Podcast Episode 002, 1 hr
Making a Positive Impact on Social Media, with Doug Bursch, EP 002
Karl Vaters interviews Doug Bursch about his new book, Posting Peace.

Ep 002 Can This Work In A Small Church

Doug Bursch: Mediums actually change our messaging. They change how we communicate, what we communicate, who we are as people. The form of the medium actually is influencing us far more than we realize.

Karl Vaters: Hi, I'm Karl, and I'm a small church pastor. My podcast guest today is Doug Bursch. Doug has recently written a great book called Posting Peace: why social media divides us and what we can do about it. And today we're going to be talking about having a positive impact on social media. We're also going to be introducing our first ever book club featuring Doug's book. And don't forget to stick around when the interview is done. I'll come back with an overview of the content and an answer to the question "can this work in a small church?"

Vaters: Doug, you've written a book called Posting Peace, which is about our online behavior. First of all, I've known you for a couple of years, we've actually, we've met actually in person at least once I think it was just once, right? At the conference in Camas, Washington a few years ago.

Bursch: Yes. I found out, we found out, that we were both real people, not just disembodied people online or voices, but actually in the present. I met you at a—what's it called a small church or normal sized church?—conference.

Vaters: Yeah. In the meantime, in addition to some of the contacts we've had, I also follow you on Twitter and you, you do, you have a strong Twitter presence and by strong, I mean, you're good at it.

Bursch: Well, I appreciate you saying that. Here's the, here's the thing. When anyone says they follow me on Twitter, I immediately want to apologize because I just put everything on Twitter.

Like some people build up a brand and they have a certain way of communicating. For me, any thought that goes through my head, I'm going to tweet that. So I tweet a lot. And so I enjoy a platform for that reason. I can just send anything there. Yeah.

Vaters: But you do have, you're being self-deprecating now, which I always appreciate in anybody who does that, because there's way too many people who don't even understand the value of self-deprecation.

Bursch: Yeah, I'm really good at self-deprecation. I'm one of the most humble people I know. So, yeah.

Vaters: Yeah. You and Moses, apparently.

Bursch: I love that line of the Bible, right? Hey, he wrote this about him being the most humble. What is that about? But we digress.

Vaters: Well, we'll digress even further. Maybe my favorite joke of all time was Steve Martin back in the seventies when he was Steve Martin. And he said, "my goal in life is to find the world's most humble person and get him to admit it." That's just a nice little twist.

Bursch: I appreciate you saying that about social media. I do enjoy using it. And I believe in being unfiltered and about as honest and authentic as I can be. So I want it to reflect me as best as it can, including my passions, my ministry focuses, and I'm not just one person. I'm not just one direction. So in that sense, that expresses all of those things.

Vaters: Which is one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you today, because there is this perception out there that if you're going to be well, I'm just being me. I'm just being honest. I'm just being myself as though it's an excuse to be rude or cruel or to punch down.

And you are that, you are genuinely yourself online, but there's no meanness to it. You can have a joke occasionally, but you can tell it’s sarcastic. And the person, you know, punches back and they have a little bit of fun, So there's— you are coming through. But, but what it shows is that you are a person of character, which of course is a, is part of what, one of the reasons I love the book so much, because I read a book about behaving better online by a person that I watch online and that I would go, yeah, you actually can be genuine. You can be real. You can be authentic and not be a jerk. Yeah, well,

Bursch: Thank you for saying those things. I want you just to keep talking about me and I'll feel better by the end here. But, I wrote Posting Peace: why social media divides us and what we can do about it. I gotta mention that at least eight times during this interview, but, well, you see this with people, like, I'll just tell you with books and you know, this a little bit, you've written a few books. I think sometimes people overcompensate for what they're lacking by writing a book to try to convince people otherwise. So I think what you're getting at, actually, you know, pastors can, you know, they, they say he's misogynistic, so the next book he writes about how to have healthy relationships with women.

Like there's literally sometimes this overcompensating and I didn't want to do that. I wanted to present a struggle I've had being online, especially also working as a radio host and other capacities that I try to have a reconciling presence online. And it's really difficult. And in fact, I found myself struggling where I'm like, why is this so hard? Why are we becoming so divisive? Why is it so polarizing?

Because we all know this. Even if you're attempting to be loving to someone and kind to someone it's taken in the wrong way, where suddenly someone's accusing you of being a baby killer, when you just, you're talking about your love of tacos or something and you're, and you're like, how did, how did this happen? Like, how did we get here?

So part of my journey was okay. I like online communication. I desire to be reconciling and to be a peacemaker, but to speak the truth. So what is the technology doing that is causing us to be so polarized and divided?

And I'm sure you found this to be the case as well. Anyone listening is, we're all kind of having that dialogue. Like what happened? Why is this getting worse? And I don't, I don't want to just lament it. Like, oh, well, everything's falling apart. I actually want to do something positive if I can change that.

Vaters: So I'm going to come back at you with that question. What is the technology doing that is making us behave this way?

Bursch: This is one of the things. I think sometimes Christians and Christian pastors can be a little naive in the sense that we've said this with the gospel, you know, the message never changes, just the ways we communicate it and where we communicate it changes. So, you know, in the old days it's “let's get preaching on the radio or on television. And we'll just say the same message to a new audience.”

But we haven't taken seriously how media changes,the messaging, how we communicate and what we communicate.

There's a scholar. He was really popular in like the mid-seventies, Marshall McLuhan. And he said something very provocative: that the medium is the message. And what he meant by that is that mediums actually change our messaging. They change how we communicate, what we communicate, who we are as people, the form of the medium actually is influencing us far more than we realize.

