You are on page 1of 47

We Know More Than Our Pastors

Why Bloggers Are the Vanguard of the Participatory Church

Written By Tim Bednar

Originally published Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Updated Thursday, April 22, 2004

Table of Contents
1.0 Introduction......................................................................................................... 3
2.0 Blog Sounds Ridiculous When Said Out Loud ................................................ 5
3.0 My Cyberspace Pilgrimage ................................................................................ 6
4.0 Blogs and “Christian” Blogging........................................................................ 9
4.1 We Blog To Participate ................................................................................... 10
4.2 We Blog in the Present ................................................................................... 11
4.3 We Blog In The First Person ........................................................................... 11
4.4 We Blog As A Discipline ................................................................................. 13
4.5 We Use Blogging To Preach........................................................................... 14
4.6 We Blog To Earn Permission .......................................................................... 14
4.7 We Blog To Care ............................................................................................ 15
4.8 We Blog Build The Kingdom ........................................................................... 16
5.0 Blogging Is Being Spiritually Formed............................................................. 20
5.1 Cathedral And Bazaar..................................................................................... 20
5.2 Memex Machines............................................................................................ 21
5.3 Vanguard Of The Church ................................................................................ 22
5.4 Priesthood of All Bloggers............................................................................... 22
6.0 Problems with Blogging .................................................................................. 27
6.1 Vanity, Vanity All Is Vanity .............................................................................. 27
6.2 Seeking a Virtual Journey ............................................................................... 28
6.3 Spreading Discord .......................................................................................... 29
6.4 Cronyism and Groupthink ............................................................................... 30
6.5 Hype ............................................................................................................... 32
6.6 Question of Orthodoxy .................................................................................... 33
7.0 The Vanguard of the Participatory Church..................................................... 39
8.0 Participatory Church ........................................................................................ 42
9.0 Epilogue ............................................................................................................ 45
10.0 Index Of Names ................................................................................................ 47

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs-

NonCommercial License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons,
559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California 94305, USA.
1.0 Introduction
This paper explores how Christians are using blogging for spiritual formation and how
they are redefining the scope of Martin Luther’s “the priesthood of the believer”.
Throughout the paper, I will defend my claim that “we know more than our pastors” and
by the end of the paper, I will show why bloggers are the vanguard of what I am calling
the “participatory church”.

I started blogging July 9, 2002 and I believe that this increasingly popular online activity
signifies an impending sea change for pastors and the church. This paper is the result
of a survey I conducted from October to November 2003 and over six months of

My conclusion is simple: bloggers know more than our pastors.2 I believe that our
network of blogs exceed the reach of any single pastor. To be clear, no one thinks they
are personally smarter or more “called” than any pastor. However, as a network, we
know more than our pastors. In this, we are not alone. Thousands of bloggers
circumvent established hierarchies and relate unmediated with one another. We are
part of a participatory phenomenon that is impacting mass media, technology,
education, entertainment, politics, journalism and business.

Emboldened by this participatory movement and empowered by easy-to-use

technology, we are starting to expect different things from our churches, pastors and
denominations. We look forward to something more profound from our churches than
vision casting, finding our spiritual gifts, mall-like facilities, coffee bars and candles. We
expect to participate; we expect to co-create the church.

As bloggers, we take an active role in our personal spiritual formation. We take

seriously Paul’s admonition to participate, “When you come together, everyone has a
hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these
must be done for the strengthening of the church.”3 As we blog, we push the boundaries
of what Martin Luther meant when he wrote about the “priesthood of all believers”.4

Blogging is creating a robust and growing network of participators. We are not just a
new kind of Christian or an “emerging church” fad. We are a new kind of preacher,
theologian, pundit, apologist and church-goer. We exist outside (and inside) church
hierarchies. The phenomenon of blogging is transforming our expectations of church.
Soon this meme—a product of our online spiritual formation—will emerge from our
cyberchurch and transform the existing church.

I believe that bloggers represent a vanguard that is co-creating a new kind of

“participatory church”. In this paper, I will attempt to describe blogging, explain the
specifics of blogging, explore the participatory social movement and describe the
emerging “participatory church”.
Tim Bednar |

1 Tim Bednar, “UPDATED! Open Survey: Five Questions for Christian Bloggers”, Moxy Turtle,
October 30, 2003.
2 The Cluetrain Manifesto states that “markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than
most companies.”
Dan Gillmor’s first journalistic pivot point is “My readers know more than I do.” My claim that we
know more than our pastors extends these observations to the church.
3 1Corinthians 14:26, NIV.
4 It may be argued that Luther never intended to support my claim. He may have never meant for us
to say, “I am my own Priest,” which is essentially what I claim. Timothy George, “The Priesthood of
All Believers and the Quest for Theological Integrity,” Founders. Article first appeared in the
Criswell Theological Journal (Sp. 1989) and is reprinted by permission.

4 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

2.0 Blog Sounds Ridiculous When Said Out Loud

I will explore blogging in a moment, but first I need to confess that the term “blog”
sounds ridiculous.

“Blog. Blog. Blog.”

I blogged for about two months before I struggled to explain it to a friend. I can still see
his befuddled expression as I uttered the word “blog”.

“I started blogging about a month ago.”

“Did you say blogging?” He suppressed a snicker and smirk.

I too thought it sounded absurd. Suddenly all my enthusiasm evaporated and I began to
doubt the whole enterprise. I was able to write the word with confidence, but had never
used it in conversation.

“Yes, I said blogging.”

It sounded foreign. Blogging had become the most exciting part of my spiritual life, yet it
sounded ridiculous.

He hesitated. “Okay, what’s a blog?”

“Blogging is kind of like journaling,” I offered. “In the last year, they have become very

I admit that “blog” sounds more like a term Douglas Adams would use in Hitchhiker's
Guide To The Galaxy or a word found on the pages of my daughter’s Dr. Seuss books.
It certainly does not have the cachet of a term coined by William Gibson.

The word blog does not sound cool; it is ugly and abrupt. This is regrettable since
blogging is a uniquely literate way to interact in community.

5 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

3.0 Cyberchurch Pilgrimage

In 1998, I launched a web site, called e-Church, as an extension of my Sunday school
class. It has morphed through several iterations each intending to build a learning
community using the Internet. Each variation—magazine, classroom, and curriculum
publisher—unequivocally missed the mark.5 I spent as much time designing (and
redesigning) web pages as I did creating content. It was a burden to update the site
once a week and the results disappointed me.

I repeatedly failed to build is what I sought most—a community that fostered spiritual
formation without the limitations of time, buildings, money, programs or pastors. After
three years of maintaining e-Church on a weekly basis, I set it aside and did not update
it for the better part of 2001.

I cannot remember where I first heard of blogging, but sometime in 2002, I Googled it
and read Doc Searls’ and Dan Gillmor's blogs. I had previously used Jordon Cooper’s
web site and he pointed me to Martin Roth's Semi-definitive List of Christian Bloggers
(created April 2002), which eventually became blogs4God (July 2002).6

I finally found what I was looking for--a community of people who, like me, sought a
literary way to interact in community. For us, the Internet held a magical allure. And we
wanted to rediscover Christ for our churches, our world and ourselves. I urgently worked
to re-launch e-Church as a blog and participate in this new community.

I researched blogging tools and settled on a popular blogging platform called Movable
Type. On July 9th, 2002, I posted by first blog entry:

Established in 1997, e-church has been many things. As of today, e-church

com.munity is in the process of becoming a user-created online community
modeled after online communities like Kiro5hin and Wiki Web. I want it to be
experimental and explore what it means to be an online church. I want to take
Paul's admonition seriously:

1Corinthians 14: 26 -- What then shall we say, brothers? When you come
together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or
an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. If
anyone speaks in a tongue, two -- or at the most three -- should speak, one at a
time, and someone must interpret.

The purpose of this weblog is to openly develop e-church through online

journaling. Categories of discussion include: promotion/recruiting, mission/vision,
technology, inspiration, and ecclesiology.7

(You can see the seeds of this paper and the current e-Church blogging application in
this first post.) To my amazement, I experienced community as I blogged. In the past, I
modeled my web site after a traditional church. I expected my visitors to follow a certain,
predetermined program: I e-mail my newsletter on Fridays; they visit the site and read
the full article where at the end I pleaded for feedback. Now, as a blogger, I let go of

6 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

agenda and just started posting entries.

I blogged and read other bloggers like Andrew Careaga, Dean Peters, Jordon Cooper,
Rachel Cunliff and Alan Creech. I hyperlinked to their posts and participated in the
larger conversation. Soon, I found myself in the position of initiating memes (fragments
of culture that act like a virus) that other bloggers discussed. In time, they read my
entries and interacted with me.

Then one morning my cell rang and fellow blogger Dale Lature said, “Hello.” I never met
Dale except through his blog, now we were talking. I knew that he was going through a
rough patch of unemployment. It was a remarkable moment, but an awkward one (I am
an introvert and was caught off guard).

I got off the phone and it happened.

I opened my eyes and found myself in the midst of what can only be called the
cyberchurch. I was interacting on a spiritual level with other believers scattered across
the world. We shared ideas, but also extended concern and caring to one another.

Pioneer blogger, Bill Quick, coined the term blogosphere to represent the intellectual
space that bloggers occupy.8 As a subcategory of the blogosphere, I think that the term
cyberchurch--a network of sacred places created by believers through blogging—might
be an appropriate term to describe the subject of this paper. I believe this is similar to
Teilhard de Chardin's mystical noosphere. Chardin imagined an organic thinking layer
evolving above the visible biosphere.9 Steven Berlin Johnson believes that we
traditionally organized the Internet around pages (i.e. Yahoo! or Google). He proposes
that we can just as easily do it around minds.10

Ever since the Web entered the popular consciousness, observers have noted
that it puts information at your fingertips but tends to keep wisdom out of reach.
In a space organized around connected minds, however, the search for wisdom
becomes more promising. The Web remains a space of functionally infinite data,
but that space is increasingly mapped by human minds, linked in ways we're only
beginning to imagine. If it's wisdom you're looking for, you couldn't hope for a
better guide.

I suggest that we need to consider the Internet as a map of the soul. Before I
understood and experienced this, I arrogantly sought to establish my web site as “the”
cyberchurch created by bloggers. And late fall 2002, I re-launched e-Church. Heavily
influenced by Vannevar Bush's seminal Atlantic Monthly article, As We May Think,11 e-
Church combines the personal publishing tools of Blogger with the research tools of

As e-Church evolved and I matured in my understanding of the cyberchurch, I realized

that one web site cannot create the cyberchurch. It exists and I am a member of it
because I participate. No one created her—she manifests in the interaction of believers
who use Internet technology.

7 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

After a year of blogging, I no longer seek to be “the” cyberchurch, as the name ”e-
Church” implies, rather I participate with bloggers who collectively link the cyberchurch
into existence. (It is Alan Sondheim who said, “I write myself into existence. I write
myself out of existence.”)12

As believers use blogs for spiritual formation and organically form the cyberchurch, the
memes we co-create are emerging from cyberspace and beginning to transform the
traditional church. I believe this change will result in what may be called the
“participatory church”.

5 Internet Archive.*/

6 Martin Roth, "Christian Blogs: The Semi-Definitive List," Martin Roth Christian Commentary, July
29, 2002.
7 Tim Bednar, “An Open Letter,” weblog, July 9, 2002. Copied from offline
archive of Movable Type blog.
8 Bill Quick, “12:54 AM”, Daily Pundit, January 01, 2002. - 8315120
9 Phillip J. Cunningham, "Teilhard de Chardin and the Noosphere," Computer-Mediated
Communication Magazine, March 1997.
10 Steven Berlin Johnson, “Mind Share: BLOG SPACE: Public Storage For Wisdom, Ignorance, and
Everything in Between”, Wired, June 2003.
11 Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think”, Atlantic Monthly, 1943.
12 Joel Weishaus interviews Alan Sondheim, "Being On-line: A Conversation with Alan Sondheim",
Rhizome, June 8, 1999.

