In my teaching at Quinns Baptist Church, I wanted to ask people to consider the idea of our church community going purely online and digital — no weekly meetings — in fact no meetings ever.
Sermons uploaded, music streamed, Facebook groups for interaction and all giving done online. No human contact needed and yet people still receive the input they seek. We could have private messaging for counselling and all the other functions would be digitised too.
Much more efficient I feel.
No running late, no crying kids, no set up or pack up, no lame coffee, no strange people to have interact with after the gathering.
I think I’m onto something.
If efficiency was the goal then this would be one route. Heck, we wouldn’t even stream our own sermons, we could just provide links to the best podcasts in the world and people could listen to their heart’s content.
There are plenty already choosing this as their experience of ‘church’.
The common theme in those who do so is that of convenience and accessibility for people with busy lives. In many ways church is inconvenient — it interferes with your weekend. You could be at the beach…and it happens every week…what else do you do every week? (Maybe we need a church season? At least netball ends in September for six months!)
Church is clunky — anyone can come — where else in society do you have kindy to aged care in the one room all trying to relate to one another? That can be beautiful, but often it can also be difficult.
It is repetitive. We do the same stuff every week and some of us have been doing it for a very long time.
Church could be a lot more efficient. But efficiency was never the goal. Genuine human interaction is rarely efficient.
My conviction as I read the New Testament is that the church must be a physical community of people who follow Jesus together and who bump up against one another in the flesh. There is something about the physical expression of the church that will never be replaced by an online expression or a detached form of digital engagement.
And it’s not just a kindle v real books debate. It’s not about preference for the way information is delivered. It’s about an understanding of what actually constitutes a Christian community and it’s about realising that once we enter the family of God we no longer exist purely as individuals — we are part of a community even if that grates on us…even if we would rather retain our autonomy.
Every time I consider church as I read about it in the New Testament and then lay it alongside church as we experience it here in twenty-first-century western culture I can’t help but ponder the vast difference when it comes to an understanding of community.
I’ve just been gearing up for some teaching in the book of Colossians (nothing overly sexy in that) but even just reading the letter I am reminded again that this is a letter to a group of people, not to one. Yet, so often when we read it our default mode of interpretation is to ask ‘what is this saying to me?’
I wonder what would happen if we took time to read scripture together and asked ‘what is this saying to us?’ That’s a rather unwieldy method for a Sunday morning (and therein lies another question of methodology: should we meet as we do?) however it could be something small clumps of people could do.
If the church is the visible expression of God’s ‘trinity community’ and a tangible form of his kingdom in the world then it requires something more of us than weekly attendance at an event. (And more than a mid-week Bible study, etc.)
Because if the ultimate goal is for people to be formed into the likeness of Christ — to become mature — then that will never happen if we ‘do church’ in front of our laptop while sipping a glass of red and keeping an eye on the football in the background.
One of the things I have repeatedly said over the last 10 years is that in the kingdom of God ‘we’ always takes precedence over ‘me’. Who ‘we’ are is more important than who I am. I believe it but I still find it hard to grasp it, let alone live it.
You don’t lose your identity in that, but rather your identity is shaped and formed differently within Christian community.
Yet that is so difficult for us to see. Even as I write it I feel the implications and want to call it unreasonable, impractical and maybe even silliness.
One of the themes of this letter is Christian maturity and the fact that you cannot reach maturity on your own. In our individualised world that probably sounds bizarre, disturbing, maybe even controlling. But that’s because we are taught so consistently to think individually rather than communally.
I feel like I have a glimpse of what Jesus intended when he created the church, but my default settings are set so incredibly high to ‘individualism’ and autonomy that I can’t fully imagine how this could work itself out practically and maybe then if I’d still want to be part of it. Sounds radically different, wonderfully inviting yet also fraught with complications and inevitable mess.
Maybe we should just stick to Sunday at 9.30am?
Andrew is a part-time pastor, part-time retic bloke, full-time husband, dad and coffee snob (he’s also one of 98five’s 3 Minute Message pastors). He describes his blogs as unrefined, theological musings, random personal reflections and occasional naughtiness. backyardmissionary.com | Follow Andrew on Instagram