And that is true with internet communication. It is changing the way we connect to each other. What we talk about, the way we talk about those things. So I went kind of a deep dive, trying to make it, you know, relevant and not, you know, really caught in just a bunch of technological jargon. But I do think as Christians and pastors, particularly, we need to understand how this technology will start moving us in directions where we're only talking about certain things. And we've all seen that. We've seen people where they're different online. We meet them in person, but online, we're getting a different conception. And frankly, I know pastors where I'd say, if I just met them online, I wouldn't be their friend. But in person, I'm their friend because I know them, I know the full person. But online, I'm only seeing a part of them, and the part of them I'm seeing, I don't want to hang out with.

And everyone listening, I think, can think of someone like that. And that's a sign that this technology is changing us.

Vaters: Yeah. Because as you're saying that, taking it a slight step further, I've known people for years. And then I watched them get online and I go, who is this person? But because I do know them in person, I kind of give them, not a pass, but it's like, I'm not going to unfriend them because I do know who they are in person. But then if you reverse that and you go, but most of the people that you're going to meet now, you're going to meet online first. Most of the people who will know you, especially as a pastor, especially if you're representing the church or a ministry, they're going to know you online first.

So you don't get the benefit of the doubt of, oh, I know they're actually a good person, but they just happened to be upset about this issue at this time. And so they're talking in extreme language.

No, all they know is that extreme. And so not only are they not going to take the time to get to know you. They are either going to ignore you completely or push back against it because they don't know you. So the face we put online is far more important than I think some of us are taking into account if we're trying, especially if we're trying to get the message of the gospel.

Bursch: Yeah. And I think one of the things that the internet does is it segments us.And so we're in these segmented communities and we're learning to think in segmented ways. So the moment someone presents an idea or an ideology, we immediately put them into a camp. And that's what we need to recognize is that no one sees you—when you present yourself online, a stranger doesn't see you as you are.

They already see you within a category, within a segment with what they believe a pastor is. And now this is true in person as well, but it's become exaggerated. The in-person things, for instance, you know, when someone walks into your church, if they've had a bad relationship with a former pastor, been hurt, abused, harmed. They still see you at some level like that pastor, you have to, at some level reveal that you're different. They don't see you in a neutral way. It takes time to build trust, to build relational equity. Right?

And I think we know that in person, because we can see the hurt in someone's eyes. We can see the reticence in how they talk. There's cues that we can get and we have a way to dialogue to kind of know, oh, this is what I need to do. Do I need to just love this person, welcoming them, saying, relax, you can visit. Don't worry about if you stay here long-term or whatever, we're a safe place. We do that sort of stuff. But online instead, we're just, I need to share what's right. And what's true. And what I believe.

And so we have no relational equity with the person. They may already have an idea of what pastors are or what the church is, and they're not going to hear us until they know that we love them, or even that we respect them, or even if they know our intentions. My intention is to be reconciling, which means to tear down any dividing wall of hostility between them and God, so that they understand that God loves them, is pursuing them, is seeking them, is for them, even if he’s there to correct them, the goal is God has a genuine love to bring them life and light. So my goal is to remove any dividing wall of hostility that is keeping them from that relationship and to remove any dividing wall of hostility between us, where they think that my goal in life is to do anything but to give them the love of Jesus and for us to be able to grow in a genuine love of each other, in the sense of a love of humanity, fellow people made in the image of God. That takes some effort. My first response—it's not to win the argument.

But I tell an illustration in the book of, I remember as a sophomore, or it was my first year in college, I'm arguing with someone about, I don't know what the issue was, but I'm just arguing on a college campus in person and I'm winning the argument. It's one of those, you know, I've taken one class and I think I know all the answers and I'm just, I'm arguing from a Christian perspective and they're not a Christian and I'm anticipating what they're going to say.

And I'm just winning the argument and this, this woman I'm arguing with, I am just winning. And then in my pride, and my boy, this is going well, I look over and I see that she's crying. And I suddenly realized that I'm winning nothing. I'm a fool. The goal isn't to win the argument about this Christian principle I had. The goal is for her to find Christ or at least the goal would be that she'd know, I love her, respect her, and want to do whatever would help her in the next stage of her life to be able to grow, you know, in the goodness of God. That reality we're seeing in so many social media interactions that were first and foremost, defending our ideologies, our rightness, our truth. And when we need to first, if our goal is to be reconciling, is to know the person, to create a safe environment where they're loved, respected, and listened to.

Vaters: See that to me, outlines so perfectly what is missing online. You put out a post, you argue with somebody, and you don't see them cry on the other end. And then maybe they get over their tears and then they come back at you with an angry thing through their tears, because that's the nature of the thing that's happening. And you just think there's this person raging on the other side or whatever, maybe that's part of it, but you don't get to see through there the actual person through to the tears, through to the hurt that brought that about.

We are literally disembodying each other in our arguments, and God made us with bodies and those bodies are a big part of how we communicate through tears, through smiles, through subtle little, subconscious things that we couldn't even put a conscious finger on. Like when you're in the room with somebody you can read, especially if you know them, you can read their subconscious behavior in a way to go something's wrong. I can't even tell you why I know something's wrong, but something's wrong with you today.

But online, all of those subtleties are stripped back. It only becomes about the most obvious emotion and the most obvious part of the content that I put out. And the actual reality behind it is just buried in this technological haze.

Bursch: That's so well said. I talk about a lot of different ways where social media just limits the parts of our humanity we use. For instance, studies have shown that we develop empathy through just looking at people's faces. Seeing that when I say something and they grow sad, even as a little kid, you realize, oh, something I just did influenced someone in a negative way. We see those cues. Online, you don't see those cues.

Another thing that we don't often talk about is, when people argue online, we often begin to write a lot of stuff. You've all seen the Facebook page that when two people are arguing, it gets longer and longer. All the stuff. They're writing these long treatises, these chapters of theology, right? And it gets longer and longer.

