs, Facebook, Twitter, whatever the next thing is that’s going to take the world by storm—not because it’s hip and trendy, but because it’s about mission and ministry. Where people are, Christians must be as well. But the difference, and maybe the most challenging aspect of it, is that mission and ministry in social media requires two-way communication.

“For many, many years, churches communicated in the same fashion you and I drive down a one-way street: traffic only moved one way,” Wise explains. “Churches broadcasted a message and never anticipated a moment where the congregation would start speaking back.”

But social media has changed this dynamic.…For the church, and virtually every other sector of society, the shift to social permanently turned the tables in the public’s favor. Social media gave people a voice, and they’re not going to give it up easily. (30)

This is the challenge many of us have when engaging social media. Because the expectation is two-way communication, you actually have to engage people. You have to talk to them when they talk back and share content that’s not all about you. And this is also where so many organizations—including some of the world’s biggest brands—fall on their faces. So if you’ve just realized that you’re doing the digital equivalent of shouting into an empty room, take heart: you’re not alone and you can change this.

But in order to do it, you have to know the values of a social media culture, what it likes and dislikes. What it thinks, how it feels… This is, essentially, the “nasty” business of contextualization, becoming all things to all people so that some might be saved. And even as we seek to understand—or humbly admit we can’t make the leap ourselves and bring in people to help us—we find more opportunities to push back.

Challenging a mediated world

Even as “online” and “offline” become increasingly blurred, we’re going to find ourselves having to confront the tendency to hide in the digital realm with more force. Humans were not meant to hide behind screens and smartphones (and yes, I understand the irony of me even saying this in a digital medium). Real relationships can form and be nurtured online, but the best kinds of relationships form in the real life.

I suppose the inherent danger of online communities is when there is a mistaken belief they can serve as a one-for-one replacement for in-person communities. They can’t (and shouldn’t). Offline trumps online.

Having said that, online community is definitely preferable to no community whatsoever. Lives have been changed, saved, and redeemed all because gospel-centered online communities exist. (155)

You can see the tension here, can’t you? I think Wise is certainly correct that “digital community is better than no community” to some degree, but the fact that this also points us to a legitimate issue in our context: that even as we develop a sound theology of digital communication, we must develop a robust eccesiology to compliment it. This is the difficulty many of us have with idea of online services—while streaming the service can certainly beneficial, how do we challenge people to engage in reality?

Years ago, I was part of an active hobby-focused online community. People would talk about the primary subject (comics), but would also delve into all kinds of other topics, including sharing deeply personal details about their lives (not in a TMI kind of way. Usually). Folks would meet at conventions for drinks. Users who lived in the same cities would get together every once in a while for a meal if the suggestion was tabled… But in the end, when someone stopped visiting the site, it was like they never existed. In an instant, those relationships were severed. The connections weren’t really all that deep.

This is the challenge we face when we deal with the implications of online ministry. How do we build real connections that aren’t easy to sever? This is something Wise doesn’t thoroughly address in the book because, honestly, I don’t know if he or anyone else is equipped to put forward an answer. But make no mistake: if we’re serious about being gospel-minded, gospel-centered people who want to engage the digital realm for mission and ministry, this elephant in the room must be named and addressed.

The beginning of a much deeper conversation

The Social Church is not the last word on social media and the church, nor should it be. Instead, it’s best to see this book as the continuation (or possibly the beginning) of of a conversation we’re not quite ready for: a much deeper discussion on how to do ministry in a simultaneously bigger and smaller world. But whether or not we’re truly ready, it’s a conversation we need to have.


Title: The Social Church: A Theology of Digital Communication
Author: Justin Wise
Publisher: Moody Publishers (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Zondervan and Thomas Nelson have put a ton of titles on sale from their catalogue. Obviously, it’s going to be a bit hit-and-miss, but here are a few worth checking out:

The Culture of Like

Aimee Byrd:

Really, what’s going on beneath much of our playful, self-indulgent, liking banter ruse is the fact that it’s all a marketing ploy. Is it a coincidence that I liked a fitness website and now I get ads run on my page for losing weight and breast implants? I don’t know, maybe some comments I’ve made about exercise also contributed. But the point is, advertisers are trying to customize to our liking. Every commercial on TV now wants us to like them on Facebook. Their crazy computer spiders (how creepy is that?) skulk on our every cyber-move and pounce in with the customized add. Liking a website is their free ticket to advertise their latest sell.

Merry Christmas from Chuck Norris

Remember Van Damme’s ultimate splits commercial? I think CGI Chuck’s got him beat:

When nothing created everything

Joe Carter:

Throughout history people have been awed and thrilled by retellings of their culture’s creation story.

Aztecs would tell of the Lady of the Skirt of Snakes, Phoenicians about the Zophashamin, and Jews and Christians about the one true God—Yahweh. But there is one unfortunate group—the children of atheistic materialists—that has no creation myth to call its own. When an inquisitive tyke asks who created the sun, the animals, and mankind, their materialist parents can only tell them to read a book by Carl Sagan or Richard Dawkins.

