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Digital fellowship?

A preacher goes into a church and preaches. The sermon tucked into the preacher’s Bible has been extensively researched in a library of reference material, as you might expect. It doesn’t stop at books, though. The preacher has also used a wealth of material to reference both Biblical culture and contemporary culture online. Nor does it stop there. There was a time when the sermon was kept under wraps until the moment when, like a new car at a motor show, it was revealed with a flourish. Our particular sermon has emerged from an  online conversation which has grown during the week. On Monday, the preacher sent a message out across the social networking landscape to say what he was working on and to ask for prayer. By Wednesday the prayer request had turned into a resource enquiry – asking where a particular illustration could be found. By Friday that illustration had indeed been found, but replaced by another one, far more suitable. By Saturday, fellow preachers had been shown an outline of the material for their own consumption, or as an aid to their prayer. On Sunday, the sermon is preached.

It doesn’t stop there, though. On Monday the sermon can be heard by podcast, and an outline can be read on the preacher’s blog. It is commented on through the blog itself, alluded to on Twitter, discussed on Facebook and passed around. By the time someone else preaches on this topic, they will have a wealth of wit, wisdom, comment and discussion to guide them on their way. They may choose to ignore all of it – but it is available to them should they require it.

Is this a travesty of fellowship, or an expansion of it into a digital age? I believe it is the latter. Although the early days of my Christian faith led me to believe that ‘fellowship’ was something you could only taste with the aid of weak tea and dull biscuits, thankfully my understanding is now rather deeper. ‘Fellowship’ is something we experience when we are all bound together through a common cause, allegiance, or experience. As a preacher, I can now enjoy a digital fellowship with other preachers unfettered by physical borders, time zones or denominational allegiance. Not only that, but this is not a’private club’. People who listen to my sermons are as free to participate in the preparatory discussion or the post-preach analysis as anybody else.  Surely this is a deepening of fellowship, rather than a replacement of it?

Earlier this morning I joined pushnote. It gives me yet another platform through which I can give and receive comments. Those comments may be everything from mediocre to incisive – and I welcome them all. Why? Because the Christian faith is designed for scrutiny, that’s why. Ever since Jesus encouraged his disciples to ‘let your light shine before men’ we have been living in an open space. This ‘commentary culture’ is an environment in which our embodied faith should thrive.

Richard Littledale

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