Archive for the ‘Computers’ Category

Seafarers’ ministry goes digital

Posted on: January 28th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments

Seafarers’ ministry goes digital

Photo Credit: North American Maritime Ministry Association

[ACNS] The Anglican mission agency Mission to Seafarers has teamed up with the North American Maritime Ministry Association to launch a new international digital centre for Seafarers’ Ministry. The MARE project (pronounced mar-a) will bring together a number of seafarers’ ministry organisations to deliver support, information and professional development using social media.

The Mission to Seafarers (MTS) say that MARE has been designed with the aim of “enhancing the ability of seafarers’ welfare agencies to connect with seafarers using innovative digital tools.”

The North American Maritime Ministry Association (NAMMA) is a “broad association of Christian ministries . . . that provides encouragement, advocacy, and professional development to its members.” It has developed the MARE project “to equip maritime ministries to use the Internet as a primary opportunity to broaden their support service for seafarers. Funding for the initiative is being provided by the MTS.

“The MARE project will serve three purposes: first, to provide a tool that will actively help seafarers make the connection with shore-based seafarers’ welfare personnel. Second, to produce and distribute social media on seafarers’ welfare that is shareable by local maritime ministries. And, third, to produce high-quality internet-based professional development tools for those involved in maritime ministry,” the MTS said.

“We are delighted to partner with NAMMA in this exciting project,” the MTS secretary general, the Revd Andrew Wright, said. “Technology has changed the way seafarers interact with their loved ones and we have made much progress in adapting to ensure our support remains relevant and effective to their needs.

“We hope that the MARE project will inspire all maritime ministries to try new methods of service delivery that will enhance seafarers’ wellbeing.”

Dr Jason Zuidema, the executive director of NAMMA and the leader of the MARE project, said: “Like many other traditional social service ministries, our members have had great success using seafarers’ centres and when they visit crews on board ships. But it is not always clear how to serve those who live more and more online. NAMMA’s MARE project will help develop new digital tools so that all ministries can continue to be effective.”

The Mission to Seafarers works in over 200 ports worldwide. In some places in North America it delivers services alongside the NAMMA network in North America.

  • Click here to read the inaugural edition of the MARE Project’s MARE Report.


Anglican Communion News Service, Your daily update from ACNS, January 26, 2016

Archbishop Justin Welby reflects on the Primates’ Meeting Canterbury

Posted on: January 22nd, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Computers, General, Reviews

Archbishop Justin Welby reflects on the Primates’ Meeting Canterbury

By Justin Welby

The 2016 Primates’ Meeting was the first held during Justin Welby’s tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury. Photo:

Last week the Primates of the Anglican Communion gathered in Canterbury for a week of prayer and discussion. You might well have been following the events in the media. I want to share some thoughts of my own here about what took place last week – which was without doubt one of the most extraordinary weeks I have ever experienced.

The first thing to say is that the week was completely rooted in prayer. The Community of St Anselm – the international young Christian community based at Lambeth Palace – took up residence in Canterbury Cathedral and prayed all day every day for the Primates as we talked together. As Primates we joined with all who gathered for Morning Prayer, Eucharist and Evensong in the Cathedral each day. And meanwhile thousands – perhaps millions – of Anglicans and others in the Christian family around the world prayed in churches and posted prayers on social media. I want to thank everyone who prayed last week. We felt it and we appreciated it deeply.


So onto what actually happened last week.

As leaders of the family of Anglican churches in a world so racked by violence and fear, we gathered in Canterbury with much to share and discuss – from climate change to religiously motivated violence.  A significant part of the week was spent discussing how – or even if – we could remain together as the Anglican Communion in the light of changes made by our brothers and sisters in The Episcopal Church (the historic Anglican Communion church in the USA and some other countries) to their understanding of marriage.

It is really worth stressing here that this was not a meeting where we discussed formally our differing views on human sexuality. Personally the fact that people are persecuted for their sexuality is a constant source of deep sadness. As I said in the press conference on the final day of the meeting, I am deeply sorry for the pain that the church has caused LGBTI people in the past – and the present – and for the love that too often we have completely failed to show in many parts of the world, including England. The worst thing about that is that it causes people to doubt that they are loved by God.

