Words create worlds: the discourse of digital ministry

In CPR Connects by Jim KeatLeave a Comment

By: Rev. Jim Keat

There are two phrases I have banned from my vocabulary when it comes to digital ministry: in person vs. online, and real vs. virtual.

It’s common for churches to refer to the gatherings and events that happen in the building as “in person” and all the zoom meetings and livestreams as “online.” And while this second description is accurate, the first one is not. Because even when we gather online, by ourselves but not alone as we join a Sunday morning livestream or seeing one another face to face on a zoom call, we are still in person. Even as we gather online, we are still embodied in our various locations; we are always in person.

Insubordinate man with zipped mouth

Rather than this false dichotomy of in person vs. online, I describe these different spaces by their location: onsite vs. online. (It also maintains a nice alliteration!) When we refer to the people gathered onsite as “in person” we ignore and invalidate the embodied experience of the people gathered online. We are all in person, non of us are disembodied thoughts, but we will always be whole people, whether we gather onsite or online.

Similarly, I have retired the dichotomy that virtual is the opposite of real. Virtual is the opposite of physical; they are both real!

Our online encounters – whether the photos and updates and videos we share or the experiences we have with one another on zoom, discussion forums, or live chat – are all real. There is nothing false about the relationships we form, the emotions we feel, and the ways these virtual spaces shape our faith in real and meaningful ways.

So consider this an invitation to nuance your nomenclature. Rather than perpetuating a false dichotomy of in person vs. online, affirm the fact that we are all in person, wherever we might be joining from. Denounce the myth that virtual spaces are less real and somehow less important but instead validate the real and meaningful ways that online spaces and encounters can impact our lives, our faith, and our world.

After all, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel reminds us, “Words create worlds.” What worlds are you creating with the words that you use?

Are you interested in learning more about the discourse of digital ministry and taking your next step in how you cultivate online community and create online content? We are about to launch a six-month digital ministry cohort! Send me an email and we can talk more about how you can be a part of it.

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