It is a difficult move to make. At first online presence seems self-centered, ego-centric, and maybe even counterintuitive to the way we understand our work. Pastoral life is about shepherding, about the curing and caring of souls, it is deeply rooted in community, in the other. Why do something that seems to center it on ourselves?
I understand the uncomfortableness and the immediate hesitation. In 2006 I was a young pastor in a middle size congregation with a growing number of people my age (late 20’s) who were engaging in the early social media movement. They were reading and writing blogs, connecting with friends on MySpace, and getting news and information from the growing number of websites all around the world. The congregation had a “web page” and had just approved a website development. The question for me became: what place do I want to make in this emerging landscape?
At first it seemed counter to the kind of community that I believed was essential for being church. It seemed disembodied, distant, and rooted in entertainment culture. It also seemed to be a distraction from the real work of community gathering, building, and care. I was also unsure of what I could contribute as pastor in such a frontier. How could I be pastor in this new way? Did it need to be different?
In 2022 as we emerge from a worldwide pandemic some of those concerns seem naive and yet others are still very real. I did make a decision in late 2006 to engage it in some ways by establishing a blog, finalizing the church’s website, and setting up a personal profile on MySpace. Those moves actually helped me learn some things that paved the way for my online presence, seedlings, for the engagement that became crucial during the pandemic. But it has not been without its challenges.
In the early days there were many well intentioned, and yet not helpful, online presence experiments. Bad design, inconsistent content (I am guilty of this one still to this day), and also the disembodied nature of the online community created an atmosphere that we are still struggling with. Many congregations and pastoral leaders by-passed the movement only to find themselves scrambling in March of 2020. Others struggled to keep up with the advances and, in their “do it yourself it’s cheaper” mentality, created spaces that were easily ignored or worse, spaces that did not accurately represent who they were to the many who were looking for places.
What finally convinced me to engage online was the conviction that this could be a portal to pastoral life in and through the community called the church. A window if not a door, an onramp into connection and community. To use the language of my United Methodist formation, the online presence was a porch where people could come and have a sense of who I was as a leader and who the community was as a congregation. This porch mattered in the mid 2000’s and it matters even more now.
Because it is so important it meant that it had to be constructed well, aesthetically and also content wise. After struggling for a number of years with self constructed and self managed spaces I was thankful to finally take the important step of engaging a professional to help me create the kind of space, the kind of porch, that represented who I was and who we were as a faith community. It is an investment so it mattered that I found a partner who understood that the space had to express my desire to be about good news, connection, and with the kind of content that gave those who stopped by a real sense of who I am as a human and as a religious leader.
3 Reasons Design helped me make such a space and it helped shape it in a way that it was not about me, about my ego, or about consuming content. Instead in its aesthetic, content, and tools it provided a helpful porch for those who stop by to connect with the good news, with the community called the church, and with a God who can use all things and redeem them.
Stay tuned in the months ahead for a few more details on how it arrived at that point and how it is still, all these years later, a work in progress!
Juan is the Minister of Proclamation & Practice of Justice at First-Plymouth Congregational Church in Lincoln, Nebraska. Check out his blog at spiritstirrer.org.