We have to see that changed. In our communiqué the Primates condemned homophobic prejudice and violence. We resolved to work together to offer pastoral care and loving service irrespective of sexual orientation. And we reaffirmed our rejection of criminal sanctions against same-sex attracted adults. We need to act on those words.

But back to the response that we made about how to move forward together in the light of decisions taken by The Episcopal Church (TEC). This was a meeting where we discussed whether or not we could stay together as one family after one member has taken unilateral action – in this case, making a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching on marriage held by the large majority of Anglican Provinces globally. But the question could and undoubtedly will apply in the future to other issues. I should say that Provinces are described as autonomous (they make their own minds up) but interdependent (we are linked as family to one another).

It’s no secret to say that before the meeting, the signs were not good. It really was possible that we would reach a decision to walk apart – in effect, to split the Anglican Communion. In the debates that have raged around these issues for several decades now, some have said unity is worthless if achieved at the expense of justice. Others have argued unity is a false prize if it undermines truth.

Both of these views misunderstand the nature of the church, which is not an organisation but a body of people committed to each other because they are followers of Jesus Christ. We are put together as family by God, because we are all God’s children.

The meeting reached a point on Wednesday where we chose quite simply to decide on this point – do we walk together at a distance, or walk apart? And what happened next went beyond everyone’s expectations. It was Spirit-led. It was a ‘God moment’. As leaders of our Anglican Communion, and more importantly as Christians, we looked at each other across our deep and complex differences – and we recognised those we saw as those with whom we are called to journey in hope towards the truth and love of Jesus Christ. It was our unanimous decision to walk together and to take responsibility for making that work.

We remain committed to being together, albeit we asked that TEC, while attending and playing a full part in our meetings and all discussions, will not represent the Anglican Communion to other churches and should not be involved in standing committees for a period of three years. During this time we also asked that they not vote on matters of doctrine or how we organise ourselves.

It’s clear in Christian teaching that it’s not for us to divide the body of Christ, which is the church, but also that we must seek to make decisions bearing each other in mind, taking each other seriously, loving one another despite deep differences of view.

Because of that, the unity that was so remarkably shown by the Anglican Primates in Canterbury last week is always costly. It is always painful. It feels very fragile. We are a global family of churches in 165 countries, speaking over a thousand languages and living in hundreds of different cultures – how could we not wound each other as we seek to hold together amidst great diversity?

There will be wounds for each other, but we must repent of wounding others who are especially vulnerable, whether they are LGBTI people or those menaced by religiously-motivated violence, terrorism and exile. Some, of course, will fall in many categories.

But that unity is also joyful and astonishing, renewing and nourishing – because it is unity in love for Jesus Christ, whose single family we are, often argumentative, sometimes cruel (which is deeply wrong) but created by God and belonging to each other irrevocably.

We spent time talking about the desperate situation of so many Christians around the world living with the threat and reality of religiously-motivated violence. The primary fear for many, probably near a majority of Anglicans in the world today – just as it is for our brothers and sisters in other parts of the Christian Church and for other communities entirely – is the violence that confronts them and their families daily.

It’s the risk of a Congolese woman getting raped by a militia when she goes out to fetch water. It’s the risk of church congregations in Pakistan being killed by a suicide bomber as they worship on Sunday morning. And it’s a thousand other risks besides. We heard many moving stories from around the world, shared by fellow Primates, and discussed what we can do to challenge that violence.

All of us were deeply moved when the devastating effects of climate change were presented in terms of the very existence of peoples, communities and even nations. From rising sea levels, to drought and famine from the increase of unforgiving arid landscapes, the result is life-threatening for many of our brothers and sisters.

So there was much darkness to lament and to recommit ourselves to challenging. But there were rays of pure, joyful hope as well. The Primates committed ourselves – all of us, in every part of the Communion – to evangelism. To proclaiming the person and work of Jesus Christ – inviting all to embrace the beauty and joy of the Gospel and to proclaim that to everyone.

