Category Archives: mission

In Search of a Digital Missiology

The digital pivot happened fast!

Although many churches struggled with engaging digitally over the last decade, the circumstances of COVID-19 forced a change.  What church leaders had been apathetic about, opposed to, or fearful of became a necessity.  As a result, the church enthusiastically transitioned to digital.

The church pivoted. Although churches pivoted out of necessity, some did so without critical reflection.  Even though we have become very aware of our missiological failures and the colonialism that dominated previous missionary movements, I fear we are in danger of repeating our past mistakes.

The missionary movements of the past often resulted from technological advancements that opened new mission frontiers.  In the rush and excitement of these new opportunities, the church often neglected the hard work of learning the language, understanding the culture, and contextualizing the gospel. 

We are in danger of making these mistakes with digital ministry!

In the rush to digital engagement, we didn’t consider the fact that digital culture is different from in-person ministry steeped in print culture.  Online ministry is cross-cultural.  With the same pragmatic excitement that sparked the missionary movements of old, we entered digital culture with an in-person ministry methodology.  We moved Bible studies to ZOOM and we live-streamed worship gatherings.  As we did, we soon discovered that the transition wasn’t as effective as we expected.  We discovered that in-person is different than digital. Instead of seeking to understand and translate ministry to digital culture, adapting our methodologies accordingly, we forced them onto a digital culture.  Consequently, they were ineffective and demoralizing.  They demonstrated our propensity to repeat our colonial past.

In the transition to digital, some of our churches had to lay off staff.  In a sad parallel to the colonial missionary movements of the past that ignored local expertise, most churches laid off their digital locals (younger staff fluent in digital culture) and kept the digital tourists (older staff unaware of digital culture).  Consequently, I implore all the senior leaders who will rebuild their staff and leadership teams after the pandemic to rebuild them with digital locals and not just with digital tourists.  Do not repeat our colonial past.

As the church digitally went beyond traditional borders (geographic and linguistic), it was blind to context and culture. In the same ethnocentric enthusiasm of our ancestors, many ignored the hard and difficult work of contextualization. The following are two of many examples. First, digital ministry’s strength and potential lie not only in its ability to spread wide but in its ability to go deep. Community is built and experienced differently online. Second, in digital culture, people want to be part of the content they consume. Ignoring this cultural distinctive will lead to poor engagement and a lack of effectiveness.

We need a better digital missiology!

The digital shift is not going away.  People will not work, learn, shop, play and worship in the same ways again.  Digital has shown its limitations, but it has also shown its capabilities.  The digital mission field has opened, and it is ripe for harvest. 

We are in danger of repeating our past mistakes.  I want to call us, in humility, to slow down and discover a better missiology.  I want to call us to learn about digital culture as we enter it on mission.  To do otherwise is not simply ineffective, it is counterproductive.  Digital is different and your digital ministry must be shaped accordingly.

To learn more about digital culture, Effective Online Ministry and Digital Mission:

Check out my upcoming online workshops with Ambrose University (back by popular demand) – Effective Online Ministry (October 21, November 4, November 18).  Register here.

Read my recent book: Digital Mission: A Practical Guide for Ministry OnlineAvailable now in eBook format at Amazon, Kobo, Google Play, and the Canadian Bible Society (print book available soon).

The North American Church’s Journey Through the Stages of Grief

As a pastor, one of the things I am privileged to do is walk with people (shepherd them) through the stages of grief.  As every pastor has experienced, some people successfully journey through these stages over time, while others get trapped along the way, often leading to dysfunction in their life.

I would suggest that the church in North America is going through the stages of grief as it comes to grips with the end/death of Christendom.  As the church grieves the loss of its once held societal power, cultural influence and moral authority, it needs guidance and direction.  The church is in need of pastoral shepherds who will help guide it through these stages into health and effectiveness within its new reality – post-Christendom.  The challenge of this generation is to lead the church through the stages of grief, emerging with health and the reengagement of mission within its new environment.

The fact is, all churches and Christian traditions in North America are going through this grieving journey; however, they are all at different places in it.  Consider the five stages of grief:

  • Stage 1: Denial – There are churches that are still stuck in denial.  They believe that culture has not changed.  They are still doing ministry in the same way they did at the height of Christendom.
  • Stage 2: Anger – Churches in this stage are angry at the change our culture is experiencing and have focused their attention and energy at expressing that anger.  These churches are often known solely for what they are against, rather than what they are for.   
  • Stage 3: Bargaining – Churches stuck in this stage believe that if they do ______ then things will go back to the way they use to be.  In many cases, there is a focus on recreating past programs and ministries in a futile attempt to recreate past results.
  • Stage 4: Depression – Churches in this stage believe all hope is lost.  They are beyond denial, anger or bargaining but the weight of the challenge ahead has brought depression, manifested in hopelessness.
  • Stage 5: Acceptance – Churches who have successfully journeyed through the previous stages end with acceptance, beginning to think through what it means for effective ministry and mission in our new post-Christian environment. 

The church in North America is in a unique situation and journey.  It needs men and women who are committed to God’s mission, seeing the whole Church bring the whole gospel to the whole world.  The challenge ahead is for church leaders to be committed to Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, helping congregations, denominations and movements journey through these stages in order to begin meeting the unique challenges of our changing world.  A post-Christian culture will need radically different ministries, need to ask profoundly different questions, and will need very different paradigms.  The Church needs to move beyond conversations that simply grieve the loss of once was, to conversations of what could be, as it engages in God’s global mission.  These conversations are why organizations and movements like Lausanne, Missio Alliance, etc. are vital and important for our time in history.  The Church in North America is at the precipice of possibility and Jesus, the head of the Church, is leading His Church forward with hope and mission.