8 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

4.0 Blogs and “Christian” Blogging

I post to my blog several times a day and make daily pilgrimages to my favorite list of
bloggers. This process has revolutionized my spiritual life. It has become an important
spiritual practice that uniquely combines writing, learning, conversation, community and
prayer with an abiding incarnational13 mission.

A blog is a frequently updated web page where entries are listed in reverse
chronological order (most recent first). Blog entries typically consist of links
accompanied by commentary. They may read like dairies, op-ed pieces, letters, rants,
essays, documentaries, satire or conversations.

Bloggers usually publish a “blog roll” or their list of favorite bloggers. This usually
defines (in a fuzzy way) the affinity group to which they belong (i.e. technologists,
diarists, marketers, pundits). Blogs encourage conversation through informality,
enthusiasm for errata, comments (usually posted alongside the original entry) and
reciprocal hyperlinks. Steve Collins writes:

my blog doesn't have a theme. it's whatever i happen to feel like--noting links,
spouting about random issues and feelings--sure there's church-related stuff,
because that occupies a lot of my energies, but my blog isn't about that as such.
like i said, i assume the audience is my friends. it's the kind of things i'd say to
them over a drink or meal.14

The funny thing about defining a blog is that there are many exceptions. In the end, the
most important trait of a blog seems to be that it is updated frequently, honestly and
consistently. Darren Rowse explains his blogging regimen:

The process for me is quite rhythmic. I make time most mornings and evenings
to blog for 15 or so minutes. In a sense, it’s become a discipline. On other days,
when I have more time I will do it more.15

Enabled by wireless networking, Jordon Cooper's blogging style is more spontaneous:

I have wifi in my house and high-speed internet so a lot of things get posted
because I can and not because I really thought about it. I really admire those
blogs like Alan Creech's that can communicate deep spiritual truths far better
than I do.16

Rudy Carrasco explains how he blogs:

Someone asked how I blog so much. Well, you gotta be there mentally. If you are
in line at Starbucks and read something in the newspaper headline and think, "I'd
like to link to that," then you are most of the way home. I have a laptop, DSL at
both home and work, and wireless connectivity at both home and work. This
means that I can take my son into the bathroom for his bath and sit in the next
room, within earshot, and also blogging a thought (or answering email, or
finishing a newsletter, etc.) You get the picture. With the appropriate technology

9 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

it's not as tough (or obsessive) as it seems.17

A sub genre of blogosphere is the Christian blog. For this paper, I interviewed over four
dozen bloggers and to a person they resisted being labeled a religious, spiritual or
Christian blogger. Steve Collins explains that his blog is “not spiritual, except that
everything human is.”18 Andrew Careaga reinforces this idea; “I try to consider most of
the conscious activities as spiritual activities, even if not exactly religious.”19

This passion to live incarnationally unites these bloggers. Jordon Cooper writes about
his blog and describes what I mean:

Many of the sites 20,000 monthly visitors can't seem to get their head around
how a site that has so much about postmodern thought and the church can also
have links to the Calgary Flames and the Saskatchewan Roughriders [...] I
started to get e-mail back saying, "wait a minute, it is knowing about you that
gives the site some character and credibility.” [...] People went on to say that
without the personal stuff, the site just became a collection of links posted by
someone they don't know. My stories about my life gave it some context and
something to judge it by for good or bad.20

This holistic engagement between author and audience is what makes blogging unique
and compelling. In this respect, these “Christian bloggers” are no different than all the
other opinionated bloggers except that they intentionally bring their faith in Christ to bare
on everything that interests them: hockey, Microsoft, George W. Bush, Jennifer Lopez
or Strongbad.

4.1 We Blog to Participate

This sense of incarnational mission motivates many bloggers on a personal level
because of deep convictions. It also translates to social networks. Bloggers possess an
unsurpassed desire to participate in community. A blogger named Mumcat commented
on Maggi Dawn’s Blog:

[…]For me, blogging is putting something I think and the write about out on the
table and I can get immediate (or almost immediate) feedback. It doesn’t happen
100% of the time, but enough that it is helpful. I’m not a college professor or
published writer (just a whinin’ wannabe sometimes), and certainly everything I
blog about isn’t deep theological thoughts or even good exegesis of a text or a
cogent interpretation of a current event or trend. At the end of the day I’m just a
butt in the pews who likes to have her say, polished or not.21

There are a growing number of people whose “butts are in the pews” who desire a
deeper level of participation in the church. They are not looking for more volunteer
opportunities or chances to use their spiritual gifts (these often feel like sophisticated
recruiting schemes for bloated church programs). They do not just want to participate in
small groups or even lead them. They want a chance to set the agenda and to direct the
conversation (not permanently, but spontaneously). The numbers of those wanting a
deep level of participation in the church far outnumber the hundreds of bloggers listed in

10 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

directories like blogs4God, but we are the most visible part of this phenomenon.

4.2 We Blog in the Present

Most blogs list entries in reverse chronological order or the most recent first. Typically,
the first page of a blog publishes the most recent entries and archives the rest as
permalinks. Andrew Jones explains:

Blogging is about valuing and honoring the moment. It is about the kairos time
more than the chronos time, the opportune time more than the continuous
progressive time. Jesus said that tomorrow had enough worries. Jesus said
"Give us this DAY our daily bread." Jesus said, to his brothers who were rushing
him to the Festival, "The time for you is always right, but my time has not yet
come." His brothers were running on modern ever-progressive time, the nonstop
time that the slaves were under in Egypt, or the Yuppies in New York, or the
Salarymen in Tokyo. Jesus resisted "Time's Arrow". Jesus was running on
Kingdom time, the right and ripe time. It was not even the non-directional cyclical
time of the East. It was moment time. It was Kingdom time, kairos more than
chronos, seasonal time, opportune time. Right time. Blogging challenges me to
capture the moment. To seize the day and then reflect on it.22

The blog format forces us write in the present and leaves little time for traditional editing.
It lends to an immediate, forceful style that attempts to capture the moment. Addressing
the complaint that many blogs are thus poorly written, Andrew Jones confesses that he
writes quickly and without a spellcheck to preserve the feeling of immediacy. However,
he also admits this is also an excuse for sloppiness.23 The typical blogger modus
operandi is to write better tomorrow, instead of editing existing material. The resulting
entries are informal, spontaneous, reflective entries.

Blogs may be likened to a fire; they demand a continuous supply of fuel in order to
provide light and heat. Occasionally, we get our hands on some good dry wood, but
other times we make due with damp, mealy sticks. Either way, we need to throw it on
the fire. Some days I blog well, but what matters is that blog.

4.3 We Blog in the First Person

We blog in the first person. We try not to hide behind worn out platitudes, like “the Bible
says”, rather we say what we think and take responsibility for it. As an example of a
spiritual blogger's commitment to incarnational mission, I offer this entry posted Alan
Creech at 11:19 A.M. October 16, 2003 where he explicitly revealed his thoughts
regarding a friend who expressed marital doubts:

Married for 10 years with a 5 year old son. And then, suddenly, he thinks perhaps
they've been incompatible all along and made a mistake. WHAAAATT???? I
realize things are more complicated than they appear in the beginning - most
always. I am married you know. But here is my basic response to this deal --

Then at 11:24 P.M. after over two-dozen comments, he posted this follow up entry:

11 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

I don't understand what went on with that last post. I don't even understand
myself. How can I get so emotionally torn up over stuff like this? I don't
understand that any more than I do sneak attacks. I was going to take the post
down. I think I've decided against that now. I said what I said. It may be right or
wrong or whatever. It was genuinely what I thought. If I've hurt or offended
anyone, I am very sorry. If my language has likewise caused you offense, I
apologize. I'm sure I'll still talk that way in the future as well as I have in the past,
but I don't do it with some underlying intention of making people mad. I feel like
I've stepped into a hornet's nest. Not pleasant. I want to say once again, that I do
not hate anyone. I may not always say the right things but I do not say what I say
out of any kind of hate.25

I have read Alan Creech for over a year. He is vulnerable and transparent with his
journey and many read him for just that reason. Alan does not hide behind platitudes in
either post. Leila Fast explains the value of being vulnerable:

When I started this blog, I did so on the premise that I would be painfully honest.
I decided that this would be a place, perhaps the only place, where I would bare
it all. As time went by and more people who knew me started reading, I had to be
a little more selective, choosing not to write about certain topics, but staying as
raw as I could and taking whatever chances that involved. I understood that there
are risks involved with posting any kind of personal information on the internet.

[...] But as bloggers we share with one another the things on our hearts and the
thoughts in our heads, and this is the information that draws us together. For this
reason I hold steadfastly to my theory that absolute vulnerability is the only
reason I have for writing. Anything less is pointless…mediocrity is not something
I aspire to, although I achieve it so frequently.26

This authenticity is the juice that often keeps bloggers publishing. We support and
validate those who are vulnerable even if we disagree with them because we do not
want to break the fragility of this unwritten pact. Being vulnerable also opens the door to
misunderandings, hurt feelings and errors. A recent study reported that 36% of the
bloggers surveyd have “gotten in trouble because of things they have written on their
blogs.”27 I wrote this at my blog following a recent dust-up over Andrew Jones’ use of
the word girl when speaking about women in ministry:28

It is a lesson to all us bloggers to think before we hit post. It also teaches us that
if we don't think, there is forgiveness and understanding waiting for us who are
willing to stay in there and keep in the conversation.29

Blogging in the first person is deeply personal and spontaneous. For example, I will
describe how I write my blog. Bartleby published this quote by Ray Bradbury:

"Run fast, stand still. This, the lesson from lizards. For all writers. Observe almost
any survival creature, you see the same. Jump, run, freeze. In the ability to flick
like an eyelash, crack like a whip, vanish like steam, here this instant, gone the

12 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

next—life teems the earth. And when that life is not rushing to escape, it is
playing statues to do the same. See the hummingbird, there, not there. As
thought arises and blinks off, so this thing of summer vapor; the clearing of a
cosmic throat, the fall of a leaf. And where it was—a whisper. What can we
writers learn from lizards, lift from birds? In quickness is truth. The faster you
blurt, the more swiftly you write, the more honest you are. In hesitation is thought.
In delay comes the effort for a style, instead of leaping upon truth which is the
only style worth deadfalling or tiger-trapping. In between the scurries and flights,
what? Be a chameleon, ink- blend, chromosome change with the landscape. Be
a pet rock, lie with the dust, rest in the rainwater in the filled barrel by the
drainspout outside your grandparents’ window long ago (Zen in the Art of

To write in the first person, I write by “blurting”. I do not find that ideas emerge
consistently--rather they seem to pounce upon me, dig in their claws, tear at the heart,
then bound over the horizon. If I do not record them quickly, I lose them like a half-
waking dream.

In the liminal moments, I find rest, calm down, and absorb. I swell like a sponge,
soaking up the information and data around me. In these times, I do not work. I seek to
recognize the memes. Later, I will attempt to find the trails between them.

To do this, the most difficult thing is to turn off my internal censor. This does not refer to
turning off my moral compass, rather I attempt to disengage from the rules that I have
been taught by tradition. When I do this, the world and God have a better chance to
appear to me at is it with less mediation.

An example might be when looking at a new meme, I try to turn off everything I have
been taught about it. I start with questions, giving myself freedom to ask anything,
question everything. I need to see this meme as it is rather that as I say it is -- or worse,
they way others say it has been.

This is where I 'blurt'. I grasp at ideas that flash upon my conscious, but I also seek to
experience what feelings lie beneath. What is my unconscious saying? How do I feel
about this text? Do I hear God speaking to me? What is He saying?

Once I have immersed myself in my subjective experience -- then I take my

observations and test them against reason and offer them to the blogging community. I
leave a great deal unpublished, but then there emerges the odd meme that shocks,
turns my head and changes my life. The Spirit rushes over me and I change. It is then
that I blog. It is not always such a epiphany, but never the less the process seems

4.4 We Blog as a Discipline

Blogging is a regular, interactive discipline where I find God in community. It is a
discipline because blogging intentionally seeks to connect with God through hypertext.
For most people (including authors), writing is a difficult and often draining experience.

