In the past several months, I became a deacon, graduated from seminary, got married, and started two new jobs. It has been an exciting and exhausting time of thorough and intense change. But through it all, one thing has remained the same; no matter where I go, no matter who I meet, no matter what the faith identity of the person asking, I keep getting the same question from friends, family, classmates, and well-wishers.
So what does a digital missioner do?!
The short answer, of course, is “We don’t know yet,” or maybe “We don’t know yet, but we have a good plan.” Nevertheless, I’d like over the coming days to offer a slightly longer answer, albeit a tentative one, in the form of a series of posts here on our new Tumblr blog.
Part 1 is probably obvious, but I think it’s important to cover right away. The first thing I’m doing is getting connected. The life of a disciple is one in which we are constantly called out of ourselves, following Jesus to the places we will serve and meeting him in the faces of those we find there. And since we’re sent out two-by-two (at least!) we connect not just to those we’re reaching out to but to friends and teachers on the way.
So, right now, I’m meeting the people I will learn from and serve. When you’re a minister serving a church, you do that by getting connected to your congregation and to the community beyond the walls of your building (if you have a building). When your mission is “to use technology to connect congregations, dioceses, and schools with high-quality resources and tools for lifelong Christian formation in the Episcopal Church and beyond,” the process looks a little different—though I hope more in scope than style.
What do I mean by that last part? Well, I hope that my classmates who are primarily serving churches are starting to connect with their parishioners not just in person but on social networks. And I hope they’re taking advantage of technology to follow the news of community organizations that are likely mission partners.
In very similar fashion, I’ve been diving into the technology-enhanced Christian formation and education world, friending and following people like Lisa Kimball (my boss); Robbin Whittington, Shannon Kelly, and Randall Curtis (partners and colleagues); John Roberto and Mary Hess (important leaders in this mission field); and Penelope Bridges and William Blake Rider (potential “clients” and collaborators who have reached out to the CMT in recent days). I’m also liking and subscribing to the content of organizations like Forma, Lifelong Faith, The Thoughtful Christian, Faith Formation Learning Exchange, and General Theological Seminary’s Digital Formation group.
I can’t help but think about the Parable of the Sower in this moment. We in the CMT are currently sowing new kinds of seeds in almost wanton fashion, knowing full well that some of the connections we’re making will have no depth of soil or will be choked out by other priorities, while others will bear much fruit. (Thank you to Roger Ferlo and Steven Charleston for memorable sermons that will forever shape my understanding of this story.) The point is, of course, that without making connections widely and adventurously and committedly, ministers (digital or otherwise) miss out on opportunities to love and serve the Lord in the world. As Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said recently using slightly different language, we have to build robust networks in order to learn who and how to serve.
So the work of a digital missioner isn’t so different from the work of any Christian minister, especially in that the most important part is to get connected. In so doing, we prepare for the work of mission—and perhaps we even live a bit more consciously into the interconnected reality we believe is already ours in Christ.
Building networks takes time, obviously. It will take time for me to get connected to the many Episcopalians and other Christians who do the work of facilitating lifelong faith formation. But you can help. If you’d like to be a part of our digital mission in the Center for the Ministry of Teaching, or if you’d like to take advantage of the resources and tools we have to offer, please reach out to us if we haven’t yet reached out to you:
- email us at email@example.com (or me at firstname.lastname@example.org),
- call us at (703) 461-1885 (or me at kyle.matthew.oliver on Skype),
- visit us online at vts.edu/cmt (or me at blog.kyleoliver.net),
- follow us on Twitter and Tumblr at @vts_cmt and vts-cmt.tumblr.com (or me at @kmoliver and tumblr.kyleoliver.net),
- like VTS on Facebook at facebook.com/VirginiaTheologicalSeminary (or friend me at facebook.com/kylematthewoliver),
- or, yes, visit us at Key Hall on the VTS campus, 3737 Seminary Road in Alexandria.
You can also help us reach more people by sharing this post with the people in your networks, either manually or by using the buttons below. And by all means, please stay tuned for more on what our digital mission is all about!