There will be plenty more to say on this in the coming weeks and months – certainly not just by me, but also by everyone who cares passionately about the Anglican Communion. For now I wanted to share these initial reflections with you, and ask for you to keep praying for our unity as brothers and sisters in Christ. If Christ’s flock can more or less stay together, it’s hope for a world that tears itself apart – a sign of what can happen with the love and mercy of God through Jesus Christ.


Anglican Journal News, January 22, 2016

The War of the Begonias

Posted on: January 8th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Computers, Discussion

Photo:  Witaya Ratanasirikulchai

 One of the toughest challenges my husband and I faced last year was having been companions to his mother’s downsizing. At the age of 91, Harriet Hauser divested herself of the creature comforts of an upper middle class life. Anyone who has done this, or helped a loved-one do it, will know saying goodbye to lots and lots of stuff is painful and exhausting for all concerned.

Mark’s father didn’t have to do it, although he did have a decade or so to worry about having to do it. He died without warning, in the night. There were no boxes for him to pack, no arguments about what to keep and what to give away. (In the melee, Mark accidentally got rid of some Charles Dickens miniature face character jug mugs and he’s still begging forgiveness.)

“No matter how much you’ve had, you always want more.”

This is what Harriet said, one afternoon last spring, after she’d moved in with us. We were en route to the garden centre to buy some container flowers. You’ve heard of The War of the Roses; well, she and I very nearly had The War of the Begonias—the tense but nonviolent supersession of a Queen Bee about sums it up. Harriet had been much too prescriptive for my liking and I had voiced my displeasure. The flowers had to go in her pot—the plastic Grecian-esque urn I’d been forced to inherit—and that pot had to go in a particular spot on my deck, the variety of flower (Dragon Leaf Begonia, also called Dragon Wing) and colour (red) were non-negotiable. I wasn’t even allowed to decide which garden centre we’d go to.

It was in the quiet misery between us, en route to Canadian Tire, when Harriet whispered that phrase about “always wanting more.” The tiniest morsel of compassion crept in and I felt less like scrapping with her after that. Surrender really was the only option.

It occurred to me then, and has many times since, that there were/are reasons for her to want to manage seemingly small things with an iron fist. She reluctantly said goodbye to almost every worldly treasure and, even more than a year later, that pain hasn’t subsided. Controlling whatever outcomes she can is a salve for the open wound.

It has also become apparent that, for her, anyway, our shopping trips are more than mere chores; they seem to validate her—to prove she’s still in this game called life: “I shop, therefore I am.”

As a dreamer who wants to someday pack her belongings into a Gulf Stream trailer and hit the open road, I don’t find the idea of “always wanting more” all that comforting. They say appetite wanes as we age, and I’d be perfectly happy for that to apply to the consumer appetite as well.

Nowadays, I look to my mother-in-law’s experience as forewarning: be aware of material possessions and whether or not you are allowing them to define you—or, “Beware the Begonia,” which is the shorter, sweeter version. I’m 43 years old now, but if I live to be Harriet’s age, that gives me nearly four decades to forget some of these recent lessons and fall even more madly in love with my wool carpets and tufted ottomans…and terracotta pots with geraniums, which are my preference.

Personal history suggests this is precisely what I’ll do. Every stage of my life thus far bears the markings of one who has been all too easily shaped by the consumer culture in which she lives. And that’s worrisome. My chances of achieving some kind of post-consumer transcendence don’t look good. What if the wisdom of old age can’t find a place to settle down upon an unsettled woman who has nursed on the milk of fear and desire all her life?

These days, I’m beginning to see that keeping my wants and needs in check isn’t just a way to reduce carbon footprints, save the environment and avoid falling into debt. Maybe, just maybe, it’s also a way of holding space for the wisdom of age, to give it room to meet me on the path that lies ahead.

I have a prayer for my so-called “sunset years”: that they might be a time to, yes, occasionally watch the sun set, to find peace, to experience the fullest possible wisdom, and perhaps most of all, to cease acquisition of and fulfillment by the things of this world so I can at least try to prepare for life in the next.


