Local Church in a Virtual World

COVID has sent us through a roller coaster of restrictions in the last couple of months. One day you are struggling to get to church because you allowed yourself to watch a series late into Saturday night. Next day you have to stay indoors and stream through online Sunday service. Sometimes you hope they could cut down on some church events but you enjoy the freedom to be there. You go back to physical meeting before the next spike of infections hits and you are back to your Sunday sofa. I must say it’s quite a drain when everything else is also online.

But now we are in that phase where we can actually go back to the church building. There’s something with freedom that excites all of us even when we might not pursue it. We all want freedom to go anywhere any time even when we might not really be interested to. But for a country with a Christian majority who cherish the place of church community this is good news to many. So I’m quite eager to go back to the church building and meet up with the church family this Sunday. But I was just wondering whether this is a shared desire across the board. What’s the place of a local physical church in this virtual world?

The virtual world has brought the church into our living rooms. You’ve got access to some of the best preaching in the world and the license to lazy indoors on Sunday morning as we try to fight COVID. It’s really a dream come true for many for all kind of reasons, good and bad. You could say evangelistically this is a good thing as churches now must compete for the virtual space. But what becomes of the local physical church when the Global church is a switch away. What will motivate us to leave our homes, sometimes having to travel miles away to access a church with far less polished preaching and classy music?

If church is purely a preaching podium we really have no reason to leave the comfort of the sofa. Perhaps for us who think so highly of good Gospel preaching this is a reminder about the value of the church community. But if church was merely a community of like minded fellows with a performance in front then still that won’t get me off the couch. It’s easier to work that around my comfort. We can go mountain climbing in the afternoon, do Sunday lunch or better still do all that on Saturday for a lazy Sunday. That should challenge those of us for whom church is more of a social community club.

There’s a third category we easily forget, those who attend to serve for good or bad motivations. I’m an usher at church and I’ve got to say there’s a fulfilment that comes with seeing people welcomed well and everything flowing smoothly. So I don’t want to be hard on these guys. Actually statistics in this country will tell you volunteer members not preachers run churches. But without a community centered and influenced by faithful Gospel preaching there’s no life-changing basis for service. We may as well volunteer to serve in community humanitarian project.

For this reason I think these three arms must converge to get me out of the house. There’s a desire to hear from God as the Gospel is taught from the Bible. To sit and serve in a community lead and informed by the Gospel. The church community unlike a social club is not based merely on shared ideals and ambitions but a people built and informed by the Gospel. Service is not just for fulfilment or to earn points with God but an overflow of the Gospel teaching. And the sermon isn’t just a presentation or entertainment slot but a meal time for the Gospel community.

If we idolize any of these the local church will be in serious danger in our virtual world. Where preaching is all that matters then I won’t feel the need to bear with unclear and unpolished preachers when I could easily turn on the TV. And I will detest the local church even more when I have to serve and live among difficult sinful people. On the other hand, if community is all I want then soon I’ll find people who fit my ideology and they don’t have to call themselves a church. In any case I can stream services and catch up with friends later. And serving where the church isn’t built on Gospel preaching in a Gospel community makes no lasting difference. You might do more helping in an orphanage.

I would like to confess that I’m in the category that is prone to sometimes value good faithful preaching far and above Gospel community. Maybe serving comes second as a response to the Gospel. But such a view sees a Jesus who only made sermons and went home. It misses all the time spent with hard hearted disciples who would later desert, betray and deny him. And yet he died for them and went after them first thing after his resurrection.

I’m preparing to teach Exodus in the coming weeks and you can’t read Old Testament and miss how God values community. God’s people cannot merely be defined by preaching good sermons. God’s people are called into a Gospel community, to be a community set apart for God. The two go together.

5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

Exodus 19

The church is not a preaching class but a Gospel community set apart for God. But those who sacrifice good Gospel preaching for community need to be warned of another community that sacrificed the Saviour to keep the peace of the community. The value of community and unity though priceless for God’s people can also become a snare where Gospel Truth is not the foundation. And we cannot afford to sacrifice faithful Gospel preaching for a get-along society otherwise we miss why we exist in the first place. If we tread on that path then our high priests will soon crucify the Gospel to keep their positions.

49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

John 11

As we walk back to church my prayer is that we’ll go back joyous and thankful for this freedom. But also with a renewed commitment to Gospel preaching, the Gospel community and ready to roll our sleeves to serve the church family wholeheartedly. To be quick to listen and built up by God’s Word through the preaching and ministry of the church family. But also ready to be corrected and rebuked from the Gospel by the church community. We need the church family for our growth and sanctification more than we realize. And after spending a lot of time without meeting physically you can be sure we’ve picked up bad habits for our soul that need a gentle rebuke.

I pray the Lord will help us whatever our blind spots are when it comes to our view of the local church. That God’s Word will capture our hearts, minds and hands to serve God and his people without hesitation. I pray we’ll quickly move past bad habits picked up from the Livestream couch. To not expect to be served but to delight in serving others. To not only feed but also be a blessing to the church family. To not only complain but participate. To be quick to receive rebuke from our brothers and sisters in Christ and slow to take offence. That’s what makes the local church different in a consumerist world especially when we can get everything we want virtually.

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