Learning to do church from DGrin


A good metaphor compares something unknown with something known. In this way, we come to understand by analogy. We understand that Google is like a giant phone book for the web.

Well, I want to do the opposite: I want to explain what is known--church--by learning about something that is unknown--DGrin. I have discovered some insights here that I just can't keep from telling about.

What is DGrin?  http://www.dgrin.com/

DGrin is an online photographer's forum. The participants range from long term, hard-core professionals, to semi-pros, to those just getting started, to serious hobbyist. Most everybody there has a DSLR--Digital Single Lens Reflex camera--a real camera as opposed to point and shoots.

There are two things that every church could learn from DGrin. First, it is a very welcoming community. These people love photography and they want to encourage every budding photographer. You can go onto DGrin and post any photo you want. It can be the most lame, out-of focus, badly composed, high-noise, low resolution, piece of junk you can imagine, and if you post it with a heading like, "First post" you will get responses like these:

  • Good to have you!
  • Welcome aboard!
  • Great photo!
  • Nice expression!
  • Cute kids!
  • You will love it here!

Churches should be more like that. We should be totally welcoming of newcomers, and especially those who are not very far along in their faith walk. We should be totally enthusiastic of people with bad habits and bad language. People who don't dress right and smell right should be welcome at church.

There is a second thing most churches could learn from DGrin

DGrinners won't let you stay crummy. They will gently lead you to be a better photographer. They will encourage you in what you did right and offer suggestions about how you can get better. Better, and better and better.

DGrinners will never leave you alone. They are relentless. Once you have been posting for a while and they feel they know you, and ask for "cc please" (comments and critic) they will let you have it. They will find a million ways to improve your photographs and when you think about it for a bit, you realize they are right. Usually. There is even a place they call the Whipping Post when you think you have a photo that can withstand the scrutiny of the DGrinners watchful eye. I have not had the nerve to do the whipping post yet.

Good churches should do that. We should push one another higher and higher up the rungs of the ladder of spiritual maturity. We should be relentless, from one glory to another.

How churches actually are

Here is the bad news. In many cases, I have found churches are just the opposite. They are not that accepting of people who are far from God. And, they don't do particularly well at pushing people up the ladder of spiritual maturity. We shun people we ought to accept and we are too easy on the bad behavior of people who ought to be leaders.

How we can do better

DGrin doesn't work on auto-pilot. It is not that photographers are just better people than everyone else, although, that is probably true. ;-) There is an unseen force that makes it work. It is the same force that makes a church work well or a business run smoothly: leadership.

Leadership, in the case of DGrin, takes on the form of moderators of the various sections of the forum. There work is largely unseen, but I have spent enough time on DGrin to see it at work and cause me to realize that it is the vigilant work of the moderators that makes this whole thing work.

A time or two I have seen constructive criticism go south and turn into meanness. (Of course, we all know there are no mean people in church, but just stay with me anyway.) The moderators step in and give a polite but firm warning. Of course, what might happen behind the scenes next I am not privy to. I assume if someone would not fall into line, the moderate could and would kick them off the forum and remove all of their entries.

I myself received a warning at the hand of a moderator. The conversation was about what makes a photograph a photograph and not a snapshot. One person had posted a famous picture that was apparently snapped rather snap-shot like, but the photo certainly had all the qualities of a photo. I responded by posting a photo in a similar vein. What I had not picked up on was the first photo included an attribution--it said who took it. Mine hadn't. I was told quickly, politely, but firmly, to dig up the name of take it down. DGrin does not allow the posting of third party photos without attribution. You must give credit where credit is due.

If we would create communities that welcome newcomers no matter what their habits and hang ups, if we would create communities that push people farther and farther up the mountain of spiritual maturity, it will require ongoing, vigilant leadership. It will require constant vision casting around the goals.

We will not be able to speak of things just once and expect it to be so. Vigilance to the dream is the key. We want to create a community that accepts everyone as they are, as they saying goes, but loves them too much to leave them that way. We must say it over and over. We must say it publically. We must say it in small groups. We must say it privately. We must confront one another when we fail to live according to these values.

We must all say it. The pastor must say it. The staff must say it. The group leaders must say it. It must become part of the culture, part of the DNA, part of the conversation. Part of conversations at church and  part of conversations at Starbucks.

This was the Acts 2 church: they loved people the way they were, and loved them to much to leave them that way. They pushed people to higher and higher levels of glory.

This was the ministry of the apostle Paul. He accepted people no matter what, but pushed them higher and higher up the rungs of the latter of spiritual maturity.

This was the ministry of Jesus, accepting prostitutes, but pushing the Pharisees and his own disciples to be more like God.

This must the ministry of every church: to accept people the way they are, but challenge them to be more like God.