Ed Stetzer is the president of LifeWay Research, an organization that does polling and statistical analysis. Though associated with the Southern Baptist Convention, LifeWay and Stetzer’s influence has spread well beyond Southern Baptist circles. Stetzer has two master’s degrees and two doctorates, and he is the author of nearly 20 books. He’s also a social media phenomenon with 135,000 Twitter followers. He’s become the go-to guy to learn about trends in the Christian world. This conversation took place at his office in Nashville, Tenn.
Ed, what is LifeWay Research? We do research for evangelical clients to help inform churches, organizations, and ministries to be more effective and engaging their culture for the gospel.
As its leader, you have become an evangelical guru. Since I lead an organization that’s seeking to accumulate knowledge, I get to read a lot. Some of those pastors will say, “How do I keep up on this or that?” I’m not sure that’s their job; they should keep up on the lives of the people in the congregation. I get to read and do research and do data, so we have a lot of great partnerships through a lot of good research. I think it’s helpful for people to understand where we are, what the cultural moment is, and how we are to function as biblically faithful Christians in that cultural moment.
How did you become such a phenomenon on social media? Being a big deal in social media is an odd thing. My wife once said to me that being a big deal on Twitter is like being the dungeon master in a Dungeons and Dragons game. You are just a big deal in a fake world of geeks. … It works well for what I do. I try to encourage pastors. … I can do so with short phrases, so I blog and I’m on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, but not Pinterest. The end result is, is I use it to communicate, so it makes sense.
Is it fair to say that, back a number of years ago, you were one of the guys who created some meaning and currency around the word “missional?” I think somebody put that on Wikipedia, so I think there is some truth to that.
Define for me what the word “missional” means. A lot of churches are now calling themselves missional churches. “Missional” [has] become an ecclesiological junk drawer. If somebody wants more social justice in his or her church, that’s missional. If someone wants to be contextually relevant, that’s missional. A lot of times missional is the desired change if someone wants to be something else. Missional is, at its simplest, us joining Jesus on his mission. Joining in the mission of God. … When the church has become a distributor of religious goods and services, when the show is what drives people and people are passive spectators rather than active participants in the mission of God, there needs to be a change. … A few of us got together, and we created a Missional Manifesto that lays out how we are using the term.
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SOURCE: WORLD News Service
Warren Cole Smith