Well, the problem is when it comes to written language, we're not using our full brain, we're using parts of our brain. And this is a little bit of a simplistic idea, but in some ways you're just using one side of your brain. It may be good about argumentation and logic and linear thinking, but it's not necessarily the part of your brain that has big picture thinking, that is, emotional connection that has problem-solving. So we're actually cutting ourselves off from the full use of our brain. And we're cutting ourselves off from the ability to make connections.

I'll tell you an example. I was texting back and forth to someone in our church, and I realized there was a conflict that they were just feeling like we were displeased with them or unhappy with them. And there's no font that tells people that you're okay with them. We don't have fonts that tell people our emotions. Right. And so finally I went to my wife and I said, “come here, Honey.” And we just took a picture of both of us smiling. And then we sent that picture to them with something like, “we love you.”

And I just wanted them to know, in that moment, this is where we're at. We're not growing, we're not frowning, we're happy and we're smiling. And then they sent back a picture of them smiling. What is that? That's activating a different part of the brain, an emotional.... when we see pictures, different parts of our brain fire.

So, that's just a practical thing that if we're just...some of us get in these habits where we’re just arguing and we’re writing things out and people can't get all those other cues and we're only activating a certain part of their brain and we're actually keeping them and keeping ourselves from being able to work on those other areas that help us reconcile, walk through a conflict, understand the bigger picture.

Vaters: I mean, there's a reason why great literature is both so rare and so wonderful when it occurs because it is exquisitely hard to communicate deep, thoughtful ideas and concepts and emotions simply through text. But the bottom line is I've written books. You've written books, but neither one of us is in the Bronte family. And certainly those of us who are online, angry on Twitter or Facebook, we are not writing high literature that is touching people in their depths of emotions. We're just, like you say, we're just activating even just one simplistic part of the brain.

However, you have written a great book and let's actually get to that.

Bursch: You just brought up something that, I think there's a technological theorist...

Vaters: Well, I want to, I want to interrupt you right now just to point out that you interrupted me reading the title of your book. So just go ahead and continue to do that.

Bursch: You mean the book Posting Peace? That book? Posting Peace? I'm sorry for interrupting you saying Posting Peace. I shouldn't have done it.

Vaters: I thought it was hilarious that the author interrupted me reading the title of his book that shows you where your head is. You just got something you want to say, so if you can get back to it, God bless you. If you can, go ahead.

Bursch: Okay. By the way, I'm sorry. I interrupted you saying that the book Posting Peace: why social media divides us and what we can do about it, but you brought up something that no one's brought up in any of the interviews I've had is—you talked about even good literature. Reading a book, you get into a book and then eventually you get into what scholars call this literature space, and it takes a while to get there. And once you're there, you're in this world. And what's happening with our reading online is we never get into that literature space because we're just seeing little bits of things. We're just scrolling through little things. That's a different part of the mind. And so even that aspect where written texts can have tremendous power, but there has to be this place where your body, your mind is in that space.

We don't have time for that. We're just reading a little snippet here, a little thing here, you know, even with blogs, like people will only read one that's so long, right? We just move on. And that's another profound problem. We're talking about the deep things of God, but trying to tweet them and post them in these little snippets that really don't activate the deep, emotional life of an individual.

So there again is another struggle of this technology that we have to fight against, because if we don't, we'll never reach that deep place of contemplation, of introspection, that, you know, the best books and novels, just books where the first a hundred pages like, ah, I don't know. And then you just get into it. And then you're in that world and then it changes your heart, your mind, your perspective, it takes over your being. Do we have that ability to communicate the truth of the gospel in a quick Facebook post or, you know, a quick Insta, you know, is that even possible?

Vaters: Yeah. Reading great literature. It's kind of like what they tell me about the runner's high, which I've never experienced ‘cause I can't stand to run, but you get through this wall and then you get into this place where it really does affect your body and your mind in a very, very different way. And I have experienced that with great literature of course, but you're right, it doesn't, you don't even, you're not running long enough in these short snippets online to get into that zone. So it is a really different experience.

Bursch: Yeah. I feel judged by that running high because I don't run as well. When I run with my wife, I look like she's the trainer and I'm the elephant running behind her and she's just making me move and lumber and people are like that poor man, you know, he must be in trouble.

So I talk to her, she comes in and wakes me up after she's done the run and says what a great day it is. And I kind of just go, “oh. Okay. “

Vaters: Let's move from that to the book you wrote Posting Peace: why social media divides us and what we can do about it.Thank you for letting me get it out without interrupting me. So, where did the book come from and give me a quick overview of it?

You actually sent me an early copy of it back before it was actually in print and I have a lot of people who send me books, sometimes I endorse them, sometimes I don't, sometimes I don't have time to read them. I didn't just have time to read yours, but by the third chapter I went, this isn't just a book I'm going to endorse. This is a book club book. So we're going to start a book club in June. If you're listening to this before June 2021, you can get in on that. We'll talk about it before this ends. But tell us a little bit about Posting Peace: why social media divides us and what we can do about it.

Bursch: Where did it come from? I talked over the title again. Where did it come from? I was confronted with a burning bush and God handed it on my lap right down this message I've given you.

It's interesting. I did some doctoral work on technology and actually specialized in this area with the concept of reconciliation. And I actually had, I thought I knew the answer, but I didn't. I thought, well, we just need to start communicating online a better way, but I didn't realize how much the technology is changing us. So, to me, it came from that desire to advocate for better dialogues. You know, I was in Christian radio for five years and I tried to facilitate a show that made room for Republicans and Democrats, libertarians and green party. And just tried to find a way for Christians to gather together and have a better dialogue.

