With the growth in social networking
sites, connected communities are growing
rapidly whose very identity is constantly
evolving. These present real opportunities
for fellowship and discipleship. We begin to
discover together what online community can
look like, and seek to reflect theologically
on some of the implications.
In his book 'Community and Growth', Jean Vanier states "A community becomes truly and radiantly one when all its members have a sense of urgency in their mission. There are too many people in the world who have no hope. There are too many cries which go unheard. There are too many people dying in loneliness. It is when the members of the community realise that they are not there simply for themselves or their own sanctification, but to welcome the gift of God, to hasten his Kingdom and to quench the thirst in parched hearts through their prayer and sacrifice, love and acts of service, that they will truly live community."
We believe that one of the greatest challenges to the Church today is whether she has the ability to realise that community. The primary reason for our existence is to be in relationship with and worship God. Everything else must stem from that. As believers, when we go to Church the question we should be asking ourselves isn't "What's in it for us?", more rather we should be asking "What can we give to God?". It's not about us. It's not about whether the leader is particularly charismatic. It's about coming into the presence of a Holy God with reverence as the Bride of Christ.
Arguably, we live in an age where everyone is "in it for themselves." The community of Church must be different. There are often too many naysayers, too many egos, and a lack of humility and people with a servant heart. That applies to leaders as well as to members of the congregation.
It is incredibly difficult to realise community on the basis of 1 - 2 hours on a Sunday. For community to be realised there has to be intentionality. There has to be discipleship. We see this in passages such as Acts 2:44-45.
In the 21st century, we have opportunities to connect more than any other time in history and yet people are increasingly disconnected. We as the church must be willing to seek to develop and foster connected communities - both real and virtual..
Kietzmann, and Hermkens (2011:241–251) conclude social media introduces “substantial and pervasive changes to communication between organizations, communities and individuals.” People’s interaction with social media has great potential for an implicit decoupling of presence and immersion, a form of dissociation or fragmentation. People can be immersed in virtuality without being present or engaged. For example, they can be engaged in chat on Facebook, Messenger or any of the other social media platforms and leave their computer to get a drink, make a phone call or go to the toilet etc. They are still immersed but not physically present. It is all too easy to lose sight of the ‘embodiedness’ and humanity that underpins that engagement; there may be a sense of desensitisation. We only need to consider the ‘flame-mails’ that people are prepared to send by email, the contents of which they would be unlikely to declare in a face to face encounter; the uninhibited way in which people may engage with one another online, whether through a social network or an online game and the decoupling that may occur.
Our very understanding and expression of self begins with embodiment and to be fully human we must know that first before we can positively engage as humans in a virtual context. No matter how hard we try we cannot leave our humanity and history behind; our embodiedness underpins our life experience, our acquisition of knowledge, our development of skills and our culture. If you are interested in finding out more, do send me an email. I did research into this area to write a dissertation on this subject matter, and I would be very happy to chat more about it.
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