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Wednesday, 15 Oct 2003
Participatory Religion: An interview with Pastor Tim Bednar
There are few things more gratifying than someone finding inspiration in what you have done. Recently, we discovered We Know More Than Our Pastors: The New Amateur Preachers, a post by Tim Bednar, a pastor in Minneapolis (and blogger), who has taken our We Media paper to heart – and soul.
Echoing Dan Gillmor’s sentiment about audience, Tim believes his congregation knows more about how to follow God than he. The idea has made him rethink the accepted roles of preacher and congregation. Also up for grabs is the possibility that a church service experience could be more than proselytizing and singing — stained-glass may give way to multimedia.
Curious, we asked Tim to elaborate…
Q: How large a congregation do you have? Where is the church located?
Tim: I am part of a team that is planting a new church in Minneapolis, MN for the Assemblies of God denomination. We just started regular services last Sunday. I expect that by Christmas we will have 50 people at our main gathering and about 150 people who we would consider in our directory.
Q: Do members of your congregation see a difference between becoming more involved in the church versus a more fundamental change of the roles they fill?
A: We are a part what is being called an ‘emerging church movement’. Our congregation will probably not see there roles changing, because we are starting the church with these roles all turned around to start with. We have intentionally designed our gatherings to be very interactive and participatory. We have embraced the idea that our congregation knows more than the pastors. The result is a pretty involved and invested congregation. To be honest, we are still navigating this territory and I cannot really say anything definite yet. Maybe in a year.
Q: Do other pastors you speak with sense a need to change their roles, as well?
A: My ‘senior’ pastor has fully embraced the change in roles. I was a full-time minister for 10 years, now I work in marketing and as a freelance web designer — along with being a minister in my church (although I am not referred to by any clergy-like title). I am licensed.
However, on the whole, not many other pastors would have a clue about these changed roles — neither would many embrace these changes as they really upset tradition and institutional structures. Frankly, I left full-time ministry because I was tired of trying to explain or work around many of the profound changes that We Media explores. I do not think that many pastors believe that their congregation knows more than them — although they may give the idea lip service.
Bible colleges, seminaries and denominations do not see these changed roles while the ‘emerging church movement’ does. It is still uncertain as to what the emerging church movement stands for and what it will accomplish — but it is slowly changing things, I think.
Q: Have you thought about what a new, collaborative church experience would feel like?
A: Here is an example from our first service: Doors open at 5:30 with our espresso bar open, tables and chairs are scattered around a low platform, live music is being played — it kind a feels like a cabaret. We start the service at around 6:10 with a quick welcome, then we worship with sacred music (this week it was acoustic guitar, but it will change often) and the words are projected on a screen with images (and a visualizer like on iTunes). The music still plays while we offer communion, but before we partake — we ask the folks at each table to take some time to pray and confess to one another. Then we receive communion. After this, we have a message supported by illustrations and biblical texts — reinforced with projected images (not PowerPoint). We are attempting to use projected images like morphable stained glass windows. The message concludes with a invitation to discuss at the tables. After a while, the speaker asks for feedback there and reinforces the message with a ‘take away’. This is usually a spiritual discipline — this week we are seeking to learn how to listen properly to others and to God. Then we reopen the espresso bar and people leave whenever. During this whole time, congregants can write messages on the table cloths, fill out prayer request cards — eventually we want a PDA on every table and Wi-Fi connectivity. So during the discussion time, we can Google for more info, etc.
Once we get going, we will blog about the weeks message and distribute discussion questions to those who attended the gathering with us. So our web site will extend the experience.
We are unsure how many people we can accommodate with this model. So we are open to multiple services and multiple locations, while still acting as one church body.
Like I said, we are just starting so much of this is just theory. But we are trying.
Q: What tools/training do you think congregation member would need?
A: We will be using blogging as a spiritual formation tool. We also will hold training sessions on how to use the church intranet and our ecard tool where member can send Flash animations to friends/families.
We also see the need for formal ‘bible training’ and ‘pastoral training’ for people. We will probably do this using a cohort or coaching model rather than classes and lecture.
The biggest threat to the integrity of the church working on this model and in these roles is how to protect the fundamentals of our faith. We are not relativists and do believe in a dogma - however questioned it may be.
I, too, look forward to this article (which Tim plans to write on this subject) — it is slow in coming, I have too many ideas and they are as of yet unformed. I will continue to mine We Media for inspiration. May God bless you for your work — it has influenced me very much.
If folks like Tim — who celebrate the traditions rooted in thousands of years of history — can be inspired to collaborate with their audience, can’t news editors? For Heaven’s sake.
Also see: Religion and the Media: Parallel Evolution, post by Steve Outing