And it didn't mean like we had to agree on everything or it's this middle ground, you know, nothingness. But that we should be able to communicate as Christians in a way where we're trying to bring people into the light and the life of Jesus Christ, specifically in the context of the difference between being a partisan versus political, you know. We're all political as, as Americans, you're supposed to be political, have an opinion, be an informed citizen when you vote. I don't enjoy uninformed citizens voting.

But partisan is different in the sense of, you know, you can have a party, but partisan is kind of, we want our side to win, your side to lose. We're great. You're idiots. Uh, this is our country. Not yours. Partisan becomes very divisive and it's not about actually bringing people into the light. A Christian who is political, the goal of communicating your politics is that you love the people around you. And if you believe you have a strong political conviction, that is based on the truth of God, you're communicating to others because you love them and care about them. And you want them to find the same truth that has set you free.

What we're finding is that Christians are not differentiating between those two realities and they're engaging in activity of non-Christians who the goal is I just need to get 50.5% of the vote and get my candidate in there and get a majority. And we win and you lose.

And we see this on all sides of the political spectrum. But Christians, I believe, are supposed to communicate in a different way. Whenever I communicate anything, the most controversial thing, the most passionate thing, my goal is still to bring people into the light because I love them and the Bible says pretty clearly, we're supposed to love our enemies. So it doesn't matter how different that person is from me. I must ask myself, am I truly communicating a reconciling gospel, a peacemaking gospel? And so that's the motivation of the book, one, a theology of reconciliation, of peacemaking, what Christ calls us to do, how do we bring that online? And how does the online world work against these things? Even though we want to do it, we find ourselves swept away into arguments and into existing in a way online that we don't do in person. So that's the genesis of it.

Vaters: It very much communicates that very well in an easy read and in a very entertaining manner as well, I might add. But here's the question. If I am behaving myself online, why would I bother reading a book about how to behave myself online better?

Bursch: Well, I don't think you can convince anyone that they have a problem if they don't think they have a problem. As a pastor, you know, that we've all thought if I just preach a stronger message, they'll certainly change.

And sadly, I think there's some pastors listening right now who would be like, oh, I don't have a problem with that. And you're the problem. It's the fatal flaw. Everybody has this fatal flaw that everyone else knows about you, but you don't know yourself. And sadly, I find that with pastors as well, and don't worry, I got one as well that I'm not aware of.

But I think every one of us needs to know, one, why other people are so divisive. Like even if you're not online much, you need to know why your congregation is acting a certain way. This online reality is now coming into our in-person communication. So, you need to be aware of what's happening.

And what I found, a lot of people reading this book, they've said they were reading it more to think about other people. And then as they read it, it more became about their own life. This isn't to condemn someone or say you're a terrible person. For me, I believe when you grow in Christ, you grow in humility because I'm in the center of God's grace. I can look at the weaknesses, failings, faults in my life from a place of grace.

My goal is to grow in this. So as I grew in my studies, I'm assuming you'll grow. As you read through this as well, you might not come to the same inclusions, but you'll definitely grow. Because we have to see, am I actually what I think I'm doing? Is it actually happening? Am I actually facilitating reconciling environments where people can come to the Lord?

You’ve seen this with pastors, right? Young pastors do this. Young pastors sometimes think preaching with a lot of passion and strong words will change lives. And they say things with a lot of authority. And they're, you know, from the pulpit, they're saying these really...and anybody goes “amen...and they're saying things really strong, but as you get older, you realize, you know, I did those things, but did people change?

Or was I just kind of saying strong things and quote unquote, preaching to the choir? You stop worrying about that, right? You start communicating in a more way of, it's not about how strong, it's is change occurring? And I want people to deal with it.

Vaters: Yeah, and online skews that because, you mentioned Marshall McLuhan's line earlier, the medium is the message. And that's really true online because every online platform, especially the major ones, are built on these really sophisticated algorithms that treat us by the category that they, or a multiple group of categories so that they can sell us stuff.

Bursch: So they are literally treating us as members of a category and not as individual human beings. And that then changes the way we communicate with others to communicate with others who are people who are members of a category rather than as individual human beings. And the whole thing accelerates and amplifies this whole idea of the dehumanization of others. And it rewards the extremes because the extremes then push us even further through the algorithm, into a tight category.

And then the people who are in that category with us, they laud us for what we're doing. And we think I'm really getting through. No, you're just yelling in a room of people who already agree with you and are applauding you. You're not actually changing anybody in the other room.

And you know, there used to be this idea. We need to get the church outside the walls of the church, right? Everybody said that we got to get outside of the walls. Well, the internet allows you to get outside the walls and what are we doing? We're creating these segmented communities of like-minded people and creating walls around us, where we just hang around with people with the same ideology.

And I use a term that these two scholars, Rainie and Wellman, use that people are using the internet primarily for networked individualism, which means I use it to get my individualistic needs met. So I need to find people who agree with my politics, because it feels good to have people agree with me. And that's using an individualistic need and then networking with people in order to get that individualistic need met. And we're doing this in all kinds of segmentation. They like my politics. They like my music. They like my way of viewing the world. They like my understanding of race and justice, whatever it is.

And then we find ourselves walled off in these homogeneous, ideological, segmented communities, just like we're some church that no one visits. That's not my goal. My goal is, especially if I believe, even if you believe all those things are true and everybody in your walled off group are doing it right, that's not what we're called to do as Christians. Like, I don't want to be the Christian who goes to my Christian Church, listens to my Christian radio, hangs out with my Christian friends until Christ returns. That's not what I'm called to do, and I don't want to be that online.