13 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

Henri J.M. Nouwen expounds:

We should know that a spiritual life without discipline is impossible. Discipline is

the other side of discipleship. The practice of a spiritual discipline makes us more
sensitive to the small, gentle voice of God.

It is interactive because it requires an audience and invites participation. Mike McKee

explains, “I share my journey, not as a model but to just say, 'Here I am, kicking rocks
down the street, too.'” Dallas Willard says in an interview regarding community and
spiritual disciplines

...they are much more effective if they can be practiced in community, and you
can't really practice them without community. If you have a community where
they are understood as a normal part of our lives, there can be instruction or
teaching about them, which brings about a kind of accountability.31

Bloggers crave interaction and community. We desire to find the “truth” not as isolated
individuals, who get revelations directly from God, instead we believe the truest truth is
found collectively.

4.5 We Use Blogging to Preach

We use blogging to preach (or proclaim) the gospel to our postmodern culture by telling
our stories, rather than reasoned apologetic or homiletic craft. Alan Creech explains
how bloggers redefine “preaching” by infusing it with incarnational and participatory

[...] preaching, as I see it to mean “proclaiming the good news” is something that
is to be done [by] every believer with their lives. So, in so much as I am a
member Christ's body, and I am living my life, and in some way I put my life and
thoughts out there for people to see everywhere, I am “preaching” by being who I
am and saying what I think.32

This type of preaching that bloggers employ radically departs from the altar-call modality
of evangelical pulpits and step-by-step discipleship programs (i.e. 40 Days of
Purpose).33 We do not come to conclusions, articulate 'takeaways' or create 'either/or'
situations. Bloggers present the truth and curiosities of their lives. Thus, our audience is
responsible to synthesize and discover their truth. We release ourselves from the
responsibility of having to “lead someone to Christ” or disciple them. We have no other
agenda than to share the truth as we experience it, yet it is our belief that the Holy Spirit
speaks through us. Thus, we preach.

4.6 We Blog to Earn Permission

As bloggers, we not only redefine preaching, but evangelism as well. We earn the
permission of people before we speak in to their lives. For example, because Googlebot
crawls my blog daily, thousands of visitors have read my thoughts on Johnny Cash,
Hurt, Trent Reznor, and Nine Inch Nails or my explanation of the Corpus Christi Film

14 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

Urban Legend because they typed keywords into Google.34 This new way of evangelism
evolves out of Christians using Internet technology. Rachel Cunliff explains it better:

Blog posts are somewhat timeless. I have people come and leave comments on
posts I wrote ages ago and sometimes the conversation is 'lit' again. Google
enables people to find posts that interest them, no matter what the date.35

This kind of contextual relevance means that I have a permission to interact with a
person at the moment of their interest. Fast Company interviews Seth Godin who
contrasts permission verse interruptive marketing practices in business:

The biggest problem with mass-market advertising, Godin says, is that it fights
for people's attention by interrupting them. A 30-second spot interrupts a
"Seinfeld" episode. A telemarketing call interrupts a family dinner. A print ad
interrupts this article. "The interruption model is extremely effective when there's
not an overflow of interruptions," Godin says. "But there's too much going on in
our lives for us to enjoy being interrupted anymore."

The new model, he argues, is built around permission. The challenge for
marketers is to persuade consumers to volunteer attention - to "raise their hands"
(one of Godin's favorite phrases) - to agree to learn more about a company and
its products. "Permission marketing turns strangers into friends and friends into
loyal customers," he says. "It's not just about entertainment - it's about

Bloggers infuse evangelism with holistic, incarnational values, thus redefining it with
their the use of Internet technology. No other form of “evangelism” has achieved this
kind of access; Google (as well as other search technologies like Blogdex, Technorati,
Feedster or Feed Demon) places my blog at the crossroads of the marketplace of ideas
at the moment when people want to discuss it. As they search the web, I am invited in
to people's lives; I get permission to speak about how I apply the gospel to Johnny Cash
and Nine Inch Nails, The Da Vinci Code, or The Star Wars Kid. This is a radical
departure from interruptive practices of direct mail, revivals, or Evangelism Explosion.

I think it is impossible to understate the ability of blogging to affect our culture. As we

post, we are able to affect the tenor, direction and conclusions of the culture industry37.
In the last year, I have gotten permission to dialog with people over the Dixie Chicks,
Rocori school shootings, The Da Vinci Code and whether Jesus smoked pot.

4.7 We Blog to Care

Blogging promotes real world care and concern. To “offliners” this seems
counterintuitive, however, the fact is that blogging is a way to care for others. Jordon
Cooper revealed in an Ooze message board:

When my wife Wendy had her miscarriage a little over a month ago. I went
downstairs and posted it when we got home in the middle of the night. By the
next morning, many people who only know me through my weblog had e-mailed,

15 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

commented on the site and later on made several phone calls to see if we
needed anything. At the time, I was on staff of a church of 1500 people who went
on and on about being an authentic community. Outside of my son's godparents,
not a single phone call from any of the staff and leadership.

There is a reason we flock online. There is people, interaction, and community

here that in many ways is more real than in the offline world.38

Blogging is more than an echo chamber, kicking rocks down the street or navel-gazing.
It often results in real world changes in the form of new relationships, social justice,
inner transformation and ecclesiastical reformation. As with the Dean For Amercia
campaign, we are only beginning to experience the changes made possible by social
networking applications like blogging.

4.8 We Blog Build the Kingdom

We blog in community in order to find spontaneous relationships that build the Kingdom
in the “real world”.39 Steve Berlin Johnson quotes Kurt Vonnegut:

In his classic novel Cat's Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut explains how the world is divided
into two types of social organizations: the karass and the granfalloon. A karass is
a spontaneously forming group, joined by unpredictable links, that actually gets
stuff done? as Vonnegut describes it, "a team that do[es] God's Will without ever
discovering what they are doing." A granfalloon, on the other hand, is a "false
karass," a bureaucratic structure that looks like a team but is "meaningless in
terms of the ways God gets things done."40

Chad Canipe explains in an e-mail how this works in the karass-like cyberchurch:

Blogging has provided an avenue for building relationships that just wasn't there
in days past. I would've never imagined just a few years ago having
conversations with acquaintances from the other side of the globe. But one of the
most satisfying results of my blogging experience has been local people finding
me and the resulting friendships. In fact, I meet with weekly here in Cincinnati
with a group of guys that has become affectionately known as "fight club." This
group consists of fellow bloggers and church planter-types, Kevin Rains, Chris
Marshall, Glenn Johnson and myself. In fact, this past weekend, all of our
families (wives, kids and all) all got together for an evening of hanging out and

Out of this nucleus, an even larger movement here in the midwest has emerged.
A semi-regular gathering of likeminded leaders from different emerging churches
and networks from several midwestern states gets together here in Cincinnati.41
The vast majority of these folks all got connected to each other through an ever-
expanding relational network that was facilitated by the web and weblogging.
This has been very, very rewarding.

Another personal friendship that come about has been with David Moutz, a fellow

16 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

pastor/church planter here in Cincinnati, who found my blog via a guy in his core
group. We exchanged emails and phone calls and eventually began meeting
together fairly regularly to support one another.

Each of the guys that I've mentioned are now like brothers to me. It's not an
overstatement to say that they are the closest friends that I have. I feel extremely
blessed that God saw fit to connect us.

Chad captures the potential of blogging to build not just a cyberchurch, but also the
Kingdom of God. Blogging has evolved into an advanced social networking tool. Edward
Cone writes about how the Dean For America campaign's uses the Internet's social
networking technology:

Online tools are a way to get people to act -- to meet in the physical world, to put
up flyers and posters, write letters and checks, speak to other people face to
face. And ultimately, to get out and vote. "The Internet is moving from information
technology to organizing technology," she says, sitting in a windowless
conference room at the campaign's offices. "I e-mail you that I like Dean, maybe
you'll tell your wife. If I tell you face to face, you'll tell everyone."42

The Dean campaign model demonstrates a best practice that can translate in the
church. As we apply this same concept to the Gospel, Bill Bean offers this Dietrich
Bonhoeffer quote:

God has put this Word into the mouth of men in order that it may be
communicated to other men. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks
it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the
witness of a brother...the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God's
Word to him....again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for
by himself he cannot help himself...43

Jordon Cooper, Spensor Burke of The Ooze and Charlie Wear of Next-Wave organize
and promote IndieAllies gatherings using the same MeetUp technology as the Dean For
America campaign44. As of April 2004, there are 2154 people in 362 cities that make up
this loosely joined group of independent Christian thinkers worldwide that meet to
discuss “acts of compassion and the church in our postmodern culture”.

Martin Roth points to Darren Rowse where he notes that the Living Room is: “steadily
morphing into far more than just a simple blog. Darren is pro-active. He doesn’t simply
write down stuff and then invite comments or suggestions. He’s actually making
community. His latest venture is a bloggers’ kris kringle – an anonymous exchange of
Christmas gifts.”45 Darren expects to connect over 23 bloggers this Christmas in a
virtual, anonomous gift exchange and Blogger Idol.46

Ashely Benigno created something called “grid blogging”, which can be defined as a
distributed media production model spread across blogosphere nodes.47 By placing
“[grid::topic]” in the blog entry title, search engines like Google are able to gather every
related blog entry about a particular subject. Bloggers like Andrew Jones and Jordon

17 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

Cooper initiated a grid blog for Advent.

This penchance to use virtual reality to more fully engage real life is the basis for my
forecasting that the existing church will (in time) have to deal with the memes bloggers
are co-creating.

13 Richard J. Foster's Renovare ministry defines incarnation as "making present and visible the realm
of the invisible spirit. This spiritual dimension addresses the crying need to experience God as truly
manifest and notoriously active in daily life" and quotes 2 Corinthians 4:7, "We have this treasure in
earthen vessels."
14 Steve Collins, e-mail survey, October 26, 2003.
15 Darren Rowse, e-mail survey, October 30, 2003.
16 Jordon Cooper, e-mail survey, October 29, 2003.
17 Rudy Carrasco, Urban Onramps, November 7, 2003, 7:52 AM.
18 Steve Collins, email survey.
19 Andrew Careaga, e-mail survey, October 24, 2003.
20 Jordon Cooper, “Blogging: Advice for Church Websites”, Next-Wave, April 2002.
21 Mumcat, “Comment on The Blog: A new form of writing? or a new form of transmission?”, Maggi
Dawn’s Blog, February 17, 2004.
Mumcat’s blog, The Cat's Cradle, can be found at
22 Andrew Jones, “The Skinny on Postmodernity No.3 - Time and Space: Being NowHere”, The
Ooze, April 23, 2002.
23 Andrew Jones, “The Skinny on Postmodernity No.3 - Time and Space: Being NowHere.”
24 Alan Creech, October 16, 2003.
25 Ibid.
26 Leila Fast, Little Bear, November 06, 2003, 11:00 PM.
27 Fernanda Viégas, “Blog Survey: Expectations of Privacy and Accountability,” January 2004.
28 Andrew Jones, “The Girls Post: A Definitive History,” Tallandskinnykiwi, Feburary 2004.
29 Tim Bednar, ” The Women In Ministry and ‘Girl’ Saga: The Importance of Language In
Postmodernism,” Moxy Turtle, Feburary 24, 2004.
30 Ray Bradbury, “Run Fast…”, Zen in the Art of Writing, 1989.
31 Dallas Willard, “Disciplines in a Postmodern World”, taken from an interview published in Radix
magazine, Vol. 27, No. 2.
32 Alan Creech, e-mail survey, October 27, 2003.
33 Rick Warren, “40 Days of Purpose,” Purpose Driven Church.
34 Googlebot.
35 Rachel Cunliff, e-mail survey, October 27, 2003.
36 Interview with Seth Godin, “Permission Marketing”, Fast Company, Issue 14, April 1998.
37 Reference to Theodor W. Adorno, “The Culture Industry”, 1944.'s Culture Industry.htm
38 Jordon Cooper. “The Ooze Message Board, Is it ok to only attend Church in cyber space?
Message #11330, The Ooze, November 30, 2002 10:47 AM.

