Saturday, August 04, 2012

How Things Have Changed

Social media and the Internet are easy targets.  Hardly a day passes that someone fails to blame a societal evil on digital media.  Sometimes the criticism is understandable, but we must always remember that these things are only tools.  If we let our tools control us, we would give us driving automobiles because they can cause deaths.  Yes, they can, but only when used inappropriately.

The digital revolution can be a blessing and, in fact, provides churches with resources that they could not even dream of a decade ago.  This delivery system strengthens the work of institutions and organizations that seek to serve the churches in a post-denominational age.  These ministries provide services that churches might one time have received from their denominations or judicatories.  Let me mention four of these (Disclaimer:  I have some association with all of these organizations, but this does not negate their contributions!)

First, denominations once offered social action or “Christian life” agencies to address ethical issues.  Many of these have fallen into disrepute for various reasons.  Stepping in to fill this gap is the Baptist Center for Ethics and its online presence  Under the leadership of Robert Parham, BCE addresses issues such as immigration, taxation, and interfaith dialogue through its website, daily e-news, video resources, and digital curriculum.  BCE and together provide a voice of authority in the areas of ethics, cultural discernment, and social action.

Second, the Associated Baptist Press began as an alternative to a denominational news bureau, but it has become not only a provider of religious news but also opinion and cultural criticism.  Since CEO David Wilkinson came on board, ABP has developed new partnerships with other publishing entities and is pursuing a more robust Internet presence, seeking to provide a platform for a variety of voices with different perspectives.   It has become the “go to” site for those who want to know what is happening in Baptist life.

Third, in a time that calls for new approaches to theological education, Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kansas, has reached out geographically, culturally, and electronically to engage new student constituents.  President Molly Marshall has been willing to embrace creative approaches to theological education. Starting with new teaching sites in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Murfreesboro, Tennessee, CBTS is launching new sites in Michigan and Florida.  The seminary has a partnership with the Myanmar Institute of Theology and has started a national Korean contextualized theological education program.  The seminary has also made a major commitment to online education and the use of web-based administrative tools. 

Fourth, when denominations encountered difficult economic times, early casualties in budget cuts were programs related to church administration, career development, and congregational health.  A number of organizations have stepped in to fill that gap.  One of these, PinnacleLeadership Associates, was organized by veteran counselor and consultant Mark Tidsworth.  Pinnacle offers consulting, coaching, and training services to congregations, clergy, and not-for-profit organizations.  Starting in South Carolina, Pinnacle now has ten associates in several states and is expanding its outreach through online means. 

In addition to the use of digital media to supplement traditional means of delivering resources and services, all of these entities share a commitment to work with various Baptist bodies and across denominational lines.  They have stepped up to help congregations and individuals who seek to be on mission for God in the 21st century, taking advantages of the opportunities in a changing environment.

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