Anglican Journal News, January 07, 2016

All About Using Social Media for the Faith (Resources)

Posted on: January 6th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments


All About Using Social Media for the Faith

Congregations new to social media like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are often not certain how to enter into the online social world well. The New Media Project at Christian Theological Seminary, an online project to help religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology, has encapsulated four sets of best practices with embedded links to additional perspective on each suggestion. To engage your congregation, see “Why think about using social media.” For some perspective on appropriate use of social media, see “How to use social media well.”  A number of other articles about best uses of social media for congregations and churches are also available.


Resources and info from Insights into Religion for 10/15/2015

Churches, Worshipers Use Web to Connect With Faith (Resources)

Posted on: December 20th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments


Churches, Worshipers Use Web to Connect With Faith

Praying the Rosary involves three simultaneous actions, says Catholic Kathryn Reklis, assistant professor of Modern Protestant Theology at Fordham University. “You pray repetitively, while meditating on something that is not explicitly the words of your prayer, while your hands do something else.” Can you do that online? asks Reklis. “Sure! There are many mobile apps that offer aids for praying the Rosary,” and “as our handheld devices become more thoroughly integrated into our lives, tapping a screen may not be so different than shifting a bead in the hand.”

Digital prayer apps and websites, she says, offer visual and aural dimensions of contemplative prayer that can help lift us out of the “verbal dominant” assumptions about prayer.

Lerone A. Martin, assistant professor of American religious hstory and culture at Eden Theological Seminary, points to Prayrlist, a social media platform that allows users to learn instantly of the prayer requests of other users, and to indicate that the request has been received, heard and prayed over. “The effect of Prayrlist and other social media on the tenor and nature of our prayers and spiritual practices is a hotly debated topic,” he says. “Nevertheless, Prayrlist does remind me of an old adage often repeated in the faith community of my youth: ‘Prayer knows no distance!’“

These and other reflections are included in a six-part blog series, Prayer and Social Media, archived as a downloadable PDF file on the website of The New Media Project , whose purpose is in part to help pastors and religious leaders employ new media to strengthen faith communities. For more reflection on prayer and the prayer life, read our feature article, “Meeting God in Holy Silence.” You might also want to explore the articles and links on our Spiritual Practices page, located under the Congregations heading.


Resources and info from Insights into Religion for 12/17/2015

Wake up and Proclaim – Adventword social media photo initiative underway

Posted on: November 30th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments

Twitter user @theabingdontaxi posted this image in response to the #Adventword theme for today – #Proclaim
Photo Credit: @theabingdontaxi / Twitter

[ACNS] Adventword – the online global advent social media photo initiative being run by the Society of St John the Evangelist (SSJE) and the Anglican Communion Office is underway, with Anglicans around the world posting images on Twitter and Instagram in response to themes suggested by the Society.

People who sign up to Adventword receive an early morning email from SSJE containing an Advent reflection and a theme. Participants are then encouraged to post an image which reflects that theme using the hashtag #Adventword and the theme of the day.

Sunday’s theme was “WakeUp” and today’s is “Proclaim”. The SSJE said in a tweet that they hope the initiative will create “a tsunami of photo and prayer.”

In response to today’s theme, Twitter user @theabingdontaxi posted a picture of the dome at the Shepherd’s fields in Bethlehem with the words: “With Th’ Angelic Host #Proclaim
#AdventWord 2015 Fields of The Shepherds, Palestine

Canon Jamie Callaway, the general secretary of the Colleges and Universities of the Anglican Communion, whose students are participating on five continents noted: “Advent Word intuitively draws on the cell phone, which today’s students globally have made a body part, to discover God’s presence in the abundance of creation, civilization and humanity.

“While individually these are prayerful moments, collectively they will display the splendor of creation, which is praise.”

The Revd Canon John Kafwanka, director for mission at the Anglican Communion Office, said, “I commend to all members of the Anglican Communion and Christians worldwide AdventWord as a way for you to witness your faith and for us to pray together as a communion and as a Body of Christ as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas.”


Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS), Your daily update from ACNS, November 30, 2015

C of E partner with Twitter for live worship broadcasts

Posted on: October 12th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments

[ACNS] The Church of England has broadcast a church service live over the internet in what was the first in a new series of weekly broadcasts in partnership with the microblogging site Twitter.

