How To Personalize Your Church’s Digital Ministry | Bryce Ashlin-Mayo

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Digital Ministry is on every church’s agenda. This week we chat with Bryce Ashlin-Mayo, author of “Digital Mission”, about Digital Church.

Podcast Transcription

SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Jason Hamrock: [00:00:09] Well, hey, Bryce, welcome to the show. It’s so nice to meet you. How are you doing?

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo: [00:00:14] Doing great. And yourself?

Jason Hamrock: [00:00:15] I’m doing wonderful. It’s a beautiful day here in the States, and the reason why I said that is because you’re not here in the States. Where are you?

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo: [00:00:23] Nope. I’m in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where it’s a little overcast, probably going to get a little bit of rain, but it’s been a hot couple of weeks, so we need the rain, so I’m not going to complain.

Jason Hamrock: [00:00:33] Okay, so hopefully it’ll wash out that heat.

Bart Blair: [00:00:35] He’s in America’s hat? Alberta. Montana’s hat.

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo: [00:00:39] America’s hat, okay. We’ll just chapeau, we’ll just make it the chapeau and make it French and English.

Bart Blair: [00:00:42] The chook.

Bart Blair: [00:00:45] You’re the chook right, the chook. Okay, I spent 20 years in Canada, so I can still bag on Canada a little bit.

Jason Hamrock: [00:00:51] I’m not going to say that. But, Bart, I suppose you can because you did live in Canada, so that’s okay.

Bart Blair: [00:00:55] I did. I lived in the same province in Alberta that Bryce lives in, I was there for about seven and a half years. And you know what? I really appreciated the time that I had in Canada, and I really appreciate the opportunity to hang out with Canadians on our show. Interestingly enough, it seems like about every third or fourth episode we have these days, we have another fine Canadian on.

Jason Hamrock: [00:01:15] That’s right.

Bart Blair: [00:01:15] So we’re welcoming you, Bryce, another fine Canadian to the show.

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo: [00:01:19] Just to note, many of your most favorite movie stars are Canadian, so just throwing it out there.

Bart Blair: [00:01:26] Yeah, and most of my favorite hockey players, too. So there you go.

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo: [00:01:30] Also true.

Bart Blair: [00:01:31] Okay, Jason, let’s get on with the topic.

Jason Hamrock: [00:01:35] Yeah, Bryce. So tell our audience, because they maybe haven’t heard you, a little bit about your background, and what you do, that’ll help us set the conversation for today.

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo: [00:01:44] Yeah, sure. That sounds great. My name is Bryce, again, I’m out of Alberta, Canada. I’ve served as a local church pastor for 25 years in a couple of different provinces here in Canada, and in a couple of different positions, until most recently in March, I took the role of Dean of Theology here where I am at Ambrose University in Calgary. So Ambrose University has about 1000 students here in Calgary, it’s a Christian university, and also has an embedded ministry training school and seminary, those are the areas I give leadership to here at the School of Theology. I have a strong interest in online ministry and digital ministry, things I, about ten years ago did my doctoral work at George Fox studying with Leonard Sweet, and did lots of research and study and wrote my dissertation on the impact of social media on preaching. And yeah, over the last ten years I’ve taught here at Ambrose, different denominations, all of which, like all things in the pandemic, accelerated when everybody was asking lots of questions, what does it look like to do ministry online? And so in the last couple of years, I’ve done that a ton. And part of the reason why I took this role is how do we equip men and women for the work of ministry, particularly in this new changing digital age? So that’s a little bit of my background and my passion.

Jason Hamrock: [00:03:07] All right. Yeah, I mean, it’s not foreign to everybody that if you’re listening, and you work in a church, you’ve gone digital, you already have been digital, there is just more emphasis on going more digital. But I want to ask this question because I really want your perspective on it. Why do you believe that it’s important that churches have a digital ministry? What does that look like? And just from your words.

