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

links i like

We Become How We Worship

David Murray:

Much worship today aims primarily at stimulating and exciting our physical senses. If we can provide a colorful spectacle for the eyes, spectacular musical sounds for the ears, a pounding beat to impact the body and get the adrenaline running, then the emotions are stirred, and there’s a sense of elation and excitement. But if we become how we worship, such sensual, emotion-driven, thrill-seeking worship will produce sensual, feeling-focused, thrill-seeking Christians.

It’s Time to Interrupt Someone

Josh Blount:

Eventually I came to agree that interrupting conversations is poor manners. But what about a different kind of interruption: interrupting lives? Have you ever thought about how many times God does just that? Consider Paul’s life. Paul, at the time Saul, was perfectly happy with his zealous persecution of the church – and then God interrupted him on a dusty Palestinian road, turned his life upside down, saved him, and gave him a completely new mission in life. The gospels tell the same story about the disciples. Here you have a bunch of fishermen in the midst of their daily routine, and suddenly a man shows up, interrupts the monotony of the mundane, and calls them to leave everything and follow him – and nothing was ever the same. The woman at the well, Lydia on a Philippian river bank, a Roman jailer and his household, even the thief on the cross – all people interrupted by the God who saves.

What’s Your Learning Style?

Aimee Byrd:

Todd wrote a great piece challenging Donald Miller’s recent post, excusing why he doesn’t go to church. It just so happens that science wouldn’t agree with Miller’s argument either.

In his post, Miller bluntly expresses, “So to be brutally honest, I don’t learn much about God hearing a sermon,” claiming, “I’ve studied psychology and education reform long enough to know a traditional lecture isn’t for everybody.” And then Miller educates us, “Research suggest there are three learning styles, auditory (hearing) visual (seeing) and kinesthetic (doing) and I’m a kinesthetic learner.”

Does it? Not according to Popular Science.

Donald Miller and the Myth of Isolated Worship

Derek Rishmawy:

So, Donald Miller wrote an article about why he doesn’t go to church much. You can read it here. I was surprised by how much I didn’t agree with it, given the way his earlier works blessed me when I was in college (especially some of the moving things he has written about needing community).

In essence, for this article Miller took some of the worst cliches and cultural trends of American life that contribute to our consumeristic view of church and handily bundled them all together in one article. I guess he’s performed us a service, though, because they’re kind of all there, ready to be dissected in one sitting.

Four Things a Pastor Should Consider Before Engaging in Social Media

Trevin Wax:

Some pastors may hear my encouragement to engage in social media and then jump in without much thought. Don’t. Better to have no social media presence than to be sloppy in your handling of this tool of communication.

Social media takes time and attention. Be strategic. Don’t take it lightly.

14 books I want to read in 2014 (and think you should too)

Every so often, I wonder whether or not we really need more Christian books being published. After all, if we were honest, we’d admit that much of what’s being released is either entirely forgettable at best and trash at worst.

But even so there’s a glut of books that are the equivalent of cotton candy, there’s a lot of really, really good stuff being put out there. Here’s a look at a few I’m excited to read in 2014:

The Most Encouraging Book on Hell Ever by Thor Ramsey (Cruciform Press)

This one had me at the title, and it comes out soon (like, this week!). What excites me most about this book (aside from the title) is its approach to the question of Hell itself, asking: “What if Hell itself is good news about God?”


The Storytelling God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Parables +

The Wonder-Working God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Miracles by Jared Wilson (Crossway)

These two are so closely connected I have to include them together. In the first, “discarding the notion that Jesus’s parables are nothing more than moralistic fables, Jared Wilson shows how each one is designed to drive us to Jesus in awe, need, faith, and worship.” And in the second, “Wilson shows readers how the amazing miracles described in the Gospels attest to Christ’s divinity, authority, and ultimate mission: restoring us and this world to a right relationship with God.”


Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus by Mack Stiles (Crossway)

This is one of several books coming out in the 9Marks: Building Healthy Churches series from Crossway. I’m particularly excited about this one because Mack Stiles is both a, a gifted evangelist, and b, incredibly passionate and articulate on the subject. If you heard him speak on this subject at TGC’s 2013 pre-conference, you know what I mean.


The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ by Ray Ortlund (Crossway)

Another entry in the 9Marks: Building Healthy Churches series, “this short book helps readers experience the power of God as they are encouraged to trust in Christ and allow him to transform their beliefs, perspectives, and practices. For everyone who wants to be true to the Bible and honest with themselves, this book offers a practical guide to the fundamental teachings of the gospel and how they affect our relationships with others.”


The Pastor’s Kid by Barnabas Piper (David C. Cook)

I’m not a PK, but I know a number of them, and I know enough to know they’ve got a bit of a rougher go than the average Christian—largely because everyone is watching what they’re doing. Instead of venting about all the problems that come with being a PK, Barnabas “shares the one thing a PK needs above all else (as do their pastor/father and church) to live in true freedom and wholeness. With empathy, humor and passion, this book courageously addresses one of the most under-the-radar issues affecting almost every church and pastor, and their children.”


The Social Church by Justin Wise (Moody)

“This book is for Christians who are advocates of social media and who want to learn better about how to use these new technologies to further the Kingdom of God. Justin Wise speaks about social media as this generation’s printing press-a revolutionary technology that can spread the gospel further and faster than we can imagine.” I’ve heard Justin speak on this topic in the past and his insights are guaranteed to be worth your time.