The new service, ChurchLive, was created in conjunction with Twitter UK as a way of showcasing a broad range of live church services to global audiences simply and accessibly through use of a smartphone and the live streaming app Periscope.

The C of E says that ChurchLive could be the first taste of Church for those unfamiliar with church services and an introduction to the best of worship, preaching and prayer.

ChurchLive is also expected to enable people to rediscover church in a new way or for those in other countries to learn more about Church of England services.

“This is a project designed to bring Church of England services from Malton to Miami, Middlesbrough to Milan and Manchester to Mumbai,” the Revd Arun Arora, communications director the Archbishops’ Council said. “Those who may not make it to church on a Sunday for all sorts of reasons will have the opportunity to be part of a service.

“The ability to join in worship shouldn’t be restricted to geographical constraint. We know that Periscope users are a global audience and we expect that there will be as many watching services broadcast via Periscope as are physically present at the services themselves.”

Earlier this year parishioners at one village church, St Radegund’s Church in Grayingham, in the Diocese of Lincoln, were joined by another 350 people around the world for their regular traditional Sunday service after becoming the first to experiment with Periscope.

“Periscope gives people and communities the opportunity to live broadcast everything from on-the-spot breaking news through to individual reflections,” said Julia White from Twitter UK. “It’s great to see the Church of England taking the best of what they have to offer and using Periscope to show it live across the world.”

Tallie Proud, the C of E’s digital communications officer, said that viewers of ChurchLive could be “someone too ill to attend, a family who want to attend even when on holiday, or someone who just wants to know what the church is like before they make the sometimes scary step of walking into the building for the first time.”

The first service broadcast as part of the ChurchLive service yesterday came from The Point, a Fresh Expressions church in West Sussex. It featured a contribution from the “Vicar of Baghdad”, the Revd Canon Andrew White. Future transmissions will come from St Martin in the Fields in London and Beverley Minster in Yorkshire.

You can follow @ChurchLive on twitter


Anglican Communion News Service,  ACNS Today’s Top Stories, October 121, 2015

Tech News for Faith Communities

Posted on: October 5th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments


Keep abreast of changes in technology and regulations relevant to congregations that use technology as part of their worship and communication practices. The “Tech News” blog by Center for Congregations IT director Aaron Spiegel contains great insights and suggestions. The Center for Congregations is an Indianapolis-based organization that supports faith communities by offering advice,…

Matthew Nickoloff: Take it and tweet it

Posted on: September 7th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments

If St. Augustine were alive today, you could follow him on Twitter @BishopofHippo.

It wasn’t quite St. Augustine’s famous “take it and read it” conversion moment in his “Confessions.” But hearing the Rev. Keith Anderson discuss social media and pastoral practice at the Rocky Mountain Synod’s Theological Convocation was a kind of repentance for me.

Because now, I’m officially a believer in the gospel of “digital ministry.”

I’ve long been a skeptic of the salvation promised by the story social media tells. Looking around the conference room at dozens of pastors unable to listen to such a compelling presenter without burying their heads in their iPhones every five minutes only provided grist for the mills. I’ve always felt (feared?) that Facebook and “friends” were gateway drugs, the use of which would precipitate a rapid decline into gnosticism and narcissism.

But just as St. Ambrose unlocked the creative potential of new readings of Scripture for Augustine, Keith presented us with a radically different vision of digital media as a vehicle for digital ministry.

Keith reminded us that “people are not looking for information, but relationship,” and that “your website/sermon blog/Facebook profile — that you never use! — cannot love somebody.” He flipped the script on a broadcast mentality of social media, challenging us to consider the question: “How do we love people via social media? How do we extend grace and share Christ’s gospel through it?”

Now that’s a query Augustine would relish: challenging our disordered desire for the false “enjoyment” of media by considering the “use” — in love — to which we might put it.

Here’s the Augustinian point I took from Keith’s talk: Social media isn’t a way to extend ourselves into broader digital markets or proffer the worst projections of our egos, but is a gift and a tool for extending, in Keith’s words, “spiritual care, formation, prayer, evangelism, and other manifestations of grace into online spaces…where more and more people gather to nurture, explore, and share their faith today.”