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo: [00:03:28] Yeah, my perspective on that is if you were to go back in a time machine like 500 years when the Gutenberg press was invented and all of a sudden books were available. You’d have had a ton of people who would have said all of the same critiques they would have now on…In fact, you could actually find this in recorded history where people would say books are going to make people stupid, everyone’s going to forget the oral traditions, worship is going to change because now people don’t have to memorize songs or scripture or the liturgy, it’ll all be written. Like it’s going to change everything, and all of the same fears that we are experiencing today existed then. And yet now, we would never tell somebody, you should like forgo books to do ministry. Like that would be crazy, or you should like give up on how we do liturgy or church or worship music or preaching, all of which we all today understand through the lens of us having our own printed text, which is a fairly recent dynamic in human history. So for us, I just think as we move into the future, digital is part of that. And we’re just, right now, I think, in the infancy of what digital will look like. So I always challenge people for whatever their critiques are to recognize, you can’t critique a long lens through a very narrow perspective. It’s going to take us time to learn to digitally crawl, which I don’t think we’ve learned how to do yet before we can learn to digitally run, because the technology is changing so fast and we’re so early on in the iteration of what digital looks like in the scheme of things.

Jason Hamrock: [00:05:00] Yeah, I agree with you. And it is interesting how when we’re talking to churches, you’re talking to churches, and they say they have a digital ministry. And for some reason, they don’t say this, but it’s what they’re thinking, they want to basically parallel it. They think, hey, we should be able to do online ministry just as if we’re doing in-person ministry, and I’m thinking that’s not possible. So what are some of those misconceptions that churches have about implementing and using a digital ministry?

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo: [00:05:30] Yeah, that’s a great question. This is the premise of my book, Digital Mission, where I make the argument that part of our challenge in the pandemic, which saw all churches, everywhere almost instantaneously with tons of excitement, by the way, if you can remember back then. I heard a lot of people, this is going to change church forever, like, we’re just going to explode, people from everywhere is going to go online. That excitement lasted about two weeks. But that excitement, like it’s what drove everyone instantly online. And by doing so, this is just my assessment, we made the classic church mistake and ended up practicing unintentionally as usually often is the case, a digital colonialism, which just means that we went online and forgot that actually we were going into a different culture and had to change actually how we intersect with that culture, how we communicate, because people understand truth differently in different cultures, that’s definitely the case from in-person to digital. People understand authority differently, people understand relationships differently, and they build community differently. And so, surprise, we did everything we were doing in person and just put a camera in front of it and pretended like we were like using technology. And it’d be the same as if we took what we do here and just imported it to someplace in West Africa or to Asia or Latin America and assumed it would just work and were surprised it didn’t. And I think we’ve discovered, and I think we know now what many people throughout probably the last, I don’t know, 40 or 50 years have been looking at for media ecology, that media actually changes things and the dynamic of digital culture is unique, and what does it look like to recreate our methodologies for online ministries as we move into the future?

Jason Hamrock: [00:07:16] Hmm. Okay, one more question for you, then Bart will jump in here.

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo: [00:07:20] Yeah.

Jason Hamrock: [00:07:20] So whenever I talk to churches, in fact, I did it today, this morning I was talking to a church in California. And I try to paint the picture because they’re going, how can we get more people digitally engage with us so that they show up in person? I go, good question. You know, I like to speak in terms of a funnel, right? You kind of have a funnel as you’re…And there are different layers or rings to that funnel, you know, and so everything you do digitally if you’re doing advertising, it’s reaching a whole lot of people so that some will take the next step and next step for the next step and maybe they’ll end up in a seat. So that’s kind of how I talk to it, but I think a lot of churches today, like, they’re still, pastors, are very, very motivated to have people sit in a seat, and rightfully so. But how can digital ministry support that, from your perspective? And how can we accomplish reaching people online to get them into a seat?

