Stuff Church Offers (That the World Needs Right Now)

By Jan Edmiston, DMin ‘01

I was listening to Daniel Goleman on TED Radio last weekend talking about the 21st Century generation’s unique developmental journeys. He said that we are witnessing the first generation of human beings who are learning empathy, conversation and compassion via social media. Or not.

What will it look like when a whole generation learns how to make friends, engage in conversation, navigate conflict, and date primarily via social media? We all know that it’s easier to be mean and trollish on social media than it is to be mean and trollish face-to-face. What if the next generations never learn how to connect up close and personal?

Goleman says: “Emotional intelligence begins to develop in the earliest years. All the small exchanges children have with their parents, teachers, and with each other carry emotional messages.”

Social media is not the most reliable venue for sharing emotional messages. We who use email every day have had experiences when we misread the tone because email doesn’t convey tone.

So . . . how can the Church impact this reality?

There are several things that Spiritual Communities offer that cannot be found in few other venues. For example:

  • Communal Singing – Only in church and professional baseball games do random people stand and sing together. It doesn’t matter if you can carry a tune or not. We make music together. Seasonal tip: Go caroling.
  • Compassion Curriculum – Jesus felt compassion which means that his very bowels were moved (splagchnizomai in Koine Greek) when connecting with people in need. We teach compassion in church as we relay ancient stories and core beliefs to our children and adults.
  • First Response Training – I wrote about this a couple weeks ago, but to reiterate: we cannot assume that people know how to take dinner to families with new babies or folks recovering from surgery. Church is one of the few communities to teach such crucial life skills in a culture of busy-ness and family disconnectedness.

For this reason and many more, I believe that the institutional church will thrive in the 21st Century. It won’t look like it looked 50 – or even 20 – years ago. But there is so much we can share that is sorely needed in a world craving connection.

Jan Edmiston is the associate executive presbytery for ministry in the Presbytery of Chicago, where she has served since 2011. Prior to that she served congregations in northern Virginia and New York. She completed her MDiv at Andover Newton Theological School and her DMin in Christian Spirituality at CTS in 2001. She has graciously agreed to let us repost some of her blog entries (including guest bloggers) from A Church for Starving Artists.

Interested in exploring the crossroads of spirituality and technology? Join us for Spirituality in the Smartphone Age, February 16 – 18, led by MaryAnn McKibben Dana. This workshop will give participants a theological grounding to navigate the joys and perils of this continually-evolving digital age, and practical wisdom to apply in the context of their ministry settings. This program is for pastors, Christian educators, and other church leaders charged with helping congregations think critically and live faithfully as 21st century followers of Jesus. For more details about the class, or for registration, click here.

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