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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
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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?”

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

10 Tips To Help Pastors Boost Their Twitter Presence

Posted on: July 20th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Computers
twitter church online faith community

Many people abandon Twitter shortly after opening an account. But if you stick with it, it will bear fruit.

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Resources and info from Insights into Religion for 07/09/2015

Keith Anderson: Digital ministry and bearing witness to the holy

Posted on: June 25th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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Social media gives pastors a new ability to point out the presence of God in the day-to-day of people’s lives, says the co-author of a new book on digital ministry.

Bearing witness to people’s lives, in all the routine chaos of day-to-day living, is a holy thing, the Rev. Keith Anderson said.

And social media gives pastors and others a powerful way to point out the sacred in everyday life as never before, he said.

“One of the things I love about my job — and the way that this plays out in digital spaces — is that I get to name these things as holy,” Anderson said. “I get to point to how God is present in people’s lives.”

Ultimately, digital ministry isn’t different from face-to-face ministry, he said: “It calls forth the best in us and our training and the best of being in ministry.”

Anderson is pastor of Upper Dublin Lutheran Church near Philadelphia and co-author, with Elizabeth Drescher, of “Click 2 Save: The Digital Ministry Bible,” (link is external) a follow-up to Drescher’s 2011 book, “Tweet If You ♥ Jesus: Practicing Church in the Digital Reformation.” (link is external)

Anderson blogs on religion, new media and popular culture at pastorkeithanderson.net (link is external) and writes and speaks regularly on digital ministry and the impact of digital culture on face-to-face ministry.

Prior to arriving at Upper Dublin in August, he pastored the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Woburn, Mass., for nine years.

He spoke with Faith & Leadership recently about “Click 2 Save” and digital ministry. The following is an edited transcript.

Q: How does this book differ from “Tweet If You Jesus”?

“Tweet” is a conceptual look at the role of social media in mainline denominations, and “Click 2 Save” is more a hands-on guide. It’s for people in ministry who want to know how to apply those concepts. When the first book came out, people said, “This is great, but how do I do it?” So that’s how “Click 2 Save” came about, and Elizabeth invited me to write it with her.

We feature more than 40 ministry leaders using different types of social media in their ministries. One chapter explains the various platforms — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Foursquare, blogging — and explains how to get up and running, with examples of people who are actually doing it. We also explore the arts of ministry and how those translate into digital spaces.

The book is intended for any kind of ministry leader — clergy or lay, whether in a congregation or specialized ministry or just trying to follow Jesus in their daily lives and wanting to know how digital media plays a role in that. Our intended audience is, in the largest sense, the priesthood of all believers. Often it’s people who are not in traditional ministry who are showing us the way on these things.

Q: The book uses the term “digital ministry.” What is that?

Most social media advice tends to be around marketing. It’s repackaged business advice, and that was not what Elizabeth had in mind with “Tweet” or what my experience was in the parish. Digital ministry is more of a ministry-oriented, relationship-building approach to social media.

It’s not about broadcasting or marketing. It’s about building relationships. Some of those, hopefully, will evolve into people joining your church, but it’s mostly a matter of offering grace in this digital world of Facebook and Twitter. Digital ministry is networked, relational and incarnational, so it’s developing relationships over time and pointing to how God is at work in our daily lives. And in the midst of that, we’re developing relationships online and then hopefully extending offline and then back online again.

Q: You and Elizabeth say that digital ministry is about establishing “real presence.” What does that look like in the digital world?

It looks like authentic and human presence. Often, churches and ministry leaders see these new technologies and think it’s another broadcast medium where I can tell you all about me and my church. But what people really want is to develop a relationship.

You can’t just share information about your church all the time. You want to share things about your own interests and your own life so people have ways to connect with you beyond just whether they go to your church. That gives people a window into what the life of faith actually looks like, not just in my role as a pastor, but as a father, a husband, somebody who lives in a particular community and has particular gifts and interests.

Digital ministry is about taking ministry — the ministry that we’ve been trained to do in seminaries or divinity schools — and extending it into digital spaces.

As Elizabeth argued in “Tweet,” social media really lends itself to the church, because these are the things we do. We share the gospel. We share grace. We build relationships. We build community. We express care and concern for people when they’re hurting.

Digital ministry isn’t different from face-to-face ministry. It calls forth the best in us and our training and the best of being in ministry.

Q: So how does it change ministry? What does it bring that’s different?

It allows us to have contact with people throughout the week. Often, you only see people on Sunday, or a couple times during the week.