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo: [00:08:16] Oh, see, this question has about ten layers to it. And I would probably challenge some of the premises of the question because I would challenge the thought of like, first the thought of like confusing the ends with the means. So as a pastor is my goal ultimately to get people in the seat in my building? Because I think if it is, it actually is because that’s how we viewed our matrix of success in the past. But digital actually has wiped, like all our dashboards are broken, so if somehow I have to get people in there to get their immediate response from being in the room and how they’re feeling, or the foyer conversation that stokes our ego, telling me how great the sermon was. If those are the pieces, and so I’m trying to get people so I can experience that, I’m not saying that that’s the case for everybody, but if that’s the case, then actually I might actually be confusing the means with the ends. But if the end says I want to have people encounter the living Christ, experience the gospel that will transform their life, experience Christian community, and if some of that happens online, that transitions to some of it happening in person; or if all of that happens online, and I can have somebody who has experienced the risen Christ and experiences Christian community and as being disciples online, like is that not as good as the person being in the room? Because I think actually in the past we’ve had a bunch of people in the room that were just consumers, just in a different way as their consumers online. The thought that online ministry has created a bunch of Christian consumers, has like kind of intentional historic ignorance because we had the same people in the pews and they just showed up late and left early and didn’t engage in Christian community and didn’t give and came once a month or once every two months. But we can’t celebrate that as the epitome of success, we need to get the people back in the room, whether they engage online or in-person, as long as they’re experiencing the Christian community and are engaged in ministry. And there are certain parts of that, things that I think the church needs to do that maybe have an embodied nature to it, and there are parts like communion, I think, that function a bit that way. But I just think like we just need to reframe the question of what do I want? And I want people engaged. Can it happen in the room? Yes. Can it happen online? Absolutely, and I can give you countless examples of when that has. But that should be, in my view, the pastoral end goal. So maybe that’s a bit of a way to to to question a little bit the premise of the question, but also a bit of the goal of what I think ministry should be in person or online.

Bart Blair: [00:10:50] Alright, I’m driving my ministry bus here. If you’re watching on YouTube, you see me driving my ministry bus, but if you’re listening…

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo: [00:10:58] I have never seen anyone drive a ministry bus

Bart Blair: [00:10:59] I’m driving my ministry bus and I look down, oh, my dashboard is broken. You just told me my dashboard is broken, and so I’m looking at this one over here that says butts in seats and that one’s broken, and this one over here that says bucks in the bucket and that one’s broken, and this one over here that says baptisms, that one’s broken. Okay, I need to, I’m pulling the bus over. All right, pull the bus over, and I need to rebuild my dashboard. If I’m going to rebuild my dashboard based on the things that you’re kind of extrapolating as it relates to engagement and connection and community and those types of things, I’ve got to do two things, one is I have to decide what the most important things are that I’m going to be measuring, and I want you to speak to that, I want you to speak to that as pastor and professor, right, you got both of those things, you’ve been a pastor, you’re a professor and vice versa. But I also have to do the heavy lifting, which is, this is probably the heaviest lift, which is having the self-confidence and the courage to say those are the things that I’m going to let measure the success of my ministry. Because when I go to the next pastor’s conference, pastors are still asking me, so what are you running on Sunday? So what are your numbers? That is still the measurement tool by which I’m gauging the majority of my personal success, it’s the way my peers look at me. How how do I overcome that?

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo: [00:12:25] Well, that’s such a complicated question. So I think first, it’s hard to do because so much of our ego is tied to the growth of things. It’s why, like you can talk to ten different people and they’ll use ten different multipliers, for views, how many people live in their seats and numbers now don’t really mean anything, it’s so complicated when it comes to digital numbers, I mean, you can measure everything. In fact, I challenge pastors, like if you ever get stressed about this, just watch the views because you can see in your live stream when people stop listening to you, it can be quite depressing.

Bart Blair: [00:12:59] I had a conversation with a pastor one time many, many years ago who would literally count people in worship attendance who would have been there if they weren’t doing this other thing.

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo: [00:13:14] Yeah.

Bart Blair: [00:13:14] Like he would go, oh well if they hadn’t been at that event, or that family reunion, or on vacation, they would have been here, so we’re going to still count them in our numbers. I’m like, what, that’s crazy, they’re not there.

