God in the Tubes

April 5, 2010 — 9 Comments

As I have mentioned several times this year, I am on half-sabbatical through the end of 2010. The key project I am working on during this time is the writing of a book of the use of the Internet and social media for ministry. The book will be based on the research and experiences I have had over the last four years as I have spent much of my time focusing on Internet ministry.

I am not writing the book as a “how to” book that tells you how to create a website or Facebook page. Instead, I am aiming for a higher road: this book will talk about a philosophy (or dare I say a theology) of using the Internet for ministry.  It will cover strategy and planning.  The primary audience for the book will be anyone who wants to use the Internet or social media for ministry. It will give them an introduction to how to think and plan for doing so. Even those who already have an online presence will get value from this book as it makes them think deeper and differently about the Internet.

I also have another audience: students. This will be the primary textbook for the course I am teaching this summer. I hope to teach this course regularly, possibly every summer. I am also looking into to developing a certificate level program in online ministry, for which this book would be a text as well.

After a couple of months working on it, the book is starting to take shape. From time-to-time, I will begin sharing parts of what I am writing on this blog, with the hope that I can get some feedback on what I am putting in the book. Today is the first such post!  So, please, if you have a comment on what I am putting together, post it.

Oh, and the name of the book? God in the Tubes: Using the Internet and Social Media for Ministry. At least that is the working title for now.

What is the Internet? As I approach this subject in my information systems courses, I ask my students this question. “We all understand what we mean by the Internet, ”  I say, “but can you actually define it?” At this point,  I usually get a lot of blank stares. Finally someone will offer up “web sites” and someone else will add “a network to connect computers.”  How about you? How would you define “the Internet”?

On June 28, 2006, in the US Senate, Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), was debating a bill in the Senate regarding regulation of the Internet.  In his speech, he described the Internet this way:

“They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the Internet. And again, the Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes. And if you don’t understand, those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it’s going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.”

Senator Stevens’ “series of tubes” remarks has been widely repeated and mocked for its lack of understanding of how the Internet actually works.   His description of the Internet has become a running joke even to this day. Google refers to one of its products (called “Google Gears”) as the “gears that power the tubes.”  (note to blog readers, you can hear this speech via YouTube here).

Initially, the Internet was developed as a computer networking platform that enabled computers to communicate. But that definition is no longer enough. Now that the Internet can be accessed on mobile devices, automobiles, and through your television, we have to expand this definition to go beyond computers.

So, what is the Internet? Simply put, the Internet is a platform for enabling communications and applications over a digital network. I know that is not the official, technical definition, but it is what the Internet has become today and it is the one we will be using in this book as we work to understand how to best utilize it for ministry.

Though it was originally designed to enable computer communications, the real power of the Internet began to emerge when it allowed person-to-person communication. The first sign that this was going to be the case was with the invention of electronic mail, or E-mail.  When this “simple hack” was first released in 1971 by Ray Tomlinson, it took over the Internet (called ARPANet in those days).  The engineers and academics who put the ARPANet together could not believe it!  Email quickly became the most popular use of this new technology; it was the “killer app” that drove its growth beyond just scientific use and started its use mainstream.

Over the next four decades, we have seen the same pattern hold true:  Internet technologies that connect people together have driven the use of the Internet and associated technologies to new levels.  From instant messaging to Skype to MySpace, this has continued to be the case. As of the time of this writing, in fact, we are seeing the explosion in users of Facebook, the latest Internet application that allows people to connect.

It is this powerful ability to connect people, then, that should draw us as Christ-followers to the Internet.  It is all about relationships. And that is what makes the Internet so powerful for ministry.  We need to understand that the Internet should first and foremost be about creating relationships: relationships between individuals, relationships between groups of people, and relationships between God and man.

So, there it is, the opening to my book. Thoughts?


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Online ministry researcher and educator. Associate Professor and Director of Innovation for the Crowell School of Business at BIola University. Author of Ministry in the Digital Age.

9 responses to God in the Tubes

  1. Looks good Dave. One thought – could you post a sort of overview of all the planned contents, so that we don't say 'are you going to mention A, or cover B ?' all the time.

    I am certainly convinced that Facebook, and mobile phones, are going to be THE two big growth opportunities because neither requires appreciable technical knowledge, and so every online Christian can do Facebook, and everyone with a mid to high-range mobile can do things like sharing conversation-starting video clips.

    I just did a page at InternetEvangelismDay.com/facebook which I hope may offer some ideas.



  2. Tony –

    I considered doing that before I started posting the text of the book. But in the end I decided to get the intro out there first. I'll post the outline/TOC of the book later on this week. As with much of the book, I could definitely use some feedback on that as well.

    Thanks for the feedback.


  3. I heard about the Internet for the first time in 1995. Predictions of socially interconnecting everyone on earth, and the implications, were difficult to assimilate at the time.

    While we can't see the end of this world drama just yet, we have a much better idea where things are going today. Two things haven't changed. One, Christians need to be informed and involved. Two, God has given us the most powerful technology in history for reaching the world with the gospel.

    Your book, with a "philosophy or theology of using the Internet for ministry," is exactly what pastor's and Christian leaders need to help them prayerfully consider how God would have them respond.

    Thanks for letting us peek at this portion and tag along on your journey to completion.

  4. Gordon –

    Thanks for the input. My goal is exactly what you mentioned: pastors and Christian leaders (both those already serving and those training to serve) prayerfully considering how to use technology (both what we have today and the amazing applications and inventions to come) for ministry.


  5. Dave, I'm really looking forward to your book & I think it's great that you're sharing and discussing parts of it online.

    Something I find interesting is that that while the question of "What is the Internet?" is certainly an important one to address from academic and theological perspectives, I think the question is actually becoming less and less relevant to every day life.

    As the Internet continues to evolve it is becoming more human, more intuitive, and more ubiquitous. It's weaving its way into more and more of the fabric of our lives. I think in the not too distant future we will think of the Internet much in the same way we think about electricity, or paper, or perhaps even water and air, and that is… we won't think about it. It will be something that's always around, taken for granted, transparent as we connect with anyone anywhere in the world with text, audio, video, or whatever medium we like.

  6. Paul –

    This is a great comment and worth considering. I do feel that we must have a definition of the Internet so that we are all on a "level playing field" when we start considering how to use it. And I do think that the more we know about the nature of the Internet, the easier it will be to innovate. However, I also agree with you that, just as many of us could not begin to explain how a car works, we can still use them quite well!

    If you don't mind, I may want to include a bit of what you said in my introduction, attributed to you of course. Would you mind?


  7. Paul Steinbrueck April 20, 2010 at 1:37 am

    It would be an honor.

  8. Dave. Thoroughly enjoying your content. Thank you for your commitment to resourcing those of us doing ministry on the 'Net! Peace.

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  1. My book outline | Lessons From Babel - May 3, 2010

    [...] is tentatively titled God In The Tubes – you can read about the origins of that name in one of my previous posts. As I complete sections of the book, I am posting portions to my blog as a way to get some feedback [...]

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