Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Why it’s Kicking Off Everywhere and the Rise of the Networked Individual

I’ve just finished reading Why it’s Kicking Off Everywhere, Paul Mason’s analysis of the wave of change which swept the world last year, from the Arab Spring to the Occupy movement, via the Eurozone crisis. Anyone who’s watched Mason’s reports on the BBC’s Newsnight over the last 12 months will already be familiar with his skills as a journalist, and the book doesn’t disappoint.

Of particular interest are his insights on ‘the networked individual,’ including a new breed of activist who is passionate about the need for change on critical issues, and who, armed with a smartphone and access to social media, has all the tools they need to connect with the likeminded and quickly build a movement. Mason writes about the ‘emergence of a new kind of individual with ‘weak ties’, multiple loyalties and greater autonomy.’

The question is: how does this impact the church, and our communication of the values of the kingdom which are crying out to be heard at a time like this? There’s a desire for change but also a wariness of the institutions who have presided over the failures of the current system, with the church in the role of sometimes-collaborator. How do we foster discipleship in a world of greater passion and but where ties are held more lightly?

Perhaps one answer is found in Jesus’ image of leaven working through dough. Could it be that the kingdom of heaven is like ideas transmitted through a network, subverting, inspiring, disturbing, until all of it was infused. 


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  2. The first part of your question intrigues me: how does this impact the church? In particular, how does it impact the local congregation?

    The kingdom being transmitted and infused subversively, disturbingly and inspiringly may well look messy and random at the local level. If we are all connected (even just with other Christians) in different passionate directions addressing different critical issues, what does church unity look like? How does a local congregation know which issues to be involved in today, as a congregation, when tomorrow's agenda will list a new set of issues?

    Or do we encourage individuals to each belong to their own separate networks? If we do, we can no longer rely on "The Big Project" to transmit a unifying force, and must discover community in a different way.

    To be able to move with pace in such a brave new networked world, the local congregation surely needs a deep community commitment grounded in love for Jesus and each other, in order to deflect factionalism and prevent fragmentation. Consequently, if such networking is to be undertaken by the church, then finding a recipe for church life which cements this body commitment while encouraging massively networked involvement is an important and challenging quest for early 21st century Christianity

  3. Thanks John, this is really helpful, and it reminds me of a comment I read a few years ago from Eddie Gibbs – that tomorrow’s church leaders will need to operate from the centre of a network, and not the top of a pyramid.

    Looking at the picture you’ve painted, I wonder if it’s reasonable to suggest that our church is actually more networked already than we realise, e.g. in YWBC, we have a network of BB, Aspire, Lighthouse etc, and it ought to be the task of the church to provide the adhesive that holds things together... by sharing the same vision of Jesus as Lord in our gathered worship, and expressing a desire to watch out for each other working out through hospitality, house groups, church meeting et al. And if there’s enough love for God and each other at the centre, maybe it doesn’t matter how blurred and messy things get at the boundaries.

  4. Speaking as someone who has lots of interests, I think of them all as part of my attempts to follow Jesus. Whether it's family, friends, politics, the community centre or environmental campaigning, they are all part of my network.
    I like the idea of the values of the kingdom of heaven infusing daily life and subverting it. In our society that is obsessed with wealth, celebrity, image and status I try to remember that none of the people that the tabloids and media are full of would be of any importance. As disciples of Jesus we can offer another set of values and challenge the importance of so called norms.

    Clare Thomas