Saturday, April 22, 2006

Wired For Ministry by John P. Jewell

The director of instructional technology and distance learning at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary is John P. Jewell. He has written a book called Wired for Ministry: How the Internet, Visual Media, and Other New Technologies Can Serve Your Church by Brazos Press. I have meandered through the pages since Christmas when I received the book as a gift from my oldest daughter. For the most part this is not a book about innovation in technology but about integration. Jewell has taken the well-known processes for implementing technology in a way that fits the needs of learners and has tailored these processes for the church. Often he does this through describing a church and its members and what they want to do. Jewell then describes decision-making and planning process that would yield a solution that is focused on ministry and not the latest gadget. The processes he describes are done through the stake holders in the church and focus on ministry of the church. A theme often repeated, as it should be, is that the technology used by churches must fit the audience and fit the ministry goals of the church. When troubleshooting or technology setup bleed over into the actual class or worship time, the technology is more of a distraction than an aid to ministry.

Jewell focuses on more than setting up a website and running MS PowerPoint during a worship service. Even so, he does focus on the education functions of the church more than organizational aspects of the church such as church management software. He could have also developed more how Christian educators and pastors could use research tools better. Not only do I think he could have given recommendations for websites or software that would help in lesson or sermon preparation, he could have discussed the pit falls associated with such use of technology during the preparation phases.

Jewell is more liturgical in his approach to Christianity than Evangelical. He does not focus on the Evangelical mega-church but the small to medium sized liturgical church in the Mid-west. Since most of the churches in the U.S. are small to medium sized, he has chosen a good audience for his book. In fact he discusses at an appropriate level why the large church model of technology use should not be the model for the medium to small church. A large church can higher trained specialists while the small to medium sized church must use volunteer church workers. The small church is limited by budget, training and power structures. While these limitations do exist, Jewell rightly points out they should not preclude the use of appropriate technology in ministry.

Most software engineers gather user data to focus their development efforts to meet customer expectation. Jewell assumes a committee form of government in the church and that it can be tweaked to gather the right kinds of data for decision making. While the committee form of church government is common and valid for many churches, that is not a universal. My own experience is that people get their decision making paradigms from either work or family. I have seen people with a blue collar background being asked questions and they not respond with their input what they think the leader wants to hear. They are working off of the paradigm that they are there to support the boss. If there really is no boss, they will identify who the boss should have been, then watch to see what that person wants. Sometimes this sort of thinking will lead to a person who has this mind set to be very cooperative until you tread on their domain. Some churches with this sort of mind set will look to the pastor to make all the decisions or some lay leader. Implementing technology when this mind set is present, the process must be adjusted so that it takes into account the decision making process of the people. If it is a committee just go with it. If the church is used to a more top down approach, then educating and getting buy into decisions through the formal or informal power structures is a necessity.

Jewell does an excellent job of discussion the implementation of technology within the small to medium sized church. One of the areas that I might quibble with though is his definition of evangelism. He seems to equate marketing with evangelism. While marketing of the church is important, it is not the same as proclaiming the good news of the gospel. In order to see a good discussion of evangelism and technology you might try the Internet Evangelism Day or Effective Web Ministry.

I highly recommend this book. For those of you have not ever connected with people from a more liturgical background, don't worry, they don't bite. For those of you wondering what I am talking about, don't worry, it is not a big deal. If you want to borrow my copy of Wired For Ministry just ask me.
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