But what sort of story are they likely to find? Should they be told, as famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking claims in his book The Grand Design, that “the universe . . . create[d] itself from nothing”?

Since Hawking’s explanation is a bit too drab and not specific enough for bedtime reading, I’ve decided to take the elements of materialism and shape them into a purportedly accurate, though mythic, narrative. This is what our culture has been missing for far too long—a creation story for young atheistic materialists.

Get Saved From What? in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get Saved From What? by R.C. Sproul (ePub) for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Who is the Holy Spirit teaching series by Sinclair Ferguson (audio and video download)
  • The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul (audiobook)
  • Reformation Profiles teaching series by Stephen Nichols (audio and video download)

$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 PM Eastern.

22 Productivity Principles from the Book of Proverbs

Eric McKiddie:

Some of these principles you can find in secular productivity literature today. (Indeed, many of the proverbs can be found in secular ancient Near East literature, verbatim.) But seeing them in God-breathed Scripture reminds us to adopt those principles with a God-centered perspective. Other principles in the list don’t get as much ink or pixels in productivity books or blogs. Let us consider how to incorporate those in our mindset and our workflow, so that we can glorify God all the more in the work that we do.

Links I like

A Profile of Christian Courage

Tim Challies:

It began harmlessly enough—just a little bit of numbness in three toes. At first it was no more than an annoyance, but then the numbness spread to her foot and began to creep upward. Soon it was accompanied by fatigue, nausea, headaches. She visited a doctor and then a neurologist who promptly arranged a battery of tests. And then the diagnosis: “I am so sorry, but it is a brain tumor.” Though the tumor was benign, it was in a bad spot, right at the junction of the brain and the spinal cord. In that moment she knew her life had changed forever.

This is the story of Elaine Grant, a dear friend of my family’s, a sister in Christ, and a woman of exemplary Christian courage.

He said he was leaving. She ignored him.

Laura Munson:

I’d recently committed to a non-negotiable understanding with myself. I’d committed to “the End of Suffering.” I’d finally managed to exile the voices in my head that told me my personal happiness was only as good as my outward success, rooted in things that were often outside my control. I’d seen the insanity of that equation and decided to take responsibility for my own happiness. And I mean all of it.

My husband hadn’t yet come to this understanding with himself. He had enjoyed many years of hard work, and its rewards had supported our family of four all along. But his new endeavor hadn’t been going so well, and his ability to be the breadwinner was in rapid decline. He’d been miserable about this, felt useless, was losing himself emotionally and letting himself go physically. And now he wanted out of our marriage; to be done with our family.

But I wasn’t buying it.

Weekly specials from Crossway

Crossway’s latest weekly special includes:

Does Your Facebook Rant “Honor Everyone?”

Trevin Wax:

Sometimes, evangelical Christians do more harm than good on Facebook.

Under the veil of “taking a stand” for our values, I fear we are letting loose all kinds of dishonoring, uncharitable speech. We need to stop.

Around the Interweb (11/21)

What can six seconds do for you?

Jani Ortlund offers some great advice to women:

After years of a quick shout from somewhere near the back door, it started with “Goodbye, honey. See you tonight . . .” which left us both wanting more. It stopped when we decided that before we went out to face our day we would scout the other out, wrap each other up in a warm embrace, and begin our day with an intimate, very married, six-second kiss.

Try it. Tomorrow when you say goodbye, take your husband’s face in your hands. Look deeply into his eyes. Ask him to hold you for just six seconds. Tell him you love him. Admire him. Tell him you can’t wait until the day is done and you’ll have time together again, and then kiss him like you mean it.

Go ahead. Try it! Your young children will grow up feeling secure in the love between their parents. Your adolescents will blush, groan, and hope their friends don’t see you. Your teens will hope that someday they can build a marriage like their parents. And if there are no children around? Hmmmm, now there’s an interesting situation!

“Scarcely had I passed them when I found him whom my soul loves. I held him and would not let him go . . .” Song of Solomon 3:4

In Other News

Announcement: The winners of the Washed & Waiting giveaway are Eric Wan & Brooke Cooney! Congratulations!

Discernment: Dan Kimball offers an admonishment to online “discernment” ministries

Housekeeping: Let’s connect on Blogging Theologically’s new Facebook page

Discipleship: How to disciple a transsexual

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

A review of John Piper’s latest, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God

What could unravel the gospel-centered movement?

Calvin: The human mind is a perpetual forge of idols

Sin clouds the mind and the will

Black holes and Revelations

Okay, so there might not be any black holes, but there is at least one revelation here.

The other day, I asked you all to decide which of these three books I would review.

After several days of voting, the results are in and a book has been requested.

Because you demanded it, I’ll be reviewing Sun Stand Still by Steven Furtick.

Sun Stand Still Cover

In case you don’t recall, here’s the write-up of the book:

If you’re not DARING TO BELIEVE GOD for the impossible,
you may be SLEEPING THROUGH
some of the BEST PARTS of your Christian Life.

