“There are no gatekeepers anymore because there’s no gates.”

Don’t Wait to be Credentialed. Do it Yourself.

“Lift up your heads, O gates, And be lifted up, O ancient doors” — Psalm 24:7

In a recent conversation about music and media, Charlamagne tha God made this observation:

“We live in this era where its a free-for-all. There’s no rules. Remember back in the day you had all these gatekeepers, you had the people that had to press the button to make this happen, press a button to make this thing go. Now you can just be your own machine. There are no gatekeepers anymore because there’s no gates. If you want to be a broadcaster, you could just start a podcast. If you want to do TV, you can just turn your video camera on. If you want to do music, you can just go do music and put it out on SoundCloud. You may get an audience. And then everybody is scrambling to catch up with you. … Its a free-for-all. Its the perfect era to just create your own opportunity.” ~ Charlamagne tha God

Here Charlamagne hits on one of the hallmarks on life and work in the digital age: now everybody can have a platform to create—and if you have something to stay and work hard at it, good things can happen.

It has also become a way of circumventing what he calls the gates and gatekeepers that have controlled access to audiences through albums, books, and more.

This is a powerful form of digital disruption and threat to bureaucratic systems of gatekeeping and control. Today, gatekeeping is diminishing in importance and power. And for those that rose to the role of gatekeeper in the pre-digital world and suddenly don’t enjoy the same status, privilege, or control it conveys, it can feel like a threat.

Its a very short line to draw between what we see in these other industries to the Church.

If you have pursued ministry leadership, you know that there are many, many gatekeepers. In addition to forming people for ministry, I think we are also forming them to appease gatekeepers, which we say is to be avoided in the parish setting, but seems perfectly acceptable in our other institutional expressions. And I suppose I should include some disclaimer that some gatekeeping is important — I wouldn’t disagree. But one of the frustrations for many is that the gates keep moving and that gatekeepers can seem driven by self-preservation, power, control, and personality. There are just too many stories like “Why I am breaking up with the ELCA,” which we hear echoed among our friends and colleagues.

But its interesting: if we look around the larger church, what you notice is the people that are better known and shaping the conversation are not necessarily the ones that have the imprimatur of institutional approval—or, at least not at first—nor holding the highest offices, traditional roles, or in large parishes. Rather, they have figured out how to use digital tools to advance the conversation, press the institution, reach a larger audience. They are not limited to a denominational tribe or geographic locale, but are networked across traditions and communities. They have good ideas and generously share them. They experiement and report out their results. They have created communities around those ideas and aspirations. They didn’t wait for permission. They went for it.

Credential Yourself

Today, people in all sectors, including the church, are credentialing themselves through their day jobs and through their digital side projects, or “hustle” as Gary Vaynerchuk calls it.

My advice to colleagues and seminiarians in this new world is follow process and play the game, but make sure to credential yourself. Don’t wait for the gatekeepers to figure it out. Create something. Say something. Build something. And in the process you’ll create a digital portfolio.

Frequently, its only after you’ve developed voice and developed a community or tribe that the gatekeepers take notice. Once the wisdom of the crowd, the internet, seems to have credentialed you, once it seems people like and respect you, it feels safe for the gatekeepers to say yes to you.

And, just as importantly, fight your own internalized gatekeeper.

I think deep inside we sort of want the gatekeepers around so that we feel credentialed and we have the institutional imprimatur, or perhaps so thatt we have someone to blame if this don’t go as we hope—and that one day we might be the gatekeepers and finally right all the wrongs that we feel have been done.

Focus on the work first. Be kind and generous. Do great work. The gatekeepers will figure it out. Eventually. Probably. Possibly. And if they don’t, someone else will. Or, maybe you won’t need them at all.

Talent Scouts

My advice for those that have served as gatekeepers is to become like talent scouts. Like scouts that attend countless ball games or concerts, scour the church, the web, your community to find people with gifts, talents, and leadership for ministry.

Remember that you are living in a hyper-competitive environment. Rather than waiting for prospects to make their case to you, you have to make your case to them—and you better make it good. They are already empowered. They already have options. They already have a tribe. Affirm them. Protect them. Support the change they hope to make rather than requiring them fit in your preconceived mold.

Give them a larger platform on which to do what they are doing and show them how you can help them take their art and passions ot the next level.

Throw open the gates.