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo: [00:13:28] It’s the same thing, like, our denomination had their yearly statistic things, and people just interpret it differently. One of my pastor friends was like, people that worship, well, everything is worship, so everything we do in the church is worship. And so like this church has never had that many people on it on a Sunday, and they say, oh, I just interpreted it differently. And how many people were engaged in worship on the weekend or during the week? And so I think that’s the challenge, right? Like we all have a fixation with numbers, but I think this is the potential gift we’ll give to the church, I’m not sure the church will embrace this gift, but this is the potential gift, because if the pandemic taught anything, it taught us that not only can the church change, she is really good at it when it senses there’s a problem. Like the church was, I mean just didn’t think about it for a moment. in the midst of the pandemic, the church was the fastest organization on the planet to change to online, it was faster than any organization or other business in the world but made the pivot faster than anything else. However, the church has been the slowest to respond to a discipleship crisis, to a leadership crisis, to an evangelism crisis, which tells me that we actually don’t really think those things are problems, we’re actually quite okay with them. And the worst thing the church can do post-pandemic is to go back to the way things were assuming that, if the thought of like we want to go back to pre-pandemic dynamics, what? Like at no point in any meeting in denominations or conferences did we ever say it was good, we were all complaining about how horrible it was. Yet it’s what we know, so we want to go back. We’re just like the Israelites who left Egypt, we want to go back to what we were, even though what it was was horrible, but it’s what we know, so just this human tendency to do that. So I think this is like the moment the church can actually re-embrace a dashboard that would say, what are the things that we’re going to count? How are we going to like, acknowledge that some things that we should be counting aren’t actually countable in the same way, but what are we going to use as those metrics of success and not go back to the old ways? Because those old ways of doing things we would have said before were deeply problematic, they’re just what we know and what we feel comfortable with. So we’re actually at this greatest moment of potential, but I actually fear will actually revert back and end up where we were before, which we would have said five years ago needed massive change. So maybe a long-winded way to circle back on your question.

Bart Blair: [00:16:10] I’m going to make one comment and then I’m going to let Jason jump in here. And I’m going to say, yes, you are correct in that the church did pivot very, very fast to the COVID 19 pandemic, going online, the only organization, and because you’re in Canada, you wouldn’t have seen this, the only organization that probably beat the church was Chick-fil-A. Chick-fil-A went really, really fast, too. So, Jason, does your son still work at Chick-Fil-A?

Jason Hamrock: [00:16:32] Yeah, he does.

Bart Blair: [00:16:33] Yeah. Boy, Chick-fil-A pivoted pretty quick, too. But other than that, but that’s kind of like Christian chicken anyway.

Jason Hamrock: [00:16:40] It is Christian chicken, it’s part of the church anyway.

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo: [00:16:43] Yeah, that’s right.

Bart Blair: [00:16:44] All right.

Jason Hamrock: [00:16:45] Yeah. You know, it’s interesting that you say that because I mean, it’s so true, you know, we’re so guilty at least, well, it sounds like Canadian churches are in the same boat as American churches, you know, the numbers and the numbers, numbers, numbers. And yet I was having this conversation with my son the other day about baptisms because we had a baptism weekend at our church. We don’t do it every weekend, we ramp up to it. Some churches do them every week which is awesome. We had, I don’t know the count, but in the service I was in, we probably had close to 30 people get dunked. It was awesome. And so we were talking about because, you know, he was mentioning how many, do like do all churches do what we do? No, no, they don’t. And it would be interesting, it popped into my mind, is what if the dashboard that we measured was baptisms and salvations? That’s it, that’s it, so every week if it was zero, you’re not doing your job. And how would that radically change pastors’ and churches’ mindsets about evangelism and going out and inviting and bringing people to church, or being the church, and getting them baptized?

Bart Blair: [00:17:58] Well, let’s double click on that then, Jason. So let’s say I decided that those were going to be the only two things that I was measuring. Salvation is people committing to follow Jesus, and people going public with their faith, getting baptized, and let’s say that my primary means of accomplishing those things starts digitally. Professor Bryce, what am I doing? How am I going to use digital to begin moving the needle on those metrics?

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo: [00:18:29] Yeah, well, I think you’ve articulated the challenge, right? If that’s the means, then I think first then you’d have to take, I think you have to take digital seriously. I think that’s actually one of the dynamics of kind of the post-pandemic rush. And then like, oh, like is this being really effective? And then the fear of actually pulling back as opposed to continuing to press in. So continue to take digital seriously and not give up on it because I do think it has immense value into the future. But how then you use it I think becomes key, because lots of places just use digital as a means to people can experience what happens in person but do that through now with a digital veil. And I think that actually isn’t really what I think most people who are steeped in digital ministry and understanding consider it, I think that’s usually the challenge I have talking to people is they think like all I’m thinking is like we put a camera in the back of the room and then that’s what I mean by digital ministry. And then that actually isn’t, like a digital small group operates differently than an in-person small group, it’s not just a camera in the same room. You build community differently, there’s a different level of engagement there. So I think part of it is if you take digital seriously, you change accordingly.

