Building People of Substance for Works of Power
A few weeks ago, I was hungry for some good carne asada. It had been a long time since we had ventured out to our favorite Mexican place, so Judy agreed very quickly, “Let’s go!” It was a Monday, a day on which many restaurants are closed. Since it’s quite a little drive, I decided I would check the website to be sure they were open. To my shock and dismay, I found that they were closed permanently. My favorite tacos in Tucson and all the people whose livelihoods depended on selling them were casualties of the pandemic.
Many local businesses didn’t survive the lockdowns. Empty storefronts testify to the damage. Many of the big guys, the Walmarts and the Amazons of the world, did very well during the pandemic fear-fest. They had the financial resources to weather the initial hit, and they had existing infrastructure to morph into delivery dynamos. Mom and pop shops struggled or died. Corporate giants prospered.
Unfortunately, the same thing happened in church world. The mega churches had the technology and the personnel in place to quickly transition to an online emphasis. Many smaller congregations didn’t have the know-how or the resources to compete. Others managed to provide some online material for their people, but whereas the Walmart Church programming was of a professional grade, the little guys were mainly I-phoning it. Family and friends put up with the production weaknesses because they already loved their church family. For church shoppers, the contrast was obvious, and many made their decisions based on that difference.
Now, nearly all the surviving churches are open, but many are still not back to pre-pandemic attendance levels. The experts tell us that many of them will close in the next 2 years. Everybody has a theory as to why. Some people are still afraid to be in a crowded room with maskless people. Some so-called cultural Christians, those who attended church for the business and social benefit in the community, have realized that the culture no longer rewards church attendance. A bunch of folks got so offended by their church’s response to the pandemic that they have moved. Others have come to enjoy sitting in front of their screens in their pajamas and have convinced themselves they don’t need to be in church.
As we seek to find our way in this post-pandemic age, please be aware of the dangers of “digital delusion.” That is, things we have come to believe about online services and social media campaigns that may not be entirely true. Digital delusion touches both pastors and parishioners.
Common delusions for pastors include:
- “We have to compete with Walmart Church in order to survive.” No you don’t. In fact, it may be a waste of resources for you to try. The larger ministries have the equipment and personnel to produce professional grade programs. Don’t try to out-Amazon Amazon. Be you.
- “That online stuff is of the devil. We will never use the devil’s tools.” I heard the same argument about electric guitars and televisions. “Tools” is the key word here. These things can be tools to help you accomplish the call on your minsitry. Be sure you know what you’re supposed to be doing, then use the tools that help get the job done.
- “Digital Media is where the people are. I have to use it to reach the lost.” Just like Christian radio and tv, the audience for online Christian material is overwhelmingly other Christians. If that’s who you’re trying to reach, then go for it. If not, other options will be necessary.
For the average Christian, digital delusion may consist of:
- “I can get great teaching from my favorite preachers online. I don’t need to go to church.” God didn’t save you so you could get great teaching. He saved you so you could be discipled and reach your world, the places and people you touch every day, with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That can’t be done online.
- “That guy has a great show with awesome music. He must be a wonderful person.” Could be, but you’ll never know if all you see is a telecast. There is a great deal of Christian “catfishing” that passes for ministry. The Bible says you are to “know those that labor among you.” Notice the term “among.” (1 Thessalonians 5:12; Hebrews 13:7,8; Acts 20:28)
- “I get to listen to hours of great teaching online, therefore I am growing in the Lord.” Could be. Probably not. It’s easy to substitute hearing for doing. James warned about that (James 1:23-25). It’s not what you know, it’s what you do. Don’t kid yourself. You need feedback!
There are others, but you get the idea.
Somebody Said: “Men are God’s method. The church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men.”E. M. Bounds
Scripture Reading: Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other.1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 NLT
Here’s the Point: Online church may be the very thing for you or your church. If so, great. But don’t get deluded into thinking it’s the only way, or that it’s all you need. There is a long list of things that can’t be fully accomplished online. My list includes God’s presence in corporate worship, connecting with my faith family, finding accountability, and having leadership who watch out for my soul and pray for me. There are certainly more.
Here’s the plan: Over the next few weeks, we will explore these things in more depth. If you’re a church leader, I want to look for ways you can do what you’re called to do, while finding realistic applications of technology that can can enhance your effectiveness. For those who are being tempted to stay home and watch, I just want you to know you are loved, your frustrations are understood, but you are missing a blessing.
Here’s your assignment: Think of things about your local fellowship that are precious or useful to you, but that can’t be fully accomplished online. Having done that, start asking the Lord how you can communicate the value of those things to the unchurched and the unbeliever. We have something very special to offer. Let’s offer it!
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