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‘Online Mission And Ministry’ by the Revd Pam Smith

pam 001
“In 2004 two online churches started in the UK, the Church of Fools and i-church. They were considered so unusual that they both attracted headlines all over the world and hundreds of potential members had to be turned away. While that level of novelty has worn off, people still do a double take when I tell them that I am the priest in charge of an online church. After the double take come the inevitable questions…this book is my attempt to answer all those questions in the depth they deserve” (extract from Introduction)

“Motivation and Longevity (Matthew 13.3-8) (p.113)

As Christians, we seek to be both culturally relevant, so we are heard by the people around us, and counter-cultural in challenging the assumptions and habits that take people further from God or prevent them from hearing the gospel.

The digital world is built for speed. It is possible to have an idea for an online campaign or initiative and set it up within weeks, if not days. If your project is unusual, or you have someone with a high profile involved, it is possible to gain a large amount of publicity very quickly. The downside of this is that things can disappear as quickly as they appear.

One approach to digital ministry is to go for high-speed, high-impact campaigns that have a short lifespan, arousing interest in the Christian message, hoping that people will be motivated to connect with a church that will take them on the next part of their Christian journey.

The counter-cultural strategy is to stay with our online ministry for the long haul, waiting for the seeds we are sowing to germinate and nurturing people in their Christian journey. This is a challenging and possibly a personally costly option. It may be possible to set up an online mega-church of millions of people but it is more likely that a long-term online Christian community will be small and quiet rather than large and exciting, and may not be understood by the wider Church…the commonest question I am asked about online church is ‘What do you do?’ and it is hard to explain that we don’t ‘do’ church – we are church to each other, despite the lack of sacraments or a building, because we are committed to each other’s journeys in the faith and in Christ’s love.

I have been conscious while I have been writing this book that it may sound rather daunting, with large amounts of space given to dealing with the more difficult aspects of online life. The downside of online mission and ministry is no greater than the downside of anything we undertake for God, but there is also a great sense of excitement and enjoyment in exploring a new form of ministry with others who are equally enthusiastic. Because the digital world moves so fast, one of the most striking statements we can make about the  gospel and God’s love is to be there for people and to remain there, praying, welcoming, teaching, comforting and being the good news for whoever needs us.

In the words of the visionary Mother Julian of Norwich, ‘He did not say ‘You shall not be tempest-tossed, you shall not be work-weary, you shall not be discomforted.’ But he did say, ‘You shall not be overcome.’

In the ever-changing digital world, what will not change is the person and nature of Jesus, his ministry of healing, his teaching of God’s love and his death and resurrection. While we have those, we have nothing to fear. ”


A review by Joyce Hackney

This new book by Rev Pam Smith, the Church of England’s web pastor, is one of the most helpful books I’ve read for a long time. The subtitle ‘A theological and practical guide’ lives up to its name as far as I’m concerned.


In clear, plain, non-patronising language,  Pam Smith explains the use of the internet for Christians. She does not assume any reader knows anything, but takes us through the technology and theology in a way that a beginner – or expert – can understand. The reader is led through the history of the internet to the present day.


Whether readers already make Christian contact via the internet, or wish to, or have misgivings about starting, this is an ideal guide. There is advice for everybody, including clergy and others who are led to ministry. She describes the similarities between online and real-world interaction without forgetting to mention the need for caution. We are informed of the advantages and drawbacks of using the internet as a field for Christian work. At all times her information and advice is backed up with Biblical references.


I’m sure many of us here in Lay Anglicana will recognise what she’s saying. I was drawn-in more or less as soon as I began to read. Good job I wasn’t on a bus or train while I was saying, ‘ Yes. I did that’ and ‘that’s true’ or ‘I remember discovering that.’

Joyce Hackney

 Some additional thoughts by Laura Sykes

I met the Revd Pam Smith about four years ago, when I first ventured onto Twitter. As she had finished something she was doing and had a spare half hour or so, she tweeted ‘Entertain me.’ Ernie Feasey (@minidvr) and I took her at her word and we began a very silly, but very entertaining exchange about liturgical dance, Joyce Grenfell and her song which begins ‘Stately as a galleon…’. I felt I had found a friend, someone to laugh with in this strange, rather frightening world to a woman in late middle age (all right, old age) venturing into social media for the first time. It didn’t occur to me at the time that what she was offering me was pastoral ministry, but it was exactly that, as I came to realise. We continued to engage on twitter and Facebook despite the fact that, although we agree about almost everything in the Church, in ordinary politics we are at different ends of the spectrum. When we met face to face a few years later, we didn’t need to introduce ourselves and it was like catching up with an old friend.

The Church of England has a document called ‘Ministry in the Church of England’ which includes the following by ++Rowan Williams in the preface:

‘At the very heart of this calling [to ministry] is God’s invitation just to be there, in the middle of the Church, holding it in prayer, seeking God’s will for the Church’s future, trying to put yourself completely at the disposal of God for that future. It isn’t a role that lends itself very easily to self-congratulation, a nice clear sense that you’ve done the job, because there’s always more to discover of God and God’s purpose for the future. You have to become a certain kind of person, not just do a certain number of things. And that can be hard, since we all like to know we’ve done all right, that we’ve ticked the right boxes. But it can also be liberating, because this is a role in which God is helping you become yourself more deeply and fully, through your relationships with the whole community of God’s people’

You will look in vain for any element of self-congratulation in Pam’s book. But that is not the only part of the above description which could have been tailor-made to fit her. Pam, thank-you for all the help which you have been to me (mostly without your knowing it). Thank-you for all that you do, online and offline, to be at the centre of the Church and to offer inspiration to those around you.

