Summertime is often a time for ministry leaders to tackle that long reading list or stack of impulsively bought books from Amazon that has built up over the rush of the ministry program year. It is also a good time to travel off the beaten digital path and discover new resources for both personal nourishment and programmatic enhancement.
Perhaps, like me, you have a favorite set of blogs you follow for Biblical commentary or theological perspective, including this one. Summer is a good time to expand that list, not only to increase our array of digital conversation partners, but also to learn how to incorporate multimedia ideas and sensibilities into our own work and ministry.
One of the major trends we’ve seen online in just the last couple of years is an explosion of multimedia content on both social media and websites. Podcasts, once thought hopelessly geeky, are in ascendance, with more added everyday. Visual content—images, photos, and video—has become a primary driver of engagement across social media platforms and websites.
These trends toward audible and visual media have continued to blur the line between what we consider social media, an app, or a website. Increasingly, when we ask which is which, the answer is simply “yes.” It is becoming more and more difficult to differentiate between various platforms and technologies.
So, grab your longboard this summer and take a ride on seven great websites that use multimedia content to its most off the Richter ministry advantage:
Thirty Seconds or Less
Jim Kast-Keat, associate minister of Middle Collegiate Church and creator of Thirty Seconds or Less, describes the project as “the world’s shortest podcast, a flash mob of ideas, hundreds of voices exploring the art of elimination. If you can’t say it in thirty seconds, you’re probably not ready to say it at all.” As the name suggests, the site features short, 30-second(ish) voice recordings from a wide variety of people about a broad range of faith topics, including creativity, technology, ministry practice, social justice, and much more. (The project was recently recognized by The Huffington Post for its series of recordings for LGBTQ Pride Month.) Each voice recording is paired with a single image and background music to create a short but powerful pop of insight and inspiration. Thirty Seconds or Less fits our rapidly shrinking attention spans while providing excellent, thought-provoking content. As preachers sometimes need reminding, you don’t have talk a long time to say something profound. And hey, you can even record your own 30-second inspiration.
One of the podcasts in heavy rotation on my phone is Casey Fitzgerald’s Story Divine, which is part of her website called Faith & Wonder. Casey serves as the Associate Pastor for Children & Families and Young Adults at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, Virginia, and one of her passions is Biblical storytelling. Each week on Story Divine, Casey—who is always accompanied by her dog, King—introduces the lectionary passages for the coming Sunday. She reads the texts, shares her reflections, and invites listeners to consider not only how the texts engage their own stories, but also how they might share the lectionary narratives with others. Casey is a gifted podcast host. Her work helps me prepare to preach, of course, but it also helps me better understand the important role that story plays in creating connection between people within and beyond my congregation. In a world so oversaturated with information, we crave stories that connect us to the story of faith, our neighbors, and God.
This Everyday Holy
This Everyday Holy is a podcast and website about “ordinary living in the lectionary” created by Presbyterian minister and author Mihee Kim-Kort (who will be joining the Bearings conversation in its new season). In her podcast, Mihee connects lectionary readings to our everyday lived experiences. The podcast is peppered with recordings from Mihee’s everyday life—conversations in the car with her husband, interactions with her young children around the dinner table, and the general household chaos of life with kids. Interspersed between these everyday moments are Mihee’s insightful reflections on the intersection of faith and life, inspired by the lectionary.
Like Story Divine, This Everyday Holy is ambitious, in that it seeks to be more than a sermon preparation aid. Ultimately, it helps audience members identify the sacred amidst the seemingly mundane rhythms of everyday life. Each episode has helpful links to help listeners go deeper and further, and Mihee’s website contains excellent blog series on race, parenthood, spirituality, justice and more.
The Parallel Bible
Something like Instagram for the Bible, The Parallel Bible is the creation of brothers Andrew and Chris Breitenberg, who hope it will invite people “to live out our questions beautifully, intentionally and consistently; to encourage and evoke Parallel (kingdom) alternatives to dominant culture; to expose injustice and voice awareness in creative ways—conjuring shalom; to be a community of trusters, lovers, faithers.”
Once you’ve created an account on the project’s website, you can view Biblical texts and user-generated pictures together—but the real magic of The Parallel Bible happens in its iPhone app (an Android version is coming soon). As with Instagram, you post photos, but with The Parallel Bible you have the ability to pair those photos with verses from Scripture. You can choose a Bible verse you already know, or you can find verses arranged by theme or keyword. For instance, when I recently posted a picture from a local creek, I searched for verses in the categories of “rivers” and found this gem from John 7:38, “He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, from within him will flow rivers of living water.”
The Parallel Bible offers a fresh way to engage the Bible, discover new verses, connect our stories and the Biblical story, and be inspired by the other people’s photos and verses.
Society of Saint John the Evangelist
The Society of Saint John the Evangelist (SSJE) Episcopal monastery in Cambridge, Massachusetts uses a variety of social and multimedia platforms to make its deep monastic wisdom available to the digital world. Elizabeth Drescher and I profiled the digitally-integrated ministry of SSJE in Click 2 Save: The Digital Ministry Bible in 2012. The community has only grown more sophisticated in its digital hospitality in the few short years since then. From sermon podcasts, to daily reflections from the brothers in the “Brother, Give Us A Word” series, to a Pinterest Advent calendar, to well-developed teaching series, SSJE offers individuals and groups who may never enter the gates of the monastery’s guest house a wealth of resources and inspiration for faithful living.
Curated by Odyssey Networks, ON Scripture offers a weekly written and video reflection on the upcoming lectionary reading from a social justice perspective. A diverse collection of writers examines pressing cultural issues—including race, economic inequality, healthcare, marriage equality, mass incarceration, and more—from a faith-based perspective that is shaped by the Revised Common Lectionary’s appointed readings. Each post contains study questions for use individually or with groups, as well as additional resources should users want to learn more. Its consistent focus on social justice and incorporation of visual media makes ON Scripture unique in the online Biblical commentary space.
Ev’ry Day I’m Pastorin’
Finally, check out the Tumblr blog Ev’ry Day I’m Pastorin’, which captures the travails and triumphs of ministry all in GIFS (Graphics Interchange Format). Twenty-first-century ministry leaders will want to bookmark it for challenging days that demand a good, hearty laugh.
This is just a small sampling of the many awesome sites that keep popping up across the digital religious landscape. But, dudes, these will totally fill your ears, eyes, head, and heart with insights, ideas, inspiration, and lots of entertainment through the hot summer days and nights. We’d love to hear where you’re surfing this summer, too. Feel free to share what you think is the big kahuna of 21st-century ministry sites in the comments.