So online, we have to work against that segmentation invite people who are different from diversity, ethnicity, gender, economics, even American, you know, the strength of the internet is you can meet people all over the world and expand because your goal is to be able to one, if there's any truth in this culture, in this world where Christ is speaking, I want to know about that. And also if I have anything to offer people who are in darkness, I want them to be able to hear that message. And they're not going to hear it if I have no relationship with them. And we all know this, to have relationship means you have to go through conflict. And so that means our first conflict, the goal is to let someone know that we love them, not just to be right it's to be reconciling, not just to be right. And we often don't wait for the second interaction. We're so concerned about the first interaction, but in-person relationship, you know this to be the case, when you first meet someone, you first build the relational equity before you have the big fight about things.

But online, we don't do that first step. It's just immediate gratification. I need you to know I'm right and you're wrong. I need to be protected from people like you. It's just solely about that personal feeling good. You know, whatever that issue is. And that takes effort to be able to—like here's an example, people, when they troll you, I talk about this in the book.

Some people would just say terrible things to you in their first interaction. Now you can fight with them or block and mute them the first time. But what I've found is there's kind of two different people. Some people, if you respond back in a gracious, kind way, they, they stop it. They pull back and they realize, I'm sorry, I'm dehumanizing, I was just hurt by another pastor, and I was taking this out on you. You find a human, you find a human who's angry, who's taking it out on you. And then you can have an interaction.

Now other people, they double down and they treat you even worse. And you know, this guy is just trying to hurt people and I need to find a way to keep him from sinning against me anymore. I block or mute him, you know, not give a lot of time to that person. That takes effort though, to differentiate between those two people. And some of us aren't taking that time. We're treating everyone the same, but if you're going to minister to someone, the person who's most angry with you could also be the most close to repenting, to turning from darkness to the light, to opening themselves up to a new understanding of the kingdom of God. Are we giving people that opportunity in how we respond?

Vaters: But Doug, this sounds like actual work and effort. And I just go online to yell and scream and have fun watching stupid cat videos.

Bursch: Yeah. You know, and I don't want anyone to feel judged for people's wellbeing. Some people have to create boundaries where they can only take so much, they got enough garbage going on in their marriage and their kids and their family that they don't need a stranger giving them misery. So this is going to be applied very differently based on your calling, based on your spiritual giftings, based on your mental health. You know, if I can say all the right things, but if I'm going to fall apart with another person trolling me, I got to find a way not to be online as much. But I think all of us could prayerfully say, is there something more I can do within my calling? And it is work, love is work. Yeah. Love is difficult. Yeah.

Vaters: Yeah. And for people who are like, I do just go online for the entertainment, fine. Then just do the entertainment. Don't say I'm online to see my friend's pictures and to watch a couple of dumb videos and then scream about politics and go, but I'm just here for entertainment.

No. If that's what you're doing fine. I watch television just for entertainment. You can go online just for entertainment, but the moment you choose to actually engage with people on any kind of a topic that matters, then you've got to say, wait a minute, now I'm actually in a room in conversation with people talking about heavy subjects and I'm...it deserves the kind of thought, the kind of Christian loving thought that you would give in a room filled with actual flesh and blood people.

Bursch: Yeah. And here's an example for Facebook. Facebook's different than Twitter. Facebook is highly relationally complex because most people on Facebook, you connect with them because you already had a relationship with them. They were family, friends, on the same soccer team as parents. And so you only know them in a certain capacity and then you go online, you friend them online and you find this whole other reality about them that you didn't realize. You find out your aunt or uncle’s politics. And then it becomes messy because if you unfriend your aunt or your uncle, while you're unfriending your aunt or your uncle at the same time level, you don't want to hear all the stuff that they're posting. So it really puts into jeopardy our in-person relationships.

This is the question I'd have. Some people might say, well, I'm not big on doing this big ministry online. Well, do you want to have relationship with your kids and your grandkids? It's like a yes or no. Do you think a better chance of them finding the light and love of Jesus Christ is with you in the room with them or not? And if that's the case, then it matters what you communicate online. And if your goal is, you know, it's more important that I have to communicate my politics and why I don't like this person or why I like this person, or what's wrong with this. But if you're doing that at the cost of having relationship with your son or your daughter or your grandkids, is it worth it?

Because are you changing the world by just defending what you believe or is that just kind of your insecurity and you want people to know what you believe? That's what I mean by “being reconciling.”

Am I facilitating an environment where my kids, my grandkids, my cousins, nephews, aunts, uncles, feel loved and accepted? Or even when I disagree with them, they still feel like I'm honoring their humanity, you know, but we've all had experiences where we have uncles blocking us just because we have a different political opinion than them. So that's where it does matter. We all at some level have to engage this ministry and that's often where we stop and we pause. And we say, what's the real issue here? Is the issue arguing with my nephew about immigration? Or is the issue that we need to connect again on [the fact] that I love him and I care about him, and even if I disagree, I respect him?

Is that coming through in our arguments online? And I think a lot of us, if we were honest, we'd say it really isn't. So maybe we need to say less there and more in person or more in private direct messaging, telling someone how you love them, respecting them, not just arguing with them in the public sphere.

Vaters: Yeah. Well, one of the things I love about your book, Posting Peace, is that you don't just make these arguments, but you end every chapter with the challenge. Is it called the posting peace challenge.

So each chapter outlines and it goes through in a wonderful logical progression, starting with these kind of philosophical things we've been talking about and then getting into more and more practical things. And at the end of each chapter, so how do I do this better online? And you actually give the posting peace challenge where you encourage people now go online and do this, leave the hashtag #postingpeace. And as I went through it, that was why I thought, hey, this would be great for book club, because one, this is a great conversation for people to have two.

It gives practical steps that you can take to actually not just elevate the way you do things online, but actually elevates the online conversation within the sphere of influence that you have by doing these exercises. So it's not a matter of “sounds good but how do I actually do that?” You actually show us how to do it in very simple steps with the challenge at the end of the week chapter.

