Theological Educators Preparing Students for New Media Engagement

The Rev. Stacy Williams Duncan, Founder, Learning & Change Strategist

Right after the shutdown, Heidi Campbell of Texas A&M University decided to produce a book where she asked both ministry practitioners and scholars to write about their experiences in the pandemic so far. She invited Kyle Oliver & I to write in either capacity, knowing we were both researchers & ministers. 

We quickly decided to go back & look at our Digital Literacies for Ministry (DL4M) research, and how we might see it in light of the pandemic. Reviewing this research in the time of crisis was a powerful experience, because – suddenly- those who thought we were passed being concerned about digital literacy were concerned again.

A leather bound notebook with the a compass rose leans on an open laptop on a desk. Two pencils are nearby.

We had a wave of early adopters 5 years ago who hopped on this conversation bandwagon with us. Afterward, slowly, we had a few more people interested, but it was as if this was a conversation you either got or didn’t see the necessity of. 

The real change that happened around COVID and the shutdown of so many churches is that ministers who previously had the response of… 

“If you want to do that digital work, that’s okay, but that’s not for me.”…could no longer say that.

Not only was Heidi’s invitation an opportunity to reassess our research, but an opportunity to reassess the importance of this research. As we conclude in this article, DLM is something that -especially as we understand presenting authentically & pastorally- is of utmost importance at this point in our congregational lives. 

A stack of bibles sits next to an open notebook and pen.

This is not just because we are in an extended shutdown for the pandemic, but because Kyle & I believe we will never go back to doing things as we did them before: that we are stepping into a hybrid world for ministry. 

We look forward to serving that hybrid church by continuing our digital literacy research.

Asking the question, “What training do religious leaders need in order to do their work effectively in the age of new [digital] media?”, The Rev. Kyle Oliver, The Rev. Stacy Williams-Duncan & Dr. Lisa Kimball’s research seeks to respond directly to the need for concrete models for adaptive theological education & ministry. 

A person is typing on an open laptop in a light filled room.

Through a qualitative study of common practice across institutions, the authors interviewed active researchers and instructors “ at the intersection of new media and communities of faith,” identifying seven digital literacies for ministry (DLMs).

The article discusses: 

  • The efficacy of existing literature, drawing on the work of Zsupan-Jerome, Copland & Hess
  • The bimodal design of their study, part “qualitative education research, part action research & community organizing: A series of 19 protocol-based, semi-structured interviews with 36 leaders in 13 ministry training organizations
  • Their results, phrased in four thematic literacy clusters with a total of seven digital literacies
  • Implications and ongoing work

Oliver, K. M., Williams-Duncan, S., & Kimball, E. M. (2020). Digital literacies for ministry: A qualitative study of theological educators preparing students for new media engagement. Ecclesial Practices, 7(1), 117–137

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