But to bear witness to people’s lives as they live them is a holy thing. It often drives me to prayer.

One of the things I love about my job — and the way that this plays out in digital spaces — is that I get to name these things as holy. I get to point to how God is present in people’s lives.

Often, they’re so busy living their lives they don’t have time to reflect on that, so I get to do that, not just in my sermon or a pastoral care situation, but in the flow of daily life.

With social media, you can respond in real time to events that you may or may not otherwise have ever known about.

But the question I get asked most often by pastors is, “Where do I begin?”

The most important thing is to get started somewhere that makes sense for you and your ministry, and learn as you go. The important thing is just to get started.

Q: Why is it important that churches be active in social media?

Social media is the place where people are meeting, connecting, learning and getting news, and keeping track of their interests. As somebody in ministry who wants to share the gospel, I need to be in that digital space just as much as I need to be in the church office or in my community. Also, it’s a place where young adults are gathering, a group that the church finds difficult to reach.

I pastored for a while in New England, and there, in the early days, a new town had to have a Congregational church and a minister before it could be organized as a town. They had to have a church literally on the public square for the town to exist officially. That’s where people were gathering.

It’s the same thing why church needs to be in social media — that’s where people are gathering today. Church already plays a lesser role in many people’s lives, and being absent from social media marginalizes the church even further.

Many people don’t grow up experiencing church anymore, so they don’t know what church is about. Being present and active in social media gives people a look into what the life of faith is like for a community and for individuals. Absolutely the church has to be present, or we risk failing to connect with the millions of people who are there.

Q: You started two weeks ago as pastor at a church near Philadelphia. How have you been using social media? Has it helped in the transition?

It has. Even before I got here, I started connecting with people in the community on Twitter. I searched on Twitter for people from the area and started following them to get a sense of the people here and what’s happening.

I’ve been using Foursquare, the geolocation service, to check in at all the places I’ve been going. I go to restaurants, cafes, parks to get a feel for the area and try to meet some people to start building relationships. While I’m there I share that by checking in on Foursquare and putting that out on Twitter and Facebook.

I’m taking this physical presence that I’m trying to develop in the community and extending that into a digital presence as well.

Q: So you started relationship building weeks before you ever got there?

Yes, months before. I could see what people were talking about and where they were and what was going on, and that’s been a real help. For example, they have these First Friday events here that I learned about by following people on Twitter.

I showed up and ran into one of our church members whom I had met before. He and his son and I walked around, and he told me more about the town and introduced me to some friends. That’s one of those small incarnational moments where I learned about it on Twitter, then showed up in person. I met a church member, and he introduced me to more people.

Q: You weren’t using social media to send out messages but to listen to your new community and learn about it.

Yes. The first rule of social media is “Listen.” We often blow right by the listening and get to sharing and broadcasting. So what I did and what I continue to do is listen to what’s going on and what people are interested in. Now that I’m here, we’re trying to respond to people.

I’m “liking” the Facebook pages of several organizations to keep up with what’s going on. It connects you to a much wider circle. Before, it would have taken me months to reach that circle of people, but I’m doing it in weeks.

Pastors tend to be the people who are talking, whether it’s preaching or teaching or giving remarks at a dinner. It’s counterintuitive for them just to be quiet and listen.

But when you listen, you pick up patterns — patterns in people’s lives, what they share and how they share. Then you know when somebody’s just making a comment or sharing something out of the ordinary.

It’s like learning your congregation and getting to know your parishioners. Once you develop that relationship, you have a sense of what’s normal and what’s out of the ordinary, and what needs follow-up and response. We can do that on social media, too.

A good example of that kind of listening — what I call “reverent acknowledgment” — is my spiritual director, Margaret Benefiel, a professor at Andover Newton Theological School in Boston.

Often, she will “like” a blog post or something else I’ve shared, and it means a lot to me that my spiritual director is bearing witness to what’s happening in my life.

In that same way, pastors can provide that reverent acknowledgment to people in their parishes and communities, to like and acknowledge what’s happening just in the sometimes mundane goings-on of life.

Q: In 2008, you did a sabbatical on contemplative spirituality with an emphasis on the spirituality of daily life. Is there a connection between your interest in the spirituality of daily life and your interest in social media?

Absolutely. At the time, my wife was pregnant with twins, and now we have four kids. The sabbatical was focused on spiritual reflection and finding God in the midst of the chaos of family life, in washing the dishes and changing the diapers.

