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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Virtual Institutions: The New World Order

Written by: on May 15, 2015

This week’s reading, Social Geographies: Space and Society by Gill Valentine, explores social geography. Chapter 5 was intriguing with its exploration of various institutions such as schools, prisons and asylums. Valentine begins the chapter by explaining that institutions, “are no longer defined just as fixed break and motor buildings, but have evolved to include networks of individuals, which may include resources, knowledge, and power.”[1] This is a new theory for me as many people of my generation and earlier grew up with defined perimeters of what a school, hospital, town hall, etc… were and how society utilized their resources.

When I decided to go back in 1996 and get my undergraduate degree, I was working full time work and knew I would not be able to attend college in the traditional way. During this time colleges were experimenting with a new distance-learning concept for working adults to earn the bachelors degree in business. Mount Vernon Nazarene University had a program called Excel. This was one of the first distance learning programs for adults. It was structured where you attend class one night a week and did the rest of the work outside of class. There were no programs for graduate level work.

Fast-forward 14 years – distance learning is commonplace in our educational circles. Traditional college programs are declining and online and accelerated programs are growing because of the flexibility they offer to individuals in the fast paced environment we operate in. You can earn your doctorate degree without ever attending an in-seat class. I have never attended a traditional college program in my educational journey.

Based on what the author has expressed and my own experience with the changing landscape, I agree with Valentine that we can no longer accept the traditional definition for institutions. The shortcoming of the book is that it does not address religion and how this particular institution has evolved within social geography. Throughout history, the means in which the gospel message has been presented has changed to meet the culture of that time period. In the 1st century, individuals journeyed out to the surrounding areas to speak to people. There were no churches during this period in history. Over the centuries the church evolved into what we have today. They church built buildings and worship became centralized and structured. But the institution of the church is changing and is no longer confined to the brick and mortal buildings. Churches can become virtual and an individual church can now have a global presence.

[1] Gill Valentine: Social Geographies: Space and Society (Essex, England: Pearson Education Ltd., 2001), 142

About the Author

Richard Volzke

9 responses to “Virtual Institutions: The New World Order”

  1. Richard,

    Yes, higher education is changing fast. I happen to be in that field and agree that the traditional model of education is struggling. Rising costs, student schedules, and lack of sustainability make non-traditional programs much more attractive, including on-line education. So are on-line programs comparable with traditional face-to-face residential programs? It depends who one asks. What is funny to me is that there is research on both sides of the question.

    I am personally grateful for non-traditional programs and believe in them. If I didn’t, I certainly would not be in the LGP program! I believe our program has been life-changing and I am grateful that George Fox is wise enough to offer such a program.

    • Richard Volzke says:

      Bill,
      I have often found on-line programs to be more challenging and meaningful. There are pros and cons to both traditional and non-traditional programs. The biggest plus I see for on-line programs is that it has opened up avenues for individuals to obtain degrees that they otherwise couldn’t achieve if they had to attend a traditional program that conflicted with work and family schedules.
      Richard

  2. Liz Linssen says:

    Hi Richard,
    You raise some great points. I too found chapter 5 interesting. I like how you mention that throughout history, religion has been changing cultures. Indeed, that is what it’s meant to do, isn’t it? What that means is there is always hope for positive change within hurting social spaces that Valentine explains well. Thank you Richard.

    • Richard Volzke says:

      Liz,
      Indeed, religion has changed culture, but I believe that what needs to happen is for religion to set the cultural climate vs. having to go in and change it. Christians should be leading the way when it comes to showing society how to live, care for one another, act and behave.
      Richard

  3. mm John Woodward says:

    Hey Richard, I too agree with Bill, that you bring up some very interesting questions and ideas. As we are going “virtual” in so many parts of our lives, I have to wonder, what does this have to say of the church in the future. Our “distant program” that we are in still provides an amazing sense of fellowship and friendship, while at the same time providing very little face to face opportunities (though we are good at creating these!). My church is moving toward a second campus/video venue, which I am struggling with, as I try to piece together what exactly is the church? Does the church really exist with “big brother” video taped in? I just don’t know. But, as you mention…the future of all these questions is NOW! And that is a little scary! So, how much will our technological practices influence and change the idea of fellowship in the future?

    Thanks Richard for always bringing to light some interesting and hard questions!

    • Richard Volzke says:

      John,
      Like you, I am wondering what the church should look like with technology being incorporated into it. As a kid, I remember my grandparents railing against TV preachers – all I heard was that TV was going to destroy the church. Now, many churches are streaming their services online and using TV as a tool to broadcast to multiple campuses on Sunday morning. I have noticed the decline of handwritten notes and cards from pastors and staff, which I don’t always believe is a good change. The balance we must strike is to use technology to further building of relationships and to expand the scope of our work. But, we must not do this at the expense of people and community. For example, the online DMIN has allowed us to come closer together than we might if we were attending a campus once a week, hearing a lecture, and then leaving and doing all of our work between independently. Facebook and other social media tools have allowed us to become family with our peers. This is a good use of technology. However, I hesitate also when I think of using video to pipe in preaching to a second campus on a regular basis. To be successful, there must be strength in the community of the campus and people must be engaged and participative.
      Richard

  4. Michael Badriaki says:

    Richard, you’ve touched on an important issue here. If “the church as evolved into what we have today”, wonder what it’s going to be like in the years to come. I think that church may have to consider the growing awareness about the notion of “going to church” as you quoted from Gill that people are awakening to the fact that church is not a “fixed brick and motor buildings,..” but includes “… networks of individuals, which may include resources, knowledge, and power.” etc

    Thanks you!

    There were no churches during this period in history. Over the centuries the church evolved into what we have today. They church built buildings and worship became centralized and structured. But the institution of the church is changing and is no longer confined to the brick and mortal buildings. Churches can become virtual and an individual church can now have a global presence.

    • Richard Volzke says:

      Michael,
      I am not sure what the church of the future will be like, but I am sure that we will need to manage the change. We cannot let technology drive the church; rather we must control how it is used to ensure the integrity of the gospel message.
      Richard

  5. Richard, catching up on some comments this semester. I see where you’re going with regards to how the computer age and Internet has changed the very definition of community to some extent. I have over 1000 friends on my Facebook page. But when it comes to something really difficult and could use some guidance or advice I seldom have anyone to talk to. Community cannot be virtual. When people talk about having virtual friends I have to shake my head and realize it’s almost like saying they have friends that are not real, they only exist in the virtual world of their computer. But you bring up a good point and how churches are moving more towards a virtual preacher coming through the video screen. I once heard it said that the more high-tech a society becomes the more high touch it should also become May we never get so high tech that we lose the human touch.

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