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo: [00:19:49] But then I think you recognize the dynamic of digital as a means to your ends. And if the ends are, we want people to engage in community, we want people to engage in our community as a church, we want people to be aware of what’s going on in maybe the community outside the church. We want people to know about what God is doing in our church, and tell the story of what happening in a church. Well, now you’re reframing actually what your social media channel is, and how you actually are engaging with your maybe your online services. It reframes that is not being kind of like just a digital version of what you’re doing in person, it engages it as actually its own way to get people to the end of having a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ. And some of that, or even all of that, can happen actually in my argument online because they’re so real people on either end digitally, it can be life on life, it’s just mediated digitally instead of with like air and in community. All those types of things I think can happen in a digital format, but that’s, I think, the difference is taking digital seriously and then using digital to get to the ends and not just seeing it as a kind of a merge ramp to in person if that makes sense.

Bart Blair: [00:21:14] Yeah. I hear what you’re saying. You’re basically saying, I understand what you’re saying, a lot of churches are doing nothing more but creating a fly-on-the-wall experience for their in-person experience, their in person worship service, on Facebook, or YouTube, or somewhere on their website. And you’re saying that the digital experience needs to be an experience in and of itself, not just a window into the world of what happens between the four walls at 11:00 on Sunday morning. You know, I was just kind of glancing through some of the notes that we’d put together before we started recording here, and some of the things that you had put in your notes were things like using social media to build connections and using social media to tell stories. What kind of things do you see churches doing, or have you observed churches doing, where they’re doing that well, where they’re using social media to build that connection, or they’re using social media to tell stories? Can you get a little more practical in that, in terms of what that actually looks like?

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo: [00:22:22] Yeah, well, I think the trick of churches and their social media content around this is that everything online is personal. So the nature of digital, whether you know so or not or you choose it or not, everything has been personalized and contextualized for you, that’s the nature, so it’s a very personal experience. Yet most churches operate their social media channels, much like a bulletin board that’s impersonal, that’s not connected. And yet social is supposed to be social, it’s supposed to be an ability to tell stories and engage in participation, right? One of the dynamics is people like to participate in the content they’re consuming. I always articulate, that’s actually why podcasts are really popular, podcasts are not typically one person talking about their stuff, it’s not a lecture. It’s usually some version of a conversation that happens, usually that’s with more than two people, much like you articulate here with three people, and people feel like they’re the fourth or the fifth or the sixth or how many people are on the podcast perspectively, they feel like they’re participating in what’s happening. And so if your social media channels can actually live off of those like values and content, they actually can connect with people in new ways. So the churches I see around where I live that do that well, use social media to tell the story of what God is doing in the lives of their people. They use social media not just to tell all the events that are upcoming, they actually rarely do that, they use their websites for that. They use it, in fact, to say, what is God doing in our church today? And so your engagement with what’s happening on social media is them creating what I call proprietary content for their community that’s unique to them, that is customized to them, that they’re sharing of what God’s doing in their lives at their church. I think the temptations of lots of churches is let’s just pay a subscription to a company that will give us social media posts that will be designed, and we can just send them out and automate a send-out thing, as opposed to customizing it for your community. What does it look like to share the story of what God is doing in your church, in real-time, in a real way? That’s what will compel people because that’s what social media is designed to do, it isn’t designed just to be like a large bulletin board that now exists in a social media space.

Jason Hamrock: [00:24:37] So, yeah, you know, I want to ask this question to you, but it’s putting you on the spot, so I’ll ask it anyway. If you had…

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo: [00:24:46] That’s why I’m here.

Jason Hamrock: [00:24:46] You said something that was pretty compelling, you said, hey, we’re just, and I agree with you, we’re just on the front very edge of where digital’s going. And the church, we’re ten years behind in that space sometimes, we might as well be 100 years behind, it moves so rapidly. However, are there churches, you just mentioned some that are doing great, are there churches that you know that are doing this really effectively? And second, where do you think this is all going? I mean, is it going to be one of those things where… Do you think the church, I mean, you said the church is really good at pivoting, are we going to want to go back to like, yeah, we’ve got to drive…Because I’m hearing more and more and more we’re getting more and more people in the seats. Okay, are we getting back to some normalness where that’s going to happen? Or would you like to see the church explode in this digital space? I mean, just some thoughts from you.