“This book is not a Snuggie. The words on these pages will not go down like Ambien. I’m not writing to calm or coddle you. With God’s help, I intend to incite a riot in your mind. Trip your breakers and turn out the lights in your favorite hiding places of insecurity and fear. Then flip the switch back on so that God’s truth can illuminate the divine destiny that may have been lying dormant inside you for years.

In short, I’m out to activate your audacious faith. To inspire you to ask God for the impossible. And in the process, to reconnect you with your God-sized purpose and potential.”

I’m very intrigued by the idea of having my audacious faith activated, so this should be interesting.

Look for the review in December.

So is that it?

Well… there is something else (although it’s probably not as “earth-shattering” as the Beatles being available on iTunes).

I’m working on a new book. Working on the details of where/how it’ll be published, but it should be available in 2011. Keep your eyes peeled for news and updates.

Also, there’s this (which may or may not have a hint at something else…)

Around the Interweb (09/05)

Should you “friend” your ex on Facebook?

Interesting post over at the Her-meneutics blog on the wisdom (or lack thereof) of adding an old flame on facebook:

I believe that all relationships in my life either support or detract from my marriage, however tacitly, and they stay or go based on that criterion. I believe spouses should have access to each others’ phones and e-mails and should approve of each others’ Facebook friends. I believe privacy with exes, even and perhaps particularly virtual privacy, is dangerous. I’m on the road I chose, and no good will come from revisiting roads not taken…

I know what full-blown adultery is, but fidelity is breached long before physical acts occur. How about looking at an ex’s profile pictures and imagining the life you could have had together, the children you could have been raising, the house you could have bought? How about looking at old photos your ex has posted, remembering the encounters you had in that time and place? How about indulging the brief thrill that arises when his or her name appears in your e-mail inbox or your Facebook wall (the rush is fueled, after all, by past words and experiences shared only between the two of you)? How about nurturing the notion that you missed your chance with your real soul-mate by keeping in touch with the supposed soul-mate? These actions and attitudes may not be adultery, but they certainly do not represent loyalty.

Facebook presents me with nicely worded options: “Confirm this request for friendship, or quietly ignore it.” This man is likely just saying hello, having seen my name or photo on a mutual friend’s page. Chances are, it’s no big deal. But I’ve made my choice, regarding the man as well as his request. Old flame, consider yourself quietly ignored.

Read the whole thing. (HT: Challies)

In Other News

Podcasts: Al Mohler is starting not one, but two new podcasts: The Briefing and Thinking in Public

Free Stuff: This month’s free download at ChristianAudio.com is Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders. Use coupon code SEP2010 when checking out.

Apologetics: Justin Taylor offers an FAQ on the differences between Christianity and Mormonism

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

A week-long series on getting serious about your studies—Choosing your study Bible, your systematic theology, your reading plan and your digital resources

A review of Ryken’s Bible Handbook

Darrin Patrick: “We need better men, which means we need better pastors.”

Mark Driscoll and Joshua Harris in conversation with Francis Chan

Around the Interweb (03/07)

Blaspheme Your Idols

Jared Wilson shares an excerpt from his next book, currently in progress:

A bride joined to her groom forsakes all others. She writes the spiritual equivalent of Dear John letters to her idols. When God’s love captivates you, you go around spurning all your other lovers. I call this “blaspheming” your idols.

Blaspheme them. Tell them they have no appeal to you any more. Tell them you don’t need their damage, their pain, their anti-glories. Tell them you have no desires to use and abuse them any more. Tell them your heart, mind, soul, and strength belong wholly to God now. And then don’t speak as a lover to them ever again. Sinful relationships must end.

Read the whole thing. It’s well worth it.

In other news

TWO free audiobooks this month at ChristianAudio.comThe Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (code: MAR2010) and Fifty Reasons why Jesus Came to Die by John Piper (code: MAR2010B). Enjoy!

The New Possibilities in Book Publishing and the Implications of New Media

Would you “Friend” the Apostle Paul?

2010 Band of Bloggers: Internet Idolatry & Gospel Fidelity

Timmy Brister has announced the details of the 4th Band of Bloggers fellowship that will take place in conjunction with the 2010 Together for the Gospel Conference in Louisville, Kentucky.

The theme for this year’s meeting is “Internet Idolatry and Gospel Fidelity.” With the advent of new media and the increasing influence of technology on our lives, it is important to address the relationship of the gospel to technology, especially the areas where we are tempted with idolatrous desire (power, identity, influence, acceptance, control, etc.).  While the internet, with all of its platforms (such as blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) can be a powerful tool to leverage our lives for the gospel impact, we want to examine our hearts to bring to light the various ways in which the idol factory of our hearts challenges and subverts the very gospel which we long to embrace.

Go to the Band of Bloggers website for more info and to register.

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

A review of Tass Saada’s Once an Arafat Man

Jude: Contending for our Common Salvation

How to Build a God

Spurgeon on the fruit of humility

B.B. Warfield reminds us that we can’t move beyond the gospel