Pam2‘Online Mission and Ministry’ is officially published by SPCK on 19 February. This is what they say about the book:

Clergy and churches are increasingly being encouraged to use the internet and social media to promote their ministries. But they may worry about some of the difficult pastoral and theological issues that can arise online.

‘Virtual vicar’ the Revd Pam Smith guides both new and experienced practitioners through setting up online ministries, and considers some of the questions that may arise, such as:

Are relationships online as valid as those offline?
Is it possible to participate in a ‘virtual’ communion service?
How do you deal with ‘trolls’ in a Christian way?
What is appropriate for a clergyperson to say on social media?


Online Mission and Ministry
A theological and practical guide
Pam Smith
SPCK Publishing
Additional information
144 pages. Paperback. (216 x 138 mm)
Our Price


How Do You Find Lay Worship Leaders From The Congregation?

Pity the poor clergy, going up into the pulpit to preach on a Sunday morning, and looking down at the motley crew that is their congregation. Presumably on a bad day we look to them something like the vision of Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) above or Hogarth (1697-1764) below? Both of these artists fixed on sleeping congregations, but the problem of sleep may be as much metaphorical as actual.

If we accept the argument of the previous two posts in this series, For the Want of a Nail (1) and The Best is the Enemy of the Good (2), it is a matter of urgency to identify potential lay worship leaders from this rather unprepossessing bunch. In case there is any doubt that this is a pressing problem,  ‘Church Ferret’  pointed out on 10 May that 40% of clergy (in England) are retiring in next 10 years. Mind you, our Lord must have faced a  problem in trying to find his 12 apostles. I am grateful to the Revd Pam Smith for her link to the imagined recruitment consultants who produced this report on his candidates:

…most of your nominees are lacking in background, education, and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the “team” concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale.
We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew has been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau. James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings…

Of course in the biblical accounts, we are not told of anyone refusing to become an apostle. Yet priest after priest has attested to the difficulty of persuading any of the congregation to take on the worship-leading role. What is clearly not comparable is the pent-up demand to become priests by women who, thank God, put themselves forward for ordination once they were allowed to do so. I think the Church must take some responsibility for the lack of impetus by the laity to take on this role: there is scant indication that the Church would welcome them. If the Church agrees that lay worship leaders may help to save the day, there needs to be a central policy. You will search in vain (at least I have) for any mention on the new Church of England website of lay worship leaders (or other local variant). It would help for a start to decide what they should be called!

So, if  congregations were made aware that people were wanted to lead worship (if deemed suitable – a sort of mini-BAP might be necessary, though until now selection has taken the form of recommendation by the clergy and PCC), they might begin to come forward. One of the problems may be that our formation as ‘ho laos’ -from Sunday School upwards- emphasises the story of Christianity, worship and leading a good life. In my life, anyway, there has been absolutely no emphasis in one-to-one situations, such as confirmation classes, on our role as individuals in the Body of Christ. I suspect this is less of a problem in the Episcopal Church, because of its recognition of the ministry of the laity and its practice of congregational repetition of their baptismal vows three or four times a year.

In my case, my recruitment was simple and, in retrospect, an example of the Holy Spirit at His sneakiest! Our benefice had an ‘awayday’ to consider future plans. Afterwards, we were asked to fill out a form saying what we were prepared to do for the church. Top of the list was brass-polishing (my least favourite job). Making the coffee (already plenty of competent people). Holy Dusters (hate housework). Churchyard working party (not my thing). Flowers (existing rota slots jealously guarded).Taking monthly services of Matins (the existing lay worship leader was moving to London, and without a replacement, this service would lapse). Eureka!

I signed up because there was a gap. I signed up because leading worship was the most attractive of the options on offer and I felt I should do something as part of the church community. I signed up pretty casually. I then started attending the ‘evening classes’. The sessions were typically Anglican – 8 different people spoke to us on aspects of worship, all saying something different on, for example, the thorny issue of lay people ‘preaching’ (we were not allowed to, but we still had to fill the sermon slot). But something happened in the course of these evenings, nevertheless. I found myself ‘surprised’ by God and being changed, inexorably. By the time the Bishop commissioned us at a service that was charged with the glory of God, I discovered I had a mission.

There is a saying: When baiting a mouse-trap with cheese, always leave room for the mouse! Even if the selection process is as apparently haphazard as it was in my case, surely God can and will work with the material He is presented with, and we must allow Him space to do so. The congregation may appear to be sleeping, but this may be deceptive: perhaps they are just waiting for the call?

1. The top illustration is ‘A Sleepy Congregation’, by Thomas Rowlandson
2. The bottom illustration is ‘The Sleeping Congregation’ by William Hogarth.
Both are provided by wiki gallery under a creative commons licence.
3. In the next post, we will look at how the formation of ‘ho laos’ might be modified so people are more aware from childhood of the part they need to play in the Church as part of the Body of Christ.

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