Bursch: Yeah. I’m glad you brought this up and I'm noticing something. One, it's also an issue of application that—if I try to tell you how to apply something, I don't know your relational context. But all the challenges allow you to apply it within your own context.

So, and I've noticed that I've had many people read the book, but they're not doing these challenges online. And I think one of the reasons is that it's different to actually online put out there that you're trying to communicate better. It's kind of like the alcoholic who has to make a decision that they're not going to drink anymore.

Like there's a risk to that. And that's why I'd really encourage people to be a part of this book group, because it's, it's a way of just saying by faith. I'm going to try to facilitate a better dialogue, and this is what's going on in my life. So, you know, the posting peace challenge can be, one of them is, is go through all your online communication over the last...it could be two weeks or two months and just put it into categories.

Is it mostly political? Is it mostly, you know, religion? What is it? What would people think about you just in that context. And just to assess those things. And for some of them, I say now respond online, tell people what you've learned, tell them, uh, tell them the areas where you haven't been that reconciling, tell of weaknesses, tell them testimonies. Just encouraging people to do that.

The cool thing about that is it's with the #postingpeace hashtag so then you can see other people doing that in other places. So you can click on the #postingpeace hashtag and see other people like you, who are trying to facilitate a better dialogue online. I think that is, to me, one of the things I really like about the book is you could argue with me like, well, I don't like how you're doing that.

I could say fine, I'm doing it terribly. What is God calling you to do? And then I put it in your camp and then you and the Lord led by the Holy Spirit to decide, how can I be more reconciling? How can I be a peacemaker? How can I advance the kingdom of God? And I'm really excited about what that's going to do in people's social media presence.

Vaters: Yeah. So we are recording this in May of 2021. The book club starts June 3rd as a Thursday evening, 2021. We will be having an online conversation every Thursday in June, June 3rd, 10th, 17th, and 24th, 5:00 PM in Pacific time, which is where I am. 8:00 PM Eastern time. So if you're in a different time zone, you can Google it to figure out which one that means for you.

Doug, you're going to be joining us for at least some of those, hopefully. Hopefully several, maybe even all of those.

Bursch: Until you kick me off. Yeah. I'll show up as much as you want, you know, for pastors of normal sized churches, as I like to call it or smaller churches, social media is a real equalizer for us. And I think that alone is a good reason to really engage in this. You know, what you find with pastors of larger churches is they often use it as just another place to present their message. It's kind of like celebrities. I'm not trying to say in a negative way. Celebrities will, they follow very few people, like 30 people, and a thousand people, a million people, follow them. And then they just present their ideas and their content.

Well, larger churches tend to see social media like that. So they'll just present their sermon. They'll present their message and you can respond to it or not. If you have a small church. You don't have that many followers. And so you can't just present something.

No one might even read it. So your goal is to facilitate conversations. So it's to ask questions, it's to get people interested in things like what's your thoughts on this? And then just to respect them and their thoughts and the diversity of thoughts, you'll develop your community through that.

So, pastors, if we can learn how to use this technology, especially pastors of normal sized churches, we can begin to facilitate all these healthy conversations that contrast what people often think the church is, is just a pastor telling you what to do all the time.

We can learn to facilitate communities, bring up the divergent or different opinions, share our own opinion, as a way of respecting others. So we're able to model all these things that people might not think the church is about. And the first experience of the church is a very healthy thing online, so that they're willing then to maybe step through some doors or into our home and experience the church.

Vaters: Thanks for that because it addresses the course of the title of this podcast, which is, Can This Work In A Small Church? And a lot of the time when we're looking at social media, the instructions we’re getting on how to do social media better have to do with technical things or things that are going to cost us money and getting a better camera or a better microphone or whatever.

But in fact, the place where we are both getting the most benefit and where we are harming ourselves the most online is not about how well we frame the shot. It's about the attitude. It's about the manner in which we're communicating the words. Like your Twitter feed, for instance, it doesn't require any technical ability. It's just text.

Or the occasional picture, like you mentioned. So it's really not about how technically brilliant you are online. That's not what's hurting us or helping us. It's about what’s your attitude and how can that be adjusted in a way that is more Christ-like and more reconciling? Which of course is what the book really leads into, so that's, again, another reason why I'm starting, it's my first book club choice for a group of, for small church pastors, but it's not small church pastors specific. It's for everybody. And part of the reason is because it can be done by everybody, individual people and families. If you're a pastor and you're thinking, hey, I got people in my church that could use this, go ahead and promote it to your entire congregation.

They’re welcome. They're allowed. This is not pastor centric. It is really about Christians being reconcilers online by changing our attitude and not by upping our technical.

Bursch: Yeah. I love that. By the way, you know, Oprah said she wanted it to be her book of the month. And I said, no, I'm going to be on Karl’s podcast iInstead, this is more important. II hope people know that that's not true. Oprah did not contact me, but she can.

But here's the thing. A lot of pastors are troubled by the expression they see of their congregants. And they see people interacting online in terrible ways, but they don't know how to interact with it.

And they don't want to look like they're spying on people. This is a great way to facilitate in your church, a healthy way to talk about it. It's just because we're also seeing that it troubles us as pastors to see people who are being very different online than they are in person. So I was hoping it would facilitate those discussions where, Hey, I'm going through this, do you want to go through this with me? kind of thing.

And then, instead of you being the pastor, I come along as the evangelist who says the difficult things through the book, and you can just go, Hey, what do you think about what Doug said there? Every pastor needs someone else to say the hard stuff so that they can come alongside and pastor and join with that.

So that's the other goal. The pastor's heart in me to give a resource to pastors where they don't have to do some of the difficult work, but they can use that to help with passions. They have many people listening. That's your passion as well. You care about these things and I wanted to partner with you in your passion.