18 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

39 I have found this distinction dubious. I believe there is a corollary between virtual reality and reality
and the visible and invisible aspect of the Kingdom of God.
40 Steve Berlin Johnson, “Social Networks, Steve Berlin Johnson Weblog, March 13, 2003.
41 Chad is referring to Not Alone: Connecting Missional Communities In The Midwest.
42 Edward Cone, "Marketing The President", Baseline, November 17, 2003.,3959,1386051,00.asp
43 Bill Bean, "Life Together, Chapter 1: Community," The Unnecessary Pastor, December 04, 2003.
44 IndieAllies.
45 Martin Roth, "Cybermonks and the Liquid Church," Martin Roth Christian Commentary, December
8, 2003.
46 Darren Rowse, "Secret Santa Blogger," Living Room, December 05, 2003.
47 Ashely Benidgo, "Grid blogging (an invitation)," notes from somewhere bizarre, November 7, 2003.

19 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

5.0 Blogging Is Being Spiritually Formed

By calling and gifting, I am a teacher who has long desired to find a way to promote
spiritual formation using the Internet. The portal model of Crosswalk and Gospelcom
push so-called Christian information; MethodX offers online versions of ancient spiritual
disciplines; Beliefnet and The Ooze build community through message boards. Other
sites like Next-Wave, Relevant and Christianity Today continue to publish articles using
a magazine model.

With regard to spiritual formation, these models possess a fatal flaw—members have no
way to take essential formative step of application and responsibility. In short, the few
people creating these sites are actively engaging in spiritual formation online, but their
audience is de facto excluded from that process. Even though they may participate in
message boards or chat rooms, they do not own their work, which is an essential to
spiritual formation.

My blog is a place where spiritual formation is accomplished; where I gather loose

strands of conversation; where I participate in the church by writing about my spiritual
journey; where I am held accountable.

I use term “place” for a reason. Other web ministry models own their content. I visit
them and leave a message or chat in their domain. As a blogger, I own my content and
that encourages a sort of honesty not found in offline church settings. Elijah Fan
explains, “It’s nice to be able to share my thoughts without having to worry about
offending people, because it’s on my own site.”48 This makes blogging a powerful tool
for spiritual formation. When you maintain your own blog and bypass the structures of
traditional Christian education, you become more aware, more introspective, and more
connected. You take responsibility for your spiritual formation.

5.1 Cathedral and Bazaar

Jordon Cooper reminded me of a seminal book written by Eric Steven Raymond. Using
the metaphor of the cathedral and bazaar, Raymond conveys explains the novel
development process used to create the open source operating system, Linux:

Linus Torvalds's style of development—release early and often, delegate

everything you can, be open to the point of promiscuity—came as a surprise. No
quiet, reverent cathedral-building here—rather, the Linux community seemed to
resemble a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches [...]out of
which a coherent and stable system could seemingly emerge only by a
succession of miracles.49

Bloggers have learned to use a similar process. We gather memes50 from diverse
sources and post blog entries quickly. We do not formulate full concepts, but iterations.
We are open almost to the point of promiscuity (or heresy) and uncompromisingly
reserve the right to change our mind. Andrew Jones explains the dynamism of the
iterative process:

20 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

I write something in the morning, publish it, and by the evening it has been
discussed, argued over, linked to, and the response has already been sent back
to me for feedback (or repentance).51

The blogging cyberchurch is not a cathedral with set rules, processes or content, rather
it is a bazaar that bloggers wonder around attempting to create order using hypertext. I
contend that blogging reinforces the real process of spiritual formation better than
seminaries and Sunday school classes. It forces the blogger to set their own course,
discover their own truth in public where they take responsibility for their beliefs.

A magazine article, Quicktime movie or Flash animation is an artifact of spiritual

formation, but a blog is a record of the very process of spiritual formation. We see our
individual entries like static frames of a movie--when projected at 24 fps they create
motion. While movies are an illusion, my blog represents real spiritual activity.

5.2 Memex Machines

As records of spiritual formation, blogs act like Vannevar Bush's prescient memex
machine. In his July 1945 Atlantic Monthly article, “As We May Think”, he describes a
mechanical machine that helps researchers track multiple trails of data.

Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private
file and library. It needs a name, and, to coin one at random, "memex" will do. A
memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and
communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with
exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his

Blogs are memex machines that promote spiritual formation through peer review, open
conceptualization and continual refinement. This promotes spiritual formation because
over time, the introspective blogger sees trends that demand assessment. Chad Canipe
blogged about this process:

I've noticed -- and maybe you have, too -- that my writing here has been on a
more superficial level over the past few weeks, and it's bugging me.

Before you brush off this comment as just another example of over-analytical
navel-gazing by a narcissistic blogger (heck, I'm even tempted to think that), let
me state my case for why it's not.

I think part of the "spiritual discipline" of blogging (chuckle if you like, but it can
be) for me is that it serves as a sort of stethoscope that listens to the condition of
my heart/soul. What am I learning? How am I living? What's important to me?
What's not important? Am I growing? Where can I see God at work in the midst
of my life?

I think those sorts of questions get answered when I read back over my recent
posts. So when I find it hard to write anything of substance, it tells me that I'm

21 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

either too busy or I'm drifting or coasting through life. I mean, for Pete's sake, I'm
writing more about my bathroom tile than I am about what's going on at soul-
level. Granted, we all encounter seasons of rest and work, freshness and
stagnation. The process of maturity in life is never a straight line -- the need for
mid-course corrections are inevitable. So, that's where I am at the moment.
Sensing the need for some change in my soul. Not in a self-loathing, "miserable
Christian" sort of way, but with an attitude that says "Thank you, Lord, for
nudging me again."53

I used my blog archive to write large sections of this paper and offer it as an example of
the value of using a blog as a memex machine. If I did not use text directly from my
post, I certain used my blog to augment my memory for this research.54

5.3 Vanguard of the Church

I am unable to empirically prove this thesis. However, I suspect that blogging
propagates not only the cyberchurch, but is the vanguard of the church (whether
Catholic or Southern Baptist or the so-called Emerging Church55). I believe that blogs
are where the newest memes emerge and spread. Darren Rowse explains the
connection between blogging and emerging church modalities:

For me it functions as a sounding board as I think about theology, church, etc. I

often post questions that I'm thinking through or ideas for church activities. I love
that there are people like me around the world experimenting with new forms of
church like me. [...] I don't see blogging as me telling others how to do church or
ministry, but rather as a way of learning and forming is very

I do not contend that we are completely original in our thinking. We are often accused of
getting excited about something outside our personal tradition and then shouting
“eureka” even though it has been part of church tradition for 200 years. However, those
who think we are cute because we are reconnecting with our ancient past must
remember that the Renaissance was birthed by the rediscovery of Greek culture. We
will mature and cease having the faux epiphanies. And in the process, we may do some
original work and impact church history. And it may be a sad day when we stop being
excited by uncovering “new” aspects of our faith.

5.4 Priesthood of All Bloggers

The bazaar of the blogging cyberchurch is naturally susceptible to excesses, untruths,
syncretism or blatant heresy. It is not a homogeneous, well-ordered or accurately
labeled universe. There is no pastor to shepherd it or denomination handing out
credentials. We take Martin Luther's concept of the priesthood of all believers to its
extreme conclusion.

The bloggers I surveyed seem to organically work out their conflicts over faith, doctrine
or praxis through peer review and vetting. Bloggers take their faith seriously and actively
engage in the process of spiritual formation. This naturally causes them to protect what

22 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

they believe to be true about the church, faith, praxis and the Bible. We
unsystematically correct and challenge one-another.

In the process, the stories of truth seem to gather strength and eventually overshadow
stories of untruth. This is not accomplished through elimination of minority voices; there
is no Darwinian “survival of the fittest” at work except that only very motivated bloggers
blog for more than two months.57 This filtering process is aptly represented by the
PageRank algorithm, which Google uses to rank search results:

PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast
link structure as an indicator of an individual page's value. In essence, Google
interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. But,
Google looks at more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; it
also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are
themselves "important" weigh more heavily and help to make other pages
"important." Important, high-quality sites receive a higher PageRank, which
Google remembers each time it conducts a search.58

None of those I surveyed felt that orthodoxy, doctrine, theology or the Bible were
threatened by blogging. Darren Rowse sums up the basic approach that bloggers

I'm not sure it is necessary to authenticate another persons faith over the
internet. My approach is that we are all on spiritual Journeys (does that sound
too new age?). My role is not to authenticate another person's faith, but rather do
everything I can to help those around me (virtually and in real life) to move
towards Jesus.59

George Ertel is a little more precise:

Do I need to authenticate believers? Loosely, I guess. Paul was content to have

the gospel preached even by those with weak motives.60 I expect everyone has
some bad theology, so I am content to fellowship with those who assert that
Jesus is the only Lord. Personally, I feel this will include some who profess belief
without repentance, but I’d rather be more accepting than more exclusive.61

Bloggers are not looking for theological debates, watertight syllogisms, acclaim or
credentials. Rather, they make the process of spiritual formation their apologetic. Mike
McKee explains:

I believe that credibility comes from consistency and dedication. Showing up to

post on a regular basis helps. A body of work with lots of posts gives people
plenty of material on which to judge your credibility.62

You will notice that Mike does not mention any theological criteria, rather he judges
according to a blogger’s commitment to the process. Rick Stillwell explains how these
subjective judgments are made:

23 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

People will show their colors; you'll just know. But I don't like setting up some
criteria that will probably always leave someone out. God judges the heart, I can
only read their stuff - and if it's worth sharing, it's worth sharing regardless of the
label or tag we want to attach to it.63

This does not mean that bloggers are relativists (although some are)—it simply means
they do not objectify spiritual progress. They recognize its iterative nature and prefer a
subjective inwardness similar to the kind Soren Kierkegaard describes in his August 1,
1935 journal entry:

What I really need is to be clear about what I am to do, not what I must know,
except in the way knowledge must precede all action. It is a question of
understanding my destiny, of seeing what the Deity really wants me to do; the
thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to
live and die. And what use here would it be if I were to discover a so-called
objective truth, or if I worked my way through the philosophers' systems and were
able to call them all to account on request, point out inconsistencies in every
single circle? And what use here would it be to be able to work out a theory of the
state, and put all the pieces from so many places into one whole, construct a
world which, again, I myself did not inhabit but merely held up for others to see?
What use would it be to be able to propound the meaning of Christianity, to
explain many separate facts, if it had no deeper meaning for myself and for my
life? [...] What use would it be if the truth were to stand before me, cold and
naked, not caring whether I acknowledge it or not, and inducing an anxious
shudder rather than trusting devotion? Certainly I won't deny that I still accept an
imperative of knowledge, and that one can also be influenced by it, but then it
must be taken up alive in me, and this is what I now see as the main point. It is
this my soul thirsts for as the African deserts thirst for water.64

In the cyberchurch—there is no authority that determines what is 'in' and what is 'out'.
Steve Collins explains offers an excellent explanation:

A 'closed set' is defined by a boundary - all that is inside belongs to the set, all
that is outside does not.

Applying this to the Church, 'closed set' believers have a 'territorial' concept of
God's kingdom, enclosed within a boundary. Membership comes through
crossing the boundary in an act of conversion. Once inside Kingdom territory,
care must be taken not to cross the boundary again.

An 'open set' has no 'territorial' boundary, but is defined by relationship with a

centre: all that is moving towards the centre, seeking relationship, belongs; all
that is moving away, abandoning relationship, does not.

[...] In the open-set model the Church appears as a fluid network of relationships.
The shape and structure of the Church changes constantly as components move
and connections change. It cannot be frozen at one moment in time, or fixed in a

24 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

particular pattern. Any maps of the Church are snapshots and provisional

The blogging cyberchurch de facto works like a Collin’s “open set”. The network
unsystematically becomes the governing authority. There is no formal action (no one is
de-listed or censored). But that does not mean no action is taken.