As vicar at House for All Sinners and Saints, a community heralded as an exemplar of digital ministry, I’m amazed it’s taken me this long to see the light. HFASS self-identifies as a church comprised largely of “post-modern, urban, young adults,” which means that most of us practically grew up as cyborgs, or, as I learned (making me feel quite old), “digital natives.” So really, the question has never been “if” people congregate in digital spaces, but, given the fact of their online location, it’s a question of “how” grace and the gospel will find them there.

And one way grace can find them there is through our own pastoral presence. As Keith said: “By bringing the fullness of our lives to bear in ministry and social media, we bear witness to the fullness of life in God. After all, the real presence here is God’s, and it is through our real and authentic presence in social media that we most clearly and effectively point to God.” Keith’s point has a confessional tint that would delight the author of the “Confessions.”

Digital ministry also invites pastors to share a wider glimpse of their lives with their parishioners. The onus is not on being an exemplar of moral virtue; the invitation is to be a more fully human, social being. In the process, pastors and lay people alike have the opportunity to show how faith shapes our whole lives — in the community, family, in the study, and not just in places designated as “church.” Pastors are challenged to be, not merely moral, but authentic, asking how our lives and practices, and not merely our words, constitute a witness to the gospel.

Digital ministry is another way people experience the good news of Immanuel, God with us — through the attentive, loving presence of someone willing to enact Christ’s concrete presence in a disembodied realm.

Or as Keith proclaimed: “The return on our investment in social media is not to gain new members or pledges; it’s to set people free in the gospel. That’s my job as a pastor.”

That’s the voice of the child in Augustine’s garden, calling, “Take it and tweet it.”

That’s something worth re-tweeting.

Pastor, South Wedge Mission, Rochester, New York
Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, August 26, 2015

Maria Dixon Hall: Just because you can preach doesn’t mean you’re a communicator

Posted on: August 20th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments

For an organization in which the word is central, the church does a poor job of communicating, says an SMU professor and consultant. She has some advice on how church leaders can do it better.

Human beings are storytelling creatures, moved and motivated from birth by the power of stories, says communication scholar Maria Dixon Hall.

“One thing we want to know even as a child is, ‘Where do I fit in the story?’” she said.

Yet, with rare exceptions, the church today does a poor job of communicating and telling its story, said Dixon Hall, an associate professor of communication studies at Southern Methodist University.

Marcia Dixon“The church believes that if you can preach you are a communicator,” she said. “So it has been inattentive to other elements of communication, whether that’s conflict and negotiation or the basic tenets of managerial communication.”

With a background in both the church and business, Dixon Hall said the church can learn much from the business world about how to communicate more effectively and create shared meaning within an organization.

At SMU, Dixon Hall focuses her research on organizational strategy and planning, as well as the intersection of power, identity and culture in corporate, nonprofit and religious organizations. She founded an in-house consulting firm composed of top SMU communication students, whose clients include Southwest Airlines, Dance Theatre of Harlem, the Ugandan American Partnership Organization and the United Methodist Church.

She has a B.S. in marketing from the University of Alabama; an M.Div. and a Th.M. in homiletics from Candler School of Theology, Emory University; and a Ph.D. in organizational communication from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Dixon Hall spoke with Faith & Leadership about organizational communication and the church. The following is an edited transcript.


Q: What is organizational communication?

Organizational communication studies how people use signs, symbols and words to accomplish the work of the organization. Not only how they use communication to work with each other but also how they tell people outside the organization about their work.

It’s a simple field in that it really just studies how people come together to accomplish their task in an organizational setting.

I came to it because I wanted to understand the church not from its sermons but from the communication that happens between Sundays.

I wanted to understand how we talk Monday through Saturday. Not just how the congregation talks but the staff meetings and the denominational meetings and the worship meetings and the letters that pastors send.

I wanted to understand those and then see how they translate to how the church is perceived broadly.

Q: How well does the church do organizational communication?

For an organization where the word is central, the church as a whole probably does one of the worst jobs.

Some denominations do it better than others. The Mormon Church does it extremely well. If you talk to a Mormon, they know why they’re Mormon. They know the difference it’s made in their lives, and they are able to tell other people.