Vaters: Yeah. This is really important. So let me walk through some of the technicals. If you want to be a part of the Posting Peace book club in June of 2021, we will be meeting every Thursday. It's got 12 chapters. So we're going to do three chapters a week. We'll be talking about them each week. We'll be going through the challenges together.

If you want to be a part of it, what you need to do is go to KarlVaters.com and subscribe there. Part of the reason is so that we can make sure that we're not just having trolls come in. So we'll get your email address. You're going to be subscribed to our weekly newsletter, which will give you updates as we approach it and as we go through it. And then from there, you're going to go to the Facebook page. We've created a Facebook page, Karlvaters.com Book Club: Posting Peace. And all of those will be in the show notes. So you can find the links there. So you subscribe to Karlvaters.com, you sign up at the Facebook page and then through the Facebook page is where we'll be going for conversations, and we'll be bringing you updates. And you can talk to the people that you meet in the book club and so on. We just hope to facilitate really healthy conversations around this idea and using the book is a great jumping off point for that. And from there, you can also get the information about how to get a discount on the book, through your publisher, IVP, who's been very, very helpful in giving us the tools we need to make sure this book club is a raging success.

Bursch: You know Karl, I appreciate that. I'm excited. By the way, you did that really well. That's a lot of information to get out. But yeah, I, and this is what I love about you. You have a gifting of, you can speak to a group without tearing other groups down.

You've often spoken to pastors who pastor smaller churches and sometimes pastors of smaller churches, we get disgruntled and bitter and jealous, and we have to tear down other expressions to make room for our own. And that has never been what you do. You just say, let's just acknowledge the reality of the church and find the best way to resource the church and in whatever state it is in. And I've appreciated that. Greatly, I've tried to model some of the things I do based on how you lead and minister, because I know sometimes I can say a strong thing and I realize Doug, you've just torn down pastors of larger churches who dearly loved the Lord. And why did you have to tear them down to make room for this other expression?

And so I just, I'm excited about doing this because it will help pastors of any size churches, but that's the heart I know having you there and me there, our heart is to encourage each person. What is God saying to you? What are you going to do about it? How can we resource you as you move forward in the way?

Lightning Round

Vaters: Well, thank you. That's very kind of, you appreciate it. Hey, let's finish this thing up by going to the lightning round questions, we ask every guest, these lightning questions.

Question number one. What are the biggest changes you've seen in your field of ministry in the last few years and how have you adapted to it?

Bursch: Okay. I'm going to put something in that I haven't adapted to yet, but I think is one of the biggest changes we're going to face? No one is doing one thing at a time. We're doing three things at a time. If you have kids or grandkids, look at them. They're watching YouTube videos while playing on their Switch while having the TV on, maybe sometimes doing two or three things at once.

The church is going to have to figure out how to deal with this. We got two options. We can either say, put all your technology away and just focus on one thing. And that is a way forward, but that's going to be almost impossible for some people. We may need to start thinking in terms of having multiple things happening at the same time during a church service, which just drives me crazy as someone that wants everyone just to be listening to me. That means having people break out into discussions within those discussions, have some people look stuff up online while other people are taking notes while other people are doing different things.

I think we're going to have to consider how to have people feel more comfortable in that environment. Otherwise, the church is going to be the one place where they're just forced to be fully present with people. Now I get that idea that that would be the goal, but there needs to be a way for people to transition into that goal. Or that is just a completely foreign environment.

Vaters: Every once in a while. Like if I make a statement, you know, lately, like something recently where they found something archeological that proves some obscure point of the Bible that had never been proven before. And as I say it, I say, Google it. Like, like now, while I'm talking about it, you can Google it. First of all, I want them to see that I'm not afraid of them, you know, checking that my research is accurate. And secondly, it does give them that moment where they're actually engaging and going deeper in my point while, you know, while using their device. Because I agree with you. I think obviously we are losing something by not being able to fully engage in one thing, but it is a reality. We need to adapt to. So I think that's, yeah, that's great.

Second question. What free resource like an app or website or something has helped you lately that you'd recommend for small church ministry?

Bursch: Because I'm a pastor, every question you give me, I'm going to modify it and say something different. I have to slightly change it. Here's one. These aren't free. But again, with technology, I think pastors often feel like they need way more money to do things that they can do with hardly any money. So I would encourage you. You want to do podcasts or some sort of audio version, do not buy all the switchboards and everything. There are really good mics that have USB connections and you can connect them right into your computer and you've cut out all that other technology. When it comes to cameras, there's really good Logitech cameras that you can plug right into your computer and have really good quality.

If you're struggling with lighting, you can buy for $39, lighting gears, little rings that you turn on and have that. What I've found is sometimes it feels so non approachable that we don't even go into that. Or someone who loves tech gives us this huge list of things to buy.

The other thing for pastors is pastors often don't contend for their own voice because they think it's pride. And so when I visit churches, I often find that the most neglected place is the place where it's about recording messages and sermons and videos and things for the pastor. It is okay for you to contend for technology that helps you with what you do best. That means it's okay to ask for people to fundraise so that you have a good laptop, that you have a good camera.

If that's important to you, it's not selfish to say “I need that money to do this best in this crazy time we live in.” So I'm advocating: yes. Free stuff is great. But it's not selfish or self-centered for you to advocate for that technology because, you know, once you get that new laptop and you've been spending hours with the last one it's causing all these problems, you will immediately turn it into ministry. ] It will immediately turn into all sorts of things that you won't, you will not regret it. So just contend for it.

Vaters: That's a great point because, because it wasn't that long ago, when the jump from what I've got now to something of quality for video audio, the jump was so huge that you had to be a large ministry or group to do it.

