Posted by: sdunnpastor | June 1, 2011

THE GOSPEL AND SOCIAL NETWORKING

This is an excellent post from James Nored Missional Outreach Network (I urge to subscribe)

James Nored

The Gospel Spreads through Social Networking – Lessons from Jesus & the Early Church

I am not opposed to “advertising” for the church, particularly if it is tied to offering to meet a felt need in the community. But the most powerful form of “advertising” is the sharing of the gospel person to person through social networking. Today, obviously, we have tremendous online social networking tools (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) that we need to utilize to reach the lost. But even without these tools, the early church grew from a small band of disciples in the first century to an Empire-wide force in the 4th century through person-to-person, “social networking.”

 

Jesus was certainly shaped by his social connections, and his ministry was launched through social networking connections. On a divine level, he was sent by the Father to the earth, and he was conceived through the Holy Spirit. The Father was well pleased at his baptism, and the Spirit descended upon him at this time (Matt. 3:13-17). On a human level, Jesus was raised by parents that sought to be obedient to God (Luke 1:21-40), and he followed the ministry of his relative, John the Baptist, preaching this same message: “Repent for the Kingdom of God is near” (Matt. 3:2; 4:17).[1] While his mother, brothers, and sisters were at times skeptical of his messianic claims, after his death and resurrection his mother Mary and his brothers were present at Pentecost, and his brother James became a foundational figure in the church in Jerusalem (Acts 1:14; 15:13; 21:17).

The synoptic gospels seem to portray Jesus calling the disciples out of nowhere and without any prior connections; however, the gospel of John makes it clear that Jesus used social networking as he made this call, beginning with Andrew, one of John the Baptist’s followers, and then spreading through Andrew’s family and friends (Jn. 1:40-42).[2] Jesus of course also worked through other social structures of his day to spread the gospel, including the rabbinical schools, the synagogues, and agrarian society. Galilee, where Jesus grew up, also would have provided Jesus with various points of connection, serving as a physical hub connecting him to all sorts of people, including fishermen, farmers, tradesmen, artisans, tax collectors, and others.[3]

The early Christians followed Christ, sought to be like him, and took up his call to be fishers of people seriously. Moreover, missiologist Eckhard J. Schnabel asserts that the early Christians followed Christ’s life and mission even on the strategy level, for “they confessed Jesus not only as Messiah but also as Kyrios: his behavior was the model and the standard for their own behavior.” [4] An examination of the early Church’s outreach strategy shows that the Church followed Jesus’ model of social networking.

On Pentecost, the number of Jesus’ followers who were gathered together was a mere 120 people. Yet, as the Spirit of God was poured out and Peter preached the gospel message, more than 3000 responded (Acts 2:1-41). While the apostles and other evangelists would play a key role in the spread of the gospel, increasingly the gospel would be spread by these ordinary Christians through their own social circles.

The structure of the book of Acts is made up of radiating people-group circles, with the command to take the gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). This rate of the transmission of the gospel through social networks would increase as persecution broke out against the Church and “all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1).

As has long been noted, the physical and social structures of the world of the early Church made networking possible on a grander scale. The Roman roads connected cities around the Empire, and those at Pentecost and those scattered by persecution were able to quickly take the gospel to their old or newly developed social networks. The common Greek language provided not only understandability, but a common way of thinking and a reference point for those sharing the gospel. The Diaspora assisted in the message transmission, with the synagogues serving as nodes or distribution hubs, connecting missionaries like Paul to family, friends, and a vast network of people who already believed in God and were looking for a Messiah. And as Paul goes through the household codes in his letters to Christians and draws out the implications for the gospel, he repeatedly encourages his readers to reach out to outsiders, make the most of every conversation, and impact every social stratum which they occupy for Christ (Col. 3:18-4:6).[5]

 

As noted above, while the gospel message spread through apostles, evangelists, and missionary bishops, it spread primarily through ordinary Christians. Unlike the public evangelism of the “full time” evangelists, this “ordinary evangelism” would have worked primarily through social circles. This is the very type of evangelism on display in Origen’s response to Celsus, who charged that Christians spread their beliefs in women’s quarters, leather shops, and laundries.[6]
In its beginnings, it appears that Christianity was largely a movement amongst the lower class, Jews, women, and agrarian society in Palestine, but it soon became a movement that encompassed Gentiles, men and women, the educated, and urbanites across the Roman Empire.[7] While there were many sociological, religious, and political reasons for this, social networking played a major role in the numerical growth and demographic shift of Christians in the first three centuries.

How can we use social networking today to share the gospel and start a new movement for Christ?


 

[1] Jesus’ connection to John the Baptist undoubtedly helped him tremendously in launching his ministry, a concept that is both testified to in the gospels (John the Baptist prepares the way for Jesus) and by social construction theory. The authors of Palestine in the Time of Jesus state that kinship was the primary social domain of ancient Mediterranean societies, followed by political structures and associations. K. C. Hanson and Douglas E. Oakman, Palestine in the Time of Jesus: Social Structures and Social Conflicts (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998), 20.

 

[2] “Instead of immediately leaving one’s everyday work place and following without hesitation, [in John] there is networking with kin and friends in the villages.” See Dennis C. Duling, “The Jesus Movement and Social Network Analysis: (Part Ii. The Social Network).” Biblical Theology Bulletin (2000). http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-94331533.html (accessed 5-14-09).

 

[3] See Hanson and Oakman, 99-129. See also Dennis C. Duling, “The Jesus Movement and Social Network Analysis (Part I: The Spatial Network),” Biblical Theology Bulletin (1999). http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-94332368.html (accessed 5-21-09).

 

[4] Eckhard J. Schnabel, Early Christian Mission, vol. 2 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 1544.

[5] For a summary of the conditions that favored the spread of Christianity, including the Roman roads and common language, see Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, Second ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), 579-80. In regards to the Diaspora, Stark writes, “In all the major centers of the empire were substantial settlements of Diasporan Jews who were accustomed to receiving teachers from Jerusalem. Moreover, the missionaries were likely to have family and friendship connections within at least some of the Diasporan communities. Indeed, if Paul is a typical example, the missionaries were themselves Hellenized Jews.” See Stark, 62.

[6] Green, Evangelism in the Early Church, 208-09.

 

[7] Stark’s entire work, The Rise of Christianity, lays out these reasons and others for Christianity’s growth in the early centuries. Stark.

 

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