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Learning from Google

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Lately, Google has fueled my ministry imagination. As you may know, Google is the search engine most used to navigate the World Wide Web. I regularly reflect on ministry contexts and am beginning to see Google as a modern day parable for connective ministry and humble service.

Rarely does anyone go to Google.com for the sake of Google itself. We typically visit the site when searching for something or someone. We go to Google because it’s a trustworthy starting point that consistently links us to the information we seek. We could say that Google serves as a relational hub, a matchmaker: its goal is to freely provide the most relevant, meaning-making links to the site user. It is this linking function of Google, and similar search engines, which has given me pause to reflect on the nature of Christian ministry.

Ministry has always been about “linking,” though typically we use the word “relationship” instead. Generally, we understand Christian ministry to be participation with God in His reconciling mission—the Great Commission. We could think of it as the “Great Connection”: the restoration of healthy relationships between people and God (to look like Jesus’ relationship with His Father), with one another and with creation so that His will is done “on earth as it is in heaven.” This relational transformation frees us to live out our new identity as God’s beloved children.

It’s this Great Connection vision of ministry that Google is helping me see afresh. Google reminds me that God doesn’t bring people into my life to connect to me simply for the sake of me. Rather, in light of God’s restorative dream for the world in Jesus Christ, I have the privilege and responsibility to freely offer them the best relational, life-giving connections they seek—connection with God, with one another and with all of creation.

Google’s linking “authority” is also not derived from a position or a title; it has no intrinsic authority, any more than I as a pastor or teacher have such authority. Google’s functional authority is earned through consistently serving its users, giving away the very best connections it has. The more meaningfully it links us today with what we seek, the more we trust it to be faithful to do the same tomorrow. Google’s present authority is rooted in our past experience of its faithful linking, and it is this history of meaningful connecting that inspires us to use Google the next time we need to perform a Web search.

Yet Google cannot presume upon our continuing followership. If it were to become lax in its commitment to providing the best links, users would quickly migrate to other search engines. To maintain its functional linking authority in the lives of seekers, Google.com is propelled to grow, learn, change and get to know better those it serves so its links will optimally serve them.

I don’t know how this parable of “Google ministry” connects with you or what it sparks in your Kingdom imagination. As for me, I find myself increasingly curious about the kinds of connection people seek through their relationships with me. How is it that in God’s mercy our paths intersect and we are able to serve as connectivity hubs for one another? No doubt the context of each relationship—be it colleague, spouse, friend or parent—calls for unique linking.

What might it look like to order our lives and ministries around listening to people tell their stories and voice their desires, then freely offering them the best relational links we can to help them find the fullness of life they seek?

Could it be that we can learn something about connective ministry from Google’s mission: optimally linking people with those things they seek? What might a connective church, small group, women’s ministry, youth program or community outreach look like? How would we do ministry, focused not on the information we have mastered but on helping people make the life-giving connections for which they search?

The Great Commission invites us—dares us—to think, listen, dream, see, pray and act connectively. Connective ministry is our opportunity to partner with God in His relational, reconciling mission.

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