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo: [00:25:41] Oh, I think like all those things, I think it’s not an either-or dynamic, right? Like the reality is, I think as we look into the future, I think more people, like churches will come back to in-person attendance as people feel more comfortable, absolutely, for sure. But I also think in the process of that, let’s not like, let’s not burn all of our ships that we learned how to use to get us here. Let’s use them to figure out what does it look like to embrace digital in the future. It’s the same as, like I’m sure there are tons of people who, when they were able to go back to their offices, longed to go back and experience all the office dynamic, but eventually it will be like, you know what? I also really liked the engagement from at home, and don’t ever want to go back and work fully in person anymore, I want to work at least partially virtually. Every industry will be like that, and the church will be like that too. And for people who tell me like that’s horrible, I get this pushback all the time, the church can’t exist like that, the ecclesia is different, etc., etc. Okay, but the reality is we have to figure out how to like engage with the world that is going to engage with the church in a very different way. And I think the danger for lots of these things is that people always perceive, like, the digital church will never work because Zoom Church sucks. And it’s like, okay, you do realize Zoom will not be around and will not be what we use in five years, right? Like its lifespan is not in perpetuity, it is not going to be…If you’re comparing this with like MSN Chat from like ten years ago, like, these companies change, like the technology changes so fast. What happens if you get rid of the digital delay? It even becomes a partially 3D experience through VR. All these things will be changing, and if we don’t like start thinking about this both theologically, of course, but also methodologically in ministry, we’ve just missed our moment and have doubled down on in person. When I think like the world is shifting, and there are conversations around like embodied ministry, I get all of that, and I think we need to have all of that, and that’s partially what I do. But I also recognize we just can’t like throw it all away for thinking what digital will be is what digital is right now.

Jason Hamrock: [00:28:01] Yeah. Yeah. And I say this, and I pray this, that we forget we have the most creative leader, oh, yeah, he created everything, including the universe. And we forget to tap into him to say, hey, help your church excel in this space of digital, we could be the most creative. I’m going on my soapbox, but I just think we get ourselves in a little box. We don’t realize, we don’t have to be in a box, right? Because we say the same thing about Missional Marketing, how can we continue, Lord, lead us in that path, right? We don’t know the answer, He does.

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo: [00:28:38] Well, I would say technology existed before the fall, like, Adam needed tools to till the soil. You can’t till the soil with your hands. So like I always say, the garden was this picture of, like, the world vibrating with creativity. Like, this isn’t a stale environment where everything was, like, stuck the same, there was the sense of reproduction, and a sense of like of tilling of the soil, the sense of caring for the earth and stewarding it in a way that’s using technology to do so. These are created elements by our creative God that we are called to be a part of, recognizing that because of the fall, we have a tendency to, like, reach for things that actually aren’t good for us. Because all technology extends our reach, to quote Marshall McLuhan. but we equally have a tendency to do horrible things and we have with technology in the past, but it also has a redemptive portion to it as well that we see even in the Scripture.

Bart Blair: [00:29:41] I live in this perpetual tension and it’s probably, you know, maybe it’s just my age, maybe it’s just my generation, I don’t know, you know.

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo: [00:29:54] Your early twenties.

Bart Blair: [00:29:55] Exactly. Thank you, Bryce. It’s this tension that I live in, in that I really have a difficult time buying into the concept of digital church as a whole.

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo: [00:30:12] Yeah.

Bart Blair: [00:30:13] I have a really difficult time seeing how we live out the one another’s from Scripture in a digital space. Now I’m evangelistically wired, my feet hit the ground running every day, and I do the work that I do for the purpose of seeing people who are far from God come into a personal relationship with Jesus.

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo: [00:30:34] Sure.

Bart Blair: [00:30:34] And I will go 1,000% down on our digital ability to reach people and make disciples online, and I’ve had pastors and leaders kind of push back on that. And I’d say, you’re in an academic space, the academic world has had to make major pivots since COVID more and more offerings online, and I would no more say that a pastor who has his M.Div., or his Th.M., or maybe even his doctorate from an online program is less educated than a disciple who’s been made online, right? Like, I’m not going to say, hey, well, you can get your master’s degree online and we’ll call you educated, but we’re not going to say that this new disciple of Jesus isn’t really saved because it happened online, I’m not going to do that. But I have a really difficult time in this in this space.

