The road to Pentecost

Posted Apr 10, 2012 | New Media Project

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By Jim Rice


Best practices: During February, March, and April 2012, the New Media Project bloggers are looking intentionally at new media “best practices.” Join the conversation: What are the new media best practices in your church or organization? What are some other examples of how communities engage in new media well? Tell us in the comments below.

The resurrection story, at least according to the lectionary passage from Mark 16 read at many churches on Easter morning, doesn’t exactly end in glorious triumph. The three women who visit Jesus’ gravesite—Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome—“went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Jesus has risen, indeed, but his followers are still, understandably, gripped in the fearfulness that surrounded his death.

Easter, of course, is just the beginning of the beginning, the first step on the road to Pentecost, where the movement we now know as church has its public launch, its IPO, as it were. The contrast between the frightened women fleeing the empty tomb and the Spirit-filled disciples at Pentecost couldn’t be starker. Peter stands before the crowds, which had just accused him of drunkenness, and promises the outpouring of the Spirit on “all flesh”—men and women, young and old, slave and free, shattering the rigid social barriers of his listeners. Perhaps even more boldly, when the disciples are ordered by the authorities—the ones who had just killed their leader, Jesus—they refuse to be silenced, announcing that “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

The actions of Jesus’ first followers are even more powerful than their words. “No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had,” we’re told in Acts 4. “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them.”

That same Spirit continues to animate Jesus’ followers today, and some of them continue to strive toward that New Testament vision of “no needy persons among them.” Two millennia later, the methods have changed, but the goals are the same. And today, in our globally interconnected world, we understand that the community to which we are joined isn’t limited to those immediately around us. This isn’t a new concept. Marshall McLuhan made the point in 1964, long before the advent of the Internet, when he said, “The Christian concept of the mystical body—all [people] as members of the body of Christ—this becomes technologically a fact under electronic conditions.”

For Eugene Cho, pastor of Seattle’s Quest Church, social media offer “a great means by which we’re able to create energy and momentum” for mobilizing efforts to address extreme poverty—that is, to engage the “no needy persons” vision of the early church. “We’re able to rally the larger church around a cause, to create a stir, to inform as well as to call people to action in a way that I don’t think we were able to do as effectively maybe 10 years ago,” says Cho’s colleague Gail Song Bantum. “It continues to bind the church, more broadly speaking, in particular ways. Justice and compassion are probably the most tangible ways that [social media have] been the most effective.”

A powerful example can be found in the organization “One Day’s Wages,” co-founded by Cho and his wife, Minhee. One Day’s Wages, which describes itself as “a new grassroots movement of people, stories, and actions to alleviate extreme global poverty,” is a largely web-based effort. A listing of ways to join the movement, for example, includes “Visit our website and calculate your one day’s wages”; “Spread the word! Facebook Page | twitter: @onedayswages”; and “Engage the conversation on our blogs, forums, and website.”

The group’s Facebook page, which has 679,773 likes, is an important part of One Day’s Wages’ success. Nick Bilton, of bits.blogs.nytimes.com, explains why the social networking site has become a key place for online organizing in an ABC News video on “why Facebook has become so popular when it comes to growing a movement.”

“When it comes to more serious matters, there’s community built around them, and I think that’s really important,” Bilton said. “You have a lot of websites available where they address these very serious matters, but it’s very difficult to build a community around them. On Facebook you already have that community.”

Building a community to address “serious matters” such as justice for the poor sounds a lot like the early church described in the book of Acts. Disciples today continue to echo the courage and faith rooted in the resurrection and inspired by the winds of Pentecost to manifest “wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below” (Acts 2:19).

Jim Rice, a research fellow for the New Media Project, is editor of Sojourners magazine in Washington, D.C.

The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmediaproject@cts.edu.

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