And now the jump is much, much shorter. It's not insignificant, but it is far less than it used to be. And like you say, if you want to get into it, it's well worth it to increase the quality significantly for a surprisingly small amount of money.

Bursch: Yeah. By the way, whenever a tech guy tells me about anything we want to upgrade, I always tell him to give me three things: the high end, the low end and the middle, because then you can kind of figure out their own view of technology because sometimes some people think they got to have the best of everything and it's just a nice way to be able to like, okay, we're going to go to the low end.

Question number three. What's the best piece of ministry advice you've ever received?

Bursch: My dad would tell me, don't ever say “here's the three things the Holy Spirit does” because the Holy Spirit might do four things. And that principle is huge. Like in anything as pastors, whenever we start saying, “here's the five things you need to know about...” there might be six. You might get to heaven and God will be like, “there were more than five.”

And along with that, I've kind of modified this as...I believe in ministry, do it this way. Have people reject the core of who you are. People are going to reject you anyway. So make ministry personal in the sense of the fullness of who you are in Christ. Make sure that it can express itself in your local church body, because they're going to reject you anyway.

And it's so painful having people reject you for doing stuff you don't want to be doing and you don't do well. Let them reject you for what you love and who you really are. It'll hurt, but you'll still say, no, this is who I am. This is what I believe. So I would encourage you, letpeople reject you for what you love.

The last one, what's the funniest or weirdest thing you've ever seen in church?

Bursch: Okay. Here's just, I was guest speaking in Springfield, Missouri. I was going to seminary there and it was way out in the country. And right before I was to speak, they said, we have all the candy from our candy, a fundraiser, and they had Snickers bars, right. Snicks And I think everyone in the church ordered a Snickers bar. And so they passed out all the Snickers bars almost like communion. Right? So everybody has one and I was just going on a low carb diet at the time. And I stand up there to speak. And this is about 90 people. 90 people open up their candy bar with a crinkling rapper and just start chewing down on like that as I begin to preach.

And it was just, you know, it was like, “get behind me, Satan.” One, like, why can't I just take a break? You know, I guess they, a Snickers break was part of their liturgy, I guess, but it was just to me, I couldn't, I just couldn't, you know, this crinkling chewing,

Talk about doing two things at once.

Vaters: There are so many levels of distraction in that that you're describing right there. And it just gives me...my heart is skipping a beat over the thought.

Bursch: Well, that was one of the weirdest. There's been many other weird things, but that was the one. That was the one they also had a girl stand up and she came up to the front to give a special message. And she just talked for maybe 10 minutes of going yablahblahblah. Like I had no idea what she was saying and no one interrupted. It was one of those where it was cute in their church. If you visited, you’d feel like I'm never going to this call again. It was so weird. I took my honorarium and went home,

Vaters: Which the segue onto it, now that we're doing our services online, you really need to reduce the amount of those insider things that you do. Because even if there's a new person in the service that you can explain it to the people online, it's one level of further disconnect from it.

Bursch: Yeah, it doesn't work. They don't care at all.

Vaters: You had a problem for awhile on Amazon with your name. And your name on the book is Douglas S. Bursch.And that’s because of what?

Bursch: Okay, here, this is hilarious. My first book, I self-published, I didn't even send it to anyone. I just did it on my own. And self-published people are treated a little differently than IVP. They treated them better. But, so when you would type “Doug Bursch,” you would get dog brushes. Like just a list of dog brushes. And I'm selling my book on Amazon. They get revenue from it. This was self published at the time and you could not find my book.

You do “Doug Bursch” and it was dog brushes, just a series. And so my kids actually on one of my profiles, like for Netflix, where you each have your own profile, they have a picture of a dog and dog brush and that's dad's profile. So, talk about feeling respected.

I wrote to them a series of emails, back and forth of, you know, of, of just, I want to be--this talks about technology. I exist as a human. I am not a dog brush. So I talked about that online and people who followed me a bit, whenever I'm getting a little too big or too full of myself, they'll respond back with “nice word, dog brush.”

Vaters: Well, the only problem I have is when people misspell my name, or sometimes when they spell it correctly, Karl Vaters, they get Star Wars stuff. But that's way cooler than getting dog brushes. So, your problem was much more difficult.

Bursch: Darth Vader. That's cool. Dog brush. It's just so funny as I'm writing the email, you know, just explaining... I literally had to prove that I existed to Amazon. Like I exist. And who in the world is typing in “Doug Bursch,” like accidentally turning “dog brush” into “Doug Bursch?” And the guy argued with me. Well, that's just what the algorithm is. And I'm like, I'm not an algorithm. I'm a human being! So they eventually changed it.

Vaters: Awesome. Thanks Doug.

Bursch: For sure. Thank you.


So can you have a positive impact on social media if you're in a small church? Ah, the wonderful answer today of course is “yes.” Thank you to Doug for all of the great stuff he brought out. Yes. You can have a positive impact on social media because it's not about technical brilliance. You don't have to buy a bunch of equipment. The big issue is: can you have a positive reconciling in Christ-centered attitude as you're online? That's the key to it all. If you do so, it can be a great way to introduce people to you, your ministry, to your church, and most of all, to the gospel of Jesus.

Finally, if you'd like to become a Patreon partner for as little as $3 a month and help put these resources into the hands of ministries that need it the most, check out our Patreon link in the show notes.

This episode of Can This Work In A Small Church? was produced by Veronica Beaver and edited by Jack Wilkins. Original theme music was written and performed by Jack Wilkins. And a transcript is available at The Pivot Blog at christianitytoday.com/Karl-Vaters. All of that information and more can be found in the show notes.

Thanks for listening to Can This Work In A Small Church?

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The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.

June 30, 2021

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