Formation in the Digital Age: An Interview with Shannon Sigler

We recently had the privilege of asking Shannon Sigler, Director of Communications for BeADisciple.com, questions related to Christian formation and the digital age.

Why is taking to the internet so important for training and formation in today’s world?

Well, if we admit it, we are all already on the internet for many of our waking hours – whether that is for work or pleasure. Most of the day we are consuming content. In my case, it’s some strange combination of Methodist blogs, Pinterest decorating boards, and J.Crew! Oh, and work email, of course.

We consume text, images, and videos constantly, but what percentage of that intake is good for us? Are any of our online pursuits forming us into the image of Christ? Here’s what I am really getting at: can going online become a portal to means of grace?

Some of those Methodist blogs I’m reading might do the trick (maybe . . .), but I believe, increasingly, that Christians should help one another along in the sanctification process through online community. This can be manifest in a number of ways, whether through blogging, virtual resource-sharing, or coming together for online learning courses or workshops.

Interestingly, one of John Wesley’s lesser-known roles was to serve as publisher of printed resources such as tracts and hymns. He was one of the first Christian leaders to utilize the new technology of his own day – the rise of typesetting for print publishing. He was committed to making the Gospel of Holy Love accessible in as many new ways as possible, and we should have the same mission. The Wesleys’ embrace of this historic technology is an example for how we might embrace our own new venues today – using the dynamism and accessibility of online platforms to reach even broader audiences.

Does the gospel with a Wesleyan accent offer any unique contributions for today’s culture?

Yes! The gospel with a Wesleyan accent – the answer to this question is imbedded in that phrase for me. Both John and Charles Wesley lived lives in pursuit of holiness, and this pursuit was manifest in active and practical ways. In other words, they practiced what they preached (or sang). They left us a wealth of sermons, letters, and hymns to serve as examples of their own embodied theology.

This theology was so closely linked with their own pursuit of personal holiness that it seems to have been as natural as an accent is to speaking. Today’s culture yearns for such rich authenticity in life and relationships. Today’s Wesleyans have this unique example, and challenge, to live out our faith so that it is as natural as our own accents – but this is possible only through the work of the Spirit, and through community.

What is the state of Wesleyan resources for ministry and formation? What are some of the leading platforms out there?

I have lamented a number of times over the lack of resources directed toward spiritual formation for women from a Wesleyan perspective. Most resources for women in Christian bookstores these days tend toward Reformed theology. In fact, most Protestant resources in general were written by Reformed scholars and writers. This seemed true out in the blogosphere, as well, until more recently. It seems that the publication of Collin Hansen’s Young, Restless, Reformed, and the subsequent article in Time Magazine, noting Calvinism’s growth in influence, may have lit a fire under those of us with more Arminian tendencies. Methodist and Wesleyan bloggers began to surface everywhere. With the professionalization of the blogosphere to some extent, this upsurge of Wesleyan bloggers has created a selection of academic and pastoral voices to which we can tune in regularly for advice, encouragement, and a picture of Wesleyan theology in practice.

More formally, however, there are a handful of platforms which I have found useful.  Without a doubt, Seedbed is a fantastic and comprehensive resource, offering blog posts, podcasts, books, and online community with a Wesleyan perspective. (Thanks, friends!) In terms of scholarly resources, a few universities offer online resources, such as the Wesley Center Online from Northwest Nazarene University, as well as Duke Divinity’s Faith & Leadership platform and Center for Studies in the Wesleyan Tradition, among others.

Finally, I mention the organization for which I serve as social media director, BeADisciple.com, which hosts online continuing education courses with a Wesleyan perspective. The presence of Wesleyan online resources continues to grow, and it is fantastic for those of us with this particular theological accent to partner together to offer even more opportunities for ministry and formation.

How has your work shaped your own formation?

My work, right now, is twofold: I serve as the Director of Social Media with BeADisciple.com, and I am also a community artist and theologian working with my town’s local arts council. It has been interesting to see how community arts and online media management go hand-in-hand.

They both involve a significant degree of community-building. And, as usual in community, I am learning a lot, both from my artist friends, as well as my online network of Wesleyan brothers and sisters. I am learning to trust others in their abilities to use their gifts well. I am learning to always ask questions and to listen. And most of all, I am learning that we need each other in order to grow –whether in artistic practice or spiritual formation.

View all our articles on Social Media and Technology.

Read David Lyell’s review of Ministry in a Digital Age by  David T. Bourgeois.

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