"Authority is often derived from information control. In other words, as access to information increases, centralized authority decreases." --Shane Hipps, The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture
New technologies often give rise to radical shifts in society--and society's structures. Certainly this was true with the invention of the printing press. As average people learned to read and had access to affordable reading material, Western democracy and individualism (as well as the Protestant Reformation) were made powerfully possible. In the Information Age, as more and more people have immediate access through the Internet to all kinds of information, how will churches, particularly historic denominational churches, adapt their leadership and authority structures?
When people today can read and immediately comment on online news articles and blogs, when their voices can be heard in real-time through Twitter's tweets and retweets, when new wall postings on Facebook can be read and responded to instantaneously, how can church leaders communicate with church members in ways that are faster and more flattened? Will the weekly bulletin, the monthly church newsletter, and an old generation website really do the trick? I somehow doubt it.
And how will we make an historical and theological case for an elected body of leaders (let alone church staff) who will make decisions for the church apart from these kinds of emerging input and involvement from others? How will we uphold the idea of a called, carefully selected, spiritually gifted leadership in an age where this will feel elitist and exclusive, an age where the democracy (and immediacy) of access to information is assumed?
I'm not arguing one way or another, yet. But I do think it's important--essential, even--to raise the questions. And we don't have the luxury to wait too long to address them. The train is pulling out of the station and I can hear the whistle blowing...