No matter your context, to take this dimension of leadership development seriously.
We live in a culture that is ready to speak on any and every topic, whether it be
So then, how shall we live? First, in what I have presented earlier I think we should proceed in this world with patience. Nothing requires us to dive headlong into the technological advancements of our day. To walk in wisdom is to consider our way, to not be drawn to immediate gratifications, but to cast our gaze out to the long-term consequences.
And then, in what follows, I hope to offer four ways churches can better sojourn in a culture of detachment. These four rhythms are really nothing new, and that’s somewhat the point, but I believe they will better root the church in its’ ancient witness as the world continues in non-stop novelty.
Given our current age of digital immersion and pandemic, I think it is all the more important for churches to push for physical gatherings. As a courtesy to members who miss here and there and for potential visitors who want to get a feel for the teaching of the church, Immanuel Community Church will probably always utilize podcasts for the sermons that are preached on Sundays. However, for the time being, we will not host what many have deemed as “online church”. There could be a host of reasons for not doing this, but let me just give a couple.
First, “online church” is not another viable option for the gathered church. It simply cannot replace being in the same room with people. It cannot fulfill the reality that we are to experience of greeting others, hearing their voices sing and recite Scripture, or taking the Lord’s Supper together.
I state the necessity of gathering physically because at least to some evangelicals; it appears to be optional when compared to online gatherings. Andrew Bolton, the Digital Pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church, was quoted in a Baptist Press Article saying, “Others may disagree, but I’d say online church is just as meaningful as it is in person”. Now, I want to be clear, I think and believe the best of Long Hollow Baptist and their pastors, but I most certainly would be of those “others” who disagree with Pastor Bolton’s statement.
Related to Pastor Bolton’s statement, I imagine there are many pastors who would agree with me, yet still offer “online services.” To be clear, I do not see this as sinful or even foolish, yet I do fear out of a sincere ambition to evangelize and minister, we will slowly cultivate in people’s hearts that an online gathering is just as viable an option as a physical gathering. The medium of communication shapes just as much as the content of communication does.
Sadly, many pastors will only make decisions off of pragmatism, namely what puts butts in the seats or streaming “attendees” on their Facebook page. Make no mistake about it, churches will put the physical gathering of the church on the altar of church growth if people are professing faith in Christ through streaming. The pragmatism of conversion is the trump card for evangelicals, no matter how much our inflated membership rolls reveal the truth about the nature of conversions in our churches. I am certainly not against making every effort to reach people and wanting to see people converted, but why must we supplant the means and goods of Christian community that very well may lead to the slow methodical conversion of people fifty years down the road.
Agree or not, is it not reasonable to say that this past season has revealed that former “church-goers” are content with not attending, not necessarily because of fear of Covid, but because they do not see gathering with the church as essential to their growth in Christ? The supposedly one-third, who are still missing, are revealing what the American church has catechized them to believe, that the church is another American commodity for their consumeristic tastes and pursuits. And the American church continues to press these consumeristic creedal realities into the bones of its “attendees” by treating online church as a viable option.
What the church needs more of is physical gatherings. We need physical gatherings where the lights are on and we can see one another, where we can occasionally look around and see the faith of the saints in the room around us. We need physical gatherings where we can hear testimonies and then go pray with the person after the gathering. We need physical gatherings where we hug and share tears with a family that just experienced a tragedy. We need physical gatherings because God made us embodied beings who are to live in a loving community with one another.
Many will object, “What about those who are particularly ill and not able to gather?” This is where discernment and great care needs to be exercised and also where the exception does not need to disprove the norm. I think it is permissible to share a video link of the worship gathering with someone who is in a nursing home, hospitalized, or bed-ridden for long-term. If this serves their soul in feeling somewhat more connected to the church, then I would certainly want to serve a brother or sister in this way. However, I do think that a Christian in such a condition would be all the more served by having people from their church come to where they are at regularly to pray with them, sing with them, read Scripture with them, and just spend time with them.
We live in a culture that is ready to speak on any and every topic, whether it be epidemiology, politics, criminal justice reform, etc. Our access to information has led us to believe that we know more than we really do, when in truth Google and other search engines have only served to make us more forgetful and ignorant.
In this culture, we want to be a people who enter into the patient growth of wisdom by consistently submitting to God’s authority through the reading and preaching of God’s word. In an age where we mindlessly read short tweets and posts, sitting and listening to long sections of Scripture being read may not seem culturally relevant. The truth is, the reading of Scripture is not culturally relevant in practice, but it roots the believer to the redemptive story of which they are a part, in a culture that is untethered to what is good, true, and beautiful. The Christian should love the reading of Scripture, one, because it is the word of God and the word of God goes forth in power. But the Christian should also love the word of God because as the Christian hears narratives that range from Genesis to 2 Kings to Ephesians, the Christian can rejoice that this is my God, these are my people, and this is my story, by God’s grace.
Confessions of creeds not only teach and form us into what we ought to believe about the Scriptures, but they also remind us that we are not the first Christians to think theologically about what the Bible teaches. The clarity of the truth of the Scriptures is expressed in that we as believers confess what our brothers and sisters confessed hundreds and even thousands of years ago. Our culture scrambles to keep up with current speech codes, lest they be canceled. The Christian joins with the chorus of old to confess that Christ came, died, rose on high, and will return.
Sharing the Lord’s Supper on a regular basis does numerous things. On a weekly basis it allows us to examine our faith, to proclaim the Lord’s death, and to demonstrate our unity with the local church. Taking the Lord’s Supper gives us a rootedness though in that we are taking up a practice that Jesus told us to do in remembrance of him. The Lord’s Supper also reminds us of the people we share it with. They are not just avatar faces that I can ignore on social media if I want. No, if I walk in unrepentant sin towards them, then even physical sickness may await me as discipline. The Lord’s Supper calls me not only to celebrate Christ’s reconciling work towards myself, but it demands that I do the hard work of being reconciled to the brothers and sisters I gather with. Also, in seeing our brothers and sisters at the table, we are reminded as well that Christianity is bigger than ourselves as Christ is saving all types of sinners to be a people for himself.
My hope in all of this is to set up no legalistic standards for the newest of technologies, rather a call of wise interaction because not only does communication matter, the means of communication matters because they are formative. My hope is that as our culture presses deeper into disembodiment and novelty that the church will press deeper into physical community and our ancient witness. A physical community that gathers, consoles, and shares meals, and an ancient witness that confesses that Christ is physically risen and Christ will physically return to reign with his people.