Recently, Stacy Williams-Duncan of the University of Virginia (Wahoowa!), addressed ministry leaders on the topic of digital culture. Among a score of important insights, one sentence stood out: “Sharing on social media is not the same as curating information for your audience.”
It may be rare for church boards to think in terms of “curating information.” Boards historically have focused on sharing news and updates about church life and sharing details about church activities. What would it look like for your church board to curate the information it shares—to select, edit, and organize it into something that communicates a meaningful message? Dare we say, a gospel message?
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount might be considered something of a communication manual of important values for congregational leaders, calling us to shape that gospel message in contrast to the shared words of the time.
Six times in Matthew 5, Jesus repeats a version of the following line: “You have heard that it was said … but I say to you ….”
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister,[c] you will be liable to judgment….
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart….
“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery….
“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God….
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also….
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….
Although the ancient words of Jesus – and the still more ancient words of the law – may seem out of sync with contemporary culture, they speak right into our current situation. Jesus takes commonly shared wisdom and turns it toward our need for authentic and whole relationships. All those assumptions about the treatment of women, about minor and major forms of obedience, about vengeance, about who we are to love – all of them are turned upside down by God’s messenger, who lived the gospel truth of hope, life, love, and justice and was, if you will, curating that message in every exchange he had with others.
Churches often act as if we have an unlimited claim on constituents’ attention. If that was ever the case, it is surely not the case anymore. Any information we provide – from the potluck next week to the life-giving hope of the gospel – competes for the same limited amount of energy and focus. With that in mind, what should come first as you curate your congregation’s information?
- What is the difference in each of the Matthew passages between “what you have heard said” and what Jesus says?
- What are church members ‘hearing said’ every day, in the culture? What do you think they are hearing that affects them most?
- What are they ‘hearing said,’ in the congregation? What do you think they need to hear said more … or less?
- Do you see it as the role of your church board – along with your pastor (s) and staff – to curate a trustworthy, engaging gospel message of hope and life for those with whom you share a faith community? What would it take for you to do that?