If you look at the Catholic Church, particularly under Pope Francis in his short time as pope, they are able to communicate why Catholics should “come home (link is external).” That’s one of the most fabulous campaigns I’ve ever seen. They say, “Here are the things that have been wrong with us, but come home; here’s why we’re still relevant to your faith.”

It’s as a United Methodist that I’m probably most disappointed. We struggle with having a unity of message. We struggle with having the hard conversations that some other denominations have had.

We have a culture of niceness. We avoid conflict, so we are not able to hash things out. Our leaders are not able to hash out these very complex issues, and so in turn, they’re unable to help the body of Christ and the people who are called Methodists hash them out.

When an organization doesn’t have a way of engaging in conflict, then they have to find a place to do it, and unfortunately, that’s what General Conference has become.

Q: So organizational communication has a role to play in working through conflict?

Yes. The church believes that if you can preach you are a communicator. So it has been inattentive to other elements of communication, whether that’s conflict and negotiation or the basic tenets of managerial communication.

Some of the church’s greatest problems are about managing and talking to each other. District superintendents are unable to understand how to coach a young clergy member or how to discipline an older clergy member. Organizational communication helps an organization deal with that.

Q: What should denominational leaders and leaders of other Christian institutions be doing? What are the keys to effective organizational communication?

First of all, recognize your role. Every new bishop says, “I want to change the culture.”

Well, organizational communication scholars know that it takes seven to 10 years to change a culture. It takes that long for any organization to learn a new language. By understanding that, a leader can then say, “Here are realistic things I can do to begin to change the way we talk.”

The other thing that organizational communication can do is tell you where the breakdowns are. If you look at how people talk to each other or don’t talk to each other, you’ll know the health of an organization.

Church leaders need to be able to read what their people are saying. They need to hear the voices of the pew in a new way, not just as an indicator of stewardship but also of health.

We’ve been taught to measure people’s love for the church through their stewardship. But stewardship is directly tied to how people talk about their relationship with the church.

The more positively I think and speak about the mission, vision and leadership of my church, the more likely I am to invest my time, energy and money, because I now understand where they are going.

Q: Do people know the answers to those questions about mission and vision and where the money goes?

No. We spend a lot of time on glossy handouts that say, “Here’s where your money is going.” We may have a couple of sermons about stewardship.

But we don’t understand that we’ve been having stewardship sermons, Bible studies and newsletters all year. Every document that we send out as a church is a stewardship document.

We don’t tell our own stories well. A good United Methodist told me yesterday, “I think I’d like to be a Catholic. They have their act together. They’re doing great things in the world, and I know what they stand for.”

That’s stewardship. Those things that Pope Francis has been doing are stewardship, and as a result, people are now going to reinvest in the vision of the Catholic Church.

Human beings are storytelling creatures. From the time that we are born, we are moved and motivated by stories. One thing we want to know even as a child is, “Where do I fit in the story?”

United Methodists have become poor storytellers. We no longer can tell our congregation where they fit in the story of Christ. We no longer can communicate the difference that Christ has made in our lives and in the world, and we are unable to tell people why they should be a starring member in this story.

Q: How are church leaders supposed to turn this around? What’s your advice?

First, get comfortable with your own story. If you can’t tell people the story of why Christ has made a difference in your life and tell it succinctly, then it’s unlikely that they will listen.

I’ve been mentored by some great leaders in business and religion, and one thing that I learned from Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines is the importance of story. He tells a story that says, “Here’s why we need Southwest Airlines.”

Theological education doesn’t teach you how to tell a story in a way that allows the church as an organization to live. That story should permeate how we deal with each other in staff meetings and in organizing our work. That story should be relevant when we confront difficult issues.

We are more equipped for talking rather than communicating. Talking is using words in a back-and-forth way. Communicating is creating shared meaning.

We don’t have shared meaning about what it means to be Methodist or a Christian or what it means to be in service.

We are fractured because we don’t know how to create shared meaning. That’s what Christ came to do, to give us an opportunity to bridge the gap and create shared meaning. That meaning comes to me in one of the most powerful means of grace — coming together as church.