The cyberchurch hyperlinks to those who are moving towards Christ—this highlights the
truth without having to eliminate untruth. Bloggers use an appreciative filter that helps
them determine the direction of the blogger they are reading. We link to what is good,
Google or Popdex aggregates these links, and over time the network distills that
information to produce the truest truth.66

We hold to—however lightly--the objective and certain reality of God; however, we

believe the truth is discovered as we live, link and blog in community. In this, we are
spiritually formed in the image of Christ and participate in the church.

48 Elijah Fan, e-mail survey, November 6, 2003.

49 Eric Steven Raymond, “The Cathedral and the Bazaar”, September, 11 2000.
50 A meme is an "idea considered as a replicator, esp. with the connotation that memes parasitize
people into propagating them much as viruses do." Coined from anology to 'gene' by Richard
Dawkins. "Meme", The Hackers' Dictionary of Computer Jargon.
51 Andrew Jones e-mail survey.
52 Vannevar Bush.
53 Chad Canipe, “Midcourse Correction”, September 25, 2003.
54 Here is a list of blog entries that informed this paper in ascending chronological order: "Google
Adsense; My Dreams; My Wife Decides To Stay At Home; And My Jesus Year," August 20, 2003.
"BloggingXXX: The Need For An Audience," September 2, 2003.
"BloggingXXX: Questions I'm Thinking," September 5, 2002.
"We Know More Than Our Pastors: The New Amateur Clergy Preachers," October 16, 2003.
"Participatory Media And the Changing Roles of Preachers: This Rise of Bloggers As The New
Amateur Preachers," October 16, 2003.
55 Earl Creps, "Emerging Culture/Emerging Church Resources v2.0," AGTS, August 7, 2003.
56 Darren Rowse e-mail survey.
57 This survey reports that 66% of blogs are abandoned after two months. “The Blogging Iceberg: Of
4.12 Million Weblogs, Most Little Seen and Quickly Abandoned”, Perseus Development
Corporation, October 4, 2003.
58 “Google Technology”, Google. Emphasis added.
59 Darren Rowse e-mail survey.
60 John references Phillipians 1:17-18, NIV.
61 John Ertle e-mail survey, November 7, 2003.
62 Mike McKee, e-mail survey, November 7, 2003.

25 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

63 Rick Stillwell, e-mail survey, November 7, 2003.

64 D. Anthony Storm's Commentary On Kierkegaard, “Journals and Papers.”
65 Steve Collins, “Set Theory”, Small Ritual.
66 Phillipians 4:8, NIV.

26 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

6.0 Problems with Blogging

I have purposely avoided using the term Christian blog and employ the term only in
order to place us in a context, but not label us. I just want to demonstrate that we are
not technical, business or marketing blogs. I use the term blogging solely to place us the
wider context of the blogosphere. The biggest problem with “Christian blogging” is being
labeled as a Christian Blogger. Michael Cossarwal argues against labeling blogs

I am a Christian. My belief and relationship with Christ is the centre and pinnacle
of my life. My worldview influences my every thought and action. My words are
soaked in my faith. But only a eighth or less of my posts deal with religion in any
direct aspect. I write about life. Though life be effused with the divine, so is it also
filled to overflowing with the secular. To abandon the secular is to lose
perspective - and what good is a writer with no perspective?

I am a Christian and this is my blog. But this will never-ever-in-a-million-years-

ever be a Christian Blog. [..] This is a Life Blog. Good, bad, and ugly. I embrace
life for what it is, holy and secular, and write of coalescence. I am The Dane and
this is my Life Blog. Welcome to it.67

For all the promise that blogging holds for spiritual formation, it also is wrought with
warnings, pitfalls and hype. If we are to realize the potential of this phenomenon, we
need to find ways to deal with the problems inherit in the discipline of Christian blogging
even if we do not label it as such. This also does not prevent us from judging the
enterprise as Christians.

6.1 Vanity, Vanity All Is Vanity

The most prevalent critique of blogging is noted in this quote of Elizabet Osder by Noah

"Bloggers are navel-gazers [...] And they're about as interesting as friends who
make you look at their scrap books. [...] There's an overfascination here with self-
expression, with opinion. This is opinion without expertise, without resources,
without reporting."68

Blogs replaced vanity home pages where people aggrandized themselves by posting
narcissistic pictures and information. Anyone who follows the Daypop Top 40 (a search
engine that ranks a “list of links that are currently popular with webloggers from around
the world”) knows that bloggers are often fascinated with themselves and their
enterprise (as this white paper demonstrates).

As with any spiritual discipline (fasting, prayer, etc.), vanity often rears its ugly head in
the posts by bloggers. However, the counterbalance to vanity is built into cyberchurch
created by bloggers. Bene Diction explains why the blogging cyberchurch does not
reward vanity:

27 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

Some time ago Mark Byron wondered who would be the next 'star' or breakout
[Christian] blogger like Martin Roth had been. The bottom line from what I've
looked at is we can hope there won't be one.

Why? Blogging is interactive and immediate. There can be bloggers that gain a
group of readers because of buzz or hype. But the reality is in the god-
blogosphere the core group are ordinary people who keep at it, pay attention to
their readers, add personal content from time to time and lead by serving. They
find and link others. It isn't flash in the pan stuff. They can be current and
thoughtful without receiving a speck of celebrity type attention.69

Vanity is counterbalanced by the nature blogging; it is hard work and takes a long time
to build an audience. The so-called A-list “god-bloggers” did not seek this designation,
but it was rather bestowed on them by other bloggers by virtue of their dedication,
thoughtfulness and lack of hubris.

6.2 Seeking a Virtual Journey

The other seduction of blogging is getting trapped in seeking an anonymous, risk-free,
virtual journey that is dislocated from reality. Dr. Huber Dreyfus, Professor of Philosophy
at the University of California Graduate School, adapts Soren Kierkegaard 's critique of
the press and the public sphere in the 19th century Denmark to our use of the Internet.
Dreyfus explains Kieregaard's criticism of the public sphere which we might call the

[...] the new massive distribution of desituated information was making every sort
of information immediately available to anyone, thereby producing a desituated,
detached spectator. The new power of the Press to disseminate information to
everyone in a nation led its readers to transcend their local, personal involvement
and overcome their reticence about what did not directly concern them. As Burke
had noted with joy, the Press encouraged everyone to develop an opinion about
everything. This was seen by Habermas as a triumph of democratization but
Kierkegaard saw that the Public Sphere was destined to become a realm of idle
talk in which spectators merely pass the word along.

[...] The public sphere thus promotes ubiquitous commentators who deliberately
detach themselves from the local practices out of which specific issues grow and
in terms of which these issues must be resolved though some sort of committed
action. What seems a virtue to detached Enlightenment reason, therefore, looks
like a disastrous drawback to Kierkegaard. The public sphere is a world in which
everyone has an opinion on and comments on all public matters without needing
any first-hand experience and without having or wanting any responsibility.

He then applies this to the Internet and by virtue to blogging:

Kierkegaard would surely have seen in the Internet, with its web sites full of
anonymous information from all over the world and its interest groups which
anyone in the world can join and where one can discuss any topic endlessly

28 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

without consequences, the hi-tech synthesis of the worst features of the

newspaper and the coffee house. On their web page anyone can put any alleged
information into circulation.70

Blogging is exceptionally susceptible to this problem because it delights in errata. We

can endlessly write about a topic, transferring literate tid-bits between users never
needing to resolve the issue. The Apostle Paul warns against the seductive habit of
“always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth” (1 Timothy 3:6-8, NIV).71
Andrew Careaga explained why he stopped blogging about the church for a time:

You probably won't be seeing much talk about Christianity, church and religion
for awhile. Frankly, I'm tired of blogging about it. Tired of the factions, the petty
debates, the inchoate chorus of "God-bloggers" who bully and belittle one
another, the church, the faith, and the faith of others. The telegraphic posts. The
flotsam of links. The attempts at wit and irony. The caustic, know-it-all, soapbox
speeches. I'm tired of being a part of that crowd. I wish to wash my hands of it all.
For the time being, anyway. Of course, as soon as I say this, no doubt I'll read a
posting somewhere, or a news article, that intrigues me or angers me, and off I'll
go, into the fray, arms flailing like nobody's business, adding to the confusion and
muddle of the blogging hoard.72

All the bloggers surveyed acknowledge that spiritual formation is a process, a journey.
However, we need to reach a point where we jump off the merry-go-round and we begin
to live the truth. We can never just seek the journey or the process without taking a risk,
making commitments and choosing to do something with our knowledge. Otherwise, we
are Gnostics not Christians.

6.3 Spreading Discord

Some may see the entire enterprise as iconoclastic providing disgruntled Christians a
global platform to spread discord. It is true that many bloggers routinely criticize and
deconstruct the church, polity, praxis and doctrine. For example, my blog has followed
the plight of McGill Baptist church, pastored by Steve Ayer, which has been thrown out
of two denominations (Cabarrus Baptist Association and the Baptist State Convention of
North Carolina) for baptizing two homosexual men. I vehemently disagreed with both
associations calling their decision “asinine.“ I published this critique on September 29,

It seems that the whole problem stems from a mistaken link between baptism
and membership. From my reading of the New Testament, baptism is a
sacrament that issues the believer into the church--BUT NOT a particular church,
rather the church universal (catholic).

Why have many dominations made this link?

Because they think of baptism in 'marketing' terms. It is a way to capture

individuals and families, and promote allegiance to a particular local church--
which allows them to 'grow' (which in the last 30 years almost means buy bigger

29 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

church buildings). If that sounds crass, that is because it is. In our pursuit of
church membership growth, we often twist biblical principals into shear marketing
techniques that grow churches, rather than disciple individuals and families. As
the church, we need to repent of making such linkages because they are (at the
root) spiritually abusive and unbiblical.73

Is this spreading discord? Or is it a legitimate attack upon Christiandom?74 Some think

that I should not “touch God's anointed” (1 Chronicles 16:22 and Psalm 105:15, NIV). I
believe that entries, like mine, are what Glen Renyolds and other bloggers call “fact-
checking your ass.”75 We are entering a new era where bloggers are able to cover
church and pastoral misdeeds, hypocrisy and abuses.

By analogy, Kathy McGregor used Google to discover that her pastor and employer,
Rev. Alvin O'Neal Jackson, plagiarized many of his sermons for a year and a half76.
Also, Jackson later admitted to also plagiarizing portions of his book causing the
publisher to remove the book from the market.77

Although she is not a blogger, she employed the same values as bloggers and not
without consequences. She has received threatening e-mails accusing her of being a "a
poor excuse for a Christian and a human being”78. This is not spreading discord, but
holding leaders accountable. (As I will argue later, this is prime evidence for my thesis
that congregations know more than their pastors because they habitually underestimate
the sophistication of their congregations.)

Blogging offers lay people an unprecedented tool to express themselves without being
filtered by a church, denomination or doctrine. For many in positions of power, these
tools may represent discord, but to the rest of us, they are the 21st century tools of the
spontaneous prophet. Like any communication channel, blogging can devolve into
screeds and rants that are malicious and irrational. Other times they raise valid issues
or report real instances of abuse, hypocrisy or excesses. With each post, bloggers walk
the line between being a prophet or a problem.

We must not allow the odd (or regrettable) screed to overshadow the promise and
power of blogging. The best bloggers embrace opposing views attempting to enter into
dialog. A constructive rant is sometimes necessary to bring about change, but if it is an
end to itself, then we invalidate our mission. It is a grave miscalculation to dismiss
bloggers as cranks.

The cyberchurch created by bloggers must explore ways to address questions of

accuracy, trust, theology and orthodoxy. Not because it must answer to some
denominational or Catholic authority, but because it is a worthy discussion.

