by Pam Smith
—Reviewed by Benjamin D. Espinoza, pastor, Covenant Church, Bowling Green, Ohio.
Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in 1439 signaled the beginning of the Printing Revolution, which enabled the teachings of the Reformation to spread quickly across Europe. The digital revolution we are seeing today presents the same opportunity to spread the gospel, but on a significantly larger, multifaceted, global scale. While some have expressed concerns regarding the effectiveness and theological wisdom of using the Internet and social media in mission and ministry, others have wholeheartedly embraced the possibilities.
In an effort to provide guidance to those hoping to take advantage of this emerging mission field, Pam Smith has written a helpful guide filled with practical, reflective thinking on effectively ministering in digital contexts.
While Smith is an advocate for engaging in online mission and ministry, she refrains from dogmatically declaring that all Christians should engage in this sort of work. She quotes the helpful adage, “all may; none must; some should” while expressing that “we should be evangelists for Christ, not for a particular methodology” (p. 9).
Smith begins her work by outlining the theological underpinnings of online ministry, While Smith demonstrates theologically reflective thinking throughout the book, she devotes much of her work to giving practical advice on how to minister effectively online. She provides valuable guidance in pastoral care, discipleship, conflict management (particularly with so-called “trolls”), community formation and structure, and leadership in digital contexts.
Smith derives her thinking not only from her own experiences, but also from diligent research on theoretical models and organizations that have put theory into practice. In her conclusion, Smith writes, “The downside of online mission and ministry is no greater than the downside of anything we undertake for God, but there is also a great sense of excitement and enjoyment in exploring a new form of ministry with others who are equally enthusiastic” (p. 114).
She also includes numerous appendices that provide practical guidelines for online ministry, in addition to a sample online worship service and other resources on the topic.
Overall, Smith has put together a robust, yet accessible guide to developing a missional presence in the digital world. Smith has extensive experience working in online ministry, and her advice is field-tested and theoretically grounded. Perhaps the one issue I find with this work is that Smith’s chapter on theological underpinnings mainly seeks to answer critics instead of constructing a theological foundation for online ministry rooted in the missio Dei.
However, throughout the book, Smith models a commitment to theological reflection-in-action, one of the hallmarks of a strong practical theology. I highly recommend this book to both skeptics and adopters of online mission and ministry. Smith demonstrates the possibilities for tapping into this context, and as our world becomes more and more digitized, we must find ways to contextualize the gospel in the new virtual culture.
Check these titles:
Estes, Douglas. 2009. SimChurch: Being the Church in the Virtual World. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan.
Gould, Meredith. 2013. The Social Media Gospel: Sharing the Good News in New Ways. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press.
Wise, Justin. 2014. The Social Church: A Theology of Digital Communication. Chicago: Moody.