There’s a lot of great theological underpinnings for that in the Lutheran understanding of vocation. Luther said our daily life is our holy calling. So I was in the midst of the chaos of my life, while waking up early and journaling and reflecting and trying to be aware of God moment by moment.

There’s absolutely a connection to social media. When I see people sharing and interacting on Facebook or Twitter, I think, “Well, God is not only present in the church; God is present when I’m changing diapers, or God is present when I’m washing dishes.” I can be aware of that, and really feel grateful even in those moments and know that’s part of my ministry in daily life.

Often, social media gets knocked because, well, it’s so mundane. It’s about what people had for breakfast or what they’re doing. Who wants to know about that?

Well, I want to know about that, because God is there, and I get to bear witness to that. I can help people to see that, which is one of my favorite roles as a ministry leader.

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, June 24, 2015

Staying afloat amid information overload

Posted on: June 2nd, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Computers

 

Watercolor by Jessamyn Rubio

Is it possible to serve the church’s mission and still give your mind, body and soul a much-needed break in a world saturated with emails, texts and tweets?

The flow of information never stops for the Rev. Dr. Todd Adams, the associate general minister and vice president in the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

He fields up to 150 emails a day. He spends afternoons trading text messages about the church’s strategic plans. And he once tuned in to a conference call via cellphone while cutting the grass.

On a recent night, he and his wife had climbed into bed to watch TV when he heard the telltale ping of his cellphone from across the room.

He hopped out of bed, retrieved an email, fired up his laptop, and went to work responding.

It was past 9:30 p.m.

“It’s like an addiction,” Adams said. “I’m so driven by the customer service component of what our office is supposed to provide that I want them to have an immediate response.

“I am a digital media boundary failure,” he added, with a laugh.

His experience isn’t unique, and it raises questions for leaders of Christian institutions: Is it possible to serve the church’s mission and still give your mind, body and soul a much-needed break from the seemingly unending flow of information?

Can you be an effective, responsive leader without being plugged in all the time?

And when you are plugged in, are there strategies for managing the wave of information coming at you so you can avoid drowning in it?

The answer is “yes” to all three, say those who study the impact of information overload and the practice of managing it all.

“You can either do what you’re educated and trained to do, or you can be a universal receptionist, but you can’t do both,” said Joanne Cantor, the outreach director at the Center for Communication Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of “Conquer CyberOverload.”

“The idea is you should be available to those who absolutely need to reach you without being available to everyone in the world who may want to reach you,” she said.

Working harder, accomplishing less?

Technology gets a lot of the blame for information overload — the state in which a person is juggling more material than the brain can reasonably absorb. But the problem predates electronics.

Long before the first email, text or tweet, Ecclesiastes 12:12 warned, “Of anything beyond these, my child, beware. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh” (NRSV).

Questions to consider:

  • What do your technology habits say about your priorities, your health and your ability to effectively manage information?
  • Have you mastered the art of managing information? If not, how does your behavior compel others to copy your habits? If so, in what ways have you given others permission to do the same?
  • Have you ever taken a “technology sabbath”? If so, how did you spend your time? How did you feel about the experience? If not, can you imagine how would you spend your time?
  • The Rev. Kevin A. Miller said he trains his staff to avoid adding to information overload. How might your own habits add to information overload? What changes can you make to prevent from doing so, and how can you empower those you lead to do the same?

Virtually every age has struggled with its own complaints about information overload, said Ann Blair, a history professor at Harvard University and the author of “Too Much to Know.”

Roman philosophers and medieval scholars argued that wading through more books only made it harder to become truly knowledgeable, and critics in the 15th century cautioned that the wave of publications following the invention of the printing press could distract scholars with drivel.

What technology has done is multiply the amount of information available, the speed at which it arrives, and the size of the population digesting it.

“Ecclesiastes, Seneca or the medievals who talked about the problem worked in a very small circle in their time. With printing, a larger circle became aware of the problem. Still, only 10 or 20 percent of the population was literate,” Blair said. “Now we have universal literacy and nearly universal access to the Internet in this country.”

The ready access to information isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Case in point: when the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denominational headquarters in Indianapolis was damaged by a fire April 5, its nearly 200 employees continued to work from remote sites using laptops and smartphones for about two weeks.

“That was technology being the enabler,” Adams said.

But harnessing technology to get things done is a lot more effective than being harnessed to it, said Cantor, who calls herself a “recovering cyber-addict.”

For years, she studied the impact of media on children. She started tracking its effects on adults after realizing how much time she was spending looking at email, multitasking and surfing the Internet. It seemed, she said, the harder she worked, the less she accomplished.

