Thursday, January 10, 2008

We are the Middlemen

2 or 3 things in the last day or so have made me think about how we handle information:

- talking with Bob and Mary Hopkins from Anglican Church Planting Initiatives in Sheffield yesterday, a consultation morning on our thoughts on growing new churches in Yeovil. It was good to have 2 people who knew most of what there is to know about church planting in the UK and could distil it and relate it to what we're thinking about here

- an item on the Today programme about a new book called something like 'how to talk about books you haven't read'. It's premised on the fact that there are far too many books to read, and that it's possible to have a conversation about books you've not read by knowing a few basic things about them. In fact, key in the title of most popular books to the web and you can get a plot summary, or at least dig out a couple of helpful reviews, which will help you to bluff your way through most cheese and wine functions.

- the same principle applies with films and TV - there are several sites devoted to keeping people up to date with the latest plot developments in TV serials and soaps, and the plot of most popular films is up on Wikepedia within a week or so of them being released.

- in the work I do as a missioner, I've taken to producing an occasional mission digest, 'Biscuit Tin', for the deanery. The basic idea is to distil the stuff that's coming out in books, research, mission thinking etc. into an edible form for folk who aren't going to read through Mission Shaped Church (read it in full via the link) or the latest research from TEAR Fund.

As information increases, the need for information middlemen, brokers, increases too. For those who want to stay abreast of what's going on (an increasingly exhausting task!), we need someone else to break it down into digestible form. This is what newspapers and TV have been doing for us for ages at a general level, but the sheer volume of information means that it's harder and harder to know something about everything, or even to know everything about something.

The internet has also broken the dominance of the secular media over news, so that if you're fed up with turning on the radio every morning to hear about the latest stabbing, it's now much easier to find news and content to match your interests and to avoid the depressing catalogue of death and violence that mainstream news editors seem to think we want. Bored with your newspaper leader columns? Well there are 100,000 bloggers every morning with a take on current events, go take your pick.

The other option is to opt out completely. There's a great Christian tradition of this, from Anthony of Egypt onwards, and it's a voice that needs to be heard. Todays news is tomorrows chip paper, todays blockbuster movie is tomorrows discount DVD, but the word of the Lord stands for ever. Perspective is important.

Where do Christian communicators fit into all this? After all, our congregations increasingly have access to all this stuff, so there's less and less a place (if there ever was) for the preacher/vicar as the sole interpreter of the world to their flock. But many are also lazy/pressed for time, and there is a role for someone to edit, distil and interpret; to call people's attention to stories that are significant, or which help us to focus on particular issues (hence the previous post on Clarkson and risk). Maybe it has to be a team game: bloggers and preachers nearer to the rapid response end, and theologians and mystics taking the longer view. Wisdom and discernment are gifts to the whole body of Christ, and when Paul says "we have the mind of Christ", he doesn't mean that lots of little individual Christians know what Jesus thinks, it's a corporate image.

Which links in to mentors and wisdom, which I'll post on in the next day or so.

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