Q: Do corporations do better at creating shared meaning throughout an organization?

Oh my gosh, yes. You see that at Apple. You see that at Southwest Airlines. You see it at key universities.

One of the best leaders I ever worked for is Gerald Turner, the president of Southern Methodist University. I know what we stand for. I know what our goals are. I know how I fit into the story of SMU, and so I am passionate about SMU.

At the beginning of every school year, Dr. Turner stands in front of the faculty and says, “Here’s where we’re going, and here’s how we’re doing so far, and here’s what I need your help in doing. Does anybody have any questions or concerns before we start the car on this semester?”

That creates buy-in. The strategy comes from our board of trustees to our president to our senior administrators to our dean to our chairs and then to the faculty and the students.

The same is true with Southwest Airlines. Southwest Airlines does not view itself as an airline. They say, “We are in the customer service business. We just happen to fly airplanes.”

Everything they do is centered on providing the best customer experience, and their first customers are their employees.

That’s because Herb believed that if the people who work for you are happy, everything else will fall into place. So Southwest set up a system by which they could listen to their people.

The flight attendants, ramp agents and ticket agents know that the leadership of Southwest Airlines has their back, so there’s no fear. There’s no fear of making mistakes. There’s no fear of coming up with new ideas. There’s no fear in taking a risk.

Q: Is fear pervasive in organizations today?

Oh, yes. Particularly in hard economic times, people are afraid of making mistakes. They are afraid to try, because if they fail, they may get fired. So failure becomes bad.

At SMU and Southwest Airlines, failure is more about not trying something new.

You have to develop a culture of risk — a culture where people say, “I have an idea, and I’d love to try it out.” What SMU and Southwest have done is create entrepreneurs with servants’ hearts.

Messiness is not a problem in those organizations. It is not a problem at SMU or Southwest to have a disagreement or to try something new.

It is a problem when you fall into mediocrity or when you make it someone else’s problem and you are afraid to try.

Q: If there was a “Southwest Church,” who are the employees who are the first customers, the ones whose backs are covered?

It’s clergy.

Some people say, “Oh, our clergy are so well taken care of.” No, really they’re not. They’re squeezed in so many different ways that they are dictated to but rarely listened to.

Our district superintendents and our bishops are so overtaxed they don’t get a chance to know the people they’re serving with. There are not mechanisms to get to know folks. It is difficult to go into war with someone that you don’t really trust, and you don’t trust them because you don’t know them.

We’ve created an adversarial relationship between the clergy and the leadership, which turns into an adversarial relationship between the pew and the pulpit. People will say, “Oh, that’s not the case.” But if you take a lot of these leaders and a lot of these clergy off the record, you hear their frustration.

It’s because we’ve not cultivated that shared meaning and shared story. We don’t have a system in which we can truly engage in dialogue.

Q: How does social media change organizational communication? To what extent has it empowered clergy and congregations to start creating this shared meaning?

Social media is the game changer, but not in the way that the church thinks. The church is focused on, “We should get Twitter accounts and Facebook pages.”

No. They shouldn’t be getting the pages; they should be reading the pages.

There you hear the humor, the sarcasm and the views of the people about what’s really going on. Social media is an opportunity for leaders to take their organization’s temperature.

People are no longer afraid to share their views about their organizations and their leaders on Facebook. They’re no longer afraid to hear what people are saying. They want to be in dialogue, and social media provides anonymity, so they don’t have to worry about retribution.

I was in Europe this summer, and I was on a Virgin [Atlantic] train to Wales from London. It was a bad experience, and so I tweeted, “I can’t believe I’m on this train. Virgin Atlantic is terrible.” Within two minutes I had an email from Virgin saying, “How can we make this a better experience for you?”

That is an organization that’s not simply sending out tweets but is monitoring social media and looking for their name and saying, “Here is where the problems are.”

That’s what you do in this era. You can push messages out, but it might be more useful for organizations to put their ears to the ground and listen to what people are saying.

That is such a theologically sound activity. It’s one of the first questions that Jesus asked the disciples: “What are they saying about me?”


Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, August 26, 2013