Bart Blair: [00:31:30] And, you know, Dave Adamson, I have not read his book, he’s got this new book out called MetaChurch, and there’s a lot of key people talking about the idea of having this virtual reality, VR, church. It’s, you’re right, it’s not Zoom Church. And by the way, for those of you who are listening, don’t go and sell your Zoom stock just yet. I don’t have any inside tips, but just because Bryce said it’s not going to be around forever, doesn’t mean you should go unload it today. But, you know, I don’t know, I didn’t necessarily have a question in this, I’m just wrestling in all the tension because I’m the 50-some-year-old pastor who is living in this world where I know I’ve got less runway in front of me than I have behind me, I remember doing ministry with a flip phone, I remember doing ministry without a cell phone, but the pastor’s coming behind me haven’t and can’t. And so I have no question, I’m just laboring over this prospect.

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo: [00:32:24] No. Well, I think I would want to be clear on this, I think there are challenges with digital ministry. like, there are challenges, partially, theologically and methodologically. I’m not trying to like basically say ignore all that and just go embrace it. I also, I’m saying that personally to challenge those who would say, well, you can’t do it, anything always has to be in person. Right? Like only in person, for example, teaching is authoritative and good. Well, the early church would disagree with you because Paul’s letters were seen as authoritative, and they would read them and pass them around. That was a form of technology that was mediated through a page in words, and yet was seen as authoritative and embraced as this gift while Paul’s in prison or visiting different churches, they can still be a part of the teaching of the church. So I just would just always be cautious that we don’t dismiss something because of like, oh, how do you do communion or baptism online and the sacraments, or however you view the for tradition, how do you do those online? Yeah, that’s a great question and worthy of lots of theological reflection, but let’s not throw out the dynamic of actually connecting with somebody over Zoom or whatever its eventual, someday, replacement will be. I don’t want to get sued by Zoom, but like all technology companies, they all come and go. So what does that look like? Because it’s not going to, like, social media will not look the same, right? Facebook looks very different than Friendster or MySpace, right? What Facebook is now is different, and what it will be ten years from now will be different. And so we’ve always got to be cautious, I think, of those dynamics and try to like use it wisely at the same time as not just disparage it because it’s different and it challenges our preconceived norms of what it looks like.

Jason Hamrock: [00:34:24] Yeah, to me, instead, it’s not about not wanting to do it because of fear of failure, you’re going to fail because you didn’t try. So go try and fail and try again and fail and try again and fail, and eventually, you won’t. And you have to be okay to do that. But I think to this conversation, I think for our listeners, it’s more about what do you do with this information, what do you do with this conversation, and all the other conversations that are happening around this digital church movement? And I guess my take is to just absorb it all and pray and lean on where God is leading you and your ministry and how you can continue to connect with people. But don’t be afraid to try and do something just because you think you’re going to fail. You are going to fail, and that’s a good thing. Right?

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo: [00:35:09] And I would say keep having the conversations, right? Let’s keep talking about this, and let’s try to have constructive conversations and not like throw the baby out with the bathwater conversations, or not like let’s embrace everything without no critically reflecting on it conversations. Like the truth is going to be somewhere in the middle and that will be the sweet spot, but it’s going to take us time to figure that out. And the world is constantly changing, so the questions we’ve got today will be very different from ten years from now that the church is wrestling with, and it’s different now ten years from then. That has always been the case, and that always will be the case. People are having these questions about mass media and how that was going to change the church, the television, and newspaper ads, no matter what, the conversation is always going to be among us, and we just need to keep kind of diving into it.

Jason Hamrock: [00:36:00] Well, Bryce, thank you so much for your input, and your wisdom, and your ministry. I really, really appreciate it. How can people connect with you? Where can they find some of your content?

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo: [00:36:12] Yeah. So the easiest way, the most general way to connect is BryceAshlinmayo.com, from there you can follow many of my social media channels, it’s all the same @BryceAshlinMayo. You can track me down there, you can get my books on Amazon, the whole shebang. So that’s the easiest way to get to me.

Jason Hamrock: [00:36:30] Okay, great, we’ll add those to the show notes so anybody can go and check that out. And again, thank you, Bryce. We really appreciate your time.

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo: [00:36:38] Thanks, and to anyone who’s listening, that’s a church leader, thank you for serving one of the most challenging times in church history, and to continue on valiantly in service of our King and His mission.

Jason Hamrock: [00:36:52] You bet. Amen to that.

Bart Blair: [00:36:53] Amen.

Jason Hamrock: [00:36:53] Thank you.

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