“Many people are actually getting less done even though we have better technology, because they have access to too much information and they can’t handle it, and they’re often being interrupted by irrelevant things,” Cantor said. “And even when it’s relevant, there’s too much of it.”

The body’s reaction to information overload is both physical and emotional, according to researchers from Temple University’s Center for Neural Decision Making, who used specialized MRIs to monitor the brain’s response to it. According to a Feb. 27 Newsweek article, as the amount of information given to the study participants increased, so did the activity detected in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex — the brain area linked to cognitive thinking, working memory and emotion.

But when the participants were given more information than they could process, activity in that part of the brain suddenly fizzled, as if the mind had simply thrown up its hands. The participants got frustrated and started making poor choices, researcher Angelika Dimoka told Newsweek. “With too much information, people’s decisions make less and less sense.”

The real-world implications can be staggering. According to a study by research firm Basex, workers spend up to 50 percent of their day trying to manage information flow, costing companies $900 billion a year in lowered employee productivity and reduced innovation.

For leaders of Christian institutions, the impact may be harder to quantify but just as serious.

“The greatest casualty is the loss of a still and quiet center so essential for leading a healthy life and being a pastoral presence to another human being,” said the Rev. Kevin A. Miller, the associate rector at the Church of the Resurrection west of Chicago and author of “Surviving Information Overload.”

“What we have is people with up-to-the-millisecond Twitter feeds but not really thinking deeply and reflectively very often, and that’s critical to leadership,” he said. “They’re not really sitting there thinking meditatively, reflectively about the human being in front of them or this seminal work written 200 or 2,000 years ago.”

Give your brain a break

So what can Christian institution leaders do about information overload?

Establish boundaries, Miller said. It’s not only good for your emotional well-being; it sets a positive example for those you work with and serve.

“With emails, people expect a quick reply, but I’ve found you can educate them. You can educate people that ‘I have a life too, a rhythm, a family, commitments, in addition to what I do here. Love you, but you’re not going to hear from me for a while,’” Miller said.

“They may not love it, but they come to respect it,” he said. “What it does is model a more balanced life for them.”

To avoid feeling overwhelmed, Miller takes a “technology sabbath,” usually on Fridays, when he’s reachable by phone but not by email. He also carves out at least half a day each week when he can work without any interruptions, and he reduces the flow of news coming his way to a trickle. He reads The Week magazine and gets a weekly news summary on his smartphone, but he avoids TV talk shows and the nightly news.

“It’s actually a real discipline” to do this, Miller said. “You’ve got to work on yourself and develop the grace to say to another person, ‘I had no idea Osama bin Laden was shot three days ago. Tell me about it.’ There is a humility you have to cultivate and a willingness to be out of the loop.”

Giving the brain a break is crucial to avoiding information overload, Cantor, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said.

The Internet makes collecting information relatively easy, but if you want your brain to process it all, take a walk, take a shower, or even take a nap.

“The research shows that ‘sleep on it’ really works,” she said. “When you come back to what you’re doing, you’ll see connections you didn’t see before.”

She also cautions against multitasking. Research indicates that the brain can’t effectively do two things at once.

Instead, it switches back and forth between tasks, taxing the brain’s ability to focus, reducing the amount of new information it can absorb, and delaying the length of time it takes to complete those tasks — sometimes up to twice as long.

“Basically, you’re dumbing down your brain when you multitask,” Cantor said. “It’s like using your left hand when you’re right-handed.”

The Rev. Dr. C. Jeff Woods, the associate general secretary for regional ministries of American Baptist Churches USA, said he tries to avoid multitasking altogether.

He also resists the temptation to surf the Internet aimlessly by going online only if he needs specific information. And as information comes his way, he filters it based on a simple principle: Does it fit within the church’s mission?

The measuring stick of productivity

When Woods facilitates discussions about leadership and organizational development, he uses a jigsaw puzzle analogy to explain how to manage information.

“The edges frame your priorities. The corners are the core values that permeate everything. As information comes, ask, ‘Does it fit inside the puzzle or not?’” he said. “As new things come along, ask, ‘Does this fit with the priorities we’ve made?’”

Church leaders face considerable pressure to be informed about a host of issues, ranging from political movements to how to run a capital campaign. Rather than trying to develop expertise in everything, C. Michael Patton, the president of Oklahoma-based Credo House Ministries, said he practices “referred conviction,” relying on trusted sources to guide him.