6.4 Cronyism and Groupthink

The blogging cyberchurch can produce the same sort of “groupthink” that it originally
sought to deconstruct in the traditional church. An article at the Ackley Associates
website explains how communities or networks form:

30 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

As people first gather together into a group, there may be only a rough
consensus and partial agreement on shared values, interests and modes of
behavior. Individuals may not even be consciously aware of which behavioral
patterns are common to most members. But when people of "like mind"
continually gather and live together, they create a system with strong feedback.
As they interact, their common values become mutually-reinforcing. When one
member sees most other members behaving in a certain way, that member will
tend to align with them. Over time, these behaviors strengthen into self-
sustaining "norms" and standardized, accepted behavioral patterns. 79

Then as the community matures is seeks self-preservation and prominent members of

the community attempt to maintain their status and privilege. Again Ackly Associates
explain, “Closer adherence to a core set of behavioral norms becomes necessary for
the stability of the overall community. Leaders emerge or are appointed to help maintain
order and represent the community-as-a-whole in external affairs.”80

Clay Shirky summarizes a common lament of this cultural process in the blogosphere:

A persistent theme among people writing about the social aspects of weblogging
is to note (and usually lament) the rise of an A-list, a small set of webloggers who
account for a majority of the traffic in the weblog world. This complaint follows a
common pattern we've seen with MUDs, BBSes, and online communities like
Echo and the WELL. A new social system starts, and seems delightfully free of
the elitism and cliquishness of the existing systems. Then, as the new system
grows, problems of scale set in. Not everyone can participate in every
conversation. Not everyone gets to be heard. Some core group seems more
connected than the rest of us, and so on.81

Essentially, he describes what we experienced in the schoolyard: there are cliques of

popular kids who get all the attention and privilege. Shirky reminds us that cronyism is
not malevolent, but natural:

What matters is this: Diversity plus freedom of choice creates inequality, and the
greater the diversity, the more extreme the inequality. In systems where many
people are free to choose between many options, a small subset of the whole will
get a disproportionate amount of traffic (or attention, or income), even if no
members of the system actively work towards such an outcome. This has nothing
to do with moral weakness, selling out, or any other psychological explanation.
The very act of choosing, spread widely enough and freely enough, creates a
power law distribution.82

Most of us lament this situation for envy, but this misses the real problem. This situation
makes the cyberchurch susceptible to groupthink: “a dysfunction in which some group
members attempt to preserve group harmony by suppressing the voicing of dissenting
opinion”83 Jennifer Howard at the Washington Post summarizes this critique:

What began as the ultimate outsider activity -- a way to break the newspaper and

31 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

TV stranglehold on the gathering and dissemination of information -- is turning

into the same insider's game played by the old establishment media the
bloggerati love to critique. The more blogs you read and the more often you read
them, the more obvious it is: They've fallen in love with themselves, each other
and the beauty of what they're creating. The cult of media celebrity hasn't been
broken by the Internet's democratic tendencies; it's just found new enabling

This critique can also be aimed at the blogging cyberchurch. Bloggers attempts to
circumvent the cult of charismatic church growth gurus and the Christian media
industry, but we may be simply creating another cult of blog gurus. This may turn us into
hypocrites, if we are not careful and intentional. A recent study by Hewlett-Packard also
determined that the most popular blogs are not the most innovative:

The most-read webloggers aren't necessarily the ones with the most original
ideas, say researchers at Hewlett-Packard Labs.

Using newly developed techniques for graphing the flow of information between
blogs, the researchers have discovered that authors of popular blog sites
regularly borrow topics from lesser-known bloggers -- and they often do so
without attribution.85

The so-called A-list Christian bloggers (although they may hate being labeled as such)
and portal sites like blogs4God carry a heavy burden. We need to intentionally promote
less read bloggers, for if we do not, the cyberchurch will fall victim cronyism and

6.5 Hype
When I read the hype that surrounded Google's purchase of Pyra (the company that
created Blogger), I flashed back to 1996 when the Internet was going to save the
world.86 AOL 9.0 now offers AOL Journal to its 34 million members and recently
Microsoft leaked that it is working on social networking application mysteriously called
Wallop. David Sifry, creator of Technorati (portal site that tracks over 1.2 million blogs),
estimates that a new weblog is created every 11 seconds and updated every .86
seconds.87 Perseus Development Corporation survey for BlogCon 2003 counts 4.2
million blogs, but figures two-thirds are abandoned.88

The fact that 66% of blogs are abandoned means that blogging is in fact a discipline.
And any as novice blogger can attest, gaining audience is slow and difficult. Jeffrey
Henning, COO of Persus, concludes that "Nanoaudiences are the logical outcome of
continued growth in blogs" and notes that most blogs have no more than two-dozen
readers.89 This may explain why many blogs are quickly abandoned; the majority of
bloggers toil for small audiences. Sara writes about her experience with her audience
and why she blogs:

My Christian site got one newspaper article, which massively backfired and got
me a ton of hate mail. That was a crisis which made me take the site more

32 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

seriously as a tool for ministry. The blog is just *my* journey, and if I'm getting
hostility for my journey, then maybe there are other people out there who are
also concerned that they can't be a Christian because they're not like the
Christians on TV or the ones who write angry letters to bloggers. If reading my
writing makes people feel like Christ isn't just here for Ned Flanders, then yay,
I've done my job. Also, I just like to talk about myself.90

Blogging cannot save the world or the church, but it does impact small, niche audiences
in profound ways. My research demonstrates that blogging does the work of spiritual
formation. In the end, bloggers need a better motivation than mind-share, vanity or hype
to persist. In the end, they do it for themselves in light of their incarnational mission and
their passion to participate.

6.6 Question of Orthodoxy

On June 29, 2002, Martin Roth's “Semi-definitive List of Christian Bloggers” moved to a
more technically advanced site called blogs4God. The new directory lists sites “from
professing Christians.” In August, the webmaster, Dean Peters, decided that it was
necessary to change the directory's original seven-point “Statement Of Faith” to a list of
hyperlinks to creeds, documents and confessions pertaining to “the historic tenants of
the Christian faith”.91 The purpose of the directory was to list those who practiced
“historic Christianity”. The reason for the change is that the original statement of faith
was “over the top,” 92 according to Dean Peters and did not account for historic tradition.
Peters explains, “I wanted the list to represent those who practiced Historic

I use blogs4God as an example because it seems reasonable that we should be able to

determine who is and who is not a member of the cyberchurch. It is the purpose of
orthodoxy to define a set of standard of beliefs held by followers of Christ. The problem
is that it seems that the church is unable codify this standard set of beliefs. I posted an
early version of this section online and one commentator surmised, “Orthodoxy doesn't
work, because there are too many ‘orthodoxies’.”94 Clay Shirky explains why labels, like
orthodoxy, break down when applied to a network:

Many networked projects […] have started with the unobjectionable hypothesis
that communication would be easier if everyone described things the same way.
From there, it is a short but fatal leap to conclude that a particular brand of
unifying description will therefore be broadly and swiftly adopted (the "this will
work because it would be good if it did" fallacy.)

Any attempt at a global ontology is doomed to fail, because meta-data describes

a worldview. The designers of the Soviet library's cataloging system were making
an assertion about the world when they made the first category of books "Works
of the classical authors of Marxism-Leninism." Melvyl Dewey was making an
assertion about the world when he lumped all books about non-Christian
religions into a single category, listed last among books about religion. It is not
possible to neatly map these two systems onto one another, or onto other
classification schemes -- they describe different kinds of worlds.

33 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

Because meta-data describes a worldview, incompatibility is an inevitable by-

product of vigorous argument.

The question of orthodoxy is easily answered (and even useful) within a homogeneous
community of self-interest, like a denomination, because the stakeholders approach the
topic from a common worldview. The recent election of the Episcopalian Church's first
openly homosexual bishop and the subsequent dispute teaches us the question of
orthodoxy is not easily answered. Furthermore, answering the question of who is
orthodox becomes unwieldy and distorted when applied in a global network, like the
Internet or I would contend the church, simply because there are too many so-called

This is why the modern approach to apologetics espoused by scholars, like Ravi
Zarcharias, are unable to answer the question of orthodoxy when applied to a network.
It is just impossible to craft universally accepted terms as Zarcharias claims are
essential in order to arrive at truth.95 (I would argue that the existence of some 33,830
denominations points to a fundamental impossibility of defining orthodoxy.96) I believe
that the best we can hope for is a transparent, tolerant ontology that is useful for a
particular community of self-interest, like the one employed by blogs4God. (I think it is
notable that Dean Peters solved the problem with blogs4God’s statement of faith by
creating hyperlinks to documents from church antiquity.)

The unsuccessful attempt by Donald Hughes at JesusJournal to create an “Association

of Christian Webloggers” and issue a so-called “code of conduct” demonstrated that any
attempt to control who is and who is not a Christian blogger is foolish.97 The verdict of
the blogging cyberchurch is that nothing could be more damaging to blogging. Paulo
Brown observed:

I think that such a tact can only add to the veneer of mediocrity which faith-
oriented forms of media have come to be associated with. Far better to form a
community of mutual links [blogs4God] than to artlessly throw manifestos at a
crowd which will only dismiss you as ingenuous at best.

I certainly don't want to antagonize our misguided but well-meaning brothers and
sisters in Christ at Jesus Journal, but what do you all think of this; what causes
this "visceral" response, as Bene Diction calls it? Is it because of the grasp of a
potentially legalistic religious fist, or is it just indignance at the presumptuousness
of this outsider and newcomer to the faith-based blogosphere?98

The difficulty centers on who gets to define orthodoxy and who has the authority to
apply the definition. As my earlier section suggests, “The Priesthood of All Bloggers,”
bloggers usually devise their own orthodoxy. (I argue that this is a fundamental activity
in spiritual formation.) This makes the doctrinal stance of the blogger difficult to codify,
and makes the question of orthodoxy insignificant.

Issues of orthodoxy arise when directories or researchers (like me) attempt to define
who is and who is not a Christian blogger. This question rarely gets addressed by

34 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

bloggers unless they are asked. The closest they come to addressing the issue is for
their blog roll (list of their favorite bloggers). In my research, however, bloggers
employed a generous and open filter when selecting their blog roll. They mostly
included blogs they liked or interacted with, rather than those they define as Christian.
My research indicates that most bloggers do not feel that questions of orthodoxy yield
anything very useful.

To make the case that determining the orthodoxy of bloggers is unnecessary, I offer my
adaptation of an article by Micky Kauas, “The Case Against Editors”99 (which was
written in the aftermath of the Greg Easterbrook's blogging about “Jewish executives”
Michael Eisner and Harvey Weinstein100). This is my case against the need to
authenticate the orthodoxy of a blogger:

ƒ Almost everyone can agree that seminary degrees, denominational oversight and
ordination are no guarantee of orthodoxy. Christiandom is littered with examples of
those who test long-accepted doctrines (i.e. Open Theologians) or who exist on the
margins of orthodoxy (i.e. Benny Hinn). Why should bloggers be any different? I also
reiterate my previous point that no orthodox consensus exists in the traditional
church either. Why should we expect the cyberchurch to be any different?

ƒ Furthermore, we cannot deny the fact that many bloggers produce orthodox content
without proper expertise, denominational credentials, seminary degrees or pastoral

ƒ On the other hand, it is pompous to think that church structures, degrees, pastoral
oversight and denominational credentials have no impact on protecting orthodoxy.
The real question is whether they protect it enough to make the question fruitful?
Early church history demonstrates that orthodoxy thrived before the various councils
of the early church codified it in creeds and decrees. It was just confusing. It is also a
misnomer that all bloggers are untrained, many of the bloggers I surveyed held
degrees or some credentials that provided external credibility. So, traditional
channels of preserving orthodoxy continue to work within cyberchurch.

ƒ A good question to ask is “How is blogging any different that extemporaneous

preaching or live TV?” These outlets are just as prone to mistakes and heresy. I
argue that blogging is more accountable than most media channels because
bloggers often keep extensive (unedited) archives of their material, which can be
searched, hyperlinked and commented.

ƒ Blogging has built in checks and balances that provide immediate/continuous peer
review and vetting. E-mail, comments, Google and hyperlinks compensate for
excesses and act as a corrective force. The collective brain of the blogging
cyberchurch demands that readers are editors as well as publishers.101

ƒ A case can be made that there is more wiggle room at a blog than in other genres of
gospel communication because it is a unique literary form. It is misguided to judge
blogs by the same standards as sermons, dissertations or journal articles.

