Spiritual Leadership “In Cathedral”

the digital cathedralBy John W. Vest, Visiting Assistant Professor of Evangelism at Union Presbyterian Seminary.

As we explore what it means to be spiritual leaders in a post-Christendom culture in my Post-Congregational Evangelism class, we read Keith Anderson’s fantastic book, The Digital Cathedral: Networked Ministry in a Wireless World.

People say this all the time, but this is the book I have wanted to write for the past few years. I would have approached it differently, of course, but I love how he stretches our notions of traditional church from a congregational model into a more expansive “cathedral” model that recognizes the necessity of ministry outside of our church walls. As a pastor in a brick-and-mortar church who very intentionally ventures out into public and digital spaces, Anderson himself demonstrates that this doesn’t need to be an either/or proposition—a both/and approach is possible for existing and new congregations.

My only real criticism of the book is its title. “The Digital Cathedral” (and its subtitle) makes this sound like a book primarily about using digital social media technology for ministry, which I fear will limit the audience for a book that needs to be read by everyone interested in what church can (and increasingly does) look like in today’s world. Digital culture is only one piece of the bigger picture Anderson paints. He regularly emphasizes the need for both local and digital ministry and understands that the network paradigm is not just about social media platforms but is increasingly the organizing principle of our entire social lives.

Building on the witty and evocative phrase coined by Elizabeth Drescher, which he employs throughout the book, I wish Anderson had called it In Cathedral. This generative metaphor for relational and incarnational ministry in a networked world opens up many possibilities for reimagining and reshaping church in the cultural spaces in which people actually live. Instead of setting apart certain spaces as sacred, living in cathedral recognizes God’s presence in everyday life. Spiritual leadership is helping people see this and live in the world accordingly.

Once again, I invite you to read the thoughtful reflections—and critiques—of the students in this class. They accept Anderson’s challenge to think differently and run with it.

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