Fifteen years ago I began the trek toward ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Turns out it was part of God’s plan for my life long before I was born. Nevertheless, this trek yielded a new call for my life – to be a Minister of the Church of Christ in the Office of Word and Sacrament. I thought at the time – 1996 – that I had a grasp on what that meant for me and the church. There was even an elaborate, cumbersome and sometimes conflicting process by which committees and synods and seminaries would affirm and confirm this call to ministry. This still exists in the ELCA today and because of abuse and misconduct in the clergy ranks of late – this process is even more burdensome – especially on families and spouses – but more on that some other time.
I have a weekly habit of searching through the archives and new releases on TED.com. If you have not found this gem of new inspirational and innovative thought paths and ideas then you should check it out. In a recent post, Johanna Blakley, media researcher, discussed how media and advertising companies still use the same old demographics to understand audiences, but they’re becoming increasingly harder to track online. As social media outgrows traditional media, and women users outnumber men, Blakley explained what changes are in store for the future of media.
Two first impressions – one is the realization that on social media sites like Facebook, women users vastly outnumber men. Second, was the observation that people aggregate around things they ‘like.’ She called the aggregates – taste communities. While this may not be a new stream of thought – that people who like similar things gravitate towards one another – her observations about women being far out in front as users on social networks AND that like-minded people aggregate describes network of the Church of Christ as well – especially using old demographics to determine how to ‘advertise’ or proclaim your message. (More on that later too. Hint: church leaders should address the thirst for God of the 18-24 age group equally to that of the 54+ age group.)
At least in the congregations I have been privileged to serve – participation among women far exceeds that of men AND in an almost predictable way – church congregations have been increasingly forming around ‘like’ issues. Two examples: First, is a study years back – by the Youth and Family Institute in Minneapolis, MN – where they asked people to indicate who was most formative in your coming to know Jesus Christ – 75% responded a woman – such as a mother, grandmother or wife. Second, with the decline of denominational adherence, churches have developed and promoted core principles that inform their interpretation of Scriptures and structure for Word and Sacrament ministry. These principles tend to be organized around key Scriptures that address ‘hot button’ social issues (like abortion and homosexuality) which attract people of like mind and political affiliation.
So what is the true reality for our like-mindedness or aggregation as a church? Our ‘likeness’ is we are all created in the image of God – male and female. Our call from Christ himself to be baptized and to come to His table of grace creates a unity that nothing – no power nor principality can destroy. Our present and future reality is that we are gathered people by the Holy Spirit – to aggregate around water, Word, bread and wine – to repent, taste and see that God is good.
The essence of the Church of Christ is that it is the first, best and most satisfying ‘taste community’ on the planet – in the universe. In the bread and wine we meet the life-giving and forgiving Son of God – the true Messiah – the King of all that was, is today and will yet come – Jesus Christ. At the table where the Word is grace and the Sacrament is Jesus himself – all other taste communities submit and are reconciled, invited and fed with the bread of life.
Through all the trials and tribulations of my trek to a Word and Sacrament ministry one thing remains clear – the true, lasting – forever and ever – taste community is the Holy Spirit gathers at the Table of Grace where Jesus is the host. Somehow and in a clear manner – God through the power of the Holy Spirit – makes equal and unites the ‘like’ playing field of all creation through Jesus in, through and under our individual taste community as we come to His table. So we can aggregate on Facebook around our ‘likes’, we can aggregate in our communities of faith as we wish on Sunday morning – yet what we taste and see – is Christ. He does not see our ‘likes’ or individual ‘tastes’ – rather what matters is that on the great social network – Jesus ‘liked’ (loved) us first and gave his life for us so that we would have a wonderful sweet taste that the world so longs for.
As we say each week: Now…Go in peace. Serve the Lord!