35 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

Admittedly, blogging brings with it certain “dangers”. At my blog, the question of

orthodoxy is not answered by denominations, bishops or doctoral thesis, rather I answer
it with the help of the community that surrounds me. I am not sure that the church
establishment can do much to reverse this trend as society embraces self-created
experts, peer vetting, continuous-learning and posts more primary source material

At my blog, I regularly “defend” what I believe to be orthodox Christianity. In one

particular case, I commented on this statement by the Dalai Lama: “...I think it is best, if
one is a believer, to keep the religion with which one was brought up, which one is used
to, which is familiar.”102 Confused by the statement, I set out my reasons for converting
to Christianity: the foremost being that I believe it to be exclusively true. I received
several comments arguing for a universalist position. For example, Mike McKee

Since the Dalai Lama, like other good Buddhists lives his life very much in accord
with the example set by Jesus and deeply in accord with His only sermon, I
would venture to say that, in practice, his HH is a better example of actually living
the teaching of Christ than that of most Christians. Yes, Christianity is True. I
cannot believe that God is either so narrow or petty that He cannot be worshiped
in many seemingly contradictory ways. I simply don't believe that Christianity is
exclusively true. 103

While I disagree with Mike, I am not willing to cut myself off from him as he believes in
Christ. Traditional church denominations might find this untenable (they would probably
seek to proselytize him), but I believe that we are living in a new (call it postmodern) era
where we need to accept all believers in Christ not just those who ascribe to our
denominational statement. I do not see Mike as someone to convert, but a person with
whom I join in a common desire to be spiritually formed in Christ.

I believe the blogging cyberchurch is on the frontline of addressing the issues of

apologetics and orthodoxy in this new era. I believe we exist in a liminal moment where
old structures have caved in and new structures are being invented, but are not yet
formed. Using technology and stories, I argue that bloggers are creating new ways to
maintain orthodoxy in this era. These new structures will inevitably emerge from
cyberspace and impact the traditional hierarchies of the church. I believe this synthesis
will create something stronger and more creative than what existed before.

67 Michael Cossarwal, Nowwheresville USA, Thursday, August 1, 2002.
68 Noah Shactman, “Blogs Make Headlines,” Wired.,1284,56978,00.html
69 Bene Diction, "I Want To Be A Blogging Star," Bene Diction Blogs On, November 16, 2003.
70 Hubert L. Dreyfus, “Kierkegaard on the Internet: Anonymity vrs. Commitment in the Present Age,”
71 Bible Gateway.
72 Andrew Careaga, “Have you noticed?”, blogedyblog, August 21, 2003.

36 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar | - 106155543127505254
73 Tim Bednar. Baptizing Homosexuals: McGill Baptist Gets Thrown Out Of Yet Another Association,
Moxy Turtle, September 29, 2003.
74 Reference to Soren Kieregaard’s attack upon Christiandom.
75 Glen Renolds, Instapundit, May 21, 2002.
76 Bill Broadwaym, “Borrowed Sermons Roil Downtown Congregation,” Washington Post, August 16,
77 Jackson to take leave from National City will skip General Assembly, Disciple World, November 10,
78 “Woman who discovered sermon-borrowing denies tipping off Post”, Disciples World, August 20,
79 “Community Culture”, Ackley Associates, April, 13 2003.
80 Ibid.
81 Clay Shirky, “Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality”, Clay Shirky's Writings About the Internet,
February 8, 2003.
82 Ibid.
83 Chapter 13 Glossary, Communication Works 7th Edition, Teri Kwal Gamble and Michael Gamble.
84 Jennifer Howard, “It's a Little Too Cozy in the Blogosphere”, Washington Post, November 16, 2003.
85 Amit Asaravala, “Warning: Blogs Can Be Infectious,” Wired, March 5, 2004.,1284,62537,00.html?tw=wn_tophead_1
86 GartnerGroups' Hype Cycle is a termed explained by Jackie Fenn, "When to Leap on the Hype
Cycle", June 30, 1999. Concept developed in 1995.
87 David Sifry, “Technorati Growing Pains”, Sifry's Alerts, November 6, 2003, 9:25 PM.
88 “The Blogging Iceberg: Of 4.12 Million Weblogs, Most Little Seen and Quickly Abandoned”, et al.
89 Jeffrey Henning, “The Blogging Iceberg - Of 4.12 Million Hosted Weblogs, Most Little Seen, Quickly
Abandoned,” November 26, 2003.
90 Comment from Sara, UPDATED! Open Survey: Five Questions For Christian Bloggers,” Moxy
Turtle, November 10, 2003.
91 The original statement is quoted by Glenn Frazier, "What's New?,", July 29,
2003. The altered statement can be
found at "Creeds And Confessions Of Historic Christianity," blogs4God, June 1, 2002.
92 Dean Peters, “Changing The Statement of Faith: Comment #705”, Keith Devon's Weblog, August
16, 2002.
93 Comment by Mean Dean (a.k.a. Dean Peters), "BloggingXXX: Question of Othodoxy (COMMENTS
NEEDED)," Moxy Turtle, December 10, 2003.
94 Comment by Torch (a.k.a., "BloggingXXX: Question of Othodoxy
(COMMENTS NEEDED)," Moxy Turtle, December 11, 2003.
95 Ravi Zacharias, "Living an Apologetic Life," RZIM, 2003.
96 Richard N. Ostling, "Researcher tabulates world's believers," Associated Press, May 19, 2001.
97 Donald L. Hughes, “Christian Weblogging: A Manifesto,” JesusJournal, August 10, 2002.
98 Paulo Brown, “Christian Bloggers' Manifesto?!”, how now brownpau, August 12, 2002. - christian_bloggers_manifesto
99 Mickey Kaus, "The Case Against Editors," kausfiles, October 28, 2003.

37 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |
100 Jack Shafer, "Blogosmear: Gregg Easterbrook and the perils of writing before you think," Slate,
October 20, 2003.
101 Jay Rosen, "What's Radical About the Weblog Form in Journalism?," Pressthink, October 16,
102 Tim Bednar, “Dalai Lama Says NOT To Convert To Buddhism,” Moxy Turtle, November 21, 2003.
103 Tim Bednar, "The Fallacy Of Being Good And Being Peaceful," Moxy Turtle, December 4, 2003.

38 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

7.0 The Vanguard of the Participatory Church

The dominant theme to emerge from my research is that bloggers value this medium
because they can participate without being filtered by church structures, denominational
restrictions or even doctrinal impurity. We have grown tired of pastors being the
gatekeepers of what is important. In this, we feel our pastors are often times set apart
from our real, authentic lives and not by choice. But they are distanced by traditional
church structures. We genuinely believe that we have more to offer than what the
church is structured to receive. Jurgen Moltmann observes this trend in his article
“Christianity in the Third Millennium”:

The more modern people become conscious of their freedom, the less they want
to be cared for and watched over by a hierarchy of bishops, theologians, and
pastors. All polls indicate that people want more participation in the church and
that they are ready for responsibility. […] The strength of religious belonging on
the basis of birth and custom is diminishing. The strength of individual choice is
growing. People themselves are making a new participatory church out of the old
church in which they remained passive and were cared for. The number of
members will diminish, but the active participation of those members will

With the explosion of easy-to-use “blogware”, we are able to circumvent traditional

structures, publish our ideas and unite with others with a common desire. It would be a
mistake to simply label us as disgruntled or individidualistic. In fact, we desire to reclaim
our spiritual formation from pre-packaged sermon series and small group programs that
structurally resist (or suppress) participation in favor of a solitary voice. We are not
convinced that pastors know more about following Christ than we do.

We feel we have every right to participate. In an interview for his book Emergence,
Steven Berlin Johnson crafts the catchphrase for my thesis, “the whole is sometimes
smarter than the sum of its parts.”105 This is why I believe that bloggers know more than
their pastors and why we make up the vanguard of what I will call the participatory

In the process of blogging, we have discovered that our emerging network is smarter,
more responsive and more creative that our churches, pastors and denominations.
Michael Boyink interprets it this way rephrasing a point from Cluetrain Manifesto,
“People in networked congregations have figured out that they get far better information
and support from one another that from [their churches].”106

What we seek goes far beyond being elected to a board, obtaining credentials, working
in the ministry or being in leadership. The Purpose Driven Church model of finding
“spiritual gifts” and leadership development may have been a good start, but we desire
to participate in a more fundamental manner.107 Neely explains the empowering effect
of blogging:

It has given me a voice that I normally would not have as a volunteer lay leader
and intern. It also gives me a sense of freedom in that I can express my opinions

39 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

without fear that I will be judged for my thoughts. I also gain some confidence
when other readers respond to what I write...108

The one-to-many communication paradigm found in existing church structures needs to

change. We want a church that encourages and values participation; that sees
congregations as a conversation. This change is not happening in a vacuum, but we are
part of a larger social phenomenon. Bloggers belong to the same cultural shift that is
transforming journalism, business, mass media, education and politics. For instance,
Terry Heaton writes about how these changes are affecting journalism:

The institutions of the world would do well to listen to the people on the street, for
their view is quite different than the opinion of those atop their pedestals. Of
course, they have no incentive to do so, so the smokescreen of polling is offered
as an attempt to hear the voice of the people. This is not only true in the business
world, but it’s the mainstream media’s sad excuse for interactivity. […] There’s a
new movement underway today that says relevant journalism could be—and
perhaps should be—a conversation, not a lecture or the squawk and noise that
comes when journalists talk to each other. […] The essential conflict between the
old and the new in journalism is the belief by those of the new breed that ongoing
feedback—and interaction with that feedback—advances the story.

The church growth and mega-church phenomenon answered the question of how to
present the gospel to a consumer by adopting the language of business. They began
using marketing techniques, excellent production values and consumer-focused service
in order to recapture the attention of the Baby Boom generation. But the culture is
shifting from passive consumerism to participative producerism. Doc Searls writes after
hearing a keynote speech by Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple computers:

[Steve Jobs] spent an almost unbearabley long time showing off a new
application called, GarageBand, “an anytime, anywhere recording studio packed
with hundreds of instruments and a recording engineer or two for good measure”.
For the first time I saw that this isn’t simply a technical or marketing hack—it’s an
economic one.

It’s easy to say that what Apple is doing here is about marketing. But it’s not,
even though clever marketing is involved. See, marketing is about influencing
markets. It’s about spin. In the mass-market milieu where Apple lives, it’s about
maintaining the fully saturated Matrix-like habitat we call Consumer Culture. That
culture was built by those who own and control the means of production. So,
what we call “consumer electronics” is really producer electronics. It isn’t about
what you and I invent and contribute to the marketplace. It’s about what Sony
and Panasonic and Nikon and Canon produce and distribute through retailers for
us, the mass market, to consume constantly. It’s producerism, really. As a label,
“consumerism” is a red herring. Talk about “consumerism” takes the conversation
off into victimville, where the poor consumer needs to get better stuff and less
abuse from the big bad producer.

40 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

Apple is giving consumers tools that make them producers. This practice
radically transforms both the marketplace and the economy that thrives on it.

As I describe what I call the participatory church, I am answering the question, “How
does the church present the gospel to participative producers rather than consumers?”
Clay Shirky writes in “R.I.P. The Consumer”:

The Internet heralds the disappearance of the consumer altogether, because the
Internet destroys the noisy advertiser/silent consumer relationship that the mass
media relies upon. The rise of the internet undermines the existence of the
consumer because it undermines the role of mass media. In the age of the
internet, no one is a passive consumer anymore because everyone is a media

Pew Internet & American Life Project recently found that, “44% of Internet users have
created content for the online world through building or posting to Web sites, creating
blogs, and sharing files.”110 Whether the existing church likes it or not, we are giving
birth to a generation of people who view themselves as participants. For now, we are a
small minority, but still number in the hundreds of thousands.111 We make up the
creative vanguard that will guide and mentor the emerging participatory church into
maturity. Our elders, the Baby Boomers, learned how to communicate to consumers,
but to find success in the future; a new generation will need to learn how to speak to a
new breed of producers who have been radically transformed by using the Internet.

