Challenging the Status Quo

the digital cathedralBy Seth Lovell, a student at Union Presbyterian Seminary.

In The Digital Cathedral: Networked Ministry in a Wireless World, Lutheran pastor Keith Anderson pushes the definition of what it means to be “church,” and what church leadership should look like in today’s digital age. Anderson skillfully uses the metaphor of “Cathedral,” to explore what church can, and should look like in a digitally integrated world.  The book seeks to address two of the most challenging issues confronting the church today: the rise of the so-called “nones,” and rapid advances in internet technologies that are dramatically changing the ways we communicate with one another, and how we are in community together. Anderson’s book not only delves into the “how-to” of ministry in a digital age, but also addresses the theological underpinnings on new models for ministry focused on community and relationships.

Anderson has the ability to speak with authority to his readers because he is in the trenches practicing ministry. His “Cathedral Ecclesiology” stems from ministry lived out, experienced, and witnessed. Anderson’s vision of church will no doubt challenge church leaders who are comfortable with traditional forms of church; however, Anderson’s creative and forward thinking ideas will embolden those recognizing that old norms are no longer sustainable. Anderson defines this approach to ecclesiology as “an invitation to a more expansive understanding of church” (6). This expansive view means asking the vital question, “if people are not coming to the church, how does the church come to the people?” (40).

Anderson’s work is a must read for those entering into the ministry, and for those who have been in ministry for decades. His work challenges church leaders to rethink their ministries and their ministerial leadership. Anderson believes that in our digital age church leaders must be “networked, relational, and incarnational” (44). It is impossible to read The Digital Cathedral and not take a long hard look at your approach to ministry. Anderson confronts the challenging issues threatening the church not with a sense of gloomy despair, but with hopeful optimism.  He challenges church leaders to look beyond traditional church boundaries, to look to the larger community, and to take the gospel out into the world.

While the entire book was full of rich wisdom that will be immensely beneficial in practical ministry, I was most impressed with the “fifteen rules for life and ministry in the Digital Cathedral” (207). I plan to print a copy of these fifteen rules out, and keep them near my desk to serve as a constant reminder. Anderson’s first rule is “to be present.” We are called to be present locally, digitally, culturally, and spiritually. Anderson challenges us to be fully present, not as a “gimmick,” but out of “genuine care and concern for what happens beyond our congregational enclaves” (208). Much of Anderson’s advice rests on his understanding that while the tools we have available to us  have changed, the mission we are carrying out has not. He challenges us to adapt to new ways of being the “church,” while reminding us the ultimate goals of the “church.”

Anderson’s advice is for ministry in the digital age, but isn’t solely about utilizing technology. Anderson’s rules also include taking “digital Sabbaths,” and meeting people in person whenever practical. Both of these reminders are helpful, and one’s that I will seek to incorporate into my future ministry in the church.  Many of the examples he shares (see Humble Walk Lutheran Church pp. 28-32) are churches doing ministry in new and exciting ways that focus on community, with interpersonal relationships and interactions being the focus. Technology can serve as an invaluable tool in connecting individuals and building community, but ultimately, it is about relationships. Anderson makes this abundantly clear, which is what makes his work so exciting in thinking about the future of the church.

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