“If you try to put your feet in too many rivers, you’re going to end up in overload big-time,” said Patton, whose organization focuses on theological development for laypeople. “As a Christian leader, I try to think, ‘What is it that I myself have been called to do? What is it I have been gifted to do? And what is it that I can refer to others to do?’”

Delegating responsibility is an important part of managing information overload, said Miller, the associate rector and author of “Surviving Information Overload.”

Online research is helpful, but when it makes sense, he consults church members and colleagues who have specific expertise rather than browsing the Internet.

He also trains his staff to avoid adding to information overload. For example, he instructs, don’t hit “reply all” on emails if the original sender is the only one who benefits from the message. And if you forward a link, specify exactly why you’re sending it.

Email is for affirmation, Miller said. If an exchange requires confrontation or emotion, do it in person.

And the best way to measure productivity, he said, is to remember that the church’s greatest strength is its people and the face-to-face relationships they build with each other — not the number of emails, tweets, links and documents they exchange via technology.

“Ultimately, Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with everything you’ve got and to love your neighbor as yourself,” he said. “So we have a measuring stick: Are you being a more loving human being, or are you not?”

The new normal

Adams, of the Disciples of Christ, will begin a three-month sabbatical next June. During this time designed for rebalancing, Adams said, he will spend time with his two children, play golf, learn Spanish, and return to Honolulu to check on the progress of several churches he helped a year ago.

His office will also take away his work phone and disable his office email account.

Though he’s a bit apprehensive about unplugging for so long, the “new normal” — the one where he’s not checking email around the clock — may suit him, he said.

“In August 2012, I’ll either be in a rehab program for the technologically addicted,” he joked, “or I’ll be really refreshed and back to work.”

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, June 01, 2015

In the clouds

Posted on: May 18th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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In the clouds (link is external)
America: Antonio Spadaro’s newest book, “Cybertheology,” turns its attention to the theological implications of the Internet.

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, May 18, 2015

Author calls for formation to meet challenge of social media

Posted on: May 14th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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Author calls for formation to meet challenge of social media (link is external)

National Catholic Reporter: New book argues compellingly that the church must maintain a focus on the challenges of the information age, particularly when it comes to ministerial formation.

 

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Leadership  Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, May 06, 2015

A Technology free day?

Posted on: April 12th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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imageOne of the gifts I received last Christmas is a smart watch. It is a watch that will connect wirelessly with my phone. No longer do I need to take out my phone to view messages, posts, or send simple responses to emails and tags. I can even download an app which will allow me to pay for my Starbucks drink from my watch-face. I love this watch. It is the one I wear most often.

That being said, there is something disturbing with this watch. As much as I love it, I also recognize that this signifies another manner in which I become increasingly tethered to the technological devices in my life. The buzzing of the watch rips me from restful naps. It demands my attention during any activity. While praying (or celebrating the Eucharist,) it becomes too easy to simply turn the wrist in order to look at the latest notification instead of remaining steadfast in divine conversation.

I’m sure we all have experienced the manner in which technology enforces its control over life. Whether it is the constant texting during dinner parties, or the intrusion of ring-tones in sacred services. These things happen under the rhetoric of ‘availability.’ We buy into the lie that tells us we are to be constantly available to all people at all times. Of course, the inverse is actually true. In being available to all we become available to none.

Yet the force of technology on our lives extends far more than to just social media and smart-phones, nor is it applicable to merely the younger generation. We also find it in the pull of the radio and the television. Is the radio constantly on in our cars? Do we put the television on as soon as we get home? Are there ‘must watch’ programs that define our schedules?

Recently, I was talking with a fellow priest about the spiritual discipline of simplicity and how simplicity helps expose the things that subtly clutter our spiritual lives. She said she has noticed that she would turn on the television the moment when she returned home. As someone who lives alone, she recognized that this was about cultivating a sense of sound and activity in her house. Still, underneath this, she had begun to be challenged to think about how, for her, having the tv on possibly spoke to an inability to be satisfied in the presence of God.

Does our technology serve as distractions from Godly devotion? If we are uncomfortable without our modern devices, what does this say about our heeding of Jesus’ words to ‘seek ye first the kingdom of God’?

I’m not saying we should give up technology. As I said before, I love my watch—and those who know me know I am committed to computers, smart-phones, and reality television. But what would happen if we were to take a day free from our technology? What if, on one day, we refrained from turning on the television, the radio, and the computer? What if we shut the phone off? Would we feel cut-off from life? Would we feel insecure? Would we be consumed with fear that we might ‘miss’ something important? After all, who would we be if we hear about the latest celebrity gossip one day after anyone else?