104 Jurgen Moltmann, “Christianity in the Third Millenium,” Theology Today, April 1994.
105 Andrew Leonard, “The Emergent Order: Interview With Steven Berlin Johnson,” Salon, November
106 Michael Boyink, “The ClueTrain Manifesto For Churches?”, Boyink Interactive, date.
107 Find resource on web.
108 Neely commented on “UPDATED! Open Survey: Five Questions For Christian Bloggers,” Moxy
Turtle, November 8, 2003.
109 Clay Shirky, “RIP The Consumer,” Clay Shirky's Writings About the Internet, May 2000.
110 Pew Internet And American Life Project, “Content Creation Online: 44% of U.S. Internet users have
contributed their thoughts and their files to the online world”, February 29, 2004.
111 The Pew Project identified the “power content creators” as young with an average age of 25 and
equally divided along race and gender lines. While most Boomers fit the profile of a “content
omnivore” which remains the majority of Internet users.

41 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

8.0 Participatory Church

As a former Christian education director with ten years experience, my peers and I
lamented the lack of participation in Christian education or discipleship programs in our
churches. It seemed as though the majority were content to come on Sunday morning,
but had little desire to pursue an on-going discipleship program. I always found this at
odds with the dramatic rise in lifelong learning as evidenced by the success of Barnes
and Noble and evening college courses. As a result, traditional Christian education
programs are albeit eliminated or transformed into self-help teaching series that meet
“felt-needs”. And research seems to indicate that the evangelical church, in particular,
maintains an immature, unexamined, passive Christian faith precisely because of its
ineffective educational programs.112

The seminal ClueTrain Manifesto--written by Chris Locke, Doc Searls, David

Weinberger--described the new realities shaping our congregations.113 They uniquely
described the transforming effect that the Internet was having on people. I base the
following description of the participatory church on their work and the derivative work of
Michael Boyink and Dale Lature.114

ƒ The traditional church conceives of itself as an exclusive community and determines

who is a “member” and who is not. 115 It believes that it owns these definitions. This
is no longer true. Christianity is an open conversation by those following Christ.
Those involved in the conversation define the terms, not the church.

ƒ Conversations are all around us. Christianity is one of many.

ƒ Christians get information for their conversation from multiple sources that include,
but are not limited to Christianity. We no longer pursue spiritual formation within the
bounds of a single tradition, church, pastor or denomination. We are having
hyperlinked conversations that subvert traditional hierarchies.116

ƒ Every Christian is a creator. We no longer have to wait for church authorization to

think or act or speak in the name of Christ.

ƒ Christians belong to multiple congregations.

ƒ Participation in the conversation is spiritual formation.

ƒ Congregations are conversations. They have a human voice. Congregations are

getting smarter and more informed as they talk to each other. Participation in this
new kind of networked congregation fundamentally changes people.

ƒ Churches are not congregations. They do not participate in the conversation of their
congregation. In fact, churches spent most of their time, energy and money creating
parallel conversations and get frustrated when no one participates in them. In this
new reality, churches sound hollow, flat and literally inhuman to their congregations.
They do not speak the same language because they do not have a human voice.

42 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

Churches that think they do are kidding themselves and missing an opportunity.

ƒ Congregations are more important than churches.117

ƒ Most churches and pastors assume they build congregations. This is not true.
Rather they belong to congregations. In this new era, congregations (like
conversations) are all around us—we are in search of churches (and pastors).

ƒ Congregations credential pastors they trust and invite into their conversation.
Pastors emerge by building a reputation from within the congregation based on
consistency and transparency. Pastors add value to congregations as they add

ƒ Successful pastors and churches of the future will enter into co-creative covenants
that help congregations deal with complexity. They see themselves as benevolent
keepers of Christian tradition who enable Christians, embrace emergence and foster
learning. They do not see themselves as gatekeepers or arbiters of membership in
the church.

ƒ Pastors are not primarily preachers. Sermons are no longer teachings, but learning
experiences. Goal of preaching is to learn not teach.

ƒ Congregations are looking for pastors who serve them and offer the Sacraments.
We are not looking for a vision.

ƒ Church planters are people who are called to find and eventually pastor emerging

ƒ The participatory church intimately connects with the real storytellers of Christianity,
namely the congregation. Pastors and churches no longer tell the gospel story. All
truth statements are co-created by congregations through the process of emergent

ƒ These new participatory churches work on a gift economy. This means that Kingdom
work is the reward not financial remuneration or power.

ƒ Relational authenticity and longevity--not attendance--equals success in the

participatory church. A church’s primary value to the congregation lies in its ability to
connect Christians in conversation, service and sacrament. Connectedness equals
healthy spiritual formation.

ƒ Participatory churches provide more meaningful and memorable experiences

because they participate with congregations. Even if Christians do not contribute to
the conversation, they still expect a better experience because of the participation of

ƒ The participatory church is diverse in viewpoints and traditions. The new ministry of
the pastor is to co-create systems that help congregations manage complexity.

43 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

ƒ The greatest skill a participatory pastor will possess is the ability to listen.

ƒ Congregations are their own watchdogs because they are the real stakeholders.
Churches and pastors no longer need to screen their congregations for orthodoxy,
arbitrate membership or filter their conversation. Orthodoxy will emerge. Call it
emergent orthodoxy.

ƒ Orthodoxy is not determined by a single source, but is distributed throughout the

congregation. Neil Cole, a leader in the organic church movement observes, “The
best solution to heresy in the church is not to have better-trained leaders in ‘the
pulpits’, but better-trained people in ‘the pews’.”

What I am trying to describe is a new kind of church created by believers transformed

by their use of the Internet. Their so-called virtual life is changing them and in turn, they
will change the church.

112 “Spiritual Progress Hard to Find in 2003,” Barna Research Group, December 22, 2003.
113 ClueTrain Manefesto.
114 Michael Boyink, “The ClueTrain Manifesto for Churches?,” Boyink Interactive, February 3, 2004.
Dale Lature, “Cluetrain Category Archives,” Theoblogical,
115 I use the term “church” to mean a local legal entity.
116 Steve Collins called this the network or portfolio church. “Network Church and Portfolio Church,”
Small Ritual, August 2002.
117 I confess I got this from listening to Drive105. The on-air tagline states “Your music is more
important than any radio station.”

44 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

9.0 Epilogue

The initial meme that made me think about how bloggers might transform the church
began with my reading of Dan Gillmor’s “journalistic pivot points”.118 Journalism is a
stodgy institution that tenaciously protects its constitutional role in democracy. I found
that these issues closely mimic those in the church. In his Columbia Journalism Review
article, “Here Comes We Media: Tech-Savvy Readers Want In on the Conversation”,
Gillmor writes,

[...] in an emerging era of multidirectional, digital communications, the audience

can be an integral part of the process. Call it “We Media.” Journalism is evolving
away from its lecture mode — here’s the news, and you buy it or you don’t — to
include a conversation.

[...] our readers collectively know more than we do, and they don’t have to settle
for half-baked coverage when they can come into the kitchen themselves. This is
not a threat. It is an opportunity. And the evolution of We Media will oblige us all
to adapt.119

Like professional journalism, the church also needs to deal with these issues and see
bloggers as the vanguard of these changes. As Gillmor suggests, this is not an option
but a reality. However, I want to go further. We need to view participants as co-creators.
This is not what passes for participation in churches today.

Rick Warren, pastor of SaddleBack and author of the Purpose Driven Church, often
sees participation at church like this:

I was talking with some people after a weekend service once, and I mentioned
that we really needed someone to create a multimedia videotape for an
upcoming event. The person I was talking to said, Why don't you get her?

And he pointed to a woman standing a few feet away. I walked over, found out
the woman's name, and asked what she did. Her reply was, I'm the chief video
production director for Walt Disney.120

He seemingly advocates participation in this example. He is using the gifts God gave to
the body. Or is he? Warren does not approach the chief video production director for
Walt Disney as a co-creator, but as someone who will help him create the church. In the
past, this worked and satisfied the laity. But a new generation of creators do not want to
work on “the pastor’s vision”.121 They expect pastors to instead help them realize their
vision. I am advocating something more radical that the popular spiritual gifts-based,
volunteer recruiting practices refined by WillowCreek and SaddleBack where leaders
retain absolute control.122

For example, Edward Cone explains how Dean for America encouraged participatory
co-creation in its 2004 presidential campaign:

45 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

With the Internet, an effective campaign creates a community that will on its own
begin to market your product for you. Properly done, you won't be able – or want
— to control it.

"We want to let [grassroots volunteers] have control, let them help the campaign
how they want to help the campaign," says Dean's campaign manager, Joe

The trick is to turn the buyers of a product, concept or candidate into evangelists,
willing to take action on their own to spur demand. And the recruitment doesn't
have to cost much.123

What the Deaniacs were to Democratic Party in 2004, bloggers will be to the church.
Congregations want access to the raw and uncensored bits that make up the church in
order to use it in their conversation. They do not want to control of the church or
eliminate pastors; they want to be co-creators. In this new era of participation,
congregations still recognize the unique spiritual gifts and calling of clergy. They just no
longer accept that they are the sole creative source or that they should function as

118 Dan Gilmore, “Journalistic Pivot Points.”

119 Dan Gillmor, “Here Comes We Media: Tech-Savvy Readers Want In on the Conversation”,
Columbia Journalism Review, May/June 2003.
120 Rick Warren, ”The Four Pillars Of A Strong Lay Ministry,”, May 14, 2003.
121 For example, The Power of Vision Conference.
122 “Network Curriculum Kit,” WillowCreek Resources.
123 Edward Cone, "Marketing The President.”

46 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

Tim Bednar |

10.0 Index of Names

Alan Creech, 7, 9, 11, 12, 14, 18 Henri J.M. Nouwen, 14
Alan Sondheim, 8 Jeffrey Henning, 32
Alvin O'Neal Jackson, 30 Jennifer Howard, 31, 37
Andrew Careaga, 7, 10, 29, 36 Jordon Cooper, 6, 7, 9, 10, 15, 17, 18,
Andrew Jones, 11, 17, 18, 20, 25 20
Ashely Benigno, 17 Kathy McGregor, 30
Bene Diction, 27, 34, 36 Kevin Rains, 16
Bill Bean, 17, 19 Kurt Vonnegut, 16
Bill Quick, 7, 8 Leila Fast, 12, 18
Chad Canipe, 16, 21 Linus Torvalds, 20
Charlie Wear, 17 Mark Byron, 28
Chris Marshall, 16 Martin Luther, 3, 22
Clay Shirky, 31, 33, 37 Martin Roth, 6, 8, 17, 19, 28, 33
Dalai Lama, 36 Melvyl Dewey, 33
Dale Lature, 7 Michael Cossarwal, 27, 36
Dallas Willard, 14, 18 Michael Eisner, 35
Dan Gillmor, 4, 6 Micky Kauas, 35
Darren Rowse, 9, 17, 19, 22, 23 Mike McKee, 14, 23, 25, 36
David Moutz, 16 Neely, 39
David Sifry, 32, 37 Noah Shactman, 27
Dean Peters, 7, 33, 34, 37 Paulo Brown, 34, 37
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 17 Rachel Cunliff, 7, 15
Doc Searls, 6 Ravi Zarcharias, 34
Donald Hughes, 34 Ray Bradbury, 12
Douglas Adams, 5 Rick Stillwell, 23, 26
Dr. Huber Dreyfus, 28 Rick Warren, 18, 45, 46
Dr. Seuss, 5 Rudy Carrasco, 9, 18
Edward Cone, 17, 19, 45, 46 Sara, 32
Elijah Fan, 20, 25 Soren Kierkegaard, 24, 28
Elizabet Osder, 27 Spensor Burke, 17
Eric Steven Raymond, 20, 25 Steve Ayer, 29
George Ertel, 23 Steve Berlin Johnson, 16, 19
Glen Renyolds, 30 Steve Collins, 9, 10, 18, 24, 26
Glenn Johnson, 16 Teilhard de Chardin, 7, 8
Greg Easterbrook, 35 Vannevar Bush, 7, 21, 25
Harvey Weinstein, 35 William Gibson, 5

47 | We Know More Than Our Pastors

You might also like