The Spirit often does his faith-shaping work through other believers. Luther called the mutual conversation and encouragement of others a basic means of grace. Key, of course, is the spoken Word. The Spirit’s workplace is believers gathered around God’s Word and sharing their experiences and insights.
Our American culture is undergoing a huge shift away from its Christian foundations. For many believers, their faith was shaped by their inherited church culture labeled as denominations. Most of the long-established church cultures are not being passed on to new generations. The challenge for Christian church leaders today is to sort out the basics of the biblical faith and worldview they want passed on to new generations, who will shape new church cultures.
For the Apostle Paul, the key to a distinctive and attractive church life was the special fellowship God created through the work of the Holy Spirit. The historic redemptive work of the Son of God was central to his message. But the Spirit’s current work of shaping the fellowship of church life was basic to his ministry. There is clear precedent in Paul’s writings to describe this third Person of the Trinity as Christ’s Spirit.
Paul understood Christ’s Spirit as God’s presence that empowered fellowship sharing. He believed this was supernatural power, and I, too, have come to believe so. Christ’s Spirit influences and changes the human spirit. The Spirit shapes a believer’s inward motivation and yields highly desirable fruit, like love, joy, peace, trust and hope. The Spirit also gives motivation and energy to do the various ministries of a healthy congregation. This is special supernatural energy not available to other kinds of social groupings.
The online discussion moderator is the link who keeps conversations productive. Comments are forwarded to the moderator, who posts those that meet the criteria for church conversation and encouragement. He/she notifies the online community when comments have been posted . The moderator works with the pastor to list the weekly theme and invite reactions after that Sunday. He/she can also choose a blog to feature for discussion.
The role of moderator can be shared among two or three leaders who coordinate their efforts. Ideally the pastor would a key member of this coordinating group.
The purpose of the conversations of this online community is to offer or to ask for encouragement among the participants as they face major decisions or live out their personal journey with Christ’s Spirit. This discussion is not the place to register complaints against the fellowship. The moderator can choose not to post such comments, or direct them to the proper leader in the congregation.
The basic community would be a local Christian congregation meeting weekly for worship. The online community would supplement the basic face-to-face fellowship. In turn, online conversation can encourage more face-to-face interaction as fellowship relationships grow stronger.
Some online communities can be made up of ministry leaders who want to share ideas, problems and encouragement. Basic would be a group of pastors sharing leadership challenges and discussing options.
Most comments would be in print form. But participants can also share short videos as they describe what is on their mind.
Think first of a well-developed small-group Bible study. Participants have gotten to know each other well and think of themselves as friends. When they meet face to face, they have a chosen section of Scriptures to react to and apply to themselves. Their discussion can go into sharing personal challenges and blessings as the Spirit leads them.