When we think about a technology free day, we may automatically start thinking “well, it can’t be on Sunday because that’s when I watch Big Brother Canada!” Yet this very response proves why taking such a day is so important. This is what the discipline of simplicity does, it forces us to realize some of the subtle ways we may be overly attached to certain things—things that ultimately end up detracting us from the Kingdom of God. We take a technology free day not because technology is bad in and of itself, but because in doing without the trappings of modern social devices, we become more present with our Lord. We uncover things within us, possibly uncomfortable things, that our focus on technology tends to mask. In such uncovering we then are able to present ourselves, our true, raw, and undistracted selves to our Lord, as we attune ourselves to His presence and listen for HIs voice.

In previous blogs, I have quoted from Thomas Kelly. Here as well, his words are useful. Kelly ends his book “A Testament of Devotion” with these words: “Life from the Centre is a life of unhurried peace and power. It is simple. It is serene. It is amazing. It is triumphant. It is radiant. It takes no time, but it occupies all our time. And it makes our life programs new and overcoming. We need not get frantic; He is at the helm. And when our little day is done we lie down quietly in peace, for all is well.”

Taking a technology free day helps us remember that our life is not to be run by the devices we own, or the beeps and whistles it produces. It helps us remember that our life is not to be run by ourselves, in constant striving for social respectability, attention, or clout. It reminds us that our life is to be centred on God alone, and it is to the notifications of His Spirit that we must respond.

Kyle Norman

About Kyle Norman

I am a Priest in the Diocese of Calgary, serving the wonderful people of Holy Cross, Calgary. I watch reality television, I drink Starbucks coffee, and I read celebrity gossip columns. I am also a magician and often use magic tricks to teach the children at church the lessons of the Bible. I believe that God is present in the intricacy of our lives, and thus I believe that Pop Culture can provide intriguing lessons, examples, and challenges for our lives of faith. Connect with Kyle on

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The Community, An update from The Community, April 10, 2015

New Zealand: Holy Week radio broadcasts chart new territory

Posted on: March 31st, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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[Anglican Taonga] Christian radio station Star is launching itself into uncharted waters for the duration of Holy Week by running adapted versions of the NZPB Morning and Evening Prayer.

The services – of seven minute duration, and broadcast at 5.30am and 11.45pm – are being read by the Rev David Guthrie, the Anglican priest who, in early 2007, began to post the daily prayer offices online.

“This is a major departure for the station,” says David, “and they are interested in gauging what the response of listeners might be to this. The services are developed from my online offices which are broadcast on my website, david.guthrie.net.nz .”

David says the online ministry on his website has grown “exponentially” over the past year, especially in North America and the United Kingdom.

His site is offering the daily morning and evening prayer, Night Prayer, a weekly sermon and semi-regular blogs. He says he is planning to add Midday Prayer to the offering shortly and will make further developments as he can resource them.

“The emails that I receive almost daily,” says David, “tell a story of extraordinary impact that the daily offices are having on people’s lives. They are becoming cornerstones of spirituality.

“Over and over again, people tell me how they are telling everyone in their church about them.

“One priest with an international ministry said that he speaks of them wherever he is in the world. One of the significant features of the offices is that they bring together the whole spectrum of the theological positions.

“I think that two factors are causing this sudden explosion of growth.

“One is the development of data devices that enable people to tune in on phones, iPads as well as computers, wherever they may be.

“The other reason may be deeper: I believe that there is, especially in the United States, a very clear and quite dramatic return to liturgically-based spirituality, especially among the young.”

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Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS), March 30, 2015

Digital disciples

Posted on: March 29th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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iStock/londoneye

 

A Lutheran pastor in Pennsylvania uses social media to engage youth in the ancient teachings of the church, a reflection of his deep belief that God is everywhere, including online.

Twenty-six teenagers dillydally on smartphones, sending instant messages, scrolling through news feeds, liking statuses and posting updates on social media sites Twitter, Facebook and Instagram while intermittently gazing at farmland images beaming from a digital projector. New Age tunes echo through the room courtesy of online music service Spotify.

Despite the tech-rich environment, these youths aren’t meeting at an urban cybercafe or taking a class at an Apple store. They are congregating at the Upper Dublin Lutheran Church fellowship hall in the Rev. Keith Anderson’s weekly catechism class. The day’s focus is on the third commandment: Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.

But Anderson sees no irony in allowing his students to noodle around online as part of a discussion on God’s rules of rest. Indeed, this is their Sabbath.

