What the Internet and the men of Issachar have to do with each other.
Anna, our teenage daughter, recently violated her curfew. Somehow she managed to overstep the midnight boundary line, arriving home a good 30 minutes after official lights out. Her excuse was beautiful: she was helping a friend. Unfortunately, I had no choice but to implement a powerful consequence. My first thought was that she should lose her driving privileges for a week. No, it had to be worse than that.
“No technology for a week,” I announced the next morning. She moaned, and her eyes welled with tears. Her 15-year-old sister carefully retreated from the room so as to avoid the ensuing conversation. I had no intention of backing down.
These days, nothing is costlier for a 17-year-old than technology deprivation. No Gameboy, no Xbox, no Tivo? Obviously! And no iPod, iMovies, or Garage Band. And the pièce de résistance, the centerpiece of my plan, was no Internet connection. Goodbye text messaging. Goodbye virtual communication. My decision was simple. Force a price so high that the infraction would never be worth a repeat performance.
Now Anna will live for an entire week without access to “her” world. None of iTunes’ latest releases. No status updates on Facebook and MySpace. She will have no access to her homework on her school account. She won’t be Google Earthing friends’ houses or checking Twitter trends for news. Her personal e-mails and text messages will go unanswered. The comings and goings of her entire social network will take place without her. I’d call it the ultimate consequence, at least for a 17-year-old.
What in the world does this have to do with the church, Christian leadership, and our effectiveness in engaging the generations to follow us?
Chapter 12 of the Book of 1 Chronicles says that “the men of Issachar understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” Today, we are challenged to be like the tribe of the men of Issachar. We can act as insightful, Spirit-led believers leading others in practical next steps online, encouraging skeptics that we cannot underestimate the potential for outreach, ministry, and discipleship on the Internet. We can be those who get there early and lead. Or we can fall into the last-place position, copying culture rather than pioneering it.
Youth gather together online every day. Why? They do so because of the dynamic social bonds created by electronic connections. Their online relationships are stronger than those that are geographically defined. Their group cohesion is far superior to other types of groups due in part to their reasons for connecting in the first place: a voracious need to express themselves, and a desire to align themselves around affinities, interests, and needs. Being connected electronically all the time is so fundamentally embedded in their interpersonal communications that not participating has become, well, a punishment. Put simply, this generation’s ability to network digitally should be a key component in the ministry strategies of the Western church.
If we intend to reach the iGeneration with the gospel, we must go to them where they live: the Internet. As digital natives increase in number and grow younger each year, we are pressed further to speak in a language they can understand, using the dialogue format rather than the traditional broadcast monologue approach. The Internet is built on an architecture of participation. Conversation is the currency of its marketplace. To teens, talking heads are as old school as transistor radios.
Jesus left the temple and went out into the marketplace of his day. He used parables, knowing that the religious leaders were missing their audience and failing to connect with people in a way that caused them to ask more questions and become engaged.
We have a chance to go beyond the walls of our churches and reach the generation that lives online. Rather than fall into a laggardly position, the church can lead, inviting electronic participation, interaction, and investment. If it’s a punishment to youth to be offline, then we must acknowledge that being connected has inherent value to them. Wise Christians, like the men of Issachar, will see this and know what to do.
Cynthia Ware is a consultant in online technologies and strategic church development. Equipped with two decades of pastoral ministry and a master’s degree in new media, Cynthia helps Christian leaders develop online communication strategies to complement their ministry goals. Learn more at TheDigitalSanctuary.org.
Source: CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP ALLIANCE