Our weekly small-group Bible study has been over for nearly an hour. The last of the lingerers has just pulled out of the driveway to head home. I'm picking up the popcorn bowls and coffee cups. My wife is already logging onto the computer, preparing to send quick e-mail messages to several of the young women she has just been talking to.
E-mailing someone she has just spent an evening with may seem odd, but for the young married couples in our small group, it's a vital connection. Some of them will be eager to get home, not to go to sleep, but to log on and see what Karen has sent to their inbox.
Friday morning, I'll be at the computer myself, sending a longer e-mail to a young man who asked a complicated doctrinal question during the evening's discussion, a question that would have derailed the whole study if we had tried to explore it fully at the time. But the next day I can compose a well-thought-out explanation and include links to Scripture references or other online resources for further study. By the time I see him again Sunday morning, he will have had a chance to read it all, and I'm sure he'll be ready to hit me with follow-up questions.
In our ministry with college students and young married, we have discovered that a strong sense of personal connection is vital and intimate relationships are fostered by combining face-to-face and e-contacts. Their expectations for immediacy, heightened by technology, have made our use of the Internet more important. Our contacts now are not only more immediate, they're more frequent.
Small-group ministry is no longer a once-a-week event. It's often daily. Ministry has changed since we were students 30 years ago. Many contacts we once made in person are handled more naturally and efficiently by e-mail, if we do it right. But the most important things we've learned have little to do with the Internet itself.
We Refine Ideas
Susan needed to write an important letter to her parents. They had become hostile toward her, as well as to her new friends and church family, because she had switched to a different denomination since leaving home. She was struggling to find the right words and the right tone in explaining her decisions and the different way she understands certain doctrines.
Susan e-mailed us, expressing her frustration with what seemed an impossible task. Over the next weeks, we helped her write that letter, sending the e-mail back and forth from our computer to hers, until she had a letter she was pleased to send off to her mother.
We Mentor Young Ministers
I received an e-mail from a young man who had just been asked to perform the eulogy at the funeral of his wife's aunt. The family tabbed him for the job because they know he is religious, plus they knew there would be enough emotional distance for him to handle the task better than those who were closer to her for a longer time.
The problem was, the young man had never done a eulogy. In fact, he had attended very few funerals. Not only did he need guidance and information, but he needed it immediately, since they were leaving for the distant funeral within hours.
I quickly located some helpful and practical eulogy guidelines on a funeral home's website. I sent these to him with some personal encouragement and advice.
Like so many search engines and websites, Karen and I have become Internet resources, of sorts, for people with ministry needs.
We Carry On Theological Dialogue
I was sitting at the computer one afternoon when an instant message popped up on my monitor from Allan: "Hello there!" I responded and we began to chat.