Kent Shaffer is the founder of Open Church and ChurchRelevance.com. He’s speaking on global collaboration at our BibleTech conference this year. Recently, I asked him some questions about his work with Open Church and his vision for the future of Bible technology.
1. How did your vision for global collaboration come about?
In 2010, I spent time with LifeChurch.tv and Saddleback Church thinking about technology platforms that could unite the global church around resources and ideas. I saw a need for an independent, neutral platform if we were going to truly do something ecumenical. Well-known ministries have a short-term advantage in getting the support of their fans, but their strong brand associations actually hurt them in the long run as it polarizes pockets of Christians who disagree with the theology and methods of those brands. This began an exploration of many more ideals. What if we could accommodate all of the thousands of flavors of Christianity—the denominations, cultures, languages, forms, and functions—without compromising biblical ideals?
By August 2010, I felt clear direction to start Open Church as its own independent platform. And so with LifeChurch.tv’s blessing, I did. I never anticipated how much the vision would still shift and evolve. Through three years of relationship building, prayer, and research, we discovered an entirely different way to execute the vision of helping Christians globally collaborate, learn from each other, and share resources. Today’s approach of a centralized database directory with layers of standardizations is far more beneficial, scalable, and impactful than anything we imagined in the early years.
2. What do you see as the greatest benefit of global collaboration within the church?
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (Matthew 9:37). Open Church uses the spiritual gift of administration to streamline and enhance the work of Jesus followers. When done well, global collaboration multiplies the fruit of our labors.
3. With so many perspectives within the church, how can a globally collaborative church maintain accurate content without elevating particular perspectives/traditions?
This is a good question, and the answer can easily be a rat’s nest of discussion. The simple answer is Open Church is working to develop a common approach to labeling content (database taxonomy), which makes it possible to: (1) identify which content genres are scarce or abundant and intentionally seek out the content that is lacking and (2) allows a content database with a grand economy of scale to be easily filtered to accommodate the individual needs of particular perspectives and traditions.
4. Another BibleTech speaker believes the next generation of Bibles will be holograms. Where do you think the future of the Bible is heading?
Open licensing. I’ll discuss some of this in my talk. But the short version is that it is increasingly likely that we can have an open source Bible translation in all 6,800 languages within the decade. This zero royalty, zero restriction approach will disrupt the Scripture marketplace and begin to force the copyright holders of today’s beloved translations to make dramatic shifts. The Bible will certainly take on new forms through technology, but I believe the biggest shift will happen to the “business” of Scripture.
*For reference, here is the article from Stephen Smith (another BibleTech speaker) on hologram-Bibles.
5. How do you think technology can help churches cross borders and set aside differences?
Within the context of Open Church, we force resource creators to focus simply on the principle of sharing. “Do I want to share what I have created with other Christians?” In almost all cases, this makes sense in terms of theology, Kingdom impact, and Christian ideals. There is no opportunity to investigate the theological differences of those who want to use their resources. You either share very openly, or you don’t.
I do think there is a place for ecumenical initiatives that wrestle with achieving theological harmony, but resource sharing isn’t one of them. Open Church uses technology to encourage people to give out of principle to a sea of anonymous users. This strips away the political gymnastics and theological jiu jitzu that too many Christians try to play when it comes to sharing and collaboration.
6. What experiences led you to pursue this intersection of faith and technology?
I am idealistic and want to settle for nothing less than what I believe is a biblical model of Koinonia community and sharing. If we believe Jesus is real and the Bible is true, then shouldn’t we live like it? So much more can be accomplished for God’s Kingdom when egos are put aside and pursuing the Holy Spirit’s leading is prioritized. I’ve heard too many Christian ministries say, “I know I would have more Kingdom impact by doing X, but I will keep doing Y because it gives me the analytics that I fear we need to keep donors happy.” When Christ and his apostles talk about joining the Christian lifestyle, it is an all-in commitment. Western Christianity produces so many resources, but their comfortable affluence makes it so difficult for them to completely go all out and achieve their full potential with what they’ve been entrusted with. Open Church begins with the sacrifices of a few and then snowballs as more join in sharing. If God wills, it may even shift marketplaces enough that sharing resources becomes the standard even within the Western affluent church.
I’ve also been greatly influenced by being the son of bootstrapped missionaries, experimenting with tech startups, and enjoying marketplace strategy.
7. What are you most excited to share about at BibleTech?
The fringe possibilities of what could be if God wills.
8. Who are you most interested in hearing from at BibleTech, and why?
I am most interested in hearing Stephen Smith of Bible Gateway because I respect his experience and appreciate his perspective.
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Want to see who else is speaking at BibleTech this year? See all speakers.