“When we were planning this class, we debated whether or not we would let them use their smartphones during the 20-minute in-class Sabbath time,” said Anderson, the 39-year-old pastor of Upper Dublin Lutheran, a 1,000-member church family in Ambler, Penn.

“And then we decided, yes we should. This is how they relax. This is what they would do to relax. This is how they experience Sabbath,” he said.

Keith AndersonOver the last five years, Anderson has built a national reputation in Christian circles as a social media expert — especially as the technology relates to teens and tweens. He is best-known for the 192-page paperback “Click 2 Save: The Digital Ministry Bible,” (link is external) which he co-wrote with Elizabeth Drescher, a professor of religious studies at Santa Clara University.

More than a gimmick to spark the teens’ interest, Anderson says, social media can be used as a tool to convey the ancient teachings of the church in the formation of a new generation of Christians. It can help break down barriers, reach across fractures in teens’ lives and engage teens in the spaces — digital or otherwise — where they live.

“How do we equip them to take care of themselves in this space, and be people of faith, if we aren’t in this space?” he said.

In his own church, he is incorporating technology and social media into the everyday life of faith, including youth formation. It’s more than just letting the students text during breaks; as part of the class’s fall Ten Commandments project (link is external), Anderson asked his students to Instagram pictures of their ideal forms of Sabbath. They’ve discussed Christlike behavior on the Internet, and what it means to be a “digital disciple.”

“We are all inspired by what we see online in our faith community,” said 18-year-old Will Thornton. “It’s another way for us to learn and connect with other people in our faith, whether we are having good days or bad days.”

God in the Twitterverse

Anderson’s social media philosophy is simple: God is everywhere, even in the Twitterverse. And if the church fails to embrace that, it stands to lose its future members.

“We remember a time before email, before there was social media,” said Anderson, pointing out that even email is an outdated form of communication for today’s teens. “These kids will never know that time.”

“[Social media] isn’t just a tool you can use in formation, like the way we used a slide show in the 1960s and ’70s,” said Drescher, Anderson’s co-author. Drescher, an Episcopal scholar, also wrote “Tweet If You Heart Jesus: Practicing Church in the Digital Reformation.” (link is external)

“The church is slowly starting to acknowledge that social media is the landscape of communication,” Drescher said. “This is the medium where spiritual growth is happening, so we have to be working in that medium.”

Drescher points to the New York-based liturgical organization Digital Formation (link is external) as an example of embracing social media for formation. The educational group seeks to help clergy and laypeople in the Episcopal Church use social media through webinars and Twitter.

These organizations “are drawing on the most positive potential of the new media landscape,” Drescher said.

Last fall, Drescher asked students in her Christian tradition course to post images of ideas, themes and people relevant to the history of Christianity on the social media site Pinterest. There are more than 1,000 pins on the resulting “Seeing the Christian Tradition” Pinterest board, ranging from depictions of John the Baptist baptizing Jesus to photographs of Nelson Mandela.

Like Anderson, Drescher sees a parallel with an older form of church teaching.

“Pinterest is a modern-day stained-glass window,” Drescher explained. But unlike the stained-glass windows in a given church, which are accessible only to the people in that region, Pinterest boards are accessible from any computer with Internet access.

Formation for digital natives

A Gen Xer, Anderson dresses in fitted jeans, a cardigan and black-rimmed Buddy Holly-style glasses.

His workspace reflects the merging of old and new. In the church’s front office, white-haired parishioners staple programs. Some are on Facebook to keep up with the grandkids, but for the most part, they say it’s not really for them. On the bookcase in Anderson’s office are round-faced statues of Martin Luther and Luther’s wife, Katharina. On his desk is a silver MacBook Pro — Twitter screen up and running. The iPhone 5 next to it buzzes every seven minutes or so.

“In some ways, I’m a cultural translator,” Anderson said. “I’m very much aware that I minister to people who are not online as well as people who are online a lot. Part of my role is to tell them that even though the technologies are different, [the people] aren’t that different.”

He was first introduced to Facebook in 2006, when he was assigned to the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Woburn, Mass. Anderson was a little apprehensive of new media but slowly realized how it helped him connect with his congregation.

“I would post things about my life and my runs, and people would ask me how my running is going,” Anderson said. “People really started interacting around the content that was shared. I thought, ‘This is amazing. I’m getting a window into people’s lives, and I get to communicate with them throughout the week.’

“It was slowly becoming a valuable thing, and people were just delighted by it.”