Is It My Fault?: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb (Moody)

The Holcombs’ Rid of My Disgrace is one of the most significant recent books on the issue of sexual abuse, and I have no doubt this will be equally as beneficial as it “addresses the abysmal issue of domestic violence with the powerful and transforming biblical message of grace and redemption.”


The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters by J.P. Moreland (Moody)

This looks fascinating. “Countering the arguments of both naturalists and Christian scholars who embrace a material-only view of humanity, Moreland demonstrates why it is both biblical and reasonable to believe humans are essentially spiritual beings.… [and] shows that neuroscience and the soul are not competing explanations of human activity, but that both coexist and influence one another.”


Know the Heretics by Justin Holcomb (Zondervan)

Part of Zondervan’s KNOW series, this one by Holcomb looks particularly interesting, especially for use in a small group setting, because when it comes to the subject of heresy, we need “a strong dose of humility and restraint, and also a clear and informed definition of orthodoxy and heresy. Know the Heretics provides an accessible ‘travel guide’ to the most significant heresies throughout Christian history.”


The Unbelievable Gospel: Say Something Worth Believing by Jonathan Dodson (Zondervan)

Dodson can always be counted on for an insightful and thought-provoking read. “Showing readers how to utilize the rich gospel metaphors found in Scripture and how to communicate a gospel worth believing—one that speaks to the heart-felt needs of diverse individuals—Dodson connects the gospel to the real issues people face each day by speaking to both the head and the heart.”


Taking God At His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me by Kevin DeYoung (Crossway)

With the Bible’s authority under almost constant attack, this is a much-needed book. “With his characteristic wit and clarity, Kevin DeYoung has written an accessible introduction to the Bible that answers important questions raised by Christians and non-Christians alike.… Avoiding technical jargon, this winsome volume will encourage men and women to read and believe the Bible—confident that it truly is God’s word.”


Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? by Mark Jones (P&R Publishing)

This one came out in 2013, but didn’t show up on my radar until fairly recently (and now sits on my Kindle waiting to be read). “This book is the first to examine antinomianism from a historical, exegetical, and systematic perspective. More than that, in it Mark Jones offers a key—a robust Reformed Christology with a strong emphasis on the Holy Spirit—and chapter by chapter uses it to unlock nine questions raised by the debates.”


Against the Church by Douglas Wilson (Canon Press)

This, again, is a late 2013 release that slipped by me (not surprising since it’s official release date was December 19th!). Wilson is always worth a read, if for no other reason than the way he writes. “Alongside a critique of philosophical assumptions about human nature, dualism, and grace, Wilson stresses the unavoidable and absolute necessity of individual hearts being born again.”


So those are a few books I’m excited to check out in 2014. What are some on your list?

Links I like

The Age of Intolerance

Interesting and insightful piece from Mark Steyn:

But no matter how nice you are, it’s never enough. Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson, in his career-detonating interview with GQ, gave a rather thoughtful vernacular exegesis of the Bible’s line on sin, while carefully insisting that he and other Christians are obligated to love all sinners and leave it to the Almighty to adjudicate the competing charms of drunkards, fornicators, and homosexuals. Nevertheless, GLAAD — “the gatekeepers of politically correct gayness” as the (gay) novelist Bret Easton Ellis sneered — saw their opportunity and seized it. By taking out TV’s leading cable star, they would teach an important lesson pour encourager les autres — that espousing conventional Christian morality, even off-air, is incompatible with American celebrity.

Dr. Who meets A-ha

What happens when 80s pop meets Richard Swarbrick’s 50th anniversary Dr. Who animation? This:

Must Christians believe in the virgin birth?

Albert Mohler:

With December 25 fast approaching, the secular media are sure to turn their interest once again to the virgin birth. Every Christmas, weekly news magazines and various editorialists engage in a collective gasp that so many Americans could believe such an unscientific, supernatural doctrine. For some, the belief that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin is nothing less than evidence of intellectual dimness. One writer for the New York Times put the lament plainly: “The faith in the Virgin Birth reflects the way American Christianity is becoming less intellectual and more mystical over time.”

Aren’t There Enough Christian Books Already?

Barnabas Piper:

And that’s really the issue with Christian books: not enough of them are actually interesting. Are there enough Christian books? Yes, if you mean books that write promises God won’t keep. Yes, if you mean books that ride trends instead of meeting needs. Yes, if you mean books that ride in the same wheel ruts as so many before instead of treading new ground. Yes, if you mean formulaic, redundant, platform-driven, artless compilations of blog posts or sermons. Indeed, there are too many of these kinds of books.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

These deals from Crossway end today (look for new ones soon):

Also, for those who love big giant theology books, you’d be crazy to pass on Michael Bird’s Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction ($7.99), The Christian Faith by Michael Horton ($8.99) and Historical Theology by Gregg R. Allison ($7.99).

Make sure what you share is actually true

Aaron Earls:

It can happen to any of us. It does happen to almost all of us.

We see a story online that shocks us, however, this one seems true enough.

Normally, we check things out before we share them, but this is so unbelievable we need to get the news out as soon as possible.

We post it on Facebook or retweet it. Before we know it, others have shared the story.

Only then do we find out the truth – it was fake.