In 2008, the Church of the Redeemer held a retreat during which they decided to bolster communication with the congregation through social media — then still in its infancy. Anderson began blogging his sermons and podcasting them as well. He also started filming a two-minute Bible series and posting it on YouTube.

“He had an incredible impact,” said Carolyn Rahal, the parish administrator at the Church of the Redeemer, who refers to Anderson as a “rock star.” “He was so innovative. During a time when our community was on lockdown because of robbers in the area, he tweeted prayers.”

In the fall of 2012, Anderson moved to Ambler with his wife, Jennifer, and four children, and his social media presence has continued to expand.

Last June, Anderson completed the 10-mile Tough Mudder Race in Philadelphia. Where did he post his accomplishment? On Facebook, of course. In December, he celebrated his 10-year anniversary as an ordained minister by posting a series of Instagram photos.

And each Sunday morning, Anderson asks congregants to check in on Facebook, telling the world they are at Sunday morning worship. He has also started a Theology Pub series, with Facebook and Twitter accounts and a blog called God on Tap.

“You can try to keep [teens] off Facebook for as long as you want, but this is the world they are living in. They are native to it,” Anderson said. “So instead of saying, ‘It’s the devil; stay away from it,’ I’m here to show them faith has a role in it. God has a role in everything.

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, March 17, 2015

Lenten video meditations find God’s presence in darkness

Posted on: February 14th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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Burning candle

A contemplative video series is set to take viewers on a journey through the dark this Lenten season, highlighting God’s enduring presence en route to the joy of Easter morning.

Produced by the Rev. Tay Moss of the Church of the Messiah in Toronto for the Anglican Church of Canada, Like Watchmen for the Morning is a series of video meditations that use stories, poetry, images and music to evoke the dark watch leading up to the dawn of the Resurrection.

Each short video is focused around a particular Lenten theme such as temptation, anger, sacrifice, service and death. To guide worshippers through the season, Moss has produced one video for each Sunday of Lent as well as Ash Wednesday and the Paschal Triduum, the three-day period encompassing Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday.

An enthusiastic advocate of new media, Moss has produced numerous videos for the Diocese of Toronto, leading the Church of the Messiah in its pioneering role as the first Anglican church in Canada to livestream its Sunday worship service.

His outlook and body of work made the Lenten video project a natural progression.

“I’m a big believer that we need to use new forms of communications to reach people where they’re at,” Moss said.

“If people are existing or consuming media in the space of the Internet—like videos and podcasts and things like that—then the church needs to go there, too. The church has always embraced new technologies for communication and this is just another example of that.”

To illustrate Lenten themes and help the viewer reflect, Moss has embraced the use of techniques such as time-lapse photography, as in one 30-second clip that depicts a candle completely burning down in front of an icon. A similar visual metaphor can be seen in the image of ashes sifting through someone’s hands for the Ash Wednesday meditation.

In other cases, Moss has drawn upon personal stories he has experienced or witnessed in his ministry, such as in the video exploring the theme of death.

Through the contemplation of such dark and quiet times, he hopes the video meditations will provide viewers with an opportunity to delve deeper into the shadow life of the spirit.

“To say that we’re going to be exploring themes of darkness and the shadow times does not necessarily mean that it’ll be in any way negative,” Moss said. “I think a lot of people then imagine that they’re going to be feeling sad and things like that, but not necessarily.

“When people sit in the dark, in the quiet, I think they often find an incredible kind of warmth there. There’s a kind of peacefulness about it…I guess I’m hoping that people will experience something of the presence of God in the shadows of our lives.”

Like Watchmen for the Morning will be available through Facebook and Twitter and on the Anglican Church of Canada website. Users may also subscribe to the videos via email.

Dates for the video meditations, with themes, are as follows:

  • February 18, Ash Wednesday: Invitation
  • February 22, First Sunday in Lent: Temptation
  • March 1, Second Sunday in Lent: Pain
  • March 8, Third Sunday in Lent: Anger
  • March 15, Fourth Sunday in Lent: Evil
  • March 22, Fifth Sunday in Lent: Sacrifice
  • March 29, Palm Sunday: Death
  • April 2, Maundy Thursday: Service
  • April 3, Good Friday: Crucifixion
  • April 4, Holy Saturday: Resurrection
  • April 5, Easter Sunday: New Life

Additional online Lenten resources from the Anglican Church of Canada and its partners can be found at www.anglican.ca/resources/lent2015.

